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Tuesday 4 February 2020

Sarah Attwood: An Interview

SARAH ATTWOOD super runner and all-round speedy triathlete tells us how she juggles working as a doctor, living on the Isle of Skye and smashing in the wins! 

I’ve known Sarah for about 7 years since we met at a Runners World and ASICS event and she has been constantly inspiring me with her relentless training and determination. It’ been really interesting to speak to her about her training and lifestyle and she’s provided some great tips for everyone from experienced triathletes to beginners. 

Where did the love for triathlon come from and what got you into triathlon in the first place? 

I had been a runner for 6 years and fancied doing something different. Lots of people I knew were getting injured so I wanted to try and prevent that by cross training and also have other sports that I could do and enjoy should I ever become injured and unable to run. 

Around this time a friend sold me her old road bike when she immigrated to Cyprus and another friend had represented GB in an age group duathlon so this inspired me to try and do the same. 

How do you fit all the training around work and life? 

Since moving up to Skye I’ve had a much healthier work life balance and have managed to fit training in well around work and home life. I believe in quality over quantity and luckily my coach feels the same which significantly helps. I try and do three sessions of each discipline a week when in peak training, swimming is normally before work on the days when I have a later start or my husband is around to walk the dog. Running is normally in the evenings and biking tends to be on my days off (or in the evenings if it’s on the turbo). I’m lucky to only work 4 days a week. 

Running and triathlon? Do you find one takes over? How do you balance the events? 

As I’ve always been a runner and it’s the most convenient thing to do (you don't have to wait for the pool to open, have decent weather or transport your bike around) running does tend to take over. As it’s my strongest discipline I probably need to focus more on the other two areas but it is difficult when I keep on entering running races! At the end of last year I did two marathons so as soon as I did my middle distance triathlon I just ran for 5-6 weeks. I thought I would have loved it but I actually missed swimming and cycling. 

How do you plan your training? 

I have a coach. I signed up with Performance Edge just under a year ago and I let him do all the hard work. I just do as I’m told on the days I’m told to do it. I send him my work timetable so that he is able to work it around that. It really works for me. I have a rest day when I’m on call (roughly once a week) which I think is important and then the rest is determined by the hours I’m working and the event I have coming up.

If you could be good at any other sport other than triathlon, what would you choose? 

Biking! I’ve really started to enjoy biking especially mountain biking but I needed to get more bike fit and more confident going down hill and cycling in the wind. 

Hydration? How do you manage to balance this? 

I drink loads. I always have done. On a day when I’m not exercising I drink 2.5 - 3 litres of water a day and 2 - 3 coffees. I always take water to the pool with me to sip and I tend to run with water except when it’s really cold or wet or I’m only running up to 10k. If I’m carrying water on a run I tend to have a sip every mile. When biking I do have to remind myself to drink and try to to do so every 5-10 miles. 

Avoiding a Code Brown when racing ...

I’m quite lucky to have a regular body clock so on training days I don't have any problems as long as I don't eat grapes in the day! For races the adrenaline tends to sort out any problems before the race starts!

Do you carb load before and recovery eating afterwards? 

I have carbo loaded before marathons and ultras when I first started doing them however I didn't find it helped that much and it just made me feel a little bloated and sluggish. Now I just eat more calories than usual (roughly 25% more) the day before a big race but as a mixture of proteins and carbs rather than just carbs. That seems to work well for me. I did recently read in 220 Triathlon magazine about carbo loading not working as well for women as men. After a big race or training I use to have a milk shake (Frijj) however since discovering Voom protein recoverfudge I tend to have one of those and then a proper meal within an hour if I can.

Do you have a special diet?

I follow no specific diet at all. I’ve always tended to eat quite healthily, having lots of fruit and veg so I’ve just stuck with that. At times I do crave certain foods e.g. red meat after a busy training week so I try to listen to my body and have that presuming that my iron stores must be low. The rest of the time it tends to be white meats, fish and dairy products where I get my protein from. 

Do you avoid certain foods to aid training?

I don't avoid anything, I think everything in moderation is good for you. The only exception to this is when I’m training for or racing age group triathlon and then I will use food products for fuel rather than gels or other sport drinks/nutrition in case they have anything in them that's banned.

Can you recommend any essential kit for beginners? Is there anything you’d tell a beginner to avoid?

Tri is such an expensive sport, ideally its good to try before you buy some of the expensive kit. My first bike was second hand and my first tri was a pool swim (Bassetlaw Sprint Triathlon) therefore I didn't need to invest in a trisuit or wetsuit to do it. I also just wore running trainers on the bike. Once I discovered that I enjoyed triathlon I started to buy kit then. My first tri suit and wet suit were from a sample sale and cost £15 and £89 respectively. Since then I have bought a better tri suit but I continue to use and love my wetsuit. Once I had been cycling for a year I upgraded my bike using the Bike to Work scheme (saving on tax) and bought proper bike shoes with cleats. 

