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Sam Appleton: the young gun of 70.3 fires up

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Australian triathlete, Sam Appleton, came fifth in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia. In this interview with Jeremy Thewlis, Appleton talks about how he approached the race differently this year, why he’s no longer the fresh face of triathlon and what the future holds.

Over the last two years, Sam Appleton has put together some impressive results, including five Ironman 70.3 wins and another four top-five 70.3 finishes. Last weekend, at 26 years of age, he placed 5th at the 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba. In this interview we explore what makes Appo tick and what the future holds for one of triathlon’s finest up-and-comers.

Trizone: Congratulations on Sunday’s race. Were you happy with your result?

SA: Absolutely! Especially after the last two years where I feel like I’ve mis-fired at the 70.3 Worlds. I mean in 2015 I had a breakthrough year with my racing. I got to the 70.3 WC and I felt like I had a target on my back. Then I had a complete disaster and finished 27th, way back on the leaders and I was so disappointed with that. That was when I went to Matt (coach Matt Dixon) and said something needs to change. I need to be firing in September.

Trizone: In 2015, was it a mental thing or purely a physical thing, being overcooked at that stage of the season?

SA: I think it was probably a bit of both. Last year I was racing really well in Feb. I had a really good Australian domestic season – I won a couple of 70.3s. Then I went over to the USA and had some success there as well. But by the end of July my body wasn’t responding. After 7 months of tough sessions day in and day out and racing every month, it’s hard to get up. And when your body stops giving you what you want in training, mentally it gets tougher because you’re not riding the high of those good sessions. It’s really hard to go so deep for so long throughout the year.

Trizone: So what did your build-up look like this year?

SA: I sat down with Matt and we based the whole season around the 70.3 World Championships and putting together the best result for me. That included having an off-season, so I stayed over in Boulder for the winter. It’s difficult to be fit and firing in January and February when it’s snowing! The past few years I’ve been here in Australia where it’s really easy to train and get fit. That means you’re racing really well in the first quarter of the year and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to peak in September for this race. I think we hit the nail on the head this year with my racing and my build-up. For me, Sunday was the best result I’ve had. Yes, I’ve won races before, but I think fifth place at the 70.3 WC is definitely my greatest achievement so far. There’s a positive moving forward too – we can structure the next few years quite similarly.

The future of triathlon

Trizone: You’ve been described as the ‘new kid on the block’ and the ‘next generation of triathlon’. How long can you be the ‘fresh face’ of the sport?

SA: I feel like I’ve been copping those tags for a couple of years now. I’m 26 and yes I’m still relatively young, but I don’t think I’m the new kid on the block any more. I feel like I’ve been around long enough for people to think of me as a main player now. I want to be going to races and being considered as a threat and as a contender to win races. Fifth place in the World Championships was a good step towards establishing that credibility.

Trizone: It was a solid field.

SA: I’ve seen a few things online with people asking, “How can they call this a true World Championship?” But I thought about it – there were only a handful of guys who would have been featuring in that top group who weren’t there. It’s disappointing to see the Championship status being questioned, but at the end of the day you can only race whoever turns up.

Trizone: It’s pretty hard to expect everyone to be at both World Championships given how close together they are.

SA: I almost feel the 70.3 World Championships should be moved to June or July. That would give those athletes who want to do both the 70.3 championships and Kona the chance to focus on both. At the moment a number of the guys are still in the middle of their Kona block. They can’t really afford to take the time off to travel or have a taper week and a recovery week – that’s two weeks out of their block. They’re doing the last key training weeks. So it’s a bit disappointing. Maybe in the future something might click with Ironman and they’ll change that. We’ll see.

Trizone: Speaking of youngsters, the sports media seems to be full of talented young athletes who are in various stages of ‘out-of-control’. You’ve had a spectacular couple of years – how are you managing to stay grounded? Or are you secretly living the rock star triathlete lifestyle?

SA: I hide all my party shenanigans! The reality is that triathlon requires dedication and commitment and a lot of sacrifices. I do enjoy myself at times. Tim Reed and I went out and celebrated after the Worlds. Look, at the end of the day we’re all just normal guys who are able to swim, bike and run at a reasonably fast pace. We don’t let it go to our heads.

Plus, the money in triathlon’s not like some other sports, so we’re definitely not living lavish lifestyles! I was speaking to Crowie the other day and we were laughing about how some pro triathletes get to fly Business Class to their races. But Craig Alexander, five times World Champion is back in Economy with us peasants!

ITU to Ironman

Trizone: You started off doing ITU quite early. What advice would you give to someone making the move from ITU to long course?

SA: ITU is very swim/run focused. I see ITU athletes moving to long course and they’re trying to keep their swim/run mileage really high. But they try and bring their bike mileage up as well, without backing anything else off. I did that for about two years and I was wondering why I hit a plateau. In the end, I backed my run mileage off a lot – probably by 30% each week – and brought my bike riding up. For me, that’s where my improvements came – from getting rid of those ‘junk miles’ and being really specific, smart and tenacious about the training. That was my biggest takeaway over the past few years and something that Tim Reed taught me when he was coaching me. You need to have confidence in your swim/run ability, reduce the volume quite significantly and focus on doing quality work on the bike. That’s what worked for me anyway.

Trizone: You’ve mentioned Tim Reed a couple of times. Tell us about your role models. What have they contributed to your thinking and your attitude over the past few years?

SA: Obviously Craig Alexander has been a huge role model of mine, I’ve looked up to him for so many years. And now to be racing and being competitive against these guys… you almost have to pinch yourself. And through the racing we’ve formed a friendship. Craig’s someone I can bounce ideas off. He’s a great source of knowledge and advice and a great resource to have.

Tim Reed and I started out as friends through racing. I was coaching myself at the time and I noticed that Tim was very specific and very smart and that was something that I wanted to tap into. Tim did his coaching job almost too well over those two years and got me to this point now where I’m really competitive. We parted ways in that coach/athlete relationship but we’re still very close friends. Tim is a brand new World Champion and Crowie’s a 5-time World Champion. When these guys tell you something you know it’s not just noise coming out, it’s been tried and tested. So, you listen when pros like that tell you things and teach you. I owe a lot to guys like Tim and Crowie.

