American triathlete Sarah True is a two-time Olympian and an ITU Triathlon World Champs silver and bronze medallist. In 2018, Sarah switched to long-distance triathlon, taking fourth place at her IRONMAN World Champs debut in Kona the same year. All in all, she’s pretty well qualified to be a mentor to the Zwift Academy Tri team, alongside fellow triathlon legend Tim Don.
Right now, Sarah is taking time out from racing as she prepares to welcome her first child next month. I caught up with her via email to ask about her own triathlon training, mental strategies, and her role as Zwift Academy Tri team mentor.
First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! With not long to go, how are you feeling?
Thank you! Pregnancy has been a constant state of adjustment; I feel so different from day-to-day. That being said, I’ve been really grateful to be able to continue swimming, biking, and running throughout my pregnancy. I’m currently at 34 weeks [at time of writing] and I’m still putting in 20 hours of easy exercise per week, which feels terrific.
You’ve been a Zwift Academy Tri Team mentor for several years. Can you tell us what this involves?
The Zwift Tri Academy Team is an incredible group of athletes from around the world with various levels of experience in triathlon. My fellow mentor, Tim Don, and I help provide answers to questions that the athletes might have, help calm pre-race nerves, guide them through the Kona process, and are part of creating a fun, informative experience.
In your experience, what are the common learning curves the finalists face when joining the Zwift Academy Tri team?
I think the biggest hurdle for athletes is to recognize that there is no additional pressure for them when they make the team. The team members are provided with amazing support and equipment and many assume that the expectations of them have increased to an incredibly high level. We want to see the athletes succeed and perform at their best, but there’s no pressure beyond the high standards that they already have for themselves.
How much has Zwift played a role in your own training schedule over the past year?
Like many people around the world, Zwift was my primary form of running and riding during a two-week quarantine last spring. I also found myself gravitating towards Zwift for the social connection throughout the year, enjoying engaging with other athletes around the globe. I missed being in person with my community and it provided such a nice outlet to have that engagement with others. While Zwift is always a part of my training, it took on new meaning for me last year.
Can you share a bit about your own personal Zwift cycling setup?
I have a pretty sweet Zwift set up in our basement! We have two bikes set up on trainers in front of a large screen that runs Zwift. Both bikes have fans and desks, so I can stay cool and binge-watch terrible TV on my iPad for easier rides. As for the treadmill, we have another screen set up at eye level to run Zwift, as well as a nice fan to stay cool. Given the number of hours I spend training and the amount of sweating I do, there are towels and water bottles within reach at all time.
You’ve raced and trained through countless tough moments. What strategies do you dig out from your mental toolbox to keep you going?
The biggest tool that I have is resilience: I know that I can weather tough times, learn from the experience, and come back mentally stronger. It’s a skill that can be developed over time, and hardship has certainly made me more resilient.
Being a pro athlete comes with a lot of pressure. How do you cope with anxiety and pre-race nerves?
I’ve realized that nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself; the people in your life care about you regardless of results. While it took me a while to reach that point of realization, it has been freeing. I have very high standards for myself, but I don’t see that as a hindrance, but rather a motivator. Falling short of my expectations isn’t a negative, but rather a sign that I’m ambitious, I believe in my preparation, and performing well is a way to celebrate my dedication and love for the sport. Instead of seeing competition as a stressful endeavour, I try to approach it as a celebration of my training and love for triathlon.
Has mentoring the Zwift Tri Team allowed you to share this knowledge and experience?
Absolutely! It can be really easy to get caught up in outcome that we sometimes forget about why we compete. I try to remind the Zwift Tri Team members that there is no pressure, only opportunity.
Earlier this year you talked about returning to school to study clinical psychology. Was this inspired by your own athletic experiences or have you always been interested in psychology?
It’s a bit of both, I think. Being an athlete has taught me to approach my psychology as I would my physical training: I have strengths and weaknesses, but by learning tools and working hard, I can improve both. Sport has piqued my interest in how our minds work and how we can optimize well-being. My interest in clinical psychology has certainly been enhanced by my experience in sport.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
I’m always a huge fan of anything with pockets for training and racing. Being able to carry extra nutrition, sunscreen, lube, etc. is such a huge part of comfort and performance for triathlon. With pregnancy, I find that it’s even more important! Having portable snacks, antacids, and hydration absolutely changes my experience while exercising.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
Specialized, Wahoo Fitness, Hoka One One, Nuun, Orca, Momentous, Pete & Gerry’s and New York Athletic Club.
Sarah True is a Team mentor for the Zwift Academy Tri team. Find out more at https://news.zwift.com/en-WW/198284-introducing-the-zwift-academy-tri-team-for-2021.