With three podiums in four 70.3 races in 2014, US triathlete Sarah Piampiano has had a red-hot start to her third season as a professional, establishing herself as a contender whenever she toes the line. She recently placed eighth among a world-class field at the 2014 Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championships race in St. George. This weekend she takes on an international field at Ironman Texas and has her sights set on her first Ironman title as a professional.
Sarah discovered triathlon somewhat haphazardly, signing up for her first event after losing a bet over drinks to a friend. It took just one race to become hooked. She quickly found success at the amateur level leveraging the strength and speed she had developed during her college days as a ski racer and cross-country runner. She transitioned to the pro ranks after Ironman Hawaii in 2011 where she was the first American amateur across the line.
It was in 2011 that I first met Sarah, introduced by our mutual coach, Matt Dixon of PurplePatch Fitness. With her fair skin and strawberry blonde hair, she’s easily recognisable but it was the “Little Red Racing” logo on her kit that caught my eye and hinted at her sense of humor. I just knew that she’d be a cool chick! And I was right. I’ve been fortunate to get to know Sarah better this year as she travelled to my hometown of San Francisco to train with the PurplePatch crew, under the very watchful eye of coach, Matt Dixon. Trust me when I say it’s a watchful eye!
JB: Sarah, thank you for sitting down with me for a candid chat for Witsup.com! Let’s start with a big congratulations for your recent race result in St. George! You took eighth place among a strong group of women. Can you describe your experience in that race a little?
SP: Thanks so much for the congrats and thanks for the opportunity to talk with Witsup.com!
The race in St. George was such a great opportunity to get a gauge of where I am versus where I need to be leading into 70.3 Worlds come September. It allowed a dynamic to play out that you don’t typically see at races where just a handful of strong women show up all with differing strengths and weaknesses. This was as close to a World Championship field as you could get outside of the race itself, so it truly gave me great insight into what I need to start thinking about and preparing for strategically as I get ready for Worlds. For example, the front pack of swimmers are also all strong, smart and experienced cyclists, and they were able to use that to their advantage to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field in this race. Knowing that, strategies are going to have to change and the second pack is going to need to be smart and push the pace on the bike to manage the gap.
JB: How did the day go down for you? What went well? What can you improve upon?
SP: My race was solid. There were parts I executed really well and other areas that I learned a lot from. I think I settled in too quickly on the swim and fell into a rhythm that wasn’t pushing the pace as much as I would have liked. I felt I rode the first half of the bike well. I found my own rhythm early, and I was able to bridge up to the second pack of women by mile 30, which was exciting! But the group I bridged to all are phenomenal athletes and some of the strongest cyclists in our sport, so putting a gap on them proved to be very hard. They are all so smart and so tactical and it resulted in a lot of back and forth, which was a new experience for me, and something I learned a lot from.
I was happy with my run – we tried out a new strategy in terms of how I approached and executed it and I felt good about that. I need to fine tune some things and find the extra speed, but I really felt like I did what I had wanted to do out there. All in all it was a solid day and certainly really beneficial for me in terms of what I was able to take away from the race!
JB: Not to belabor the point but the women’s field was very deep at St. George. How do you feel about your result and the progress that you’re making in the sport?
SP: The field was deep!! To me, with the exception of a handful of women, that was a World Champ field right there!
I feel good about my progress. My training has evolved. What I’m focusing on now is different than what I was doing over the last few years. I’m thinking much more strategically in races. And my expectations for myself are higher. There is still a lot of progress to be made – my swim obviously is an ever-evolving project for me, but I made some training changes this year and feel that my swim is headed is in a very positive direction. I’m very excited about where the next six months will bring me!
JB: You’ve had a busy start to 2014 with four 70.3 races under your belt, including three podium (top three) finishes at Pucon, New Orleans and Galveston. What does the rest of the season look like?
SP: Haha! That is true! It has been a busy start to the year. I felt like at the beginning of April I was in season-kick-off mode and suddenly, not even a month later, I am in full swing!
The last few weeks have been about recovery and getting ready to race Ironman Texas, this coming weekend. From there I’ll head back to LA and San Francisco for a few weeks of recovery and training before heading to a team training camp in Canada. I may race 70.3 Tremblant on June 22nd, and then will fly from there to Europe to get ready for Ironman Frankfurt on July 6th. The turnaround between Texas and Frankfurt is only six weeks, which is a little nerve-wracking for me, as I’ve historically needed more rest and recovery. But I do truly feel like I am a different athlete than I was a year or two years ago so I am excited to see how that works for me!
After Frankfurt, I’ll dial back the racing. I may race a 70.3 in August, but it will all be used in preparation for 70.3 Worlds and Kona.
JB: You should race Lake Stevens 70.3 with me! Do you have specific goals for this season?
SP: My major goals for the season are to win my first Ironman title, and to post a top 10 finish in Kona. It is going to be a hard feat as the women racing in Kona now are all amazing, but that is the next stepping stone!
JB: I’ll certainly be cheering for you! Now, your first shot at that title is coming up this weekend at Ironman Texas. Are you feeling recovered from St. George?
SP: I’m excited to race this weekend! I was hoping for high winds and high heat, but not sure the weather gods are going to be delivering on that this year! haha.