Boulder and being better

Trizone: Like many Aussie triathletes you’ve been spending regular time in Colorado, but I get the impression that you keep yourself a little separate from the Boulder ‘scene’?

SA: At the end of the day I love Boulder, I love the people there, I love having the guys to train with, but I’m there for a job. I’m there to train everyday, to wake up and be the best triathlete that I can be. Sometimes that requires me to be quite selfish and to do what I need to do to improve my own swim, bike and run and develop myself as an athlete. I do like going out with the guys, but I’m there to work. And for me, it’s easy to work in Boulder, that’s why I love it so much.

I do a lot of training by myself because my training is so specific – Matt tailors every session to my needs. I’m just not willing to compromise my own sessions to fit in around other people. Yes, I like to train with other people, if it fits in with my program, but if it doesn’t I’m not upset at all to go out and slug it out for a few hours by myself.

Trizone: Speaking of improvement, If there was one thing you could snap your fingers and instantly improve, what would it be?

SA: I’d love to be able to get off the bike and run a 1:10 every time! I’ve got my swim and bike to a level where I can compete with most guys in the world. The run is something where I’m still one step behind.

Trizone: Looking at the top 12 guys on the weekend, there was only one guy, Lionel Sanders, who ran a 1:10. I’d argue that a high 1:12 is still an exceptional time and generally that would win you a race comfortably.

SA: I ran a 1:12:51 on the weekend, which is not a slow run by any means. And that would win most 70.3s out there. But at a World Championship you’ve got the best of the best. 1:12 is still a minute and a half slower than what Tim Reed ran and Lionel ran even quicker than that. While I think my run is improving and it’s at a high and competitive level, if there’s one thing I could change it would be going quicker.

Maybe my legs are still a little too immature! I look at a guy like Crowie. He’s been doing the sport for so long and he’s got so many years of that residual conditioning that you can only get through age. I think over time I’ll see some steady improvements, but if I could just snap my fingers…

Kona and the future of Sam Appleton

Trizone: What place does Kona have in your thinking at the moment?

SA: Kona is definitely something I think about all the time and it’s something I’m going to pursue in the future. I’m not really sure how long it’s going to be. I don’t want to put an age or a number or a year on it. When the time comes I’ll know. I’ve still got so much to learn and so much more improvement to make in 70.3. I don’t want to rush through the ranks and jump to Ironman, because IM demands such a heavy commitment – it requires a huge sacrifice on your training and racing for that year.

I think at the moment I can race 8-10 70.3s pretty competitively each year and I think with IM you can probably do two, maybe three at a decent competitive level,if you’re lucky. It is something I want to think about in the future, but right now I’m fully focused on 70.3s. I guess if I did have to put a number on it, it probably wouldn’t be for another three or four years. I think about Berks (Tim Berkel). He’s such a fantastic IM athlete and the way he played it was extremely smart. He was patient, took his time, perfected his craft and then went to Kona and had that amazing result – 7th in 2014.

Trizone: And further into the future, what will Sam Appleton look like at 30?

SA: I hope I’m still loving the sport and having success. I’d hope that by 30 I’d have a 70.3 World title or two in the bag and then have stepped up to Ironman and be having similar success there. To still be racing well, enjoying it and having fun and still making a living from doing what I love, that would make me a very happy man.

Jeremy (Jez) Thewlis is a writer, adventurer, motivator and keen communicator. With a strong background in sociology and teaching, he's always been fascinated with the art and science of human performance and the pursuit of excellence. Curious, blunt and irreverent, he's continually looking for the story behind the story, the hidden gems that can both entertain and inspire.

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Interview

Matt Hauser: What it takes to be the ITU World Junior Champion

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Matt Hauser crossing the finish line to win the ITU World Junior Championship in Rotterdam.

Matthew Hauser is the new ITU Junior World Champion, finishing the Rotterdam course in just 55:54 and finishing fourth at Super League Jersey only one week later. After a brutal year, Trizone asked the 19-year-old what makes him the world’s best junior triathlete.

“I sat down with Dan, and we decided Rotterdam was going to be the main focus of the year,” Hauser told Trizone. “I said I didn’t want to talk about it until a month before the race. I wanted to focus on developing as an athlete. It was going to be an exploration year, and I’d try WTS, Super League and I planned to do Hamburg,” said Hauser.

“2017 was about getting into the groove of being an elite athlete.”

The Junior World Title marks the end of Hauser’s preparation for 2017 and signifies the start of his career as a full-grown pro.

How Hauser prepares the night before a race

Like any athlete, Matt Hauser has a routine the night before a big race, but it’s not a superstitious one. “Dan gets me to write an hour-by-hour checklist for race day. I send it to him, and he checks it over and gives me feedback,” said Matt. Here at Trizone, we weren’t quite sure exactly what that meant, so Hauser explained.

“My to-do list says things like when to leave the hotel, when to get out of T2. It’s so I don’t have to think about organisation on the morning of.”

Organisation the night before is always a good idea, especially in Rotterdam when Hauser had to wake up at 5 am. “It’s about mentally preparing the night before. So you go to bed and wake up with it still in my head.”

On the morning of an event, Hauser listens to Led Zeppelin and gets in the mode. “Things slightly depend on how I’m feeling, but I know what works for me,” said Hauser.

The Rotterdam Race

“From the very start I was telling myself to stay in the moment,” said Hauser, a tactic he learned after his disappointment at Cozumel.

After diving into the water, Hauser kept thinking of just one word: Kick! “I know when I get a kick, my rhythm and my stroke is set. Kick was my keyword,” Hauser told Trizone. “I knew if I had a good start, I’d have a good mindset. But, I was also prepared for a crappy start too.”

2017 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam | Junior Men. Matthew Hauser sharing the podium with Vasco Vilaca and Ben Dijkstra.

Luckily, Matt Hauser had a positive start, and it evolved into a natural race. “It felt like I was in control throughout the whole race.”

