Sarah has competed as a professional triathlete since 2004. With a renowned swim/bike combo she has an impressive list of accomplishments including 11th place at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, multiple Life Time Fitness titles, US National and Pan American Championships and over 30 professional wins.
Sarah recently made a return to professional racing after taking time off in 2013 for the birth of her daughter Caroline. In 2014 she won 6 races back to back and in 2015 has made the switch to long course racing, winning on her debut at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico.
I had the privilege of competing with Sarah at The University of Tulsa from 2001-2004, and have watched her amazing progress in triathlon since graduating.
Growing up you were an accomplished swimmer and runner and went to College on a running scholarship, was there a reason you chose running over swimming at this stage?
I had been swimming for many years before University and it was my main focus in high school. I was curious to try something new and focus on just running. I also had a running scholarship at the University of Tulsa and being the oldest of four children, that was a huge incentive for my family and me.
What made you decide to transition into triathlon after college, and was that always the plan?
I had been an athlete since I was a young child, so working out was something I wanted to continue, it was my passion. I never really considered triathlon until I saw the premier event at the Sydney Olympics. I was a sophomore in college at the time and In the back of my mind, I thought this was something I could have success in the future. I wanted to wait until I graduated to test out triathlon.
You’ve raced both ITU draft legal and non-draft Olympic Distance races most of your career, did you enjoy competing in both formats of racing and would you like to see more non-draft races at the elite level?
Early in my career I focused on ITU draft legal racing. After 2008, I realized my talents were better suited for non draft racing, so around 2010 I started switching focus to non draft racing, but still competing in both styles of racing. There were many opportunities from 2009-2014 to specialize in non draft Olympic distance racing (with Hy-Vee being a non draft event in 2011-2014). Recently many of the Olympic distance non drafting events have disappeared and I do hope that they will return because I think it’s a great distance to race.
Through College, some of my best memories of you as an athlete was how focussed you were on training and racing and how mentally tough you were. Has this played a big part in your triathlon success competing against such a high level of competition?
Thanks Owain! I think at the highest level of sport, the mental component is just as important as the physical component. In triathlon, there are so many extrinsic factors that can affect your race, both positive and negative. You have to be ready to intuitively react and make a decision at that moment to have the best race outcome. In addition, you have to really focus on what you are doing in training and not worry about what others are doing.
For example, there have been several times I have crashed during a race, and I have had to quickly evaluate myself to see if I am ok, my bike is ok, regroup and get back onto the race course. Although I have crashed, I still had some of my best performances. It would have been easy at the time to dwell on the crash and give up mentally and physically, but I had to make that choice to keep pushing and staying positive. During a race goggles could fall off, you could get kicked in the swim, go off course…etc. All of these issues can derail you from your race plan, but staying calm and positive can really help you on race day.
You took time off in 2013 for the birth of your daughter Caroline. How was it resuming training after pregnancy, and how have you found the balance between racing professionally and having a family?
I was quite surprised how fast the body bounced back physically after pregnancy. I think it was tougher emotionally and harder having to leave her for a training session, adjusting to less sleep and worrying about her when she had a cold, etc.
It took about five to six weeks after the birth of Caroline before I felt like I could start running pain-free, but I was able to swim and bike within two weeks after giving birth. The first swim session felt amazing as I remember I was sore and stiff from the hours of nursing! I also noticed how much easier it was to move my body through the water without a huge tummy and an instant loss of 25lbs!
As Caroline has grown through different stages over the past 21 months, we have constantly been learning and adapting as well. The first year, recovery post training was slightly easier as she was not on the move yet. This year, she is very active, so recovery is much more of”active” recovery post training. We were also blessed with a good sleeper as she has slept through the night most nights since she was several months old.
You are coached by your husband Nathan, does that make balancing training with family life easier?
I do get to spend a lot of time with my husband and he really understands what I need to do to be successful. When I finish training sessions for the day, he knows I want to hang out with Caroline and he will cook dinner and clean up the kitchen while I play with her and give her a bath. We really work well as a team on and off training sessions!
Any good tips for other Parents (me) on how to achieve a good family/training balance?
Make sure to spend quality time as a family every day, even if you only have time for 15 or 30 minutes for everyone to be together. Use this time without any electronics or phones and just enjoy each other. My husband is also much happier if he can get a workout in each day, so make time to help your spouse get an hour or so a day of personal time each day to accomplish a workout, a shower, etc!
This year you started to make the switch to long course racing, what drove this decision and why was it the right time?
I was ready for a new challenge. I am excited to get out and train, try different workout and see how my body responds to longer distances.
Did it feel like a big step up to race your first 70.3 this year in Puerto Rico?
I feel like I was prepared, but just had to get used to spending more continuous time in the time trail position! I loved the race and excited to try more this year.
With a reputation as a strong swim/biker, do you feel more equipped for long course racing?
I feel like the swim has a little less contribution in long course racing, but the bike and run are both equally important. The training and racing is still different from short course, so I need to still learn more about pacing and see what I need to do, especially for the Iron distance.
With your first Ironman planned for this year, how has training differed and how have you coped with the demands?
I have done much more volume than ever before. I was very pleased with how my training was going and had never felt stronger. Unfortunately at the end of a long training block, we pushed the envelope just a little too much. I suffered a set back and have had to push back my first Iron distance race. Part of the training is learning how much you can handle and when to push back. Such a tricky part of training to get to the race line at 100 percent fitness!
What do you see as your biggest challenge going into your first Ironman race?
Dealing with the right amount of nutrition to get my through the day and also the duration….it’s a long day to stay focused physically and mentally.
If all goes well in the Ironman what’s the plan for the rest of the year?
If I am ready to race a Regional Qualifier this year, I would love to attempt a Kona qualification. Otherwise I just want to focus on getting healthy and getting back to the start line when I am race ready!
Finally, what your opinion on ’50 women to Kona’?
Absolutely 50 women to Kona. I loved the fact that in ITU racing fifteen years ago, there was equal prize money distribution, even if there was not equal numbers. This has allowed draft legal racing to become such an equal opportunity for women. I was quite surprised to learn this was not the case in Kona and it’s quite shocking to be honest. I do think this is something that can and will be changed in the future.
Thanks for your time Sarah and best of luck with your Ironman debut.
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