Sarah True: Triathlete, Olympian, goof-ball and... gravel racer?
As VTDirt readers you are probably wondering why you’re reading about a Triathlete. Sarah True is an incredible two-time Olympian Triathlete and friend who definitely knows how to ride her bike. I thought it would be cool to 1.) get her “outside” perspective on this crazy sport of gravel cycling, 2.) talk about her experience with the shift towards a more experience-oriented cycling industry, 3.) and uncover some Olympic training, gravel riding and nutrition tips she’s perfected along the way.
Where did you grow up, and what is your first memory of cycling?
I grew up in Cooperstown, a small village in Upstate New York. My first memory of cycling was learning how to ride my blue bike with training wheels in the back yard.
Was your family into sports, or did you discover it through school? What piqued your interest in becoming an athlete?
I’m the youngest of three and both of my siblings were athletes. Our first sport was soccer and then we all branched out into other sports. I pretty much tried everything and realized that my aptitude was not for anything requiring coordination. Fortunately I’m stubborn and enjoy hard work- perfect traits for an endurance athlete.
When did you officially “turn pro” and how long had it been a goal of yours prior? Or did you have a different set of goals that led you down this athletic path?
I got my elite license in triathlon after graduating from college. The bar to get an elite license in my sport is fairly low: I was able to get it without that much knowledge of the sport or experience. It wasn’t a big goal to race elite, but being a full-fledged professional was. I gave myself a couple of years after college to achieve that status and to make a living through sport.
There are rumors rolling around that you’re racing Rasputitsa this year. First, are they true, and second, how did a two-time Olympic triathlete find herself signing up for a gravel race? What are your expectations coming into late April?
First off, it’s more accurate to say that I am participating in Rasputitsa. After a year of riding almost exclusively on my TT bike, the gnarliness of Rasputitsa is way outside of my comfort zone right now. I’ve heard it’s an incredible event, not just for the epic riding itself, but also for all the fun surrounding the actual race. Tasty food, good people, and a Prince tribute band? Yes, please! Plus, it’s a fundraiser for Little Bellas and I’m an ambassador for the program, so there’s no way that I’d pass up on the opportunity to ride.
Do you plan on doing more gravel events in the future?
I’m fortunate to live in one of the best gravel riding areas in the country. The downside is that all of my riding companions like to gloat about the amazing riding that they do while I’m stuck on the TT bike. I see Rasputitsa as the first of many gravel races to come. It’s such a big part of NH/ VT bike riding that it’s a shame that I don’t play on the dirt more.
Aside from gravel, what does your Triathlete competition calendar look like for 2019?
The big focus for the year is the Ironman World Championship in Kona. I’ll do an Ironman in early June to qualify and a few 70.3 (half IRONMAN) races between now and October.
Let’s talk bikes: What gravel bike set up are you running? Can you give us the details and specific build? Will you be running anything special for Rasputitsa?
I don’t have a gravel bike (hint hint, Specialized), so I’ll be riding my cyclocross bike, an SWorks Crux. I’ll wait to see what happens with the conditions before I make a decision about tire selection.
From an “outsider’s” point of view, what do you think of this giant shift in popularity towards gravel cycling in the cycling world?
I think it’s funny how huge gravel riding has gotten; for us in the Upper Valley, gravel has always been big. Many of our roads are high-quality dirt, so we’ve been ahead of the trend in knowing how much fun it is. Riders are rightfully nervous about safety in the cellphone era; we see how distracted drivers are and getting off of main roads to quieter dirt roads brings peace of mind. I’m just psyched that other bike riders, including triathletes, are embracing the discipline.
What do you think about the shift in the entire sporting industry towards sponsoring/supporting athletes with interesting lives and personalities instead of sponsoring in a more results-based way? How have you experienced this, and/or how has this affected you?
Sports marketing is changing quickly and athletes are all trying to sort out how we fit into this new world. Traditionally, companies would partner with fast pros to gain legitimacy and gain exposure. With the advent of social media, companies realize that they can get exposure through influencers for much cheaper than pros who partially rely on financial partnerships for income. There’s been quite a bit of push back from some pros; we see that there’s less money available and many high performance athletes only want to worry about training and racing, not their social media following. It’s a new demand on our time that we have to contend with, but an understandable one given the changing digital world.
I’ve definitely seen a shift and experienced it myself: more is expected of us for less support. All of my contracts now have social media expectations built in- something that was rare, even a handful of years ago. It’s no longer good enough to just be fast; you also have to constantly engage on social media in an authentic way.
Moving away from the Insta-world and sponsorships, what is your go-to post-training session recovery drink or meal? Can you give us the recipe?
After a hard session, I’ll normally drink a whey protein shake (I’m sponsored by Momentous and love their products). I’m a huge avocado toast fan and that’s a post-training standard: normally sourdough toast, Pete & Gerry’s eggs & sriracha.
You’ve become an inspiration to so many female athletes and enthusiasts. If you had a piece of advice to help them build confidence in training, exploration, and competition, what would it be?
I think that one of my biggest regrets in sport is that I never had a mentor in my formative years. If I had one piece of advice, it would be to find an experienced woman that you admire and ask her for advice. Not everyone is able to fill that role; keep asking around until you find someone who gets excited by the idea of nurturing someone new in sport. I’ve found that confidence comes through familiarity and knowledge. Arm yourself with all of the information you can get (there are no bad questions!) and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t equate making mistakes with failure- it’s only through learning (sometimes the hard way) that we grow.
Do you have any advice for younger athletes hoping to acquire sponsors? How did you go about doing it?
When I get posed this question, I normally ask the questioner what they want out of sport: is it about racing fast or having free gear? Generally I tell athletes to focus on what gets them fired up, use their own voice, and develop relationships. Find products that you genuinely love and use. Engage with their marketing team and product reps. Be persistent! What starts with an authentic love for a product can turn into free gear and potentially a contract down the road. No matter what, don’t lose sight of what drives you to perform and don’t take any marketing decisions personally.
What do the first 90 minutes of a typical day look like for you?
Pour over coffee, breakfast (overnight oats, oatmeal, toast or pancakes), the Daily Show (oh, Trevor Noah and those dimples), check email and social media, procrastinate a bit, and then head out for the first training session of the day.
Do you have any specific core or stretching routine that you’ve found to be really useful for the bike? Any specific movements you’d like to share?
I do gym work twice a week and have found that a mixture of weights and plyometrics are really helpful for developing robustness and maintaining range of motion for the bike. There’s no better core routine that lifting some heavy weights.
If something in my body feels off, I’ll foam roll or do some additional dynamic exercises (no static stretches ever). One of the benefits of triathlon is that having a mix of activities helps even out potential imbalances. As long as I throw in some lateral exercises, I can stay pretty healthy.
Have to ask. All-time favorite Vermont beer: go
The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. Mostly because it makes me think of my wedding.
Looking ahead, do you have any personal projects coming up? What are you excited about?
One of my realizations over the past few years is how little transparency there is about racing and training at high level. I get really excited about the athlete community, but I also find myself frustrated by the tendency to present a filtered version of what we experience. I have to figure out the best format, but I’d love to dedicate myself to this.
On the non-athlete side, my husband Ben and I would love to have a full-time coffee roastery when we retire. I’m excited by learning how to be world-class in this venture. It’s going to take a lot of dedication to the craft, but we’re fired up by the endeavor.
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