Most essential piece of kit?

Hmm … for the run it has to be trainers (I don't dare run barefooted), for the swim,  goggles (especially as I wear contacts) and for the bike the bike. 

What bike do you ride? 

My first bike was an aluminium Claud Butler which I still use today on my turbo and in bad weather. My second bike is a Boardman Team Carbon and my latest bike is a Scott Foil which I love.....I’ve also got a Scott mountain bike. 

What trainers do you run in? 

For 10 miles or less I wear New Balance 890, for longer runs Nike Pegasus (or On Cloud) and off road it's Inov8 Mud Claws. I’m just trying out some Trail Talons at the moment as an ultra trainer for when I need an off road trainer with more cushioning as my Mud Claws are not good if there’s too much road involved. 

Any other top kit picks? 

I love my Zoggs Predator goggles. I’ve tried so many that leaked but these have been great 

Any preferred brands and sponsors? 

I like Nike, New Balance, Inov8 and Ron Hill for running. Biking has to be Gore and Scott and Sealskinz. Swimming all my kit is Blue Seventy. I’m a member of Skye and Lochalsh Running Club and Scottish Athletics, British Triathlon and I’m a Voom Champion.

Which element of tri is the most challenging for you? 

I’m petrified of open water so that is the most challenging however it also gives me the most buzz and that's why I’m still doing it rather than moving to duathlon. I love the run bit because I tend to do the best in that bit and pass a lot of other competitors. 

What’s been your best/worse race experience so far? 

I’ve had so many good races im not sure I actually have a best. I’ve enjoyed most of them since starting tri. Worse race experience was probably Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon last year as I wasn't 100% well and on antibiotics, the weather was awful, the waves in the loch panicked me (I thought it was going to be non-tidal with it being a loch but because it was that big and windy it had tides) and I felt nauseous for the last three miles of the run (possibly due to under fuelling on the run or the antibiotics)

Are you better at one than another? 

Compared to other triathletes I’m poor at swimming, ok at biking although probably a little worse than average and good at running. I’m one of the last out of the water, I catch some up on the bike but not many but then pass a lot on the run. I have been slowly improving in the swim and bike catching up with other familiar faces and names in my ages groups and clubs. 

What races would you like to do?

I would like to do a full distance tri soon but I feel that I need to do another middle distance first with Abberfeldy going so wrong. There’s no real reason why I have to do it except that its one of those things to tick off the bucketlist to say I have done. I think the best distance for me will be standard or possibly middle and I think that a full will be too much - but I just need to do one!

What motivation do you use to get through the tough parts of the race? 

I normally need motivation at the start of the swim when I’m feeling nervous and towards the end of the race when I’m exhausted. For the swim it’s usually the money and time spent training and travelling to the event. Telling myself that I can’t back out now as I’ve invested too much into it. Towards the end of the race its normally thoughts of "You've worked so hard to come this far! If you give up now it’s all been a waste of effort!" and that tends to keep me going. 

How does your husband/partner feel about being a running widow? Is he an awesome supporter or is he a bit crap? 

Hahaha a bit of both. He’s supported me well in some of my bigger events e.g. age group races but for others he’s tended to stay at home and out of the way. Initially I don't think he liked me training and racing so much but with time I think he’s realised that it keeps me happy so he tends to not mind as much and lets me get on with it (probably for a quieter life). He gets lots of holidays out of it which I also think he enjoys. 

What support do you need from other people? 

I’ve a few friends that I go biking and open water swimming with...without them I would never open water swim and I wouldn’t have been on as many amazing rides. 

Worst thing ever to happen to you while training? 

A friend fell over whilst running injuring and lacerated his knee. I had to run for help as he was unable to walk. Luckily it was all superficial in the end and he was ok. 

What are the top 3 little things you do top prevent injury? 

Cross train, stretch/pilates, avoid over training. I use to get regular massages but they’re not as easily accessible up in Skye so I rarely have these, having to rely on my foam roller, massage stick, band and pilates instead. 

How are you improving on your past training in order to get faster? 

I’ve just been trying to swim and bike more to get better at these whilst maintaining my running fitness. Previously I use to swim 1-2 a week and bike 1-2 a week. By increasing them to 3 times a week and the sessions being more structured with speed work/efforts in them I have improved in both disciplines.

For further inspiration you can follow Sarah on twitter @Attwood7Sarah or instagram @attwood_s or to see her in action, she’s racing Outlaw X Middle Distance Tri, Clumber Park Standard Distance Duathlon, Sweden ETu sprint tri (although it’s not an A-race for her) and in many of her local road races!

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