Triathlons aren’t for the weak or easily intimidated. A 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile ride, and 13.1-mile run are most definitely not a walk in the park. These 70.3-mile races are what Laura Mathews, a professional triathlete competes in eight to ten times per year from March through December.
Laura, 26, is a Memphis native, but you can find her traveling all over the States. She graduated from Rice University in Texas with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She’s studying for her Masters in Statistics at NC State while balancing her career as a full-time athlete. Right now she’s in Tucson, Arizona doing high volume training. Oh, and she’s a private swim coach on the side.
Laura entered the world of triathlons in 2013 as a by-product of her swimming career at Rice. “I swam one year in college. When the season ended, I started stationary biking and running to stay in shape for summer season with my club team, Memphis Tiger Swimming,” she says.
Her breakout triathlon was Memphis in May as a casual participant. “I signed up to motivate me to practice, but I ended up doing really well on my first one,” she laughs. “Turns out I was way better at triathlon than swimming.”
Since then, Laura has competed in too many races to count, although she estimates it’s in the range of 56–70. Her top finishes are fourth place at Challenge Daytona in 2018 and third place in 70.3 Gulf Coast in Panama City, Florida in 2019.
“I really liked Challenge Daytona,” Laura recalls. “It’s about two-thirds of a 70.3 and all on the Daytona speedway. You can see where your competitors are and get splits from spectators each lap.”
Other standout races for Laura include the 2018 70.3 Worlds in South Africa and 2019 70.3 Finland. “I had a terrible race at Worlds in South Africa, but being on the start line with so many of the pros I have looked up to since I started triathlon was really cool.”
Though there are many perks like travel that come with a triathlete’s career, the schedule is intense and grueling. After Laura’s last race in December, she gets two days completely off, and then does whatever she wants for training for the next week. “It can be nothing, something different like rock climbing or weight room, or normal stuff. But then it’s pretty much right back to it, trying to build up a good base for the year,” she says. “I also work on my weaknesses a lot during the ‘off’ season.”
Although the rigorous training and commitment may seem impossible, it’s one of Laura’s favorite aspects of her job. “I like doing the work. I know a lot of people don’t get how I can ride so long by myself or do so much training on my own, but I absolutely love it,” she says.
Nutrition is a key part of Laura’s success, and she works closely with a dietician. As a vegetarian, Laura’s diet consists largely of tempeh, eggs, yogurt, purple sweet potatoes, fruit, black beans, and vegetables. She and her boyfriend cook a lot of interesting and different foods, like making homemade tempeh. They run a food Instagram, @ifyougiveatriathletetempeh, dedicated to their experimental recipes.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding organized athletic events, Laura is looking forward to the inaugural 70.3 Memphis. “It will be cool to race on the same roads I train on and see so many people on the course that I know.”
By Lucy Harrison
Photography by Tindall Stephens
Quick-Start Guide for Sprint Triathlons
0.46-mile swim | 12.4-mile bike | 3.1-mile run
- Plan for 12 weeks of training at about 3–5 hours per week, especially if you’re at a beginner fitness level.
- Get the gear. At minimum you should have: a swimsuit, goggle, cap, bike, cycling shorts, water bottle, running shoes.
- Alternate between swimming, running, and biking to build up endurance. Aim to swim twice a week, and do at least one biking and running workout back to back.
- Add in resistance work your endurance workout to build up and strengthen key muscles.
- Incorporate rest days. It’s easy to want to overdo it, but the body gets strong through stress and rest.