Holly Lawrence hit record on her phone when the doctor repeated her sentence: You’ll never run again. Then she got a second opinion—and used the recording to fuel a comeback, complete with a heavy dose of “I’ll prove you wrong.”
The world champion triathlete had cracked her navicular bone, a bone located near the foot’s arch, straight through. It took some pounding to get to this state. First, there was a freak bike crash while she was training near her home in Santa Monica, California, in 2017. She continued to race, but experienced extreme pain. Then at 70.3 Oceanside in the spring of 2018, she ran an adrenaline-fueled 1:22:34 half marathon to cross the finish line in second; she missed the awards ceremony because her foot hurt so badly she couldn’t walk.
“I was in total denial for, like, three days,” she says of coming to terms with being injured. Then she got X-rays, saw the break, and started consulting surgeons, the first of whom was the Doctor of Doom. “I was really scared I’d never run again,” she says. “I think you realize how much it means to you just to even run, not even to compete.”
Lawrence quickly became depressed. “I did a little house demolition,” she says. “There were some holes in the walls, I tore a towel rail off in the bathroom.”
She fled the doc with the grim outlook, skipped the doc with the overly cheery prognosis, and picked the doc who told her 16 weeks after surgery—two screws through the bone should keep it together—she could run again, back to life as a pro athlete.
But 16 weeks is a lifetime for someone who trains for a living. Lawrence bagged her casted foot and hopped in the pool, only to meet an unlikely brigade of Debbie Downers.
“The little old ladies in the pool would tell me all the horror stories of their injuries. Everyone used the cast to tell me any problem in their life,” Lawrence says. She’d have loved to escape back home to the UK or to an island somewhere, but she couldn’t leave the U.S. thanks to the status of her green card at the time. And so she waited. And maybe did a little more house demolition.
At the end of the 16 weeks, last September, she started training from scratch—even in the pool. (“It screwed my body position,” she says of swimming in the cast.) She grabbed her Garmins, the Forerunner 935 and Edge 1030, and got to work.
She focused on power over paces on the run, pairing a Stryd pod with her 935, and tracked her heart rate in every workout to gauge adaptation over time. She tracked her menstrual cycle, now possible with the Garmin Connect app, because it allowed her to assess whether any outlying results like a super great or terrible training session, for instance, were related to hormonal fluctuation—or if they were truly signs of of overtraining or a breakthrough.
She sent all the data to her coach, who used it to constantly check in on how her body was responding to the stresses of training and make those calls. “If I didn’t have all that data,” she says, “I wouldn’t have progressed as seemingly seamlessly as I did.”
And by seamlessly, she means that by early May, about eight months later, she straight-up won Ironman 70.3 St. George. Then eight days later she won the Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in Vietnam. Her half-marathon times at those events: 1:21:16 and 1:25:22.
“I feel like I’m back to where I left off,” she says. “I want to be the best that I can be and I don’t think I’m anywhere near that yet.”