Sam Appleton's 2020 Daytona Challenge PTO Championship Race December 22, 2020 21:46 Updated Follow Not signed in? Log into your Purple Patch account for full access to your education program for coaches and athletes. You need to sign in to view this page. Many have requested a deeper dive into the recent standout performance of Purple Patch Professional athlete, Sam Appleton, at the PTO Daytona Challenge. His strong 6th place, in one of the top pro fields ever assembled, was commendable for his strategy, bravery and consistent performance across all three disciplines. The question invariably gets asked: How did we get there? Here is a simple case study of Sam Appleton’s 2020 ‘season’, which included navigating to rigors of a Covid-19 environment, and only a single opportunity to race. The quest was to retain high performance if the opportunity struck, but also set Sam up for a cracking 2021 season, when we hope a full season will appear. While he is of one of the top performing triathletes in the world, there are clear lessons and parallels for you here. [Photo credit: Talbot Cox] Overview: Sam has had good progression over multiple seasons, clearly becoming a stronger and wiser athlete, while competing in a men’s professional field that gets stronger, deeper and faster -- seemingly with each passing race. Our quest for 2020 was to develop Sam’s resilience, especially from a musculoskeletal standpoint, to allow greater absorption of work without injury. We felt areas of improvement needed to come in the run portion of his race, while also continuing with a heavy emphasis on biking performance. With a ‘top of field’ swim ability, the mission was to develop as an athlete to be armed with options on how to race in any field, but also have a run ability that could close the gap to the true run specialists that begin to fill the podium at the world championship level. As an athlete, Sam is not an athlete who just lives for the joy of training. Some athletes can fully immerse emotionally and physically into tough training, without ever feeling like they need to step away. Sam is more of an athlete that does well fully immersing, then removing cognitive stress when the time is right. He benefits from solid breaks mentally and physically, which has been a key learning in me guiding the programming Diagnosis: The initial part of the season had gone very well, and on plan, with early season races launching a little later than Sam’s typical ‘Australian Summer’ races in January and February. He snuck one trip in for an early season race, but we aimed to globally be more patient in building to race readiness. With this, a lingering knee issue still aggravated, and we wanted to be cautious on the running load, despite it being a focus and goal of ours in 2020. March hit, lockdown, we know all about it. Here was the challenge: Races and events off the table The challenge of maintaining athletic development without high mental stress and load. A niggle in the knee Reduced access to the swimming pools. It was only a few weeks before we began to believe that any racing that might occur, would likely be in November or December. We called it ‘pragmatically reading the tea leaves’. So how could Sam avoid letting a year bypass his career, while not feel like he was training on a treadmill with no end, something that would lead to poor effectiveness and dropping motivation? Time to think outside the box! Intervention: There was a whole bunch that we could not do, nor control, so we committed to do things in a really different way. These were the main ‘interventions’, with associated logic behind them: A commitment to strength and conditioning. Sam had always executed strength, but self-admittedly had never fully engaged. The drawer to the swim-bike-run was always the focus. This runway of no racing offered a wonderful chance to fully commit. We worked on stability, joint mobility, strength and coordination. From the ground up, fully programming. This became the anchor to each week of training, and was something new for Sam to enjoy. Be specific on the bike with no specifics: Sam hung the TT bike up, the only one he owns with a power meter, and let it build up dust. Instead, the focus was a big biking project leaning into a ‘back to basics’ and soul-filling approach to riding. Lots of road biking tours, and gravel riding adventures. Intervals were aligned with the terrain, and loosely structured within the training. Each ride would have a theme, but didn’t carry mental stress. It was as much adventure as specific, but we tracked a smart blend of easy and challenging over the weeks. Sam rode a lot, but mostly on feel and with a wide range of intensity that gravel riding brings. Hit a run project: We wanted to develop resilience in running, and build a platform of run-readiness. This couldn’t be about ‘training for the run’, but loaded up track sessions and hill repeats, not entering socially distant 10km races! Instead, we did the slow burn and highly patient running project. Running up to eight or nine times weekly, but with almost none of the running including steps in anger. Shorter sessions, easy intensity, and soul filling. The mission was to build tissue resilience (hence injury prevention), and fitness really gradually. The cardiovascular conditioning and muscular endurance developed over multiple months, not weeks, with it seldom ever feeling to Sam that he was actually focusing on running. The goal of these three major focus elements was that, when races did bubble up, his body and mind would be primed to get race ready in a short timeframe. The race that finally arose was the PTO Championships in Daytona, scheduled for the first week of December. Outcome: I asked Sam to only ‘put his training hat on’ in the first week of October. We continued the trajectory of the plan above from the middle of March through the end of September. Ever confident as Sam is, he enjoyed the freedom, but I as the coach felt we might be making things a little tight! When October came, the TT bike was cleaned up and then tidied up with Ivan O’Gorman (link), and we layered the specificity. With some pool access, we charged forward with five weekly swims, the most we could get in schedule-wise under the restrictions. Finally, we kept strength training as a focus, but layered in initial intervals in the run. I noticed a few things in the run up to Daytona: Sam was incredibly fresh mentally. Both throughout the training and up to the race, he was fresh, engaged, excited and consistent. His performance metrics ramped up incredibly fast. It was only the first week in November, still a month out from the race, that his performances in training were ahead of any build that we had going into prior World Championship events. He was firing on all cylinders physically. His training consistency was better than ever. Sam is a relatively ‘easy’ athlete to read, his performance predictors are consistent, which perhaps correlates to his incredible consistency in major events. When he did accumulate fatigue, he responded to rest well. Going into the championships, I felt Sam was in a super place, but we acknowledged a major unknown. This was the fact he simply hadn’t raced in many months. Training is all very well, but racing is another art. We agreed to just go give it a crack and ask the body to respond. Here is where Sam shines. After a tougher than normal swim, perhaps due to compromised swimming hours or simple race rustiness, he mentally remains open and engaged. He is a serious racer, and has one of the better racing minds I have worked with. He rode and ran really well, for a super individual performance. This is the case study for Sam’s build, and I should add that it is easy for me to sit here as a keyboard assassin and reflect on how we ‘magically’ manufactured greatness, but the real power of this working was in the spirit and mindset that Sam managed throughout the year of challenge. Remaining focus, yet free, and still able to turn the mindset on when it counted is not an easy thing to do. While we can celebrate Sam’s great mindset, we can also all draw some conclusions and lessons from the journey. Next time you think the fabric of your performance journey will collapse if your Garmin or power meter doesn’t work, or you skip a strength workout to add more riding miles, perhaps think again. I hope that helps. Matt Dixon Related articles Why CEOs and Executives Love Long Course Triathlon What are the Purple Patch training zones? 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