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The accountant-turned-pro-triathlete chats about the rocky road to improving on her 2018 Kona podium finish.
Australia’s Sarah Crowley has had a fairly crazy 12 months. After crashing on the bike during last year’s Ironman World Championship (where she still managed a third-place finish), she struggled with training in the ensuing months. She claimed the top spot at February’s Hell of the West triathlon in Queensland, but shortly after the race a two-inch stress fracture was discovered in her back—likely caused by that Kona crash. With that diagnosis, she shut down her running for the next 10 weeks.
Crowley started to regain her racing form earlier this summer and has been on a bit of a tear since. At July 8’s Ironman European Championship, the 35-year-old managed to pull together a 9:11:31 finishing time worthy of a third-place podium spot behind three-time Ironman world champion Daniela Ryf of Switzerland and Ironman up-and-comer Sarah True of the United States. Just two weeks later at Ironman Hamburg (July 30), she finished first (8:08:21) in what turned out to be a run, bike, run affair after German health officials deemed the waters of the Alster unsafe due to high algae levels.
Following her European successes, Crowley traveled on business to Southern California—including an appearance at sponsor Canyon Bicycles USA in Carlsbad—before heading to Park City, Utah, for a training block. We caught up with her during her Aug. 3 Canyon stint to hear how she’s handling the early-season setback as she heads into Kona.
Now that she’s healthy and looking ahead to Kona, Crowley says she isn’t expecting to be with the Big Island’s lead pack. Everyone’s faster. It will be quick. Strategies have evolved.
“Piecing it together in a way that’s best is very difficult,” Crowley explains. She’s worked hard to get faster in the water. Her coach Cameron Watt has completely reworked her swim stroke since they teamed up in early 2016.
“I mean, we started from scratch,” she says, noting that when she shut down the run earlier this year, it gave her the opportunity to up the swim training. But Crowley recognizes she’s not the only one trying to shave time in the water. Reflecting on last year’s swim dominance by Kona second-place finisher Lucy Charles of Great Britain, Crowley says, “No one’s going to let Lucy get away for eight minutes [this year]. Dani’s [Daniela Ryf] not; she’s been working on [swim] too. I saw it in Frankfurt. You’ve got to be with Dani. If you’re going to try to be with Dani, she’s going to try to be with Lucy. So, you need to be faster at [the] swim.”
As for the bike, Crowley says the usual build-strategy won’t work. In Kona, “you’ve got to get on it straight away”—which is exactly what Ryf did last year for the win. The run is Crowley’s strength, but her numbers concern her. “I have not unlocked my run this year, because the bike has to be so fast,” she says. But there’s still time.
Crowley, who’s made no secret of the fact that she loves to race multiple Ironmans in a year, says she’s considering another Ironman race before the October championship, maybe Santa Cruz on Sept. 9. The easygoing Aussie isn’t looking for another summer win. Instead, she’s fine-tuning, testing her body, and her strategies. “In Ironman, you’re racing you,” she says.
“Life experience counts for a little bit,” Crowley continues, reflecting on her injuries, wins, losses, happy marriage to an attorney, accomplished accounting career, life on the road. “Ability to cope, analyze scenarios, deal with adversity. I know I’m a very different athlete, in the head, compared to when I was 26-27.” She’s thinking more during her races, she’s calmer. Finding the critical path on course and making choices in a split second are in her arsenal. She admits that this year, she’s more mature. “I’ve got the experience to know what to do next.”