Catching Up With American Triathlete Sara McLarty

American Sara McLarty had a breakout year in 2010, earning a Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Series Championship and her first victory as a professional triathlete at the Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix event in Oceanside, Calif. chatted with the super-swimmer to find out more about her background, her goals and why she hopes to stick to Olympic-distance racing as long as possible. You had great success as a swimmer competing for the University of Florida. What made you decide to transition over to triathlon?

McLarty almost always leads out of the swim. Photo: Delly Carr/
McLarty almost always leads out of the swim. Photo: Delly Carr/

McLarty: It was more like I took a break from triathlon to swim at Florida. I did my first triathlon at the age of seven. I did them all the way through high school. I took a break to go swim for college. I promised my coach I would stay away from triathlon during college. By the time I was 10 I knew I wanted to become a professional triathlete one day. Most people don’t discover triathlon until a much later age. How did you become involved in the sport when you were so young?

McLarty: My family was very into the sport. My mom did a triathlon when I was six. My parents found some kids’ triathlons for me and my brother to do. You can find one every weekend in Florida. By the time I was 18 I had already done at least 100 triathlons. Your race schedule seems to revolve around ITU races. What is it about the drafting Olympic-distance races that appeal to you?

McLarty: It’s hard for a swimmer to excel at the Olympic format, but I do a lot of them because I do dream of going to the Olympics one day. Hopefully one day the cards will fall into place. I’ve also been a big player in a lot of the women’s American successes. We have a lot of strong swimmers like Laura Bennett, Sarah Haskins, Sarah Groff and Julie Ertele when she comes back from having her babies. I’ve been a key player in helping those girls get good results. I love that role of helping them out. Outside of competing, you are very involved in the sport as a swim coach and as a writer for a few publications, including Triathlete magazine. Why do you choose to use your spare time towards these ventures?

McLarty: I am so incredibly passionate about this sport. I’ve been doing it since I was seven, so I really don’t know much else. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You can still be a well-rounded person and be involved in the sports in many ways. I’m a big supporter of youth triathlon. Triathlon is a platform to promote being healthy as a child. My parent’s did a great job and not everyone is that lucky. And it’s fun. I think a lot of kids who can’t see themselves doing something like football can relate to triathlon. It’s more individual and it’s a mix of different sports. At what point during the season did you realize you had a shot at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Series title?

McLarty finished second at the L.A. Tri. Photo: Rich Cruse
McLarty finished second at the L.A. Tri. Photo: Rich Cruse

McLarty: The weekend before the final race when I did really well in Los Angeles [Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Triathlon]. I can actually tell you the moment I realized it. The exact moment was when the head race official walked up to us in L.A. and said that the water temperature meant no wetsuit for pros. We still had an hour to the race and I stood there and said “if you don’t get your act together and do something today, you might as well go home and hang it up.” After crossing the finish line at the Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix race in Oceanside, Calif., you were ecstatic to share that it was your first win as a professional. Walk us through the emotions of that.

McLarty: It was completely unexpected. I love that Aaron [Hersh] wrote that I was the heavy favorite. I was like “according to who?” It was amazing. I just saw a picture of Paula Newby-Fraser holding out her hand to shake my hand. To have Greg Welch announcing and have Paula Newby-Fraser and Heather Fuhr there, and then racing next to Michellie Jones, I still don’t believe it happened. I think it’s a weird dream I had one night. Did you enjoy the format of the super sprint?

The two swims in the super sprint race helped propel McLarty to victory. Photo: Aaron Hersh
The two swims in the super sprint race helped propel McLarty to victory. Photo: Aaron Hersh

McLarty: I really loved it. I hope that series gets off the ground. I will be there. What’s it going to take to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team?

McLarty: For me to make the London Olympics it’s going to take about five more days lying around on my butt and then from now until then 100% focus on that goal. It’s going to take me travelling to some strange countries to get some points because right now I’m lacking. It’s going to take a lot of hard racing. You basically have to run around the world chasing points. There’s a slot for a third Olympian that could be a domestique. It is possible that if the women who qualify ahead of me are strong swimmers and bikers I could be put on the team to help them. Regardless, I’ll be working hard to get there. As one of the fastest swimmers in the sport, you are almost always riding and running to keep your competition behind you. How does this affect your mindset heading into a race?

McLarty: It’s hard. The super sprint was the only time I’ve led from the gun to the finish tape. That’s probably the only way I can win a race is to lead from start to finish. Some days it’s really tough. When there’s no one to look at in front of you it’s tough, especially knowing people are working together to catch you. I train for that. I know I have to race myself. How do you balance maintaining your swim strength while aiming to improve on the bike and the run?

McLarty: I have a swim coach as a triathlon coach, so there’s your answer. I go to the pool four or five times a week. I hop in with these kids where I could possibly be their mother. I get in with them for an hour or an hour and a half and I train like I’m a teenager again. I go all-out. I get out and go home and think ‘I’m too old for this.’ They keep me young and going. Do you ever see yourself jumping up to longer distances?

McLarty: Possibly, in the way off future. Especially with the Lifetime Fitness Series, the new 5150 series, the Olympics and the sprint series being introduced. I don’t need to go into the long stuff to make some money. I feel like I can look at the shorter stuff and hope that it will start attracting as much attention as that boring Ironman stuff.

Open-water swimming tips from the other Sarah … Haskins.