An interview with ETU Middle Distance European Championships Silver medalist Sarah Lewis

We've been working with triathlete Sarah Lewis for a few years now, we Sweat Tested her and first supported her as a member of age group squad Team Freespeed.

So we were delighted for her when she turned pro last year. But, not too long after making that jump, she had a horrific accident out at a training camp in Lanzarote. 

Her comeback has been nothing short of heroic and Brad caught up with her recently to discuss her progress since getting back to racing and joining Brett Sutton's programme...

 

So, Sarah, you had a big accident in 2017, can you talk us through what happened?

We were out training in Lanzarote over Easter last year when a car turned left right in front of us. Tim, my husband, was behind me and a few metres back. He managed to avoid it but my head went through the side window at 35kph.

By chance there was a British nurse walking on the pavement close by when the accident happened, she cleared my airways and slowed the bleeding with a bystander’s shirt before the ambulance arrived.

The main impacts of the accident were deep lacerations to the right side of my face (over 60 stitches!), head/neck injuries, loss of short-term memory and anaemia from the significant blood loss.

After the accident I was more determined than ever to get fit again to race. My husband told me that the first thing I asked him after properly regaining consciousness was whether I would be able to train again in Lanzarote before we had to fly home!

 

Sarah Lewis at IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai


Nasty. But your comeback seemed to be going well when you were 2nd in an incredible field in Dubai in early 2018, then came 1st at Challenge Rome in April. But then it seems you had a bit of a break until this summer, what was the thought process there?

Yes I was fit for Dubai, then took a short break for plastic surgery on my face but came back and did Rome later in the spring.

I then made some changes to my bike position and started doing a lot of big gear work on the bike. I think it was just too much change too quickly and I damaged my knee after a few weeks!

It’s been a difficult one to shake off. I did miss a lot of the season but am now definitely back building the training up and enjoying it again!

It seems things are headed in the right direction again with a win at Challenge Finland Half and second at the ETU middle distance champs in Ibiza on the weekend, so what's next on the schedule?

My plan is to have a late season and to do the winter races.  I’ve just entered Bahrain 70.3 (Middle East Regional champs) in December which I am really excited about. 

After this I’ll do Dubai and then I'll think about IM and 70.3 races for next season.

 

Sarah Lewis on podium in Finland


Any plans for "stepping up” to the full distance?

Good question.  I used to say I didn’t have any interest at all in doing a full Ironman but over the last 6 months or so have been thinking it through.  People that know me well take the view that I may be better suited to longer distance racing as I seem to be fairly aerobically and mechanically efficient. 

On the other hand, I really do think I have much more to give at the half distance before moving straight up.


What's been the biggest adjustment going from a full time day job to being a full time pro?

I'm doing more hours of training each week now, the biggest difference is the ability to fit this into the daytime without having to do my sessions super early/late or cram it into weekends (and either miss sessions or sleep!).


Tell me about it! Are you enjoying having a coach and being in a training squad with the Brett Sutton group?

Yes it stops me wasting time deliberating, I'm told what to do the following day. When I set my own sessions I would often change them either before or during. Sometimes that's ok but it's good to have routine and a definite plan...


What's the craziest Sutto set that you've done and/or the one you dread the most?

To be honest with you, none of the sessions he has given me have been crazy at all, it has certainly been nothing like some of the stories I read about!

I'm swimming A LOT more than before (definitely more than double what I was last year!) but that's been the biggest single change for me.

The craziest single session has probably been a long, band-only swim set. I recall dreading it but Brett was fine with us doing fly kick which made a massive difference. So I was actually surprisingly ok while stronger swimmers seemed to slow down a lot more!

As the legs help me a lot in the water Brett has been focused on getting me to use my arms more.

What does a “typical” training week look like for you in terms of total swim/bike/run distances/times?

I'm not a high volume person at all and this hasn’t really changed under Brett.

I am probably doing between 20-25 hours (max) each week, when things are going well. That consists of ~50-75km running, ~20-25k swimming and ~12-14 hours of biking.

How do you think surrounding yourself with the best in the world like Daniela Ryf & Nicola Spirig brings out the best in you? Is there a danger it'll push you too far at times?

I really enjoyed training alongside them, it was a really nice break from solo sessions. To be honest I find training with other athletes, no matter what standard they are, easier on the head and more enjoyable.

They're not as frequent as you might think though in Sutto’s squad (other than for the swim sessions) as everyone’s programs and sessions are still quite individual, especially for the non-ITU, longer distance athletes.

So, do you regret not getting a coach sooner?

No, I'm pleased with the results I achieved last year (4 podiums) coming from such a low base (genuinely very unfit when I left my job!) and of course the car accident.

It was exciting last year and I think I learnt a little more about my training. As a consequence I also probably appreciated getting a coach more when it finally happened – I was ready for the change. Last year I was very happy not to have a boss for the first time since university!


What's been the favourite race you've done so far?

Dubai – fast, flat, and it was one of those days that felt easy (so I'm a bit biased!).

I’d pick Challenge Turku Half in Finland for a logistically very easy race, good racing temperatures, a quick course and a really thoughtful team of organisers and volunteers. 

The Portugal Cascais 70.3 location is a beautiful holiday destination (even if you’re only there for 2 or 3 full days) and again the team there run the event very professionally.

Miami 70.3 was also a great race, I loved the city – it’s a shame that they're no longer running it, I’m sure that it would have been very good training for anyone doing Kona!

 

Some great picks and mostly hot races, good job you've got PH in your bottles! Thanks Sarah and best of luck out in Bahrain...

You can follow Sarah's journey on Instagram and Twitter.


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