The bike leg wasn’t as hard as expected

“The first bit of the bike was critical,” said Hauser. “I had to split up the guys who are excellent runners.” Hauser had his sights on Great Britain’s Ben Dijkstra who is known for his tough running. “I knew I had to stay up in the top three to make sure I wasn’t vulnerable to any crashes.”

For a Junior World Championship, Hauser was pleasantly surprised to find the bike wasn’t too challenging.

“It was quite easy compared to other races”

“That was thanks to Spain [when Hauser trained in Vittoria with Jamie Turner’s squad]. When I was in Spain, we’d go to a car park and practice critical race work, like attacking tight corners.”

After training in Girona, Hauser’s bike skills improved a lot thanks to a friendly rivalry with Ryan Bailie. “We pushed each other,” said Hauser.

“Those corners we practised made Rotterdam seem easier, and I’d exceeded the demand in training.”

Super League more fun than WTS

Super League has offered all the athletes involved the chance to push their bodies to the limit, and Hauser got his chance again in Jersey a week after Rotterdam. After astounding the spectators with his strong swim skills, Hauser finished Super League Jersey in fourth place despite still being a junior.

“Everyone is there as a family, together,” said Hauser of Super League. “You get to socialise with the locals and give back to the community you’re racing in. In ITU, you’re so caught up in the federation, and there are so many rules and regulations.”

“There are so many KPIs to meet in WTS races. Super League washes that all away. It focuses on the athletes, not the federation.”

Super League prides itself on its entertainment value, and Hauser is quick to point out it’s the athletes that create this. “We’re the ones pushing our bodies. We’re the ones creating the entertainment,” said Hauser. “We’re all racing to broadcast triathlon to the wider community and share our passion and love for the sport of Super League. It’s a fantastic platform for that.”

Despite racing for Australia on the world stage in WTS, Hauser does prefer WTS over Super League. “I’d probably choose WTS because of the points, but I’d prefer to do Super League.”

It isn’t just about Super League

It’s clear that Super League is an important piece of the jigsaw for Hauser, however, he makes the very strong point that his large goals are the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and to do this it’s a process – which is part of the WTS. So whilst he loves the lesser pressure of Super League, WTS really is the benchmark events.

What does the future hold for Hauser?

Hauser is an undeniable talent in triathlon, and he has a bright future, but what about the rest of 2017? “I’ll be doing the Noosa triathlon,” Hauser told Trizone. After Noosa, that’s a wrap for Hauser, and when it comes to next year seeing Hauser racing against the top pros, we’ll just have to wait and see!

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Interview

WYN Republic: The New Addition to the McKenzie Family

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You know Luke McKenzie and Beth Gerdes are fierce triathletes but have you heard they’ve used their industry experience to create a world-class apparel brand WYN Republic? Trizone caught up with Luke to chat about how these athletes became head designers of a disruptive sub-culture sportswear brand.

“I’ve been racing in triathlon for 25 years; that’s a big chunk of my life,” McKenzie told Trizone. “That time has given me a lot of opportunities to help me look at what I might do after my career.”

Standard post-race career not appealing to McKenzie

Unlike so many other world-class triathletes, McKenzie has always known coaching isn’t his future. “I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t go down the traditional role of coaching.” Before young triathletes gasp in dismay, don’t worry, McKenzie will always be around. “I’ll always be available to coach, but I don’t think it’s something I want to do on a daily basis.”

Island House the first product created by the powerful Luke and Beth duo

While Luke is infamous in the tri world for his countless Ironman wins and that infamous second place finish at Kona in 2013, he also has impressive business acumen. “In the back of my mind for ten years was an idea of an invitation-only triathlon in a great location. When I pursued it, my sponsor, the owner of Island House, gave me and Beth the opportunity to run that race,” Luke told Trizone.

While the Island House event was established when Luke was just 33 and in his prime, it did spark his thoughts of the future. “I certainly didn’t think my career was coming to an end, but I also realised there was an opportunity to create something more than just my racing career.”

More than a marriage, Luke and Beth formed their working partnership when they set up the Island House event. Perhaps due to the success they experienced working together, the pair were spurred on to start a new business venture; WYN Republic. “It’s been a pivotal moment for both of us to start establishing ourselves outside our racing careers because realistically it could end at any moment.”

Experience in racewear supercharges new business idea

Looking back, an apparel brand is a natural progression for Luke and Beth. After placing second at Kona in 2013, McKenzie began being approached by countless apparel brands to wear their designs. “Different companies started reaching out to me to develop different race suits and work with different fabrics. I’d go in the wind tunnel and try things out. Beth was really into it too and she’s always had an interest in fashion and design,” McKenzie told Trizone. “It made sense there was a point we needed to take the opportunity and go for it.”

Ironman Champion Luke McKenzie showcasing the new WYN Republic cycling wear.

The duo began to focus on their dream of creating their own personal brand; centred around creating a community around the athletes, not the companies. “WYN Republic was born out of our interest and passion to develop these racing suits and products, but mostly around creating a community for athletes like us.”

Far from focusing only on the design though, the pair has designed the gear for the community of athletes they want to encourage and inspire. “The corporations have their issues and it’s the athletes who suffer now. It’s up to our generation to start to create that community feeling,” said McKenzie. “WYN Republic isn’t just an apparel brand, it’s about people meeting up and being part of something inspiring. We want to bring people together in our gear, and in our little community.”

Celebrating the small wins, the start of success

“It’s quite funny being based in our little apartment in Southern California. We just celebrate every order that comes in; whether it’s a couple an hour or not,” Luke said smiling. “It’s all fresh and new and exciting. Just to hear it’s resonated with someone is great.”

While McKenzie is modest about the brand’s early success, it’s clear WYN Republic is set to create worldwide buzz.

 

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Jared Simons: Chef Turns Plants into Ironman Power

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Jared Simons is the plant-based chef with a love of Ironman. Trizone caught up with the American athlete to chat about everything from food to weight gain and the alpha types who love Ironman 70.3.

