Chasing Sharks and Podiums: Laura Heinonen's Triathlon Story

Chasing Sharks and Podiums: Laura Heinonen's Triathlon Story

Starting with no swimming experience, triathlete Laura Heinonen has risen to the top of her sport through determination and dedication. Join us as we explore her incredible transformation.

“Swim like you are being chased like a shark, bike like you stole it, and run like Forrest Gump.” While this humorous motto highlights the intensity of triathlon competition, for Laura Heinonen, a Finnish triathlete, 2023 marked a significant milestone far beyond the need for online motivational quotes.

Over the past 12 months, she achieved a brace of Ironman 70.3 first places in her age group, a PB and second place in Ironman Florida, sixth at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship Lahti, and first at the Finnish nationals in middle distance. If there were a shark in the water, it would be swimming quickly away from a chasing Laura Heinonen.

From Working Sports Events to Triathlon Passion

In 2018, Laura Heinonen’s fitness routine consisted of going to the gym, bodybuilding, spinning, BodyCombat and BodyPump. Meanwhile, her husband, Kari, pursued his passion for ballroom and Latin dances, leading to limited quality time together. However, they jointly worked at summer sporting events like the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Lahti.

“It was in Lahti that we discovered a shared interest in triathlon, sparking the idea of embarking on this journey together. At that time, I barely knew how to swim. I remember being unable to complete 50 meters and crying in the pool. It was hard, but now I'm a swimmer and often one of the first to come out of the water in a race.”

Her first competitive race was a sprint distance the next summer, followed by a middle-distance race a few months later. For those unfamiliar with the different types of triathlons, here is a breakdown of the more common races.

Photo Ville Kaskivirta

Triathlon type




Sprint distance




Standard Olympic




Half Ironman / Ironman 70.3 / Middle distance




Ironman /
Full distance




“By 2020, what was supposed to be a fun and easy hobby had escalated to another level. I was completely hooked and serious about getting better. Competing as a pro is something I have always fancied, but, like most people in Finland, I must do my day job. Therefore, I compete in age group (AG) races across most triathlon distances, except sprint.”

While carefully disguising her exact age, she does reveal that she competes in the 35 to 39 age group, adding with a laugh that it will be like that for a couple of years more. “It's a tough age group with many good athletes. In long-distance races, I’d say it's maybe one of the toughest.”

While acknowledging the challenges, she adds that she finds camaraderie within the close-knit community of the SKB Racing Triathlon Team. “We have a healthy balance of supporting and pushing each other. At races, with lots of us attending, it's like having a second family cheering for one another.”

Photo Ville Kaskivirta

Kona Triumphs and Trials

In the autumn of 2020, Laura Heinonen achieved a remarkable milestone by securing her first slot in the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Utah for the half distance. However, US Covid travel restrictions disappointingly halted her plans just a month before the race day.

Undeterred, she seized the opportunity to participate in a full-distance Ironman event with just a week's notice. Originally intending to support her husband, who was competing, her performance earned her a coveted ticket to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, widely regarded as the pinnacle event in triathlon.

“Kona was supposed to be right away, but Covid was still causing problems, so I didn’t get to race in Hawaii until 2022. This delay gave me more time to focus on heat adaptation and nutrition training (Triathlon nutrition blog by Laura Heinonen is coming soon). I was in excellent shape and thrilled with my preparation, but a surprise is always around the corner.”

A month before leaving for Kona, she twisted her ankle while running and was unsure how the race would go. “Thankfully, it felt better on the race day, but another problem had appeared. We were staying in a hotel close to the starting line, but the bed was so horrible that my back cramped, ending hopes of a podium finish.”

After swimming a couple of hundred meters from the start, she knew it would not be a good day. “My back hurt; I was crushed that I wouldn’t get the desired result. Anywhere else, and I would have DNF’d, but I was determined to finish the race no matter what. I feel as though I grew as an athlete that day.”

Photo Ville Kaskivirta

A Year of Triumphs

The 2023 season was a resounding success for Laura Heinonen. The races went smoothly; she had broken personal records and was on the podium in almost every race. While there were many stand-out moments, she first recalls the Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in the UK, where she finished first (AG) in the half-distance.

“No one was familiar to me at the race, so I didn't know where I stood. I didn’t think it had been a great race, but when I reached the finish, I was surprised to hear I had a big lead. Winning the Finnish championship in my age group in Turku is also a great memory; it was a solid middle-distance race.”

Ahead of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Lahti, she admits to having trouble sleeping, possibly because of the pressure of so many friends and family coming to support her. “I was fifth going into the last kilometers, so it was a mixture of disappointment and pride in placing sixth. It was a close competition.”


Overcoming Challenges and Securing Success

Following Lahti, Laura Heinonen took a short mid-season break and began preparing for Ironman Florida with her coach, Tero Setola. “Training in the months leading up to the November race had been good, but when I began to cut back a couple of weeks before the race, my hip flexor started giving me problems.”

With flashbacks to Kona threatening to sow seeds of doubt, her mental resilience kicked in. “I kept my cool and focused. I knew I could swim and cycle well, so I’ll see if I can run. Usually, I am nervous before races, but I was relaxed, making me wonder what was happening. It was the best run I’ve probably ever had.”

The main goal of the race was to get an Ironman World Championship 2024 slot for Nice, France, which will host the women's event for the first time outside of Kona–she successfully achieved this goal. While that is the 2024 season’s goal, she also secured a highly sought-after ticket for the full-distance at the legendary Challenge Roth in Bavaria, Germany.

Empowered by Spousal Support and Science

There are always ways to improve performance in endurance sports, and Laura Heinonen's husband, Kari, is wholly dedicated to that cause. “All our vacations are to races or training camps, so we move around as a team. He is also a triathlete (he set a new PB in Florida), but he’s always finding ways to improve my training, such as listening to podcasts and reading scientific journals.” 

As an ICU physician and working as a doctor at multiple Ironman races, Kari has a professional interest in the medical side of endurance sports. His research led to Precision Fuel & Hydration (PF&H) and learning about its scientific approach to hydration.

“Over the years, I have had many problems with my guts, especially when running or racing. I have tried many of the available nutrition products, and PF&H works,” she says, adding that she is now an ambassador for the brand in Finland. “It has been a lifesaver and helped me develop as a triathlete.”

With a resolve to continue growing as an athlete and person, she sees endless opportunities for improvement in her relatively short but promising endurance sports career. Just as in the relentless pursuit of a shark, the boundless potential is waiting to be realized, and she will chase after it with every fiber of her being.


Explore how Laura Heinonen tackled the formidable Kona triathlon, from training and planning her nutrition to executing her race strategy. Dive into the story (Coming soon!).

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