Holly Lawrence returns to racing 8 months after injury

Exclusive interview with Holly ahead of IM 70.3 Bahrain

It’s been eight long months of rehabilitation for Holly Lawrence after she fractured her ankle – discovered in the bike leg during IM Oceanside on April 7, 2018, and she still went on to finish in second place! – and she is making her comeback in IM 70.3 Bahrain, Saturday.

We contacted Holly ahead of her first race since that dreadful day, to ask about the injury, how it happened, and her struggles to deal with such a serious setback.

The deep dark suck of not being able to do anything was the hardest.

First of all, can you briefly explain the injury and how it happened?

So It’s kind of weird and long story. Back in November, I had one of those stupid crashes on my bike (10 days before Island House) where I just wasn’t paying attention on a descent I ride a couple of times a week – I hit a bump and lost my hands and went down. I was seeing my physio later that day, so I got picked up and looked myself over – everything seemed okay, just a little banged up.

I walked out of my physio, got driven home, and even walked around a grocery store later. Then that evening, out of nowhere, my ankle just blew up, and I was suddenly in excruciating pain (honestly, the worst pain I’ve ever been in!). I phoned my physio in tears telling him, “you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think my ankle is broken.”

I was carried to the bedroom, packed it with ice, and tried to sleep it off and decide in the morning whether I would need to get an X-ray. In the morning, it just felt like a sprain, so after a couple of days staying off it, I flew out as planned and raced Island House (came 3rd), and then seven days later raced 70.3 Bahrain (which I won). So it seemed fine.

Since that crash, I would get what I would describe as a storage locking up of my ankle, but it wasn’t affecting my running. Then out of nowhere during the race in Oceanside – on the bike when I was driving out of the saddle – my whole ankle just gave way! I felt and heard it crack. I continued riding and forgot about it until I jumped off the bike into transition and nearly stacked it!  I limped through transition thinking I’d have to stop but waited to see if it eased up. Eventually, I just got over the pain – god knows how because the minute I finished, I couldn’t put weight on it.

I laughed it off at the finished, reassuring myself this had happened before, and I just need to sleep it off. A couple of days later, my physio asked to see a photo of my foot, and his reply was, “F**k! You need to get that X-rayed!” Turns out, I had a full fracture of the navicular bone, which most likely started with the crash back in November.

How did you handle not being able to train, or even exercise in any capacity, for so long? 

In all honesty, I think I handled it all pretty badly! I think it’s a chemical thing as you’re used to getting these ‘feel-good’ hormones from training every single day, and then you suddenly go cold turkey, and it just feels horrible. It makes you feel down, and you just don’t know how to replace it!

Being on crutches and a scooter (even with my sweet pimped-out Trek scooter!) is life changing. Things you’d never imagine suddenly become this huge challenge. Also, with no driving for three months – as it was my right foot – I felt like a 15 -year-old again. It certainly has given me a new-found appreciation.

What was the time frame to returning to your training?

It was pretty much three months in a cast (we waited six weeks before I got surgery to see if it would heal on its own) where I couldn’t do anything but swim with the waterproof cover and do upper body and core in the gym. When I was promoted to the boot I could start cycling on a trainer. It wasn’t until about 14 weeks after surgery that I could start running on an alterG (Anti-Gravity treadmill) and then to real running, and the rest is history.

What was the hardest part of coming back from this injury?

The deep dark suck of not being able to do anything was the hardest. The comeback has actually been pretty easy other than the fear. The fear is probably the worst part – you have no faith in your body for a little while and are hyper-sensitive to everything. When you’ve lost everything in terms of fitness, the small gains feel great, and you actually come back quicker than you think.


Can you briefly explain the rehab you undertook?

I was lucky to have my PT work closely with me throughout, and it’s something I will continue to do even when I’ve forgotten which foot was injured from the other. Strengthening all the supporting muscles and making sure I don’t develop compensation patterns has been critical.

What did you learn from this? What would you tell someone who has to go through such a lengthy injury?

I learned that in a major injury the mental aspect is probably the hardest but most important, so my advice to anyone is to look after that head and find happiness and peace in it all.


What are your expectations for your race on Saturday?  

Well, I’m not back to full fitness by any means yet, but I am healthy, and so I am really excited to be on the start line again. We’ll see how it goes!


Holly will be racing on Saturday, December 8 in the IM 70.3 Bahrain. We wish her luck!