Sarah Richardson Interview

Shoalhaven King of the mountain Winner Sarah Richardson

Shoalhaven King of the Mountain winner Sarah Richardson is back on the trails after more than 10 years absence. She represented Australia in Cycling at the World Championships in 1993. Sarah then went on to become the Australian Long Course Triathlon Champion. She has won Iron Man Japan 2005 and she has just won the 2012 Shoalhaven King of the Mountain. Sarah Richardson is a legend in so many ways and is kind enough to take some time to chat to me about her intriguing sporting journey.

Congratulations Sarah, on your win on the Shoalhaven King of the Mountain, you did so well! I’m amazed at the gap you beat the other females. Well Done!
The Shoalhaven King of the Mountain is such an epic event with 35 years of Tradition. It must be so much fun to run.

Sarah:Yes, it’s a great race, the runners and organizers and volunteers are all really friendly and it’s a beautiful part of the world.


Shona: It looks like you beat your time from 2011 by 8 minutes! Awesome! Was your time of 2:29:30 a PB?

Sarah: Yes, it’s a big PB. I’ve only run the race twice. I felt much better running this year. 


Shona: You managed a PB of 8 minutes in fact! Well done. You are from the ACT, what sort of training have you been doing to prepare yourself for the win at the Shoalhaven King of the Mountain?

Sarah: Canberra has fantastic trails and mountains to train on. I’ve only been back running for about 5 weeks after a broken foot so I have just been building up from nothing to 30km. Even my easy 10k run from home goes up over 2 good hills so it’s all great preparation for mountain running.


Shona: I’m usually passed by an ACT runner in an event! Your climbs are way bigger than ours in Sydney! Do you get out in the mountains often?

Sarah: Yes, I don’t have to venture far to start running uphill and it’s an easy 20 minute run from my house to the base of Mt Taylor which is a great climb. We are really lucky with the trails around Canberra. I grew up in Sydney and have done a fair bit of running there and the only training option we don’t have in Canberra is sand hills. I still find heartbreak hill in the City to Surf tough though!


Shona: What tricks do you play with yourself you get you up and over Mt Scanzi? I personally count my way up? What’s your secret?

Sarah: This year I was really lucky and caught up with another runner and we paced each other all the way up the mountain. I felt good but didn’t want to push too hard knowing I had a long run to the finish from the top. 


Shona: Did you take the “Rum” form the Mt Scanzi drink station?

Sarah: No, I don’t drink alcohol at all. I didn’t think it would be a good time to suddenly take it up!


Shona: Smart Move. What other trail events have you done in the past?

Sarah: I did 6 foot track and Brindabella Classic back in 1998. I did the Willy to Billy last year and had run it 13 years ago too. I ran the Stromlo Lightning Strike 30km earlier this year. I’ve done loads of cross country races in Canberra that are on the trails and mountains around here. 


Shona: It seems that you ran a fair bit in 1998, what have you been doing in between 1998-2011 when you came 2nd in the KOM?

Sarah: I ran until 2002 when I was injured for over 7 months. I have done quite a few marathons, including a PB in the Sydney 2000 marathon of 2.53. I took up triathlon in 2003 and competed as a professional triathlete until a bike crash ended my pro career in 2006. I have done a couple of Ironman triathlons since, including Busselton last December and Wanaka early this year. In Busselton I suffered from hyponatremia for the first time and I think that was an incredible lesson to learn. It was 36 degrees celsius before I even got off the bike and ran in the blazing sunshine and heat and all I could think of was to keep drinking water. I was so dizzy and disoriented I am still surprised that I was able to finish but it was a very frightening experience.


Shona: I hear that you are running Mt Solitary in August?

Sarah: Yes I’ve entered Mt Solitary. I had planned to run 6 foot track earlier this year, which I last ran in 1998, but I broke my foot. So I’m lucky Mt Solitary was postponed really.  I’m really happy to be back running but I’m still going to have to be careful so my foot heals fully. 


Shona: How did you break your foot? I had two broken feet in 2010, I was on crutches for 2 months. I know how careful you have to be with re-stress fractures.

Sarah: That’s a very good question! I was at Sean Williams’ training camp at the south coast and we had run sand hills in the morning. I felt great. In the afternoon we headed out for a run on the sand and my foot went crack and the third metatarsal broke right through. I have had an overactive thyroid that I have struggled to get under control for over 12 months and that may have contributed as I found out later because it affects bone density. I’m not sure it was a shoe/barefoot problem because I have been doing nearly all my running in racing flats for years and running barefoot 1-2 sessions per week, mostly on the grass at Stromlo Forest Park. It’s a very efficient way of doing bike/run sessions because I don’t bother taking my shoes. I went and bought a nice solid pair of stability/cushioning shoes once my foot healed but I just can’t run in them, my feet feel like lead.


Shona: I tried to find some past results for Sarah Richardson. But I had some problems, have you recently married? From 1999 what was then your main sporting focus?

Sarah: I used to be Sarah Fien so all my previous results are in that name. I did my first half ironman in 2003 as an age grouper in Forster, won it, turned pro, raced Canberra half ironman 4 weeks later as a pro and won it then raced Forster Ironman 2004 (my first) – but definitely didn’t come close to winning that!
I focused on ironman from then, won IM Japan in 2005, did Hawaii in 2005, was Long course Aus champ in 2006, 2nd in IM Japan 2006 but crashed badly in training in August, broke 4 ribs, neck (C4), scapula, clavicle, punctured both lungs and have struggled with injury and illness ever since. 


