Journey To World Class: Laura Siddall

by: Matt Dixon

The Evolution Process  

Last weekend, purplepatch professional triathlete, Laura Siddall, snagged 2nd at Challenge Roth in Germany. Finishing with a time of 8 hours 51 minutes, including a personal best marathon time of 3 hours 5 minutes, this was another fantastic performance from Laura. Although on the surface she has been calm and collected, her success has not come without a healthy serving of trials and tribulations. Going back to last year's Challange Roth, which I feel was a landmark moment in her career, I will recap her journey to becoming a truly world-class athlete.

2016

  • Challenge Roth - 4th
  • Challenge Poznan - 1st
  • IRONMAN 70.3 World Champs - 12th
  • IRONMAN Malaysia - 3rd
  • IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo - 2nd

2017

  • Challenge Wanaka - 2nd
  • IRONMAN New Zealand - 2nd
  • IRONMAN Australia - 1st
  • Challenge Championships - 12th
  • Challenge Herning - 2nd
  • Challenge Roth 2017 - 2nd

That includes four full-length Iron distance races in 6 months, placing 1st or 2nd in all of them. Impressive, and one could say she has arrived, but whenever you see any athlete enter the world stage like this, it is important to recognize the journey that it has taken to get there. Some key parts of the jorney have included:

  • As much challenge as success
  • A fair amount of despair and frustration
  • Many times the coaching relationship and self-belief has been tested to the maximum 

It was only a few years ago that Laura decided to make the leap from amateur to pro, and she carried a fair amount of insecurity whether she really belonged at this level. It was a vicious cycle for her, as she had left so much behind (career etc.), magnifying the seriousness of performance in training and racing. This was further complicated by the fact that Laura is not a simple athlete from a physical perspective. She has two qualities that are quite rare:

  1. Physical resilience: Laura has a rare ability to accept and absorb a greater amount of work compared to many other athletes at the highest level. She bounces back from racing quickly and has the ability to train consistently with intensity and focus.  
  2. Work rate: Laura thrives on the challenge of training and racing, embracing the suffering as part of the journey.

Developing The Coaching Relationship 

Working with Laura has been a wonderful experience, but our path towards world class has been a constant evolution between coach and athlete. Laura's mental toughness and physical resilience were great attributes, but also a great recipe for potentially over training, over racing, and long-term decline. In the early stages of Laura’s development I think I actually under-trained her relative to what she needed to thrive. Treating her like other athletes was our undoing, especially considering the internal pressure she put on herself, which made the first year a real challenge for athlete and coach. It took about 12 to 18 months for coach-athlete to begin to develop the recipe that truly worked for optimizing Laura's performance and life. All the while, she desperately cherished results, which offered exposure, financial reward, and personal satisfaction. This took massive patience, but also trust in me, Paul Buick and the purplepatch coaching philosophy.

Race Craft & Permission to Fail

Following some solid results both Paul and I believed her physical development was ready for primetime, but each race felt like an oppressive and grand event as the need for results weighed heavily on Laura. The catalyst for her success was to double down on her ‘race-craft,’ in-race decision making, and race frequency - which lessened the priority of any single race. We also aimed to redirect her race anxiety, shifting her relationship with nerves as something that are welcome, essential, and required for performance. The shift in mindset truly helped her in the week leading up to a race. The biggest component was a baseline mental approach to every race - giving herself freedom to fail. Laura loves a statement ‘don’t die wondering’, so at this year’s Challenge Roth, I decided to push this right back in her face. If she didn’t want to die wondering, she’d better be willing to fail! The words went from being written on the back of her hand to being written on her heart, and when she began to truly believe, her body was able to express her preparation.

Putting It All Together

Laura acknowledges that this time at Roth she “fully embraced the 'permission to fail' on the marathon, adding, “I'm proud of stepping into this territory, knowing that my legs and body could give up, but that I'd given everything on that run, never settling until the finish line.” The defining piece of Laura’s journey has been based on patience, progression, self-learning and a deep work ethic. She has evolved from a strong athlete to an athlete of craft and wisdom, who has developed the inner racer - the mindset that allows her to line up mentally and physically ready to perform, with the freedom to enjoy the whole process. “It's another step up in my learning as a racer,” says Laura, “as I felt more comfortable in terms of managing race dynamics, how I was feeling and reading the situation.”

Whenever you see an athlete like this, never mistake that it comes easy. Realize that the physical and emotional barriers and suffering are very real, and the special part is less about physical ‘talent’ and more about the grit and determination to go on a journey. This is the piece of the puzzle that makes it so rewarding, what makes it worth it, and emboldens Laura and others like her to go on in life and be successful in whatever they choose. Take this to your journey, your performance and your life. It isn’t easy, but it is pretty magical.