Inside The Brett Sutton Suffer Camp

  • By Fred Dreier
  • Published January 24, 2013
Photo: Jeff Clark

Carter can’t quite recall what he thought about during the run. It’s a safe bet, however, to assume Carter contemplated his decision to email Sutton several weeks earlier, asking if there was room on the TBB squad for a 31-year-old age grouper with an 8:44 Ironman time. Sutton responded with a very public rant on the TBB website, analyzing the pros and cons of admitting age-group triathletes into his ranks. He finished the post with a challenge.

“If you’re listening, Brett, get your arse down to flight-centre and get a ticket to Geneva then go and quit your job,” Sutton wrote. “If you’re here within two weeks, you are getting your shot.”

Carter had immediately resigned from his lifeguard job on Australia’s Gold Coast, sold off his furniture and belongings and borrowed $5,000. He arrived in Leysin with his bicycle, a small bag of clothing and the understanding that Sutton was now in charge of his life.

“I told Sutto I’m ready to smash myself,” Carter said. “I told him I know I can make it.”

It’s been five years since Chrissie Wellington’s surprise first Kona victory vaulted Sutton’s name into the lexicon of mainstream triathlon. He’d previously trained a dozen world champion triathletes, but almost overnight Sutton became known as the coach who’d molded an age grouper into the world’s best in just nine months. Everyone wanted to know how he’d done it.

The popular narrative said Sutton simply made Wellington and his other athletes swim, bike and run more than everyone else. Stories of his grueling training camps in remote parts of Switzerland and the Philippines circled the endurance community. Sutton became synonymous with the Soviet-era method of coaching: He hurled the carton of eggs at the wall, and the one that didn’t crack became Chrissie Wellington.

Looking out at a rainy July morning in Leysin, Sutton laughs at the rumors.

“Look, it’s not some Gulag-type camp we run. Yes, we do outrageously hard sets, but we don’t do them all the time,” he said. “People saw someone like Chrissie and thought, ‘That could be me, I just have to put in the work,’ when really she’s a phenomenon for any sport.”

Sutton is 52 now, and his hair has thinned into a messy widow’s peak. His scrunched face bears a lattice of deep creases, the result of a lifetime spent coaching outdoors on swimming pool decks, dog tracks and horse stables in Australia. He shrugs off the idea that he’s discovered the holy grail to triathlon coaching. He says his method is simple: organize a training squad of talented, dedicated athletes, and then create an atmosphere where the athletes push each other toward otherworldly fitness.

“My ethos is to create an environment where winning becomes inevitable,” Sutton said. “I’m more interested in making the environment work than having superstar athletes.”

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