CU Boulder senior breaks records in ultra-triathlon competition

Published: Nov. 20, 2016

Laura Knoblach trains in Boulder

Laura Knoblach was 9 when her father asked if she’d like to join him on a run. Thrilled to get to spend time with him, she jogged over a mile on that first outing. Today at 22, that bonding time with her dad has led to the CU senior’s becoming the youngest athlete in the world to complete a Triple Anvil triathlon. And she is ranked third in the world and first in North America by the International Ultra Triathlon Association in the Women’s World Cup race series.

“I didn’t really care about my time in the single Ironman, because I knew I wasn’t going to win anything in that race,” Knoblach said. “But I was really hoping to place in the overall category in the triple. I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve done.”

Knoblach, who is majoring in Spanish and English education, has participated in marathons, an Ironman triathlon ( a Double Anvil) and the grueling Triple Anvil, which is 7.2 miles of open swimming, a 336-mile bike ride and a 78.6 mile run. 

 Laura Knoblach competes in the Triple Anvil Laura Knoblach trains in Boulder Laura Knoblack poses post race

The Triple Anvil presented a strenuous endurance test for Knoblach, mentally and physically. Her feet were riddled with blisters, her mouth had sores from drinking so many sports drinks, she kept nodding off on her bike and she suffered with muscle cramps in her right calf for 17 miles.

It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of her life.

When she was 15, Knoblach began cycling. Her family had moved 15 miles from her hometown in St. Cloud, Minnesota. To see her friends, Knoblach had to ride her bike. Even today, she relies on her bike for transportation, riding 65 miles to visit family in Fort Collins. 

During high school, Knoblach got a taste of competition when she ran her first half-marathon. Finding the experience thrilling, she moved up to full marathons (26.2 miles) the summer after her senior year. 

Marathons became stepping stones that led Knoblach to a much tougher competition—the Ironman Triathlon held in Boulder in 2015. Despite not having participated in a triathlon, she began training for the Ironman, which is a 2.4-mile swim in Boulder Reservoir, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile marathon. 

She already had the running and the cycling down, but could only swim the sidestroke. With a lot of flailing and swallowing water, she trained for a year learning to swim freestyle. 

The day of the Ironman, Knoblach’s swim didn’t go quite as she’d imagined. Her watch was cracked so she had wrapped duct tape around it. The tape came loose in the water and she lost her watch, which meant she had no idea what her lap times were. 

And then a sudden panic attack nearly sidelined her.

“Swimming in open water with a bunch of people bumping into me and churning water all around was terrifying,” she said. “I had to hang onto one of the nearby kayaks until I could get my breathing under control and continue the swim.” 

Once out of the water and on her bike, Knoblach was back in her element. Not interested in racing fast, she prefers to keep her own pace and enjoy the experience. During the marathon part of the Ironman, she ran, jogged and walked while chatting with the other competitors along the way. 

“I had trained for a year and was finally in the race, so I wanted to have some fun and enjoy it,” she said. “Everyone was so friendly and supportive. We bonded over our shared pain.”

Wanting more of a challenge, Knoblach participated in the Double Anvil triathlon last March in Florida, a couple of weeks after she turned 21, making her the youngest woman to compete in one. The double consists of a 4.8-mile swim, 224-mile bike ride and a 52.4-mile run, with a 36-hour cutoff. Her time was 34 hours, 20 minutes, 38 seconds.

And if that challenge still wasn’t enough for Knoblach, she decided to try the Triple Anvil triathlon held in Virginia in October. It has a 60-hour cut-off. Her time was 59 hours, 36 minutes, 46 seconds. 

For two of her three races, Knoblach raised money for organizations that help fight sex trafficking. One was I Empathize, which raises awareness of the exploitation of young people in the United States. For the second, she created a GoFundMe page to raise money for a friend who manages schools in South Africa. Educating girls helps prevent them from getting caught up in sex trafficking. She is also working with a group of students to relaunch CU Students Against Modern-Day Slavery.

Participating in triathlons of all levels is rewarding to Knoblach, but competing in support of making a difference to the lives of others is satisfying to her on a deeper level.

“I get a renewed sense of purpose and self, as well as an opportunity to help those in much worse situations,” she said. 

Participating in and completing these challenging events has led her to rethink what she is capable of physically and mentally.

“It’s such a heightened experience,” Knoblach said about the rush she feels when crossing the finish line. “I hate to say this, because it sounds so pretentious, but I feel like the Ironman is too short. I’d like to do a triple again and whittle down my time.”

And what did Knoblach do after returning home from her first Triple Anvil?

“Go mountain biking,” she said. 

Knoblach’s training advice for ultra-marathons:
•    Use a bike with a good fit instead of a bike that’s super cool but doesn’t fit.
•    Change running shoes regularly. Your feet will thank you.
•    Make sure you’re solid with cycling, running and swimming. Don’t over-train on one at the expense of the others.
•    Fuel your body adequately. She burned 30,000 calories during the Triple Anvil.