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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.

A cyclist and tech geek at heart with a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of Australia's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.

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Interview

Alf Is an Inspiration at 77 Years Young

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The Gold Coast is home to some outstanding triathletes but none more inspiring than 77-year-old rookie Alf Lakin who is all fired up to do his thing at the Gold Coast Triathlon – Luke Harrop Memorial on 25 February.

Alf lives and breathes triathlon and 2018 is a very special year for him as a competitor and a spectator with three world-class events – Gold Coast Triathlon Luke Harrop Memorial, the Commonwealth Games triathlon (April) and ITU Grand Final (September) literally on his doorstep.

Alf was a typical kid growing up in post-war Sydney, he was firmly indoctrinated into the world of Rugby League, playing for his school De La Salle Ashfield, doing a bit of inter-club running in the offseason and using his bike to get around on.

His passion for running saw him tinker in the world ‘professional’ handicap racing for many years before he joined the Master’s Athletics ranks in 1980 at age 40. Then 22 years ago, Alf made a life-changing decision to move to the Gold Coast.

“My wife Karen and I literally met on the track. When I got up here I formed the Gold Coast Masters Athletic Club and she just rang up one day. So I met her down the track and that was it. It was October 1998 and she got me hook, line and sinker.”

Alf was a hardcore runner and competed in Master’s Athletics for 35 years and then two years ago, at the age of 75, he had a sporting epiphany.

“I was down at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre and they opened up a gym so we went down there the first day and there was a lady called Julie Hall and she was talking about triathlon and running a tri-class there. I said, ‘I am going to try this’.”

“I was just sitting on a stationary bike and swimming in a pool so how could it be embarrassing? I had no swimming whatsoever and Julie said all dive into the water and I had to stop halfway up the pool. I just couldn’t do it. I hadn’t been on a bike for 60 years so that was a bit strange. But I went two to three times a week and thought ‘This is not bad’. From there I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Bitten by the triathlon bug Alf decided to train for his first triathlon, a race in Robina in September 2015 and it was a day that changed his life.

“I remember my first triathlon. My wife was screaming at me, ‘Hey you have gone past your bike’. So I had to go back and get my bike. Karen is always there and so supportive.”

Since then Alf has medalled in two Australian titles, won a few age group races and represented Australia at two triathlon world championships, Cozumel in 2016 and Rotterdam in 2017, and has qualified for the ITU Grand Final on the Gold Coast in September.

“When I got to Cozumel walking around and seeing all these triathletes was fantastic. It was a wonderful atmosphere and Rotterdam was the same. Unfortunately, I got an arthritic problem a day before the race in Holland and I was advised not to race and make it worse. It was just one of those things because I was back into training soon after I returned. We think it was the long flight and the change of weather.”

Alf is a member of the very supportive T-Rex Triathlon Club but he said he mostly trains by himself and sets his own program.

“Some days I do two exercise sessions, morning and afternoon. Other days it is one session and I always have one day a week off. I try and do my longer stuff on the weekend rather than during the week. It is just a matter of planning. I love the sport, I love getting up and getting ready to train. If it is raining it won’t stop me.”

Alf has his triathlon and Karen is an active Masters runner and both are determined to not let the grass grow under their feet.

“People say to me that it is too late but I always say to them that too late is when you are dead. You might as well make the most of it while you are still going. I might be slow but I get there and at 77 what else would I want to do?”

“I love it when the young ones come flying past me on the bike “whoosh” and they are gone. I don’t care, I am happy with what I am doing and if I am only doing 25kmh and they are doing 60kmh good luck to them. I am not a legend, I just enjoy what I do and if I can inspire just a few people to get out there and do something I think that is great.”

After the ITU Grand Final, Alf is hoping to step up his distance and make his IRONMAN 70.3 debut at Western Sydney in November.

“If my training goes alright, I will see how I am going around July or August. My tri club mates tried to talk me out of it and that is the worst thing that could do. My doctor’s attitude is if you train hard enough you are good enough,” he said.

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Vanessa Vacirca To Prove Anything Is Possible at Ironman 70.3 Geelong

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Since leaving high school Melbourne’s Vanessa Vacirca has been on a roller coaster ride with her health, lifestyle and weight and four years ago at 123 kg felt like anything but a triathlete. When Vanessa lines up at IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong on 18 February, she will be one step closer to her ultimate goal of racing a full IRONMAN and proving that ‘Anything is Possible’.

A keen tennis player from the age of four Vanessa was very active until she finished high school but like many, at that age, she got a little sidetracked, chose a different lifestyle and took a long break from sport.

