Athlete Q&A – Sarah Cooper

Here we introduce from Iowa, USA, Ultra Cycling, gravel riding and true all rounder Sarah Cooper.
Sarah’s Palmares is formidable, including WINNING RAAM in 2017!!
It’s been a pleasure working with Sarah as she came back from bad injuries over this past almost 2 years. Sarah’s appetite, ability and focus to work hard is truly inspirational to me and I am often amazed, frankly, at how she does it all!
So here we go with our 10 Questions
1. Tell us about your sporting background. What Sporting achievement are you most proud of?
I got started as an athlete with triathlon in my late 30s. I saw the finish line of a local Olympic distance triathlon, and signed up for the following year of that event despite not having a bike or knowing how to swim properly. Within a few months of finishing that triathlon, I completed my first half ironman. I moved on to Ironman triathlon the following year, and did a total of four iron distance events. I was fairly competitive locally. I also ran marathons, and tried ultra running.
My first ultra cycling event was a double century while side-lined with a running injury in 2013, where I ended up finishing first overall ahead of a fairly experienced field of men. I signed up for my first 24 hour cycling event soon after, and then went of a four year tear of racing and winning ultra cycling events. I won overall five times in four years of racing, including the 2016 Race Across the West. It’s hard to pick just one accomplishment that I am most proud of, as it is the entire journey that has great meaning for me. I am proud to be a Trans Iowa finisher, and a RAAM finisher for sure.
2. Where do you live? Do you do most of your training indoors or outdoors?
I live in horribly hilly central Iowa, USA. It is an unending series of steep river valley climbs and descents, and is one of the best places in the country to train. Great scenery and little traffic! It is beautiful and brutal, and our weather is horrid most of the time. I am prepared for anything.
I train both inside and out, year round. Nowadays I am mostly on gravel if I am outside, although I’ve recently started mountain biking and have spent a good part of this year on single track trails. I love the trainer for focused work, and you can’t beat it for time efficiency. This winter, I think I’ll be 90% inside, just because it is more time efficient. Here’s hoping I don’t get soft.
3. What was your race or training highlight of the season and why?
Most of my season was cancelled. During the pandemic, I started a new part time job, and starting volunteering as a Red Cross disaster operations responder and served on my first natural disaster deployment. I direct three small gravel cycling events, all of which took place this year. I also started mountain biking, and my skills have not caught up to my aerobic fitness, so those rides end up being pretty low intensity so I don’t wrap myself around a tree. So my fitness has been all over the board! I’ve set life time PRs for FTP and short duration power, and at times this year felt like 100 miles might kill me. I’ve managed to podium at the few gravel races I made it to. I raced 24 Hours of Sebring prior to the pandemic, which ended up being an utterly forgettable performance, and miserable 454 mile experience.
The highlight of my season was a small first year event called Redfield Rock n Roll 200K. The course was tough, there were some brutal hike a bike sections, and not many finishers out of the small starting field. The struggle that day was everything I loved about ultra racing and had been missing since RAAM in 2017.
4. With a lot of races cancelled, what’s a typical week training wise for you? How many hours a week do you typically train?
I have yet to settle into a typical week this year. I have that pencilled in for November, but we’ll see! I can get a 90 minute ride in on the trainer weekdays before work, and one to two longer rides on the weekend.
5. How do you balance home life, work and training?
I have zero life balance. Balance is overrated. Everything I have accomplished in life has required that I tip the scales in one direction or another for some period of time. My family is the priority, so I start with that and arrange the rest as necessary. Not everything has to happen every day, so with planning I make it work. I have zero time for bullshit.
6. What’s the bike that gets the most use by you and what is the best thing about it?
My favourite bike is a Specialized Diverge. I have two. It’s an everywhere bike; I take it on gravel, single track, and pavement. It fits me well, and I love it so. I’ve never enjoyed a bike as much as this one. My road bikes get a fair bit of use on the trainers, and my Specialized Epic is fast becoming my second love. Gravel cycling and mountain biking are both completely fun for me. I love the adventure those bikes can take me to.
7. What type of sessions do you most enjoy?
I used to prefer a long wander, but I am so time pressured these days that I find that I prefer the short, hard, interval sessions. I like seeing what I can do for power, and still have time and energy for the rest of my day.
8. What area do you think you’ve developed most whilst working with Peaks?
I have made great progress with top end power! I have terrible asthma, so re-learning how to work through those intervals has been a process. My job is very physical, as is the care of my horses, and it all takes a toll. But in those weeks where I have been able to be consistent, I have had quality sessions and made progress that really surprised me. I’ve been told by plenty of older folks that it is all downhill from where I am at, and so far it just hasn’t been for me.
9. What are your key targets for next year?
2021 will be my 50th year of life! I have a few mountain bike endurance events in mind, from 100 miles to 580 miles. The longest of these would be considered bike packing events, so in addition to the fitness and strength demands from tough, technical terrain, I’ll be riding self supported in fairly remote areas. I plan to race a local time trial series, and I’d like to also continue gravel racing locally, as my schedule permits. I have an entry rolled over for Gravel Worlds in August, and I’d like to be in competitive form for that.
10. What’s the best thing about being with Peaks?
This year has been absolutely nuts. I appreciate that Andy has been very accommodating to my many schedule changes. His expectations for my performance are high, but realistic, and the workouts are engaging. There never has been any discussion of my age or gender as a limiter. I look forward to putting focus and discipline back into cycling for next year to see what I can do when I age up into the 50+ category.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.