This past weekend was a fitting pre-Kona race weekend across the country with Kona-like conditions at Augusta 70.3 and IRONMAN Chattanooga. Well done to all who finished - as the conditions were incredibly tough - especially with small additions such as a lack of cold water in Augusta and highly exposed running conditions in Tennessee. It wasn’t easy.
Of course, the result that popped for me was the 1-2 finish of Purple Patch pros Chelsea Sodaro and Sarah Piampiano. Two great performances for two exceptional athletes. End of story, right? Not quite. I think there are valuable insights to pull from these two athletes, all dispelling the myth that competitive female athletes cannot work well with each other to excel. Let me provide some background on Chelsea and Sarah.
Sarah is edging toward the end of her storied career. In 2018, she raced the season looking globally fatigued. It was almost imperceptible, but there was a heaviness around the way she moved and her approach to the sport. She’s a happy person and I had a feeling that she just missed the basic spring and joy of chasing performance. This malaise was in part training- focused and perhaps in part the vice of time running out on a career looming in the background.
Sarah had a good season, but were there really any other breakthroughs around the corner now that she edged toward forty? It was at this time that we added Chelsea to the squad, an experienced professional runner, but very green in the sport of triathlon. She’s an obvious and undeniable talent, but an athlete with a massive amount to learn about the sport globally. For all intents and purposes, Chelsea could easily be seen as a threat to Sarah. There was an obvious pathway ahead that might see Chelsea take positions away from Sarah in races; in fact, we saw just that this last weekend. It was a ‘perfect’ environment for tension to flourish, the way a stereotypical elite female environment is ‘supposed’ to occur. Instead, both Chelsea and Sarah chose a different path:
We can do more in the collective.
Sarah -- in the latter stages.
Chelsea -- fresh and eager.
Let’s support each other, lean into and challenge each other, let’s both grow.
The results have been infectious. As a coach, I have seen a magnifying effect that permeates through both Chelsea and Sarah’s attitude and performance, but also serves to set the tone for the broader San Francisco community of athletes. Respect, support, and a rally around a way of being and a way of doing things. I always discuss the common thread of all Purple Patch athletes simply wanting to improve, and in San Francisco, these two women are the leaders of this spirit, including to one another.
What have been the effects of these two training buddies’ support of one another?
For Sarah - a renewed passion and core enjoyment of both the process and racing - an athlete who is enjoying the best season of her life, a whole new set of bike legs, and, objectively, the fastest racing of her career. There is a freedom and zeal about her attitude, as well as a fearlessness in her approach to races. The bounce is back, the passion shines, and it is yet another pure indication that enjoyment and passion are the catalysts of magnifying the results of the prerequisite hard work that goes into high performance.
For Chelsea - a fast-track of learning the sport and a positive environment to test herself, chase performance and aim to flourish without the fear of animosity and jealousy. Chelsea still must navigate the path of development and learning that simply cannot be rushed, but is set up to do so in an environment for her that provides the very best opportunity to do so. She didn’t head to the Nice 70.3 World Champs worried about jealous teammates; instead, she was buoyed by a team that was driving and supporting her from afar. Her 4th place was earned by Chelsea, but there was a sniff of contribution from Sarah that certainly went into that performance. This sentiment will be echoed as Sarah heads to Kona next week. For the coming ten days, Chelsea has asked from a program to mirror Sarah’s plan leading into the race. She wants to be there for support in every session. Chelsea still has racing to come, but realizes that any specificity gained from her individual program will be diluted if she doesn’t support Sarah. Here is the key -- by helping Sarah she is helping herself! It feeds and magnifies both.
The lessons? Elite performance is tough, but it doesn’t have to be isolating. Lean in, support and aim for the collective, as we can always achieve more by supporting and driving toward goals together.
The final thought? (And perhaps a little selfish in writing, but please do spare a thought for me, the coach!) You can only imagine what it is like keeping these two sisters-in-arms in check on a daily basis. Still, I would much rather have the performance twins making my life tough than the performance disabling dog-eat-dog world that so many believe is an essential part of a performance culture.
Bravo ladies. Go race free in Kona Lil Poo!