“I went the opposite way from a healthy life, started smoking and went off the rails a little. I realized this life was not making me happy so I decided to try and get fit.  I went to the gym and religiously attended aerobic classes. I quit smoking, I lost some weight and felt great, fit, and happy. Someone mentioned that if I really enjoyed training that I should give triathlons a go. So, in 2003 I did, and I signed up for the BRW Corporate Triathlon.”

“I loved it, so I did a few other short sprint triathlons that season.  During that time, I happened to catch a documentary on TV that was following some Aussies competing in IRONMAN (when it was held in Foster-Tuncurry, NSW). Their stories were all different and so inspiring and I thought, ‘I’d like to do that. I’d like to see how far I can go’.

“Then slowly my priority and desire to train, keep fit and healthy did a complete U-turn. I was still playing some tennis here and there, but as the weight piled on, activity became harder on the body. With small bursts of effort to try and lose weight and regain a healthy lifestyle, it seemed like I’d take one step forward and three steps back. I did this for years until my steps backwards became leaps.”

“Four years ago, I hit my lowest point. I remember thinking to myself that the idea to do an IRONMAN was well and truly gone.  I felt trapped in my body, smothered by 123kg. I didn’t have the energy to even want to get up in the morning, let alone try and train. I was sad, desperate, and needed help. So I decided to look into weight loss surgery. At first, I hated this idea. I felt like a failure like I was taking the easy way out but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to feel the way I did and needed help to be pulled out of the hole I was in.”

Vanessa was desperate to change her life but knew that if she could get over her weight issue, she could do anything.

“I remember trying to decide which type of surgery to have and asking the doctor, ‘What’s the best option for me if I’d like to one day participate in an endurance event?’  This is when that spark of hope came back for me. What if I could lose enough weight to train for an IRONMAN?” Vanessa said.

“From the first day after the surgery, walking around the hospital ward, to my slow walks around my neighbourhood, then a slow jog, a four km fun run, a 10km fun run, sprint triathlons, a half marathon, an Olympic distance triathlon, a marathon, a 70.3 and lots of training in between, competing in Geelong will be another step towards a full IRONMAN.”

“Competing in an event such as IRONMAN 70.3 or the full IRONMAN offers people a chance to regain or cement their belief in themselves, as it has for me. So much inspiration and motivation comes from this. I’d always driven through Geelong on the way to the Surf Coast but never spent time there. When I participated in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, I thought Geelong would be a beautiful place to do an IRONMAN 70.3. And here we are,” she said.

Vanessa’s training is on track and while she is looking forward to a great race, she only has three expectations of herself – to make it to the start line, to get to the finish and improve on her last performance.

“I love the swim because it’s such a challenge for me. It’s so technical and there’s so much to learn. The bike is fun and is my best leg. Running isn’t easy for me, it’s a grind but I love the intimate moments inside my head where I dig deep and find ways to keep going. Every time I run, I find my inner strength. You discover a lot about yourself, and I like that. The finish line represents another milestone in my journey and it will look like a reflection of hard work, pride, and success.”

Vanessa’s family and friends support her in everything she does and they will be in Geelong to see her take her next step on her IRONMAN journey.

“My partner is very supportive given all the hours I spend training. I’m very thankful and grateful for that. My parents are proud and so happy that I’m living a positive and healthy lifestyle after seeing the way I used to be,” she said.

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Ironman 70.3 Geelong on Sue Fuller’s Global Bucket List

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English age group athlete Sue Fuller has one of the most impressive sporting resumes going around that includes competing in the iconic Alpe D’Huez triathlon, Escape from Alcatraz, IRONMAN Austria, four London Marathons and a Quadrathlon in Scotland which included a seven-mile kayak.

Her quest for new events has taken her around the globe but East Essex Triathlon club member Sue (and husband Richard) have never been to Australia. So after almost 20 years of competing in triathlon and 35 years of planning an extended holiday to Australia, the opportunity to combine IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong with a second honeymoon was too good to pass up.

IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong will be Sue’s 101st triathlon since taking up the sport at the Thames Turbo in 1999 and she is excited to finally make the 17,000 km trip from England for some Aussie sunshine.

“My husband and I have been planning a trip to Australia since we first got married in 1986. We wanted to go and spend some time there, so we are about to embark on a five-month trip. We absolutely love triathlon so it made sense to do one in OZ. We were keen to do a ‘half’ and to do it early in our trip so we didn’t get stressed about training. Geelong 70.3 ticked all the boxes.”

“I am really looking forward to racing in a different country and enjoying the enthusiastic Aussie crowd. Geelong looks like a lovely place. I would love to come in under seven hours but am wary of the weather. I’m not used to the heat you are currently experiencing. I feel I may have to run/walk the run as my training has not quite gone according to plan. But as the bike course is not hilly I am hopeful of a good time for that leg.”

