Sara McLarty is looking for new challenges, and will compete at the 2015 ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championships with her friend and business partner Misty Becerra.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.
Sara McLarty: Thank you! I’ve enjoyed seeing ST cover some of the SwimRun races happening this year and wanted to get in touch before heading to the championship race!
ST: Well, how has your summer been so far?
Sara: My summer has been interesting. The number one focus is always surviving the Florida heat and I’ve managed to do that by traveling for quite a few weeks during the worst months. Boulder, North Carolina, the Panhandle, etc. I’ve also switched over to the XTERRA series and have enjoyed participating in new locations, new courses, and experiencing the laid back attitude at XTERRA events.
ST: When you say switch, does that mean you are done completely with racing pro road triathlons?
Sara: I moved over to XTERRA after all the pro Olympic distance race series were cancelled last winter. My options were longer - not interested, draft-legal - did that already, or off-road - seemed like fun. Actually, this might be a good time to say that I'm actually retiring at the end of the year. One super sprint tomorrow and then XTERA Nationals and the November World Champs will be my final pro race!
ST: Word has it that you and Misty Becerra are preparing for ÖTILLÖ. Why that race?
Sara: Yep! Misty is my best friend, also partner in our swim coaching business, and last year she showed me the promo video for ÖTILLÖ. I said that’s crazy but somehow we decided to apply for a merit-based entry slot. Lo and behold, we were accepted in late January and we’ve been preparing ever since. We’ve been adventure racing together for the past 5 years, [mostly] 6-12 hour races all over the state. Our strength is the swim, and we enjoy traveling - this race combined those three things!
ST: Has anyone given you words of advice?
Sara: I’ve contacted a few people that have done the race in the past and we have a friend from the XTERRA world (Marcus Barton) going with a teammate who raced last year (Dan Kimball). So we’ve been asking questions but mostly just listening to Dan’s stories, advice, and tips. Our biggest advice has come from watching and re-watching the race videos from last year. They have great footage and coverage so we get to examine all the top racers' equipment, how they maneuver, etc. We’ve picked up quite a few tips from studying YouTube!
ST: You two were recently spotted running near Hanging Rock, NC with swim paddles. That is a long way from Florida.
Sara: LOL, yep, we were in Highlands, NC a few weeks ago with Marcus and Dan for some cooler weather and water temps for training.
ST: How many feet of elevation did you cover while training?
Sara: More than enough considering the actual race in Sweden has like 10 feet of total elevation.
ST: Why that area and how much time did you spend there?
Sara: It’s impossible to practice with the wetsuits in Florida, and a 6 hour training day is miserable. So we flew up and did a 4 day training block of trail running and swimming with all the gear. Getting the equipment just right is our number one priority… It’s just like perfecting a transition so that you don’t have to think about it, it just happens. We’ve weeded out anything that is excess and just going with the necessities: paddles, buoy, shoes, compression socks, goggles, and the mandatory equipment. We “transition” 44 times in the race and getting in and out of the water smooth can save a lot of time.
ST: What were some of the things you weeded out?
Sara: We had a brilliant idea to carry a dry bag to hold our shoes during the long swims and pull it behind us. So we go out to practice, run to the waters edge, jump in and start swimming. It took about 100 meters to realize we completely forgot about the bag tied around Misty's waist. Also, a small Camelbak backpack made it about 200 meters on my shoulders before I threw it off because I felt like I was going nowhere. I'm still debating a visor because I always run with one. It keeps the sun and sweat out of my eyes as well as protects my face from getting burned. But it will just be something else to think and worry about during the race so it probably won't make the cut.
ST: And was the weather in NC that much more comfortable?
Sara: Yes! You speak like you've never been to the face of the sun, aka Florida in the summertime. Anything is noticeably better for training.
ST: The race is only about a month away. What is left for you to do?
Sara: Just one or two more long days of training. Which I’m totally looking forward to when it’s 105, sunny, and 95% humidity outside for 5-7 hours. But, it doesn’t matter how fast we are moving, just that we keep moving and get our bodies used to the length of time we will be on our feet. The total run distance is something like 40 miles!
ST: How is the run training going?
Sara: It is going steady. Which is exactly how we plan to pace the race. No surprise, running super long with short breaks to swim is surprisingly easier than just running long. The water is cooling, refreshing, and gives your legs a little break. In Sweden, it'll be more like an ice bath in the water.
ST: Let us talk about gear. What wetsuit will you be competing in?
Sara: I called up Mike Orton at Blueseventy and asked if they would special order some custom suits for us… a month later they were delivered! I knew I wanted the flexibility of the Helix for the duration of time we would be spending in the suit but didn’t want to deal with the backwards zipper during the race. So the suits are elbow and knee length, with a regular zipper for ease of self-zipping. We’ve also got some custom ChampionSystem kits being made. A unique “Made In USA” design would make us stand out… if you could ever see them under the wetsuit and the race jersey. But the suits have sleeves and short legs for added warmth with additional pockets in the back for carrying our mandatory gear. We finished off the USA look with a stars and stripes pull buoy strapped to our thighs and the American flag Strokemaker paddles. I’m thinking maybe a small flag tattoo on our cheeks will just tie the whole thing together on race day!
ST: Until this summer, what has been the longest distance you have ever run in a wetsuit?
Sara: Swim exit to T1… 400 meters, maybe. But that’s in full legs and sleeves. The race suits are made for running comfort!
ST: What about the running shoes?
Sara: Misty and I, and Dan and Marcus, have both gone with Inov8 shoes. Everyone has their favorite model but they are light and super grippy on all surfaces. The most important times will be climbing out of the water on some of the uninhabited islands, and it’s literally a scramble over slippery rocks. I don’t expect to make it through the race unscathed, but the shoes will hopefully prevent quite a few tumbles. We’ve made a few modifications like switching out the laces for elastic Xtenex laces. The elastic laces don’t come untied in water and the little knots make adjusting the fit super easy… as we get colder our feet might shrink but as we warm up over the longest run, our feet might swell.
ST: In terms of nutrition how will you handle that long day?
Sara: The race has 8 aid stations along the way so carrying nutrition isn’t really the racer’s job. We will have a couple emergency GUs tucked away in case we start bonking and we are considering carrying a 500ml collapsible water bottle that we can fill with fluids before the longest two run sections - the longest island is about 13 miles. Misty and I have survived five 12-hour adventure races in Florida where hydration plays a key role, and the cooler temps of Sweden in September should make it much easier.
ST: Do you have other unique events already lined up or will you wait until this one is in the books?
Sara: I’ve actually just turned in an article to Triathlete Magazine listing 10-12 other unique events around the world. I had my Facebook friends tell me their bucket-list races and I compiled the craziest. So, I basically just made a list of my next 10 challenges!
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Sara: We want to thank everyone who has participated in our local Splash & Dash series in Clermont through the summer as our fundraiser for the trip and ÖtillÖ race entry. We’ve hosted a monthly swim/run event at Waterfront Park for adults and kids with just the basics like an aid station and water safety. No swag, no awards. The attendance has been great every time and as people are made aware of why we are putting on the events, they’ve become super interested in following us on race day.
Speaking of race day, all the teams will be carrying a GPS tracker that will provide live tracking. We are running on some completely uninhabited islands and swimming through major boat thoroughfares. The spectator-friendliness of this race is non-existent in person so we encourage our fans to hop online a couple times during the day to see our progress. We will be racing from 1am-noon EST so they will most likely catch the tail end of the race. Champion System @champion_system will be tweeting updates and creating a “virtual crowd” to cheer us on from afar!
All images courtesy of Sara McLarty