The months since the London Olympics have been an endurance event in and of themselves for triathlete Sarah Groff, the 2011 world championships series bronze medalist who just missed placing in the top three at the Summer Games.
She struggled for equilibrium after finishing an achingly close fourth and decided to make some changes for this season, and beyond, to try to put herself in podium contention for Rio 2016. Groff, a 31-year-old native of Cooperstown, N.Y. and graduate of Middlebury (Vt.) College, is currently training with an international group under the aegis of Canadian coach Joel Filliol.
She opened 2013 by entering a race she had always yearned to do -- the punishing Escape From Alcatraz triathlon, rescheduled this year from June back to March to accommodate the upcoming America's Cup sailing competition. Fighting through a self-inflicted head injury and the aftereffects of food poisoning, Groff was overtaken by eventual winner Heather Jackson in the late going and finished second.
Groff is based outside Hanover, N.H., with her boyfriend, distance runner Ben True, but spoke to ESPN.com by telephone this week from Clermont, Fla., where she is getting in some warm-weather training. These are excerpts from that conversation:
Question from Bonnie D. Ford: How did you go about processing that fourth-place finish at the Olympics and structuring the rest of your season?
Answer from Groff: What I didn't expect -- other athletes always talk about how amazing the experience of going to the Olympics is, the whole village experience and the cool swag and meeting all the other athletes, but they don't really warn you about what happens after the Games. There's this tremendous buildup where for years we're focused on one thing, and then I finished fourth, which adds a whole other level to it. It's probably pretty common; I got pretty severely depressed for a while. I went through the motions, did a couple more races. I would say I'm just starting to gain momentum back. But, for whatever reason, athletes just don't talk about it.
I did [turn to] a fellow triathlete, Greg Bennett, who was on the Australian Olympic team in 2004, and his wife Laura was on the U.S. team in 2008, and they both finished fourth. So if anybody's going to know what it's like after that, it's going to be them. Greg told me pretty much right after the race, "Listen, Sarah, even now to this day, I'll be lying in bed, replaying the race, thinking about what I could have done differently."
He's absolutely right. It's going to stay with me for a while. It's both the best achievement of my life and also one of those moments where you can't help but wonder what could have been if you'd approached things differently, and I think it has the potential to make me a better athlete. There's so much that can go wrong at the Games, and I've just been trying to turn it around and think about everything I did right to finish fourth, because obviously it's a great result.
Want to be an Olympic triathlete? All you have to do is follow four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper's daily routine. Warning: Just reading it may require a performance-enhancer. Or some quality time on the couch afterward.
"A typical training day for me is swim practice from 7 to 9," he said. "I swim 5,000 meters or about three miles of swimming."
Swim three miles before breakfast? That can't be easy, but at least his training is over early, right?
"I'll take a little break, eat a big breakfast and go for a run around noon, and run about nine or 10 miles, about an hour of running."
Wait, there's more.
"I'll finish off with a bike ride in the 3-5 o'clock time frame, and that's about 40 miles or two hours of cycling."
"I'm looking at about a 32-hour work week," Kemper said. "That's 28 hours of pure training, four hours of rehab and core stuff, so a 32-hour work week with about 25,000-30,000 meters of swimming, about 250 miles of cycling and about 60 miles of running a week. And it's usually all three disciplines a day. It's not like I do one sport a day and another sport the next -- it's usually all three, every day. And in that week, I'll do three hard run sessions, three difficult bike sessions and three difficult swim sessions, all staggered on different days."
Freeman qualified for his fourth Olympics by finishing as the top American in the World Triathlon Championships in San Diego on Saturday. He has improved his finish in each Olympics, finishing 17th in 2000, ninth in 2004 and seventh in 2008, when he was dealing with a sports hernia.