The trial-by-fire coaching method Brett Sutton applies at his Team TBB training camp in the Swiss Alps has created some of the sport’s greatest champions and most spectacular burn-outs.
Elite age grouper Brett Carter sits quietly in the back seat of the dented Subaru van as the snowcapped Bernese Alps glide by the windows. He is nervous. Beside him sits four of the world’s strongest Ironman triathletes, all clad in running shoes and shorts. The men laugh as they guess the distance of the upcoming run. Ten miles? Twenty miles? Longer? He wouldn’t do that, would he?
Nobody knows, certainly not Carter. Just four days earlier he’d landed in Geneva to begin his tryout with Team TBB and its Australian coach, Brett Sutton, whose history of molding champion triathletes is equaled by his reputation for crushing others. Carter has heard the stories of Sutton’s meat grinder Swiss camp: the 220-kilometer rides around Lake Geneva; the mind-numbing track workouts; the two-day ride across southern France to race in the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon, followed by a two-day ride back. Sutton had told Carter that his first days in Switzerland would be an easy introduction to the TBB lifestyle. But as the van speeds farther away from the team’s home base in Leysin, Carter assumes the pleasantries have ended.
Just outside the town of Martigny, the van abruptly stops. Sutton steps out from the driver’s seat and greets his athletes. He gives simple instructions—run the 26 miles back home. The pace is to be conversational; nobody should be dropped. When the group hits the 6-mile, 3,000-foot climb back to Leysin, it is every man for himself.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh shit, this is going to be long,’” said Carter, a few days after the run. “I just kept thinking about that hill.”
Sutton drives off, and the group begins jogging, Carter running alongside James Cunnama, Stephen Bayliss, Mathias Hecht and David Dellow. An hour in, they round a bend and see the dented white van parked next to the road. They hear Sutton yelling. The pace is conversational, he reminds them, so why isn’t anybody talking? Twice more Sutton appears by the road, each time yelling at the group to slow down.
At the base of the climb to Leysin the group shatters, Carter falling back as the others surge up the hill. Volkswagens and Mercedes speed by on the narrow road, which twists along the mountainside like a bobsled track. Carter plods forward. He catches the others at the Leysin Subaru dealership and looks at his watch: They had run the marathon in three hours and eight minutes.