Many of you would have seen some wonderful racing at the inaugural Professional Triathletes Organization (PTO) Championship race at Challenge Daytona in Florida last weekend. The event was professionally produced within the midst of the chaos of the times, and represented a real step up in production value and experience for the professional athlete. It didn’t disappoint, and the racing was fearsome. It was some of the best racing we have seen for sometime, with many of the world’s top athletes from short course and long course thrown into a cauldron of racing around the oval of the Daytona race track. I am incredibly excited for the future of racing and the sport, and hope the organization can continue to make great steps forward in the coming year.
Within this event, Purple Patchers noticed the strong performance of our pro Sam Appleton. I would label his performance as bold, brave and relentless. He overcame a tough swim, coming out almost a minute behind (unusual for him), with an incredibly strong bike ride and an even and solid run. He finished in a highly credible 6th place. Not bad for his first race in over a year!
We really didn’t know what to expect, and I know many were in the same boat, but I had a sneaky feeling he might go well following seeing some spectacular training numbers in the lead up to the race. Many question ‘what we did’ that led to a great performance, so let me shed some insight. The reason I outline this is that most of the key points about Sam, as an athlete, directly correlate to much of what we have broadly discussed over the last months. There are plenty of lessons from the laid-back Aussie.
I should preface before I begin: this was Sam’s performance. The lad can flat-out race! He has the gumption for the big races, and his consistency at championships is brilliant. The racing keeps getting harder and faster, he keeps on evolving with it. Well done. A few salient points for us mortals to draw from:
- The potency of mixing it up: When Covid-19 hit in March, it quickly became clear that racing wasn’t going to feature for a while. This had a big impact on all the pros - who depend on races for survival - but it was out of their control. Sam didn’t obsess or panic, instead using the time to really mix up his approach. From April till October, Sam included a large amount of gravel riding, touring road biking, trail running and other non-metric based training. His TT bike gathered dust, the only bike with a power meter, and he rode and deployed more ‘free’ intervals within riding when it made sense. Lots of fun, and value, but less mentally draining.
- Specific but mentally fresh: It has been a stressful year, so I really encouraged Sam to amplify the soul-filling side of training, as I did with all Purple Patch athletes. For months there was a mission of consistency, but less dramatic emphasis on obsession of intervals. It wasn’t random, we were always ‘on plan’, but we reduced the cognitive load. We amped up the focus and mental game from October first until race day, and then it was full-blooded. I think this approach kept Sam sane, and also allowed high eagerness throughout training when it was really time to get every detail right.
- The power of the patient run project: In the last weeks, I have mentioned the approach of running frequently, but keeping duration and intensity low. From May till September, Sam followed this ‘run project’ approach, seldom running over 50 minutes, and never putting a step in anger. We built more patiently than ever before, with a slow burn of fitness, and managed to remove a consistent knee niggle in the process. Within four weeks of heavier running intensity, off the back of this run project, his running catapulted to a level we haven’t seen before.
- An obsession with strength: While we maintained a lower stress program through the high stress Covid times, something we will do this winter again, we did still drive forward a complete obsession in a couple of areas of needed improvement. There are no free rides - and with lower stress running, limited access to swimming, and a more free riding program, we become obsessed on strength. Mobility, core, stability, and movement patterns. For Sam, the pillar of strength was promoted to the forefront of a focus, and the yield has been obvious. We won’t let that retreat as an emphasis, even on his ‘break’ for the coming two to three weeks over the holidays.
Specificity is important, and consistency is non-negotiable. But don’t confuse these with obsession and a shackling of every footspeep and pedal stroke by compulsively diving into data analytics in search of validation that you progressed today. Have courage to enjoy your training, mix it up a little, without losing perspective of the important habits and backbone of specificity. You might just enjoy it more and fly in your races!
It takes courage to recover.
It also requires courage to embrace the soul-filling side of things.