I feel good. St. George is a hard race and Matt Dixon (my coach) and I have had to be careful about how we went about my training the last few weeks. I needed to recover properly, but also not let me rest so much that I was flat. We had to keep the volume up a bit. So right after the race in St. George I hopped on my bike and rode to flush my legs, and the next morning was up riding my bike for several hours. In April I raced three3 70.3’s in four weeks and so I feel like it is bringing me into Texas in a great spot.
JB: Who do you have your eye on the main contenders at Texas?
There are some strong ladies out there racing! There are a couple of European women – Eva Wutti and Julia Gajer – who are both very strong. Eva is like the jack of all trades and is very balanced and strong across all three disciplines. And Julia, as we saw at Ironman Arizona last year, is a very consistent and strong runner. From the US Kelly Williamson, as we know, is an incredible athlete. She’s got a strong swim and a smoking fast run. And Jennie Hansen is always one to watch! She’s like the stealth bomber! She is a really strong and consistent rider, particularly on the back-half of Ironman rides, and then she has a very strong run, so she is someone to look out for to be making her way to the front all day!
JB: You recently made the decision to move to San Francisco for six months. Even though it’s my hometown and I think it’s awesome for triathletes, it’s not necessarily known as a triathlon mecca, compared to Boulder or San Diego… What drove that decision?
SP: In January we did a team training camp in Kona. While we were there Matt and I sat down and had a pretty long and serious talk about where I was, what we wanted to see me accomplish over the coming year, two years from now and three years from now, and what I absolutely had to make happen in order to achieve that. My lens in terms of training focus and structure changed this year, and with a slightly different approach, we both felt it would make a lot of sense for me to head up to San Francisco where I could train in front of Matt on a daily basis. There are small nuances and things I needed to change that would only happen if Matt could be there every day getting on my case. The plan had been for me to go up there for March and April, but it was immediately evident that it was a shift that was working very well so we made the decision quite early on to re-base myself in San Fran for the 2014 season.
JB: And we’re so happy to have you here! Is it different to be training day in and day out with Matt? Can you tell us more about the elite squad of athletes you train with in San Francisco?
SP: It’s been wonderful and I’ve been so impressed with the quality of training and the people there. Two of Matt’s other pro athletes – Meredith Kessler and his newest addition, Laura Siddall – are both based there and are amazing training partners and people. In addition there are a number of elite amateur athletes, Sarah Cameto (look out for her!!) and Every Man Jack, a men’s elite tri team, that bring so much to the table and are such a strong foundation for the community there. The whole crew works so hard, are supportive and create an amazing training dynamic.
I’ve also been lucky enough to get connected and be working with Foundry Performance, which is an amazing strength, conditioning and rehab team here in SF. The team heads up the strength and conditioning program for Oracle Team USA, which is the America’s Cup team. I have been blown away by what they have brought to the table in terms of knowledge and ability to assess and address weaknesses. These guys are showing up at my 5:30am swim practices and bike and run sessions to watch me train in order to understand and gauge real-time weaknesses in my training, and then incorporate that into my plan. The communication structure with Matt is incredible and it’s just been awesome to have that connectivity among the group.
JB: You had a very serious career in investment banking before taking a leap of faith, heading west and becoming a pro triathlete. What do you miss most about your “prior life”? Will you ever go back to it?
SP: I think the thing I miss most about my “prior life” was just the daily intellectual stimulation. I love staying up on the markets and the process of globalization and challenging myself to think strategically. I am a numbers-focused geek, so to not have that has been hard at times. BUT…I don’t think I would go back. It was an absolutely amazing experience, but I also understand that it is an industry that is very difficult to be out of for a long period of time and then re-enter. I figured I could be out of it for 1-2 years and still fall back in, but I don’t think I could be out of it for 5 or 6 years and go back in the way I would like.
JB: What skills you learned in investment banking translate to life as a pro triathlete?
SP: Interestingly I think having that kind of business background has really helped me in triathlon in terms of relationship management with sponsors and being able to develop and execute on a business plan, since we are all entrepreneurs in essence. There is an awareness and ability to navigate business issues that I’m not sure I would have otherwise learned had I not spent that time in the industry. It truly has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to grow my brand and develop myself both within and outside the sport.
JB: Okay, let’s wrap things up with one of my favorite topics… food! What are your favorite foods pre-race and post-race?
SP: Pre-race: I eat the same thing pre-race that I do every other night of the week! For me, I’m all about consistency, so I don’t go and eat something before a race that I don’t eat normally. I eat a big salad with fish or red meat and a sweet potato.
Post-race: As much as I love ice cream, I can’t handle anything sweet after a race. I am all about savory, so pizza, fries, cheeseburgers…pretty much anything with tons of salt!
JB: Give us your favorite go-to recipe when training that’s quick, easy and nutritious!
SP: During the regular training week, there are two things that I really love to make. One is something that I have almost every day for lunch. It’s a 2 or 3 egg omelette. I slice up avocado, tomato and arugula (or rocket as many people refer to it as!!), and then I top it off with salsa.
The other one I love is a fennel and quinoa salad. The dressing is made up of orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest and ginger, and the salad is just Quinoa with sliced fennel, shallots, radish and some peeled orange slices. It so yummy! Pair that with a few slices of roasted chicken and you have an awesome lunch!
Thanks so much for the time guys! I’m such a fan and supporter of Witsup.com!!
For more information on Sarah Piampiano, check out her website: http://sarahpiampiano.com
Photos by Jay Prasuhn