One sport ends, another door opens

“I was a wrestler, I didn’t grow up doing swim, bike, and run,” Simons told Trizone. He had a talent for his sport, but his body wasn’t so sure it was for him. “I was getting recruitment letters for college, but into my senior season I was having nerve issues with my neck.”

“My parents had taken me to see so many different doctors and they all said I had traumatic neck damage,” said Simons. After years enjoying playing American football when he was young, plus his chosen sport of wrestling, Jared Simons’ neck was giving out. “The doctors told me I shouldn’t be playing contact sports, so my parents pulled me out of wrestling,” said Simons.

College dreams replaced by cooking school

With his future college pursuit off the table, Simons turned to the other aspects of his life. “I’d been working as a dishwasher at a restaurant, and since I was quite a heavy kid, I enjoyed being around food,” Simons said. “My dream of going to college and wrestling was over, and I was so intrigued by everything that surrounded me at the restaurant.”

Simons was convinced of his new path, but his parents weren’t yet onboard. “Being a chef definitely wasn’t glamorous at the time. The Food Network had only just launched and they were all famous chefs!” laughed Simons. “I told my parents I’d applied to college, but I had only contacted a culinary school in San Francisco. It was tough to convince them, but finally, I did and I went off to the California Culinary Academy.”

King oyster mushrooms, farrotto, spring peas.

Over the next four years, Simons worked exceptionally hard at culinary school and then in restaurants, but like many chefs, the long hours and stress took their toll. “I opened a restaurant when I was 22, then another when I was 26, so I was super busy. My extracurricular activities were very limited,” Simons told Trizone. “I was working a lot, eating poorly and drinking a lot socially. As the years went on I started ballooning up. When I was around 29, I was just over 205 pounds and I felt horrible.”

Fast-paced and stressful, the culinary business had been both wonderful and taxing for Simons, but a friend came to his rescue. “I had a customer who was gorgeous and she was my ‘trainer’ but we really just walked and talked!” laughed Simons. “One of my friends opened a gym and offered to train me and I took the leap.”

“He asked me what my goals were, and I said I wanted to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.”

In exchange for training the young chef, Simons gave his friend credit at the restaurant. “I got one hour of weight training with him, and I did one hour of cardio by myself every day,” said Simons. Summoning the fierce work ethic that had helped Simons reap the success of his cooking talents, Jared Simons was on his way to becoming an extremely driven athlete.

Turning plant-based

“In 2015 I jumped onto Vice’s food portal, Munchies, and I saw an episode titled the “Vegan Ironman”. It featured John Joseph from the New York hardcore band, The Cro-mags ,” said Simons. “I was intrigued by the endurance aspect and his diet and when I got home I told my wife I wanted to do a triathlon. I’d grown up surfing but if you took that board away, I hadn’t done structured swimming since high school,” Simons told Trizone.

Even while training prior to triathlon, Simons wasn’t healthy. “I was doing high-intensity training 70% of the week. I’d eat fairly clean, but every Saturday night I’d have junk food and I had high cholesterol. On the outside, I looked good, but on the inside, I wasn’t healthy.”

Living in the city of countless diets and health fads, Los Angeles, Simons had heard of plant-based diets, but he never thought he’d make it a long-term change. “I cut out one kind of animal product each week and by week six I was eating completely plant-based,” remembers Simons.

The hardest part of going plant-based for the chef? Cutting out dairy, especially butter.

“Every month I’d continue to fine tune the diet,” said Simons. “People around me started to see a physical and mental change. From a sustainability and health standpoint, it made sense.”

Not just influencing his own personal diet, Simons’ new-found love of plant-based foods influenced his restaurants too. “Ultimately I started a plant-based series at the restaurant.”

If you are looking for some food inspiration, then jump over to some of Jared’s favorites;

Walking a marathon isn’t what Simons is about

Jared Simons isn’t just another age grouper who likes to finish a race, he’s ferociously competitive. “I’m not going to be a pro, but Ironman races are definitely not just a bucket list thing,” said Simons. “I don’t want to just get through it. Seeing people walk the marathon to me blows my mind, it just doesn’t make sense! I’m not that guy.”

Now Simons has far surpassed his days of spending one-hour doing cardio on his own, and he works with two different coaches. “One coaches me overall with all the facets of triathlon, and I do regular lactate testing with him,” said Jared. “I’m a data guy, if I see the numbers it makes sense to me.” Simons has another coach for swimming, and he’s confident he receives huge benefits from both.

Alpha athletes in 70.3 make Ironman better

“I found my first Ironman easier than 70.3,” said Simons, “at that distance, the effort is dialed back just slightly. Yes, it’s longer, but it’s different.”

Through the vineyards Ironman Santa Rosa 2017

It’s not just the distance that makes these races different, it’s the competitors too. “70.3 is a lot more competitive than Olympic distance and Ironman, there are a lot of A-type personalities out there. At the full distance, everyone in the race is like ‘you’re doing it and that’s cool.” During the race, lots of people were like ‘I know you from Instagram, with the beard and the kit and the tattoos! It’s fun!”

Modelling for LA Apparel brand Love The Pain

“I bought a hat from them and took a pic running in it, and they reached out to me. I’m a style guy so I think most of the gear in triathlon blows,” laughed Simons. “These guys though, their aesthetic was great and the product is good, so I bought a lot of it!”

Unlike some athletes who reserve their stylish kits for race day, Simons trains in his Love The Pain kit too. “They decided I was a great customer and I love their stuff, so eventually they asked me to model some kits for the company,” said Simons.

Love The Pain is the answer to daggy racewear, and it’s no surprise people with a foot in the door of the latest lifestyle, food, and fitness trends like Simons are keen supporters.

Check out Jared’s inspiring Instagram feed. After hearing Simons’ powerful story, would you turn plant-based if it meant you were healthier?

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Matt Dixon – The Purple Patch Story

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Coaching at the track at the Purple Patch annual winter Hawaii Training Camp

Matt Dixon is one of the world’s best triathlon coaches, and his squad is only growing. Despite a unique approach, Dixon’s philosophy behind his squad Purple Patch is working. Trizone caught up with Dixon to uncover this sport-changing philosophy.

