Sarah True represented the U.S. in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic triathlon. In another of our "Uncut Moments" series, Sarah opens up about nutrition, health, the challenges of moving to the Ironman distance and being married to another professional athlete, runner Ben True.
I’ve been a professional athlete for 13 years. I was already a swimmer in high school and thought triathlon was something I might be good at. I raced a couple in high school, a couple more in college, and when I graduated I took a huge leap and decided to focus on the sport to see how far I could get. I gave myself two years, and two years later I was a full professional making a living doing it.
My favorite sport of the three depends on the day. If I didn’t love all three, I wouldn’t be a triathlete.
There are days where it feels like a job. But then you break through and you realize you are extremely fortunate to play for a living. There is something really special about having a job where you focus on one thing, and that’s to get the most out of yourself.
When I started this sport, I had no idea how far I would go. I just wanted to be a professional athlete, and once I reached that point, it wasn’t enough for me. Then I wanted to try to make Olympic Trials. After I made it to Trials, I then wanted to make the Olympic team. Once I made it to the Olympics, I wanted to win an Olympic medal. What I’ve learned about myself through the sport is that the definitions that we have of success for ourselves will always change, and its whether or not we are willing to rise to them.
One of the hardest things for me was being able to separate who I am as an athlete from who I am as a person. You have to separate your sense of self from your performance. We have good and bad workouts, good and bad races, but they are only that. They don’t mean anything about who you are as a person.
What I admire most about my husband is that Ben is able to train day in and day out by himself, over 100 miles per week, with minimal complaint. Ben is the most focused, disciplined person I know. You can’t help but be inspired by that.
The hardest thing about being married to another professional athlete is that we can only really support each other emotionally. I’m not his coach, I’m not his training partner. I can’t be there at most races, he can’t be there at my races. It’s challenging when there are hard periods of training, or there’s been a tough race, and we want to be there for the other person and we have our own careers to also take of.
My proudest moment was also one of my hardest moments, which was getting fourth at the Olympics. You’re the first one left off the podium, and for the next few years all you can think is “What could I have done differently?” For years afterward that was my thought process and my motivation, until one day it turns and you realize how proud you are of that moment.
So much of what I do is in order just to stay healthy. To get good sleep, to have good nutrition, to keep good habits. I’m fairly conservative in my training because I’ve learned that an injury will cost you way more time than you can ever get in return.
As a triathlete, I’ll frequently have days that are five or six hours of training, and I’ll have multiple training sessions. I have to very carefully plan out my energy management throughout the course of the day, and that means that between training sessions I’m not exerting a lot of energy.
I’m coming from shorter course racing triathlon, which is two hours and it’s faster racing, more power based, and nutrition doesn’t play a huge role in the middle of a race. Moving up to Ironman distance, which is a nine-hour race, it’s a totally different ballgame. A huge component of that is being able to use fuel well.
One of the biggest changes that I have in my training is to try to convert energy systems. A couple times a month, we are doing fat adaptation days where we manipulate my carb intake. The idea is that when I get to an Ironman race day, I’m not blowing through my carb stores. I’ve made those changes in my training so that my body knows how to use fat efficiently so that I can make it all the way to the finish line.
On my fat adaptation days, I’ll do a long 2-2.5 hour run in the morning and a long bike in the afternoon. In between that run and bike, we try to make sure I’m only taking in protein and fat. That’s where a lower carb source like Momentous Absolute Zero comes into play. I still need fuel and will be doing over 7 hours of training, but it’s about what you choose as your fuel choice.
Even if I weren’t an athlete, food would be very important to me. If I prefer to take in grass-fed beef for dinner, you’d better believe that the same level of quality will be applied to any sort of supplement I take. Everything we take in has to be really good. We work too hard to eat anything but the best.
When I’m out on my bike for hours I think a lot about how lucky I am to do what I do. I could be at a desk or behind a computer, but instead my job is essentially what other people do for fun.
Interview by: Sara Hendershot