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Road to Kona: the top amateur

With the Ironman World Championships about to begin in Kona for 2017, we talked to Lucia Erat: one of the top ranked amateur age-group competitors heading to the Big Island to compete with the world’s best.

 

Lucia Erat is an incredible triathlete. After coming to the sport only six years ago, she managed in 2016 to be one of the top ranked amateurs in her age group at the World Championships. Qualifying again for Kona this year, we sat with her to talk about what her year has looked like leading up to the big event. From her training and competitions to how mentally she has prepared for one of the toughest events on the planet, this is what it takes to get to the most famous Ironman event in the world as a top performing amateur.  

 

When I qualified for the 2016 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, my goal was to finish amongst the top 5 competitors in my age bracket. When I reached the transition zone after cycling in 19th place, the chances of making that top 5 seemed far from possible. That said, I shifted my thinking to positive thoughts as I knew so much can happen during the marathon. I ran relaxed and with confidence and ended up having an very good race, finishing the marathon in 3:03h. This meant I ended up 2nd and far exceeding my own expectations. When, after a few weeks, I looked back at the race and all I had achieved, I thought to myself that I could push myself even further and wanted to see how far I could go, so came in to 2017 with that in mind.

 

When I sat with my coach, Reto Brändli, for our annual season planning for 2017, we looked in to which Ironman races I would need to compete in with the goal of qualifying for Hawaii. We decided Ironman Austria on July 2, 2017 as the main qualifying race to aim for. This race seemed perfect as it meant at the start of the year I would be able to attend a training camp in Thailand, focusing on swimming and cycling. In February I started with an Olympic distance triathlon in India (Goa), and in May and June, I competed in 3 half-Ironman races (amongst some others). I also took part in the Ironman 70.3 European Championships in Elsinore (Denmark) where I was the fastest amateur athlete for age class (30-34).

At this point, I was really looking forward to and felt ready for Ironman Austria when it arrived.

I was able to train well leading up to it and remained injury-free during all of my training. With my husband Pablo at my side, I had the best support team I could hope for during the race. He was able to give me my split times during the cycling leg, as well as during the run, which helped me maintain a controlled race when pitted against the professional athletes competing. I came home as the first amateur on the day and thus qualified for the Ironman World Championship in 2017.

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After I had the Kona qualification in my pocket, I made a spontaneous decision: I traveled to Finland together with my husband to participate in the Finn-triathlon in Joroinen (a half-Ironman distance race). I wanted to tackle the race as my first hard “training session” since competing at Ironman Austria. Afterwards, I took three weeks off to give my body the necessary rest it needed and to recharge my batteries fully.

 

When I started with triathlon six years ago, I experienced severe setbacks to my racing due to stress fractures, particularly during the first three years. This has always denied me a proper build-up to race season. Sometimes it is hard for me to do "nothing", but I have learned to not push the body constantly and instead, to give it the necessary relief it needs as this is the best way to get the most out of it.

 

Since the middle of July, I have worked intensively with my swimming coaching Micky Tronczik. I've planned this year to improve myself in my weakest discipline (swimming). Working with Micky is a great pleasure as he knows how to push me in practice and bring me to my limits to get the best out of me in the short time we have before the main event.

Leading up to Kona, I’ve trained between 15-20h a week while working 80%. As a rule I have three intensive training weeks a month followed by a recovery week.

The range of training and the intensities have increased the closer to the date we come, with training pushed up to 25h per week. During weekdays, I train between one to two times per day. The first training session I do is before work between 6.00-7: 30. The second training session follows in the evening after work and is usually with my husband. On my free days and weekends, I go for longer cycling trainings of about 5-6h, long runs from 2-2.5h or pair them together with a duathlon-style training to cover all parts of the race.

 

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When it comes to triathlon, I am lucky to combine passion and love.

I am happy and thankful that, together with my partner, I can practice this sport and enjoy so many unforgettable experiences, travel and competitions. My training plans are constructed by my coach Reto each week, putting focus on both my physical and mental conditioning and well as other aspects tied to my goals such as ensuring sleep and nutrition. My training plan includes key mental benchmark trainings that are designed to bring me to my psychological limits. If I can successfully complete one of these key benchmarks, I take the thoughts and learnings into the next training or the next competition and try to retrieve these mental breakthroughs at the crucial moment to call up some extra internal strength to help me push through.

 

This year we decided to spend the time to acclimatize to Maui before the big race. For me personally it is important that I stay as early as possible in the race’s time zone to get into the right sleep rhythm. In addition, I look forward to this time with my husband, where we can train together as well as relax. With the right mix of leisure, anticipation and focus, I will be ready for the 2017 World Championships and the goals I have for the Big Island!

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