Matt Dixon didn’t follow his philosophy in his own journey as an athlete, which in itself provided plenty of lessons to him as a coach. “I grew up on the East side of London, in Essex,” Matt told Trizone. “It comes with its reputation, similar to New Jersey’s Jersey Shore,” laughed Dixon.

Learning to swim early starts career

The youngest of three brothers, Dixon grew up being competitive with his siblings who were also athletes. “You get lessons thrown at you without realising,” said Dixon. Matt’s Mum was a ‘learn to swim’ coach who taught Dixon to learn to swim very early in life. “I grew up in the water,” said Matt, “by the time I was twelve, I was going to the national championships for swimming.”

Like so many other young athletes though, when Matt Dixon was a young teenager, he lost interest in elite sport and became more interested in going out with friends. “I didn’t really do anything much, I just played a bit of soccer,” said Matt.

By sixteen though, Matt decided he wasn’t quite finished with swimming. “I got back to swimming but was on a skeleton program relative to my future collegiate program. But I ended up qualifying for the Olympic trials, and getting to the finals at the trials in 1992,” said Matt. Without realising it, Dixon had just experienced the essential elements of the Purple Patch philosophy that he’d come to develop.

Dixon was offered a swimming scholarship in the United States, and since then he’s never looked back. “The opportunity was amazing,” said Matt, “to go to America and have four years of University paid for and to be in in a team environment was amazing. I’d never been to the US before, and I ended up at the University of Cincinnati to study exercise physiology,” said Dixon.

University swim training sparks race career

“At University, I set the goal of going to the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996,” said Dixon. Here the famous coached paused, almost as though the story he was about to tell was life-changing, which it turned out to be. “Our swimming training was huge volumes, around 24-26 hours of swimming each week. That’s about 80-100 thousand yards a week, all to get ready for an event that was four minutes in duration,” said Dixon.

While Matt Dixon was working insanely hard to qualify for the Olympics, the huge mileage was working against him. “I brought a world-class attitude to training,” said Matt, “but the outcome wasn’t world class. I didn’t make the Olympic team in 1996, but I did get a university education with no debt,” smiled Dixon.

After swimming throughout his undergraduate degree, Dixon turned to coaching. “I had a few years coaching swimming then went back to get my Masters in Exercise Physiology,” said Matt. “I got to coach on a great age-group swimming program, then a division one University swimming program.”

Dixon discovers triathlon

During his Masters degree, Dixon discovered triathlon. “I thought I’d give it a go and I did well,” said Dixon, “People said ‘go and give it a crack as a pro,’ and I did, although, in reflection, I am a great example of how to set up a professional career poorly” added Dixon.

After his experience of training for the Olympics, Dixon decided to succeed in Ironman he’d need to increase his mileage even more.

“I thought, if I was training for 26 hours for a four minute event, then I’d need huge volumes to train for a long event like triathlon.”

Without a running background, Matt decided he’d need to run really really long distances to get into shape. “I’m lucky to be pretty injury resistant, but it was almost a curse because I never got injured, I just destroyed my system,” said Dixon. “Despite my education in physiology, I replicated my mistakes and trained myself into the ground.”

Extreme burnout threatens Dixon’s athletic abilities

Three years into his pro triathlon career, Dixon started coaching other triathletes. “I realised ‘what I’m doing is stupid,’ and I ended up with some form of chronic fatigue,” remembered Dixon.

“It was physical, emotional and mental burn out. Just complete burn out.”

“I couldn’t exercise for around 18 months, it was very serious burnout,” said Matt. “Systematically I was not functioning well. It was the best thing that could have happened to me in hindsight. I was coaching then, but it forced me to take a step back,” said Matt. “It ended my triathlon career and I was at a crossroad.”

The time off helped Matt look at triathlon objectively, from afar.

“I looked at age groupers and pros, and realised the validation of success was based almost solely on accumulation of training hours.”

Dixon looked back at his own triathlon career and saw his own faults were important aspects of the sport. “I saw almost everyone was doing a lot of things poorly. Anything related to recovery, nutrition or strength and conditioning wasn’t done well,” said Dixon.

“Pros and age groupers were showing up to races fit and fatigued. I always wanted to have athletes be fit and fresh instead.”

It’s this observation that cemented the philosophy of Matt Dixon’s now world-famous Purple Patch triathlon squad. “It was such a dogmatic approach,” said Dixon. “People were taking the approach of pros and watering it down and applying it to amateurs, but ignoring all the other factors in life,” said Dixon.

Participants at Purple Patch Fitness Women Triathlon Training Camp in Marin County, CA. © Vance Jacobs

“Coaches and trainers encouraged poor habits and lacked understanding around fuelling and nutrition. They talked about recovery that never really happened,” said Matt.

Dixon’s philosophy sparks controversy as ‘an easy way out’

“A lot of people really bought into what I was trying to put across, where some others were really put off,” said Dixon.

“Some people thought I was trying to say there was a shortcut to success and that the best path is to always do less, but that’s not it at all.”

Dixon was under fire, but he stuck to the new-found philosophy he’d founded after his own journey in the sport. “I was coaching pros and age groupers and having really good results,” said Dixon.

Pros discover Purple Patch

“I started Purple Patch with some well-known athletes and some not,” said Dixon. “In the early days, one of my amateurs won her age group in Hawaii; she became my first professional Tyler Stewart,” said Matt Dixon. “She went on to become a very successful pro, winning Ironman races while maintaining a day job in San Francisco. That was more than ten years ago,” Dixon told Trizone.

In 2008, Chris Lieto approached Dixon to become a Purple Patch athlete, as his brother Matt was already coached by Purple Patch. “He was already a world-class athlete,” said Dixon, “He asked me ‘why the hell should I be coached by you? I used to beat you every time we raced?’” laughed Matt. With his new-found perspective though, Dixon had the perfect answer.

“That’s exactly why you should be coached by me. I’ve learned from all the mistakes.”