Shona: I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you. Yeah I’m also bummed also about the lowered qualifying time. I also miss out on preferred status. City2Surf is the only road event I do every year. What is your favorite trail event?

Sarah: I am not sure that I have a favorite but the King of the Mountain is the only one I have won and that’s a great feeling. 


Shona: Nothing wrong with that. There is no feeling like winning an event. Especially when everything has just all goes to plan and especially when you have come back from injury with a massive 8 minute PB. No wonder it is your favorite event! How did you get into running then trail running?

Sarah: My father and sister both ran, and when dad was running ultras I went and handed him bananas at the aid stations so I was interested then, but I didn’t seem to have the running gene. I had been a swimmer and cyclist and decided to do a triathlon but my lack of running really showed. My sister suggested I join up with John Atterton and his squad in Sydney and I loved it. I watched a friend run the Canberra marathon and decided I really wanted to run a marathon too. After my first marathon I entered 6 foot track and started training on the trails to prepare for that. 


Shona: Your first marathon was the 6 Foot Track? That’s crazy! Colin would never let that happen now!

Sarah: No, I had run at least 1 and possibly 2 marathons before that but it certainly wasn’t hard to get a start in as it is now. Six foot track in 1998. And I ran a PB for the first 10k including down the stairs. It wasn’t a brilliant race strategy and I paid for it later in the race! 


Shona: Yeah, I like blasting down those stairs at Nellies Glen fast. What sports did you play as a child and into your teenage years?

Sarah: Swimming, gymnastics and trampolining. I took up cycling in my early twenties and rode in the Australian Cycling team in 1993. 


Shona: Far out your achievement are bloody amazing! You are a real elite athlete. Australian Long Course Champion and you were on the Australian Cycling Team. I have to watch my back on Mt Solitary. What event’s did you represent Australia in for cycling?

Sarah: Road cycling at the Worlds in 1993.


Shona: Sarah you are now a Mum. How old are your kids? How do you juggle being a mum with your training and racing?

Sarah: I am a step mum to two wonderful boys aged 5 and 10. I train first thing in the morning and now that both boys are at school, I can run during the day as well. It is much nicer to head out when the sun is up and the frost is melting at this time of year. I also take turns with my husband at going training or racing and spending time with the kids. When he ran the Sydney marathon last year, the boys walked all over Sydney with me to cheer him on from various points along the course. 


Shona: That sounds familiar. You too play “tag team” in and out the door so you and your husband can get their training in?

Sarah: Yes, and that is one of my motivations for focussing on running now. It is too time consuming to spend the hours needed to ride well in ironman triathlon. That and I have always loved running but found the riding more of a chore. I also want to run Coast to Kosci one day, and I feel like with all the health and injury issues I’ve had that my time running is limited and I need to make the most of every day now.


Shona: Does being athletic gifted run in your family? Or are you the “genetic freak” of the family?

Sarah: I’m definitely not the natural runner in the family, my younger sister Mary inherited that gene from my father who was a very good runner, but we are all reasonably good at endurance sports. The thing I really didn’t get was an ability to navigate as both my sisters are good at orienteering and I’m hopeless!  But I love running and training and racing and I inherited that determination to do better.


Shona: Bullsh1t! Man you are a natural! Okay you might just be really, really determined! I’d guess you consider yourself as being really mentally tough?

Sarah: I think I just love really pushing myself. I feel like I have never really reached my potential and I want to one day feel like I have.


Shona: Have you had any other injuries that you have had to work through?

Sarah: I have a chronic hamstring injury that’s been persistent for about 6 years now but I haven’t managed to solve it yet. I broke my third metatarsal earlier this year and had previously broken the 4th metatarsal in the same foot but I haven’t really figured out how or why. 


Shona: Do you cross train? What other sports do you do?

Sarah: Yes, I swim 4-5 times a week and I still do some cycling although I’m not doing much at the moment so I can focus on building up my running. I also do Pilates.


Shona: What shoes did you wear for the KOM? Will that be the same shoe choice for Mt Solitary?

Sarah: I wore Brooks T7 racing flats. I am not sure yet about Mt Solitary. I have lots of different running shoes because I never seem to have quite the right ones. I have just got a new pair of trail shoes but they actually weren’t as comfortable as I hoped so I’ll see whether I manage to break them in or stick with the T7s! 


Shona: What road running shoes do you wear?

Sarah: I run in the Brooks T7s mostly, including for training. I also have a pair of New Balance Minimus R00 which I do my intervals on the grass in but I’m nervous about running on the road in them since breaking my foot. 


Shona: Yeah I have the same problem. I had to be really careful for a year. I still have to watch what I wear on my feet. But I have found that if I run on the Trail’s I really have reduce my risk of injury. My feet have been really good in 2012. I’m just really careful.

Sarah: I’m trying to run trail as much as possible now too. We are in Cairns this week for a holiday and I spent this morning checking out some of the mountain bike trails around here. In a word – steep!


Shona: What pack will you be wearing for Mt Solitary?

Sarah: A Camelbak Octane XCT.


Shona: Sarah I’m still blown away by what you have managed to achieve. Congrats on the win in the Shoalhaven King of the Mountain Good Luck with Mt Solitary. I hope to meet you in person on the start line. Rest, recover and stay well and injury free. My tip for your foot would be that if it feels a bit sore put it on a container of ice with cold water and ice it for 20-30min or as long as you can take it.

Sarah: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, I’ll look out for you and look forward to meeting you! All the best for your preparation.