Get to know the story behind the athlete in our interview series with the newest members of the HOKA team. Find out what motivates our athletes, what their passions are outside of sport and what Time To Fly™ means to them.
Professionals often arrive at triathlon via other sports, and that was certainly the case with the 2019 IRONMAN® Italy champion Carolin Lehrieder. Carolin spent most of her formative years charging up and down a basketball court rather than training for the final stretch along Alii Drive in Hawaii. Her hero then was Michael Jordan rather than Jan Frodeno.
While she loved the camaraderie of team sports, it was clear Carolin was better suited to endurance events than shooting hoops. After entering several local running races, she was persuaded by her triathlete father to give tri a try.
At 18 she bought herself a road bike and, after working her way up through 70.3, Carolin decided to enter IRONMAN Frankfurt in 2013. She promptly won her age group before going on to place 3rd in the 18-24 race in Kona just three months later.
It was clear this extraordinary talent from Würtzburg in western Bavaria was ready to give it a go in the professional ranks. Having completed her teacher training studies in Mathematics and PE, she took the plunge.
“I never actually dreamed of being a pro,” she admits. “It was more a kind of smooth development from being an ambitious age-group athlete to giving it a shot in the pro field."
“After I finished my final exams at university, I thought it was a good time to focus on racing for a year before starting work as a teacher. But then I decided to go ‘for one more year’ again and again, and here I am now, racing pro for my sixth year already!”
In those six years, triathlon has become more than just a job to Carolin. “It’s a lifestyle,” she says, “and I really enjoy it. We get to train and race in beautiful places all over the world, become friends with fellow athletes, and do what we love every day.”
There is pressure however: “Everything you do impacts your next training session or race,” she explains, “so I take confidence from the training I have done to feel ready and well-prepared. When I go back through my sessions, I realise I have done the homework and then all I try to do is be the best I can on race day.”
Carolin had clearly done her homework, and was undoubtedly at her best, in Emilia-Romagna last September when she took the IM Italy title by over eight minutes in 8:48:23. She became the fifth-fastest German woman of all time over the distance in the process.
“I was very confident in the days leading to the race.” she recalls. “I didn’t care about what the others were doing, I was just very focused on myself and my strength. During the race I went for it on my own from the gun and pushed myself to the very end – successfully!”
What made the win even more special was being able to present her biggest fan, her father Gerald, with his finisher’s medal after he crossed the finish line in 10:44:59.
“That was very cool. I’m really happy that my family is always there,” she told the Tri-Oracle podcast after her Italian triumph. “They believe in my dreams and try to make it possible. They supported me from the very beginning, when it was tough, and I think that’s the most important thing."
“With our tendency towards perfection, we easily lose sight of the fact there is more than just triathlon in this world. We sometimes need to allow ourselves a break and step back from the triathlon bubble.”
Those words are more relevant than ever at the moment, but when racing does recommence one thing is certain: Carolin will be shooting, not for baskets, but for the top step on the podium in triathlons around the world.
We are living in challenging times, but if there’s one thing German triathlete Tobias Drachler relishes, it’s a challenge.
At last year’s IRONMAN European Championships in Frankfurt, after a solid swim, Tobias jumped off the bike in eighth place but scythed through the field on the run.
Despite describing the third and fourth laps as being among the toughest tests he’s ever faced, Tobias finished fourth and completed a German clean sweep of the first four places, behind new HOKA ONE ONE teammates, Jan Frodeno and Franz Loeschke, and Sebastian Kienle.
“I would say that race, and qualifying for the World Championships in Kona, are my greatest achievements so far,” he says. “I felt I was the best prepared I could be, and my ‘supporters circle’ agreed.”
But, like all great athletes, Tobias was left wanting more.
In Kona, conditions were brutal, with little respite from the stifling heat and humidity, but Tobias battled the elements to complete his first IRONMAN World Championships in 31st place.
He was looking forward to progressing even further in 2020. That is, until Covid-19 intervened.
“My whole approach has been affected,” he says, before adding a positive spin. “Previously, I was so focused and ‘grim’ about getting better and reaching my goals, but the current situation has given me the opportunity to do what I love with more joy again.”
“The restrictions have affected my training in that I’m not able to swim at the moment, and I’m forced to train alone even more than normal,” he says “so we are working on my weaknesses, like running speed and posture. We’ve also introduced rope resistance work, with a focus on strength training in general.
Tobias has come a long way from the football fields of his hometown of Cologne in western Germany, but he feels he has the potential to go even further.