Working with Chris Lieto helped cement Matt Dixon’s new philosophy. “I saw he had the benefits of years of training, but the supportive components of nutrition, fuelling, strength and conditioning and recovery weren’t there,” Dixon told Trizone. “I felt like he was doing way too much for the end of his career.” Dixon’s respect for Lieto is still very apparent even now. “I told him we should be doing things differently and he was amazing. He just jumped in and said ‘yes, let’s do it.’”

Dixon took Lieto’s commitment and made some huge changes. “We radically increased his caloric intake, reduced how often he went hard and reduced his total training hours,” said Dixon. “He ended up really improving as an athlete. He started to be truly able to run off the bike, running a 1:13 off the bike not 1:17,” said Dixon.

In 2009, Lieto finished second at Kona, beaten by well-known Aussie athlete Crowie. “That was a huge moment for me as a coach,” said Dixon, “now ten years later I’m just learning more and more and still trying to work it all out. That was really the start of our now long-standing professional squad,” said Dixon.

Purple Patch isn’t right for everyone

Despite Dixon’s rich history of athlete development, such as Jesse Thomas, Meredith Kessler, Sarah Piampiano, Tim Reed and Sam Appleton, Dixon believes his philosophy isn’t right for every professional athlete. “One of the first things I do when a pro reaches out to me is I make them go and talk to other coaches,” said Dixon. “It’s important the athlete find the right coach for their journey. Too many coaches simply aim to add numbers, but we don’t own the athlete. I want to ensure I am the right coach for each athlete.”

Some of these athletes do choose other coaches, which is what Dixon wants them to do. “Some of them do really well, and that’s great!” said Dixon, “I just want what’s right for them if they weren’t right for Purple Patch.”

“I’m really deliberate about whether I’m going to take on an athlete and help them.”

Dixon likes to assist the journey of a pro

Even though some of his amateur athletes have earned their pro cards, Dixon won’t let them compete in the pros just yet. “Sarah Piampiano had great aspirations,” said Matt, “she was an age grouper and she wanted to be a pro. All the other coaches she interviewed for coaching told her ‘go pro and learn the ropes,’ but I was quite the opposite. I told her if she went pro I wouldn’t coach her, as I didn’t feel she was ready physically or mentally. You can only transition into the pro ranks once, and the timing is really important for long-term development”

Piampiano listened to Dixon, and decided to adopt his long-term approach despite being frustrated with the decision. “She understands the long term, she’s the ultimate ‘Purple Patch’ athlete in a fit way,” said Dixon. “She did two years as an amateur before she went pro but when she did, she was ready to compete and able to grow from within the ranks. This creates the path toward World-Class. Her situation was magnified as it was her swim that was her weakness.”

“I told her it doesn’t matter how good your running is, it can be career-ending and very deflating if there’s tumble weed going across the race course when you get out of the water.”

A windy and cold day of intervals in the Headlands National Park, San Francisco. Laughing was keeping us all warm.

Another impressive athlete, Meredith Kessler, went through a similar journey with Matt Dixon. “For one and a half years, she raced as an amateur even though she was qualified as a pro,” said Dixon, “when she went pro she could swim, ride and run,” said Dixon.

The admiration Dixon has for his athletes who stick to the Purple Patch plan and work hard through their journey as an amateur is palpable. “Laura Siddall won Ironman Australia this year. She’s had one of the most impressive 2017 of any athlete,” said Dixon. “So many people in her situation would have quit after the mental and physical challenges of her first professional year in the sport. We were trying to get the recipe right,” said Matt.

“She never wondered if she was in the right program. She was confident we’d get the right answer.”

Purple Patch is for everyone

“We’re based in San Francisco, and we offer real squad coaching with cycling, running, swimming and strength on a daily and weekly basis,” said Dixon proudly, “we have a wonderful community here.”

While many of Dixon’s athletes are highly committed professional and amateur triathletes, some of Dixon’s athletes are simply busy working people looking for fitness, while others are trying to get back to activity following suffering chronic fatigue.

“It’s a melting pot of high performance, business and sport,”said Dixon of San Francisco. “That makes for an ego-free environment; everyone is diluted in some way. It’s a really nice culture.”

While Dixon’s Purple Patch coaches people all over the world, Dixon’s approach is far from generic. “When we delivery anything, we never deliver a stock-standard plan,” said Matt, “In support of that, my biggest passion is education and each athlete is different,” said Matt Dixon.

Purple Patch’s Sweet Spot

Dixon is proud to offer a training solution for the very busy athlete; busy people who are trying to integrate triathlon into a really busy life. “It’s for people who want a positive effect on their health, energy at work, and want to bring a better self to their social life and family and friends,” said Matt Dixon.

Rather than asking athletes to work with a pre-designed program and jam it into their already busy lives, Dixon offers a fresh approach. “We offer a distinct philosophical difference.”

Purple Patch has amateur athletes who train as much as they can, which isn’t nearly as much as some, yet they have impressive results. “We have an athlete who became Hawaii World Champion in his age group who never trained more than twelve hours a week,” said Dixon. “He is genetically gifted and has the lungs of an elephant,” laughed Matt, “however, the key takeaway is that if I would have prescribed 16 hours a week, he almost definitely would have failed. He simply had too many other life commitments with his family and being founder and COO of a major tech company. We were optimising the very strict time limits he had available.”

Training CEOs for peak performance

Matt Dixon’s infamous coaching style is beloved by CEOs thanks to his approach. “CEOs are some of the busiest people in the world,” said Dixon.

“The barometer of success for those guys is if they become more successful leaders and if they have more time and energy to bring and enhance critical thinking.”

CEOs want an overall improvement in health, fitness, and performance in all aspects. “The value comes in them becoming a better elite performer in the business world. That’s what they like,” said Dixon.

Purple Patch approaches CEO’s travel the same as pro travel, which helps enhance their performance in the boardroom. “We use the same fuelling habits to make sure their energy levels stay consistent, and that’s just one part of it.”

