By Lynne Bermel
Lauren in Lausanne, Switzerland
Photo: Triathlon Canada
At 25, Lauren Groves shows the poise of a top veteran. In the sport just a few years, she’s as surprised as anyone at how she’s a natural to the distance. And although she’s currently ranked third in the BG Triathlon World Cup Standings – the highest ever for a Canadian, man or woman – she is feeling no pressure from the growing expectations around her.
In fact, the only thing stopping Lauren Groves these days is a freak toe injury she suffered at the latest ITU race in Hamburg, Germany. She still managed to hobble home in 13th place but it cut short her World Cup tour, causing her to return home to Canada for some forced rest. It also meant dropping out of the next series race in Beijing (September 26th), which could put in jeopardy her drive for a top three year-end World ranking.
Whatever way it works out, 2006 has been nothing short of an amazing run for Groves.
She vaulted to a career-best win at the National Championships this July. That was in the middle of a streak of top 10 finishes in as many ITU races, culminating in a fourth place finish at World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Not bad when you consider she didn’t take up the sport seriously until 2001 when she won the Kingston short-course triathlon.
After only her first year of competition, she was ranked as one of Canada's top triathletes. In 2002, she finished 4th overall at Elite Nationals, becoming the Under 23 National Champion, finished 1st in the Veracruz ITU Triathlon and was the top North American finish at U23 World Championships.
She achieved the Olympic standard for the 2004 Athens Summer Games even though she wasn’t selected for the team. She started making inroads on the international scene when she finished 29th overall in elite rankings and came home in 41st at the World Championships.
But she’s been in a different stratosphere this year. So what’s made the difference? Groves says it’s the result of changing her approach to racing and training, including moving out to Boulder to work with Siri Lindley, two-time world champion and former world ranked number one female triathlete.
“That could have gone either way,” says Lauren. “I know there were a lot of people out there who were sceptical of my choices and wondered when I would be burned out or injured.”
She has certainly proven the doubters wrong. She’s been one of the most consistent performers on the 2006 World Cup circuit and a serious threat every time she’s put on her size-4 racing suit.
“I believe 100% in Siri’s program, she says. “Siri is an extremely passionate and dedicated coach. She is there for us 100% and wants us to achieve our goals and dreams just as much as we do.”
Groves says the training program had been working so well leading up to the World Championships that…”it actually made me nervous. I knew I was fit enough to have a top finish and that scared me, if that makes any sense! I was swimming faster than ever, biking hills stronger than ever, and running quickly off the bike. Siri did a fantastic job prepping me for the Lausanne course so I had no doubt in my mind that I was ready to attack that course on race day.”
And then there was that annoying toe incident.
Only a week after Lausanne, she was on track for another top finish in Hamburg when she caught one of her baby toes in T2. She must have wrenched the toe out to the side of her racing flats while rushing to get in. “I knew immediately that something wasn't right but I didn't have the time to worry about it,” she says. She went out on the run course but she felt considerable pain in her foot, especially on the cobble-stone sections of the course and corners. It left her walking around the turns. “It was frustrating not to be able to run to my ability.”
She was eventually diagnosed with a fractured toe. She’s been off running for a couple of weeks, relegated to a mid-season break before she builds back up for the final World Cups in Cancun and New Plymouth in November. That is, if her toe manages to heel. Pesky things are these toes.
No doubt, she’ll come back more determined than ever. After the final World Cups, she is looking to spend the winter months in Australia with Siri’s group and again, base out of Boulder for the World Cup racing season. Her major goals are to represent Canada in the Pan American Games next summer and in Beijing in 2008.
She looks to gutsy British runner Paula Radcliffe and Canadian duathlon champ Lucy Smith as role models, as well as Sharon Donnelly, Carol Montgomery and Jill Savege who dominated the sport when she started.
She says any success so far can be credited with her” having an open mind, not being afraid to take chances, trusting my coach, and finding confidence from within. The biggest thing, is learning that fatigue is OK, and pushing through it will get me to the next level.” (She adds “obviously within reason, because I know there is bad fatigue.”)
So just how far can Lauren Groves take it?
“As Siri tells me: “Sky’s the limit,” she says. “ I don’t believe I have reached my potential in the sport. If I can already finish 4th at the Worlds, then I believe that winning is possible.”
Visit Lauren's website at: LaurenGroves.com