“I was a footballer from age six to 19,” he explains. “Then I stepped back from football and was asked by a triathlete friend of my dad if I would like to challenge myself in a sprint distance event. I took part and fell in love with the sport right away, and my dad is now my biggest fan!”
That was 2010. Since then, Tobias has gained his MSc in Exercise Science and Coaching, and become a part owner of ProAthletes UG in Cologne, a company specialising in coaching endurance athletes and providing performance diagnostics.
A decade on from his tri debut, however, and fuelled by the title of his favourite Kontra K rap song ‘Erfolg ist Kein Glück”, or ‘Success Is No Luck’, the fire to improve burns just as brightly.
“My biggest strength is my ambition, you can lie to everyone, but not to yourself.” he says, “My main goal is to make the podium at an IRONMAN event, maybe the European Championships in Frankfurt, qualify for Kona again and hopefully produce a better performance there than in 2019. I think I can make the top-15.”
“Before that though, I’m looking forward to the simple things again, like meeting and spending time with my family, and of course swimming and training with my friends before a very busy racing season to end 2020.”
If, during the current restrictions, Spiderman happens to run past your front door in a pair of Carbon X, the chances are you live in Loughborough in the UK, and the person in the suit is none other than world-class triathlete Nikki Bartlett.
“In life, we’re all faced with challenges we must overcome, adapt to and work out ways of pushing through,” explains the winner of IRONMAN Lanzarote in 2019. “For me, a positive mindset is key.
“I tried a run dressed as Spiderman to put a smile on people’s faces and the response was epic. We need to use sport and physical activity right now to help uplift and provide purpose and joy in our day-to-day lives. I thought about doing all my runs dressed like that!”
Triathletes are facing an uncertain few months as they try and train for races they don’t know for sure will be happening, but Nikki relishes the challenge: “I see it as an opportunity to overcome, an opportunity to come out the other side a better person and a better athlete.”
A professional career wasn’t always the goal for the former international rower. It wasn’t until 2011 when injury curtailed her Olympic aspirations and ended her career in the boat that Nikki took to the water in a different way with a debut IM 70.3.
“I had absolutely no idea my life would be shaped this way,” she confesses. “I’ve gone through so many phases in my life – party kid, big drinker, multiple sports, pro triathlete – and I feel each chapter and step has shaped me into the person I am today.”
Despite having no previous background in the sport, and initially unable to swim, Nikki progressed rapidly after turning pro four years ago she has never looked back.
“In 2016 I felt I was ready,” she confirms. “I was winning my age-groups by 30, 40, 60-minute gaps in some races, and felt like I wanted to step up and perform on the biggest stage in the sport.”
This summer, the biggest stage ought to have been the realisation of her Olympic dream in Tokyo. In addition to her triathlon commitments, Nikki also guides visually impaired para-triathlete Alison Peasgood and the pair had high hopes of a medal in the PVTI class in Japan.
“Cancelling the Games is definitely the right call,” she says, philosophically. “Health always comes first, and the World isn’t a place to come together right now and celebrate athletic achievements.”
“I never knew how rewarding guiding would be,” she adds, “but as soon as I entered the ‘Guides for Gold’ campaign I was instantly motivated and passionate about being the best possible guide for Alison. To be able to connect with another athlete and have full confidence and trust in one another is something special”.
Even without the structure of an upcoming race schedule, Nikki maintains her discipline through meticulous planning.
“I love goals!” she exclaims, “weekly and daily process goals. At the beginning of every season, along with my coach Rob Cheetham (husband of fellow HOKA triathlete Susie) we write down where I would like to be, and we make a plan of how to get there, making sure we are realistic at the same time.”
“One of my biggest tips,” she advises, “is to make goals that excite you, not haunt you with pressure or unrealistic expectations. I could write a whole blog on this section alone!”
For now, Nikki is enjoying the freedom to be creative with her training, exploring the extensive countryside near her home and switching off from the pressures of global pandemics or global sporting festivals.
“I love connecting up routes and getting lost,” she says, “trying out different ways of training. For example, I did a cross-country season last winter, turning off my Garmin and just going by feel. I shared the whole process with people on social media, engaging and bringing communities together.”
At some point, sooner rather than later, it will be back to the serious business of pro triathlon for Nikki, and she can’t wait, particularly with the Olympics still on the horizon.
“How epic will it be to be a part of a sporting moment that could be so powerful that it brings us all back together again, healthy and fearless? Sport has the power to unite, celebrate and bring us together as one. It’s going to be even more special!”
Until that happens, however, you can be sure Spiderman in a pair of HOKA will be making further appearances around the running routes of the East Midlands.