Why everyday people choose Purple Patch

Plenty of amateurs who train with Dixon are everyday people looking for a competitive path towards wellness. “Sleep and exercise are always the first casualties,” said Dixon. “Then they get over-stressed because they’re not managing all their commitments. Critical thinking is reduced and energy reduces,” said Dixon. “That’s not just me saying that it’s all evidence-based.”

With an iron-clad philosophy, it’s no surprise Matt Dixon has trained some of the world’s most successful triathletes. Check back into Trizone soon to see how you can get your hands on Matt Dixon’s world-class training approach.

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Interview

Rebekah Keat: There’s Another Chapter After Sport

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Rebekah Keat's last win - 2015 Challenge Shepparton

Rebekah Keat is the fourth fastest female Ironman in the world, and one of the most sought-after coaches alongside long-term partner Siri Lindley. Trizone caught up with Bek to chat about retirement from triathlon and the importance of giving back.

“For me, I wanted to do something outside myself,” Keat told Trizone, “you have to be so selfish as an athlete, anyone does if they want to be the best. Now, it’s my chance to give back.”

When Keat retired from racing as a pro, she was at a loss of what to do with her time. “Triathlon was my identity, it’s what I’ve had in my life forever, I never really thought about what’s next.” said Bek.

Constant calf tears end Keat’s stellar career

Now 39 years old, Keat has been involved in swim, bike and run for 23 years, but her last two years in competition were brutal on her body. “In the last few years, I always had gastroc and soleus tears in my calf, but I kept pushing through.”

A bad race for Keat was finishing off the podium, but calf tears were ruining her impressive record of results. “My mind wanted to be doing it, but my body was saying ‘you’re done’” laughed Keat. It was her body that eventually gave in, with Keat tearing both calf muscles in her left leg during Ironman Cairns at only the 3km mark. “Straight away, I knew it would be my last one.”

Uncertainty leads to a new clarity

After crossing the finish line though, Keat became overwhelmed with the unknown. “I felt like retiring from triathlon was one of the biggest tragedies of my life. I was like ‘what’s next?’” said Keat.

While floundering in the unknown, Bek’s partner and revered coach Siri Lindley urged her to attend one of Tony Robbins seminars; Unleash the Power Within. I was definitely a skeptic, said Keat, I walked out of there a new person no longer terrified but excited  and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to stay in the sport.  I also realised I wanted to give back and contribute to something much bigger than myself and that was saving animals”  …triathlon will give me the financial freedom to create a comfortable future but also be the platform to help save the lives of innocent animals.

Joining Siri to coach everyone – Yep, everyone

I decided to immerse myself in the coaching, Siri and I formed Team Sirius Tri Club in January 2017 and now our triathlon club is ranked one of the top clubs in the world so we’re very proud of that” said Keat. We have over 140 members, but we really wanted the training to be accessible to everyone.

Regular coaching is a hefty investment though, and for age groupers starting out in triathlon it can be far too out of reach, but Keat and Siri are changing all that. “We found out the club was regarded as too intimidating for beginners, but we’re turning that on it’s head by offering a triclub hangout group.

Keat cheering on fellow athlete Hilary Schmidt while wining her age at Ironman 70.3 Boulder

“Every week, we offer a free live chat where athletes can ask Siri any question, for a whole hour!” said Keat.

“There’s also video of the pros training everyday in a live session. We really offer a lot now, we give a lot” added Keat happily. “We want our coaching to be available to everyone.”

“Together we have 45 years of combined experience, and we have a great team. We do want to try and get more men on board as we attract a lot of women at the moment,” said Keat.

Believe Ranch and Rescue; Another dream realised

A portion of all the proceeds of the Team Sirius TriClub go to Siri and Bek’s other passion project; Believe Ranch and Rescue. “I’ve loved animals my whole life,” Keat told Trizone.

“Siri and I have always loved horses, and we’ve always had the dream of saving horses from abusive homes and kill shelters.”

This dream has become a reality, with Siri and Bek saving nine horses from one auction alone, with countless others being adopted from the ranch regularly. “We really want to take on more horses, give them the medical attention they need, then adopt them out to forever families,” Keat said, “all the services and care we give the animals we adopt is free of charge. We rely on donations to operate. Tony Robbins has been a big help; he’s donated a lot of money to save these horses.”

“This incredible sport of triathlon has given me the life tools to be able to contribute in a much bigger and deeper way than I ever thought possible.”

With her impressive 23 years of experience in the triathlon world, Bek Keat lost herself for a moment after retirement, but has found her feet in a big way. Coaching others who love her sport, plus working with animals to help them experience a new lease on life after trauma, Keat is settled into her post-pro life and loving every minute. “We have an awesome team, and awesome culture, and Siri and I have always had the dream of working with animals.” Keat has now realised these dreams in a big way, and with Siri, is encouraging you to realise yours too.

For further information and donations, you can head over to the website. www.believeranchandrescue.org

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Interview

Lucy Charles: The Rise of British Ironman Talent

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Lucy Charles at Ironman Lanzarote. Photo: James Mitchell

“The whole year has gone better than expected, so I’m very happy with how it’s been going to be honest,” beamed Lucy. The British athlete’s trajectory in the past twelve months has been huge thanks to an ironclad mindset and a turning point in her mental approach to racing. Before the success though, Charles was a ferocious age grouper on a mission.

“I swam a lot at school, then I decided to take a break from swimming and do a marketing job,” Charles told Trizone. “At the end of that year, I decided I wanted to do an Ironman. I’d never done triathlon before but I did Ironman UK in 2014.” In her casual English accent, it’s almost as though Lucy doesn’t realise deciding to do a triathlon is one thing, but entering into Ironman UK and actually finishing it is another thing altogether! “I got a buzz from Ironman and I wanted to keep doing it,” said Lucy.

Kona age group champion in 2015

“In 2015 I decided I wanted to take triathlon more seriously and go to Kona. I went back to Ironman UK and won my age group there, and I’d also won my age group at UK 70.3, and qualified for the 70.3 worlds. I won my age group there, so that was a huge step up.”

