Tom Petty famously crooned “The Waiting is the Hardest Part…” For professional triathlete Sarah Groff, who qualified for the London Olympics in ITU’s Dextro Energy World Championship Series in August 2011, every day since, has been a prelude to the Olympics.
We spoke to Sarah the Thursday after her 15th place finish in ITU’s San Diego event, which determined the last women’s triathlon Olympic spot for Team USA.
Here’s what the New Hampshire-based triathlete had to say, about that hot California day in which her coaches implored her to walk into the finish midway through the run course.
“I got heat exhaustion in San Diego. Any time that you put your body through something like that – I literally do not remember crossing the finish line; I had to ask if I ran across the line – when your brain starts shutting down it means your body’s gone through some serious trauma. And we had to take this week to recuperate; there’s no sense in pushing it too soon to get back racing. So we’re saving a race until the end of June.”
The real Olympic prep begins now. She plans to tackle a big block of training including tune up races in late June and some sprint distances in early July.
A sprint distance? For a pro? Here’s why,
“You know so much about ITU racing is about speed and skill, and the best way to develop that is in a race – especially the sprint races, which are half the distance I’ll do in August. I’ll do a couple of those in July – and they will be fast and furious – so in comparison, double the distance seems almost leisurely. The idea of the next couple of months is to run a few races to keep me sharp, really hone things. There’s really one race that matters this year, and hopefully these other races will get me there, fingers crossed.”
With the combination of consistent racing since her qualification and some speed work Sarah will be ready to tackle London.
We asked the former collegiate swimmer about the Olympic swim leg, which takes place in Hyde Park in a lagoon ominously named the Serpentine. Here’s what athletes can look forward on the one-lap 1.5 kilometer swim.
“The last time we were there, there were signs that said ‘No Swimming Allowed’ because of the water quality – there were too many ducks…and I think they were having blue-green algae problems. I’ve had experience with algae: you get kind of sick, you get sinus infections and pretty itchy.”
“But I’m sure they’re going to put lots of chemicals in there to make it fine for us”.
Let’s hope so. Thankfully, Sarah is a fast swimmer, who to the surprise of no one, emerged third from the water in the 2011 London test event. Look for her to try to get in front the pack on the swim and emerge with the frontrunners.
Swimmers line up on a pontoon for a dry dock start and take a racing dive from the pontoon, similar from a block start in the pool. “There will be 55 of us lined up and we do a one-lap swim. It’s going to be fast and furious to the first turn buoy that’s about 300m away.”
“Being a strong swimmer, the goal is always to try to break it up in the swim – and hopefully there are similarly-minded front-pack swimmers who want to go out there and try to work together on the bike to gain an advantage. The fewer people going off the bike and into the run with you, means fewer people that will be jockeying for position in the final kilometers hopefully. It doesn’t always happen, but if we can get quickly organized out of the swim and work together – we can get a 45 second or 1 minute advantage.”
The goal of many mid-pack triathletes is to survive the swim then crank the bike and run. At this level, Sarah will use her swimming prowess to gun the swim and develop a gap on the weaker swimmers and make them catch her from behind. With a fast swim leg, she can guarantee a spot in the front breakaway on the bike, which looks like a small peloton.
What happens next? The seven-loop bike course…
Sarah tells us, “The bike course is a lap course through Hyde Park, and then we’re going to be swinging in front of Buckingham Palace – you know wave ‘Hi’ to the Queen – and swing back around. It’s not a very technical course – pancake flat because there aren’t many hills in London.”
“It is going to be one of the best spectator courses out there. Like the marathon it’s open to the public, so it’s going to make for a really really exciting event. From the swim, to the bike, to the run there’s going to be hundreds of thousands of people lining the course behind the barricades absolutely going insane … there’s a British woman (Helen Jenkins) favored to get a medal. So people are going to be turning out, not just because the Brits are favored, but also because it’s one of the very few free events.”
For a country that’s produced Chrissie Wellington, tri-hungry British promise to flood the course and produce the trademark cacophony normally reserved for Manchester United games – It should make for an adrenaline-packed race.
After another lightening fast transition, the four-loop run course will circle the Serpentine. “(The run course) is basically going to be taking us through the park and around the Serpentine. There’s a little bit of undulation, but like the bike it’s pretty flat; it’s going to lead to some pretty fast exciting racing I think. I would much rather any day be running with 7 girls trying for a podium spot than with 50 other girls. Most of the races end with the 50 girls, and let me tell you it’s not nearly as much fun.”
Sarah told us that if she is in a final pack of women sprinting that final run lap it will be a guts race. It’s simply a matter of who can endure the most pain and who wants it most. The type of race Sarah Groff hopes materializes.
It’s inspirational to talk with someone as dedicated and talented as Sarah Groff.
Off the race course, this woman espouses her role as an athletic role model. She wrote a touching blog post on the 40-year anniversary of Title IX and what it means to women athletes.
“As an athlete it taught me we could be both glamorous and a world class athlete, Like Lolo Jones, it’s okay to be both…” One of her favorite athlete of Olympics past is volleyball players, Gabrielle Reece. Like Reece did for her, she hopes young athletes will watch her compete in London and be inspired to take up sports and try new things.
We wish you the best of luck, Sarah, on both fronts.