By Bill Plock
Laura Zaunbrecher is no stranger to finishing well at running and triathlon races. She has been competing at a high level since high school and college and still holds some school records on the track. With ten world championship races as an age group triathlete she has focused on her running the past few years finishing on multiple podiums. But it’s her running this past year while pregnant that is our focus in this story. But not just running, running so well.
She is married to Charles Garabedien and they live in Boulder and if you have been around the local triathlon scene you probably have seen them both, especially Charles as an ambassador of Gatorade and IKOR. They have raced together, even having both been overall winner at a half marathon in Louisiana in 2018. They run a lot together and enjoy many endurance activities and even competed in the triathlon world championships.
The big news is the arrival of their son due in early June. Top that with how well Laura ran in the past few months finishing on the podium in a couple of races. We decided to ask her a few questions about her achievements and her life.
Her races while pregnant include the Colfax Urban 10 miler when she was 7 weeks pregnant and finished 5th Overall female with a 1:09;17, only 4 minutes off a PR. Then at three and half months pregnant she ran a 3:15 marathon qualifying for Boston by 20 minutes. She followed that with 10K’s in New Orleans and Las Vegas finishing third overall in both cases and six months pregnant in Las Vegas. Just two weeks earlier she ran New Orleans in 42:35 besting her winning time in 2018 by nearly 30 seconds–incredible given her being five and half months pregnant. Laura does credit her coach, local legend Nell Rojas for helping her run faster. She hired Nell after her 2018 race.
Did the run in Vegas feel much different than New Orleans three weeks earlier?
YES! We had to stand in the corral for over 30 minutes getting cold before the start of the race, unable to move much and tightening up. We had also flown to Las Vegas that morning so it had already been quite the adventure getting to the start line! My first 2 miles were really slow and I thought the race was over for me. On already stiff and tired legs I ran a 7:50 for mile 2. But after hitting the turnaround at mile 2, I started to feel a dynamic change and dropped my pace significantly and I negatively split the race.
My last mile was 6:40. Baby boy had nearly doubled in size since New Orleans 3 weeks earlier so I was also carrying more weight. When I was warming up, I wasn’t even sure I could complete a 10K. It’s hard to run a race carrying an extra 18 pounds! But as soon as the gun went off, my legs just knew what to do.
What was going through your mind during the run?
It started with telling myself to go out easy and stay relaxed, only to see my first mile was a 7:15. This felt too slow to place overall at this race but also really couldn’t go any faster. When I saw my split for mile 2, 7:50, mentally I thought the race was over for me and I would just coast in. In my head I started to have those thoughts of “I had gone as far as I could with running and racing while pregnant.” When we hit the turn around and started running back into the heart of the Vegas Strip, my legs warmed up and spectators lined the course. I felt a second wind and was able to speed up, the pace came down naturally and I started passing women. I was certainly surprised to be passing so many women. I thought – maybe I can still do this!! Suddenly I felt like I had a chance to run one last solid race! The last few miles flew by and I found myself alone running into the finishing shoot with resounding cheers. I was overwhelmed after crossing the finish line and was told I was third female. The volunteers told me I was “badass” and I was quickly pulled aside by the local news station for an interview that played later that night and the next morning.
Were you surprised by such good results? Had your training been going that well?
I was probably in the best running shape of my life when I found out I was pregnant! Running personal best times in the longer distances and preparing for my first marathon. I surprised myself with what I could accomplish almost weekly, so it’s not surprising that the fitness carried over into the pregnancy.
So, I’ve been training consistently throughout the pregnancy with the help of my coach, Nell Rojas. We cut back the total mileage and the number of times I was running per week (60 miles a week to around 25 miles and 6 times a week to 4) , but I was still getting in 2 quality workouts each week, one interval workout and one tempo run that indicated I was still in shape to run under 7 minute pace for 10k even with my growing belly.
I would usually run 5×1 mile repeats dropping the pace each mile down to around 6 minute pace for the last mile. Tempos were always building from around 7 minute pace to whatever I could hold comfortably, usually around 6:30 pace. Based on my training and results from previous years at these races, I knew I had a chance to place well if I felt ok on race day.
What kind of medical guidance did your doctor provide assuring you (if you needed an assurance) that it was ok to work that hard that pregnant? Seems like one thing to go for a jog but maybe another to damn near win it going at 6:30 or so pace?