After qualifying for her age group (F18-24) at Kona, Charles decided she’d just keep her cool and go and soak up the atmosphere, but the athlete was too competitive. “Once I started training I decided I wanted to be a contender,” said Charles.

With her fierce swimming prowess, Charles set a ridiculously fast swim pace motivated by the aim of setting a new swim record. She may not have set a record, but her time of 52:20 was 2.5 minutes faster than the fastest female pro Jodie Swallow (55:04) and was equal to the fourth fastest pro male.

In just one year Lucy Charles progressed from considering doing an Ironman while at her marketing desk, to winning her age group at Ironman UK. Amazing.

2017 – Challenge Gran Canaria Lucy Charles’ Breakthrough

“I raced in Dubai in January and finished tenth,” Charles told Trizone. “I felt like that was how the season might go. I might just be at the bottom end of the top ten and I’d just be building all year.” Thanks to her hard work and determination though, luckily her predication wasn’t correct.

Lucy Charles finished Gran Canaria in second place just six seconds behind Emma Pallant! “The race gave me the confidence to believe I had the ability to bike, and I could run strong off the bike,” Lucy told Trizone. “I hadn’t run off the bike since the year before, and that hadn’t been great as I had a stress fracture at the time. I’d done a big block of training, so it was good to see that training had worked.”

Every athlete has their breakthrough event, and for Lucy Charles, Gran Canaria 2017 was it. “That race was a big break for me in my confidence, to see where I was at.”

Losing a bike sponsor gaining a new partnership

If you saw Lucy Charles riding around on a bike covered in tape at IM Lanzarote, with writing saying ‘lucycharles.co.uk’ it was in the midst of a sponsorship change over for the athlete. “At the end of 2016, Boardman said they wouldn’t continue to sponsor me, so I didn’t want to give them free coverage and hence I wrote my name over where the branding was,” laughed Charles.

The race was a huge victory for Charles who claimed her first pro win while setting the bike record on the notoriously difficult bike course. The race was hugely exciting, and by T2, Lucy had an impressive lead of almost 20 minutes ahead of Lucy Gossage. During the run course, Corinne Abraham worked hard to make up the distance, but Charles was too strong, and won in just 09:35:40, almost 10 minutes ahead of Abraham.

“I have no words for how it ended, it was absolutely amazing! I was quite surprised how well the bike course went, but I had a big focus on that during my training so it’s was definitely worth it. I knew I wouldn’t like the run anyway so gave it a go on the bike course,” said Lucy.

It’s no surprise after Lanzarote, that Lucy caught the attention of the team at BPM Sport Athlete Management who manage the likes of world champions Tim Reed, Holly Lawrence and Flora Duffy. Working with BPM’s UK representative saw a strategic shift in how Lucy interacted with sponsors and take a bigger picture approach. Soon after bike sponsors jumped at the chance of working with Charles, and the decision was made to focus on trialing the best possible brands for Charles to gain additional competitive edge for the long term. This lead to Specialized providing her a new bike set up however  it was just one week before Frankfurt – clearly not ideal.

Lucy Charles getting dialled in on her new Specalized Shiv. Photo: Richard Melik / Freespeed Bike Fit

Luckily through very specific bike fits and measurements with Freespeed in London, the changeover was an easier process. “I had a fit session with Richard at Freespeed on Wednesday the week before, then on the Saturday I took it out for a ride on the road, just over 100km. We had a few teething issues like any bike, and we adjusted it, then I flew to Frankfurt and raced on it straight away,” said Charles.

“My management team were a bit nervous I was on a new bike for the race, but it went well. I have to commend BPM, Specialized and Freespeed for that, it was just professionalism at another level” said Charles.

Recovery is key for Charles in 2017

Two Ironman events before Kona may seem like a lot for some, but for Lucy Charles it’s all in her stride. “Last year, two Ironman’s before Kona would have been a lot. In the past, I was at transition once and went to get my bike and passed out. This was after completing Kona in 2015, after the race I went to collect my bike and passed out. “Now, I take everything from the aid station if it’s a hot day. In Frankfurt I took water, and ice, and anything that was available. If you can cross the line without falling in a heap and you can have a few days rest and get back to training afterwards, then why not.”

Ironman Lanzarote. Photo: James Mitchell

Lucy Charles has been focusing on getting her recovery just right to enable her to get the most out of racing this year. “I’ve been working on three things,” said Charles, “I’ve been working on getting my nutrition right, staying hydrated and keeping cool if it’s a hot race.”

Unlike her early Ironman races, Lucy Charles is much better at post-race relaxation than before. “When I did my first few Ironman races, I couldn’t stomach anything afterwards I felt so sick. Now I can sit down and eat something, and I always have a protein shake in my recovery bag so I can start the recovery process instantly,” Lucy told Trizone.

Winning partnership with Reece helps motivate Charles’ racing

Lucy Charles and her fiancé Reece met six years ago when he was studying sports science, and they were both on the elite swim squad. “We both decided we’d had enough of swimming at the same time,” said Charles. “Reece’s knowledge of sports science was really helpful especially when we started Ironman. There’s no way we could have completed it all without it.”

Lucy and Reece train together, live together and work together as they have an online triathlon business, along with a personal training business. While the pair used to work with a number of personal training clients, now they do almost all online training. One of the things the pair prescribes a lot is indoor training, something Lucy Charles knows a lot about.

Zwift rescues Charles from boredom in crappy UK weather

“I live really near London so the roads are manic and the weather is rarely good enough to ride outside,” Charles told Trizone. “Most of my rides are indoors, and they’re really long rides so I input sessions into Zwift. It gives you that environment where you feel like you’re riding with other people,” said Lucy.

Technology like Zwift has transformed Lucy’s workouts, but it wasn’t always so engaging. “The longest indoor training I’d done leading into Kona as an age grouper was a five hour Turbo session. I felt like I was going mad. I had six bottles around me, and one iPhone died and one iPad died. I used to just follow my little numbers on the Garmin screen,” said Charles. “Zwift really is a blessing,”

Lucy Charles is Ironman’s biggest new talent and she’s one to watch at Kona this year. Get ready, Charles is coming.

 

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