Ironman Cozumel and Going Pro

Welcome to the Pro Ranks Little Red

It has been 3 weeks since Ironman Cozumel, my first pro race.  I had high hopes of getting a blog written in the days following the race, but I didn’t.  Initially I was in too much pain to think about anything blog related (my knee swelled up to the size of a softball after the race, and I could hardly walk for nearly a week).  And then my body just failed me.  I got full on sick for two weeks complete with fever, body aches, sinus infection and the like.  I think my body was giving me “the double bird” and then some in a big way.  It was time for a complete system shut down, which included no swimming, no biking, no running and no blogging!

But alas – here I sit, 5 days before Christmas, in the comfort of my parent’s home in Maine.  My feet are up, a fire is crackling in front of me, Christmas music is playing and I have no excuses but to blog at long last!

Without going into the nitty-gritty of my race, Cozumel was both a success and a disappointment for me.  I recovered well after Kona and was putting up some great numbers in training.  But in the lead up to and on the day of the race, things just didn’t feel right and didn’t go to plan.  It was a disappointment.  But, while I expected and hoped for a better result, I also know that I left nothing out on the course – I gave everything I had on that day and never gave up.  In the end, I finished in 7th place, gained 1,040 valuable Kona points and my received my first pay check as a professional triathlete!  This was a success.

Now healthy, I started training again 4 days ago, and am feeling refreshed and ready to get to work.  I’m leaving the East Coast just after Christmas and heading to Santa Monica, where I will be based for a few months to train with the Tower 26 program and spend (a disproportionate amount of(!!!)) time on my swim.  I have a long and hard journey ahead of me.  Cozumel was just the beginning.

I was recently interviewed for an upcoming issue for 3GO Magazine about making the transition from Amateur to Pro.  The article provides some unique perspective from a number of the top American amateurs in 2011 that will be racing as Elites next year.  During the interview process I found the questions asked by Jordan Blanco to be thought provoking, and my answers give a good look into me as an athlete (credit is due to to Beth Walsh, who was also interviewed for the article and came up with the idea of blogging her interview).  2012 will be an interesting year to say the least!  I’ll have to come back and re-visit my answers one year from now and see if what I said today still rings true!


Interview with 3GO Magazine on December 1, 2011

Name: Sarah Piampiano

Age: 31

Occupation: Investment Banker

Where do you live?: New York, NY

How did you get your start in triathlon?

My start to triathlon was a bit of a fluke, to say the least.  In late 2009 my friend and I bet whether I could beat him in an Olympic distance race.  He had been training for months and at the time I was smoking a pack+ of cigarettes a day and drinking like a fish.  On race day I showed up on a bike my brother had bought in France 20 years ago for $200 and raced my heart out.  I beat my friend, but more importantly I loved every second of the experience.  I quit smoking on the spot and the rest is history!

What’s your athletic background?

My background is both in running and downhill ski racing.  When I was younger I was a nationally ranked cross country runner and a top ranked skier.  In high school I decided to focus on skiing and attended a ski academy in Vermont, Stratton Mountain School, where some of the best skiers and snowboarders in the world are trained.  It was a fantastic experience for me.  In college I skied  Division I, but I also came back to running and competed for the cross country team.

What’s your strongest discipline?

I’d like to say running is my strongest discipline, but I have yet to have a race where my run ability has even remotely shone through.  So right now I would have to say cycling is my best event.  When my coach, Matt Dixon, and I started working together he told me I needed to get strong on the bike before I could be strong on the run.  My bike still needs a lot of work, but I’ve seen a lot of improvements over the last year, and hopefully, as a result of that progression, my run will start to come together next season.

Which discipline do you think needs most improvement now that you’re joining the pro field? How do you plan to tackle this?

Swimming is hands down the area where I need the most work.  I’m like a beached whale in the water!  Swimming is a big focus for me right now with lots of time spent in the pool.  I have the confidence that my run and bike will get to where they need to be, but unless my swim improves dramatically, I’ll always be coming out behind the pack.  It worked as an amateur, but it’s a tough way to race in the pro ranks.

