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The Killer Sets Behind Sarah Crowley’s 70.3 Ecuador Comeback Win

Australia’s Sarah Crowley flew under the radar after a big 2019. She tells us why and reveals a bike and swim workout that’s helped her return to the podium.

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For Australia’s Sarah Crowley, 2019 was a season for the books. She was on the podium in every race she entered, including a win at Ironman Arizona in 8:49:37, second at Challenge Roth, and a gutsy third place finish at the Ironman World Championships, where her 8:48:13 time landed her as the event’s fastest Australian woman in history.

But, then Covid happened. And, for Crowley, so did injuries. She describes 2020 as a “blip” as she faced one challenge after another. She returned to racing in 2021, finishing eighth at Challenge Miami in March, 10th at St. George 70.3, and sixth at Ironman Tulsa, the latter two in May. But they weren’t great experiences for someone used to winning. “Those races were decent on paper,” the 38-year-old said, speaking from her adopted home in Park City, Utah. “But the performances weren’t great.”

Crowley training in Park City. Photo: Dale Travers

Which is why her recent win at Ironman 70.3 Ecuador in the seaside city of Manta was extra sweet. It had been a long eighteen months since Crowley had ascended to the top of the podium, and she did it in brilliant fashion—outdistancing Ecuador’s Elizabeth Bravo by over four minutes and third-place finisher Kimberly Goodell of the U.S. by nearly 23 minutes. Crowley, who came out of the water with Bravo more than three minutes ahead of the chasers, unleashed impressive speed on the undulating bike course, posting a 2:30:32 split that was 7 minutes and 23 seconds faster than Bravo’s. (Bravo, however, did gain back some time on the run with her race-best 1:22:53 split, but Crowley’s steady 1:26:01 time kept her in the lead.)

And the kicker? Crowley actually trained through the race. “This wasn’t an ‘A’ race, so I didn’t make too many adjustments,” she said. “I actually did a five-hour ride with 9,200 feet of elevation on the Wednesday before we left. The focus is on building towards Kona.”

Crowley, who works with coach Cam Watt, said that training at 7,200 feet of altitude in her adopted home of Park City set her up well for arriving into Quito, where she spent a couple of days before flying to sea-level Manta. “Quito is at 9,300 feet, so for me it wasn’t a massive adjustment to get used to the elevation while I was there. It might be a detriment for an athlete coming from sea level, but for me, it was fine.”

As for the course itself, all of Crowley’s training on Park City’s mountain roads proved to be the perfect prep. “My training environment set me up to have a good race,” she said.

So did her workouts. Here, Crowley shares two key training sessions she used in her build-up to Ecuador 70.3.

Sarah Crowley’s Big, Basic Build Ride

Total time: 2 hours

2 hours of building effort from easy, medium, moderate, to maximum, every 30 minutes

“This ride is great for specificity,” said Crowley. “Most athletes fade at the end of the ride portion of a 70.3, so this trains you to finish strong.”

Sarah Crowley’s Race-Pace “50s-Festival” Swim:

Total distance: 4,600

200 swim easy
12×50, every fourth go 25 hard/25 easy
40×50 steady race pace on :50 using a pull band
20×50 steady race pace on :45 using pull paddles
8×50 very hard off the wall on :60, no gear
200 swim easy
200 kick

“The aim of this session is to maintain your race intensity and pace consistently, with short rest,” explained Crowley. “It helps with race-day pacing.”

More insights and winning workouts from top pros and age-groupers: How They Did It.