I was training for my first marathon when I found out I was pregnant so it was one of the first questions for my doctor if I would be able to run the marathon and if it was safe for the baby. Luckily we know now that women are very capable during pregnancy, she said keep my current level of physical activity for as long as possible. That my body will tell me when it’s time to slow down. I know to listen to my body and that I would also need to increase hydration during the pregnancy. I ran some of my best workouts early in the pregnancy including a 12 mile tempo run at 6:35 pace at 3 months pregnant.
New Orleans seems to be a special race for you. I noticed you and Charles both won it OA in 2018. How would you describe the feeling then vs this year?
That year was very special as I was recovering from anemia and had no expectations. We signed up for the race the day before we ran it. Louisiana is where I was born and we visit family every year so love to get in a race at sea level when we are visiting. 2018 solidified that race as an annual one for us. I still remember seeing him waiting at the finish line for me to cross and realizing we had both captured the overall win. At the awards ceremony they called us up afterward to announce to the crowd we were the first married couple to ever capture the 2 overall spots. It was exhilarating and a cause for celebration!
What do you love so much about running?
Running has been such an important part of my life since I started when I was 15. I love the feeling of a long easy run to gather my thoughts just as much as a hard track workout to push myself to the limit. I’m a competitive person and it is an outlet for my competitive nature. I’ve never been quite fast enough to be an elite runner, but thrive on being at the top of age group competition. I love feeling my heart pumping in a hard workout or race, it’s almost an addiction that I crave!
What are some other endurance type things you and Charles like to do?
Hiking, trail running, open water swimming, I have done the alcatraz swim twice, not as much cycling lately since running has taken up more time, and it’s more for leisure, recovering and cross training since i’m not racing on the bike at the moment. We love the Go Pro Mountain Games uphill trail races every summer! I haven’t done a swim-run race like the one Charles did yet, but definitely would!
What are some other fun things about you that maybe most people don’t know?
I am an identical twin! and also have 3 brothers. I still hold 2 high school track records, in the 800m and the 4x800m relay, I was inducted into my high school athletic hall of fame in 2012 for these achievements. I’m an absolute whiz at jigsaw puzzles.
If everything goes to plan, do you have any runs planned later this year?
I plan to give myself plenty of time to heal, but if all goes well I would like to run the New Orleans Rock n Roll Half Marathon in March 2023 followed by the 2023 Boston Marathon. Maybe something earlier if my body is ready for it.
What do you love about the Boulder/Colorado endurance scene?
SO MUCH! I get to run with and compete against some really incredible runners. There are days where I am on the track with Olympic athletes, and other days where I am the fastest woman out there. We have great trails to run, many tracks open to the public, races all the time, I love living in Boulder for all the available runs. Avery Group runs and Runners Roost weekly runs are some of my favorites.
Will you go back to triathlon?
At the moment I feel pretty burned out from triathlon. I competed for 10 years and have really enjoyed refocusing on running over the past few seasons, especially after Covid hit and it was hard to get time in the pool.
What are some running and triathlon career highlights? Special memories?
I’ve been to 9 World Championship races in the Age Group category in triathlon / aquathlon.
I’ve been so lucky to travel and compete in places around the world like Beijing, China, Auckland New Zealand, London, England, Cozumel Mexico, Penticton and Edmonton Canada, Copenhagen, Denmark, Pontevedra Spain, and more.
My first overall win in a half marathon was at the 2021 Boulder Rez Half marathon last summer.
My three-peat wins at New Orleans of course!
College (Georgia State) and track experience? I ran for the University of Louisiana Lafayette, the Ragin’ Cajuns, while completing two bachelor’s degrees, one in physics and one in math. I ran cross country, indoor and outdoor track, in track primarily the 800m and the 1500m.
Grad/doctorate? I have a Masters degree in Paleoclimatology from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a PhD in Geochemistry from Georgia State University
Current business (tutoring high school kids right) mostly math? I own the company Loogle Learning and teach high school and college kids math and many sciences, physics, chemistry, environmental, climate, geology, etc. Calculus and Chemistry are my most commonly taught subjects at the both high school and university level.
Born and raised? Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana but grew up in upstate New York, a little town called Saranac Lake, right up the road from Lake Placid wLaua