In January I will be heading out to California to train with Tower 26 for the next year.  Gerry Rodrigues and Matt Dixon work closely together and Gerry has been instrumental in helping with the swim gains I made last year.  I’m looking forward to seeing how training with him in person day in/day out will help.

What made you decide to “go pro”?

Such a small percentage of people in the world are afforded the opportunity and have the ability to be a professional athlete.  It is a real honor and privilege.  The chance to chase a childhood dream has been put in front of me, and for me to walk away from that – from something most people can truly only DREAM about – I feel like it would be mistake.  Corporate desk jobs are forever, but this is not.  The time is now.

Will racing as a pro change how you plan your season? If so, how?

This is a hard question to answer for me.  In 2010 my season was cut very short when I had a bike crash and broke a number of bones.  I was out of commission from training and racing from August until January 2011.  So I really consider 2011 to be my first full season of racing.  And this year I had a full schedule (six  70.3’s and three full Ironman races).  Next year we are adding in a few more races, but, like this season, my goal is to gain experience and learn how to race as a pro.

What do you expect to be the challenges of competing in the pro field?

For me the main challenge is going to be overcoming my weak swim.  As an amateur, I had a strong enough bike that I could pedal my way to the front in every race, but as a pro, that is just not going to happen.  I have to dramatically improve my swim if I have any chance of being at the front of races.

It’s also important to me to gain a level of consistency where, even on an off day, I can still be competitive for a top spot.  I have extremely high expectations for myself and don’t want to settle for a middle of the pack result.

What will you not miss about being an amateur?

Crowded swims!  Though, as an age grouper, I was still able to benefit from the draft of people’s feet.  As a pro, most people are so much faster than me in the swim I miss any draft benefit!  I guess there are pros and cons either way you look at it!

What concerns you most about your decision to race as a pro?

Until 2 weeks ago I worked in Investment Banking, which, for my line of work, requires 90-100 hour weeks and a lot of international travel (approx. 15 days out of the month, if not more).  I really want to give racing pro a go and doing both is simply not possible without one, the other, or both suffering.  I decided to leave my job and am committing myself full time to racing professionally next season.

If I had a job that only required me to work 40-60 hour weeks, I likely would have given the full time job/ full time triathlete thing a go.  Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.  It adds a lot of (self-inflicted) pressure to perform, make a living and support myself.

How will your training change in the coming year as you prepare for your first season as a pro?

Changes in my training will really just be a result of the progression and evolution I make as an athlete.  I have a number of specific weaknesses that we plan to focus on over the winter, namely my swim, my cycling strength and form, and overall functional strength.

What has been your favorite/most memorable triathlon experience to date?

I have two – the first one was competing in Ironman Coeur D’Alene, which was my first Ironman.  There is something incredibly special about finishing your first Ironman.  That memory will hold a place in my heart forever.  The other is running down Palani Hill on the way to the finish in Kona.  The crowds and thrill of knowing the race is almost over, mixed with the pain, hurt and exhaustion – it was emotional for me.

What question(s) do you wish I had asked you? And what is your response?

Question: What does being a successful pro triathlete mean to you?

Answer: It’s not a secret that the prize money in triathlon is not great.  Nevertheless there are still a good number of triathletes that make a great living.  In my mind, success as a triathlete is defined not just by performance, but also by marketability, how successful one is at creating a brand in name and image, and how well one represents and gains visibility for sponsors.  Being a professional athlete is, in essence, the opportunity to create a business.  As I approach my triathlon career I have exceedingly high expectations for myself in terms of my performance, but I also have equally high expectations in terms of my responsibilities to sponsors and what I hope to achieve outside the sport.  I think for all newbie pros, it’s something that needs to be factored in, and is frequently overlooked.

2011 has been a wonderful year for me filled with many success, failures and much needed lessons, which I will carry with me as I embark on my new career as a professional triathlete.  Everyone’s support and encouragement has been instrumental to me in this process.  Thank you for encouraging me to follow my dreams!  Happy Holidays and all the best in 2012!

Don’t Dream It.  Be It.



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