Racing in Geelong will be amazing and finishing a triathlon in Australia is something I have dreamed of since watching the triathlon at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Both Sue and Richard have a “brief” Olympic connection to their compatriots the famous Brownlee brothers, with photos of the finish line “Gold medal moment” showing the Fullers volunteering at the London Olympics.

“My husband Rich and I were picked as Games Makers for the triathlon at the London Games in 2012. I was lucky enough to be taking numbers on the finish line, watching the Brownlee brothers win Gold and Bronze. It was very inspirational.”

Sue and Richard will be hoping they can tap into that inspiration when they line up at Eastern Beach on 18 February.

Sue Fuller Alpe D’Huez ride

“I am not a fan of swimming, I really enjoy cycling but the run is my favourite although it always feels the hardest. I’ve managed to do quite a bit of cycling before the weather turned in England. In May, my husband and I cycled round Ireland completing nearly 600 miles in eight days and saw some beautiful countryside with some good climbs.”

“The training has been a bit hit and miss. I sprained my ankle at the end of October and couldn’t run for six weeks. Family events and the weather (it’s very cold, wet and windy here at the moment) haven’t helped. I wouldn’t normally been in full training mode at this time of the year, the triathlon season ends in September in England. I’m managing about 8-10 hours a week, not enough to really race but hopefully enough to get me around.”

“In October we spent a week cycling in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, some really tough climbing. Since I sprained my ankle I have been using my local parkrun to get back into shape. I have done a lot of off-road running to strengthen the ankle and I cycle with the tri club twice a week usually between 35-45 miles each ride. So have managed to keep the mileage up,” she said.

In their five-month stay in Australia, the Fullers are determined to return home to England in shape for the European season of racing.

“Our friends are quite used to us doing this sort of thing. As always they have been incredibly supportive and will be tracking us on race day. The plans for 2018 is to try and keep fit after the race in Geelong and while we are in Australia and will hope to do a few sprint races on returning to the UK,” she said.

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12-Months On – Has Triathlon Australia’s CEO Miles Stewart Made Inroads?

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Miles Stewart last spoke to Trizone 12 months ago about the importance of young talent in Australian triathlon, and Commonwealth Games selection shows his mission has continued in a big way. Trizone caught up with Stewart to better understand the choice of youth over experience in Australian triathlon.

Impressive results in the past year create excitement for Commonwealth Games

“Last year we had some of our best results in ten years,” Stewart told Trizone. “We had our first junior world champion in 18 years, and our first mixed team relay champions in the year it was announced it was going to be in the Olympics. We had a duathlon world champion, long course world champion, and a junior world champion,” said Stewart proudly. “We’ve had incredible para results too; world champions, silvers and bronzes.

“Performance wise, I feel like we’ve turned a bit of a corner.”

While Australia’s results in the past year are impressive, Triathlon Australia’s financials have also been a key focus for Miles Stewart. “Like all sports, we’ve experienced a decline in membership. We need to see how we can offer a better service to our members without going broke,” said Stewart.

“No one wants us to be where we were six years ago,” Stewart said. His comments on debt refer to the sorry state Triathlon Australia faced six years ago when it was struggling to make ends meet. Slowly, Miles Stewart and the team have managed to bring TA out of the red and into the positives, a vital element to triathlon’s success in Australia.

Is the Commonwealth Games triathlon team too young?

Last month, the Australian triathletes who qualified for the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast were announced, with a number of infamous Aussies left off the list.

GOLD COAST 2018 AUSTRALIAN TRIATHLON TEAM (ABLE BODY)

  • Jake Birtwhistle (TAS)
  • Ashleigh Gentle (QLD)
  • Charlotte McShane (NSW)
  • Luke Willian (QLD)
  • Matt Hauser (QLD)
  • Gillian Backhouse(QLD)

Fierce Aussie triathletes Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie are notably missing from the list, which echoes’s Stewart’s ethos around encouraging your triathletes; a direction he’s been leading since he started at Triathlon Australia. “Are there reasons why Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie should have made the team? Absolutely,” said Miles Stewart. “Same goes for Emma Jackson and Emma Jeffcoat, but I’m not in charge of selection.”

Experience doesn’t mean what it used to in triathlon

“Just because you’ve done it once, it isn’t an indicator you’re going to do it again,’ Stewart said, referring to Australia’s well-known triathletes left off the qualifying list.

“We haven’t had an individual medal in the last few years, so why not take a chance on a younger group with all eyes on Tokyo?”

If you’re confused by the line up for the Gold Coast, don’t be, as Stewart has always had this approach. He told Trizone last year; “The whole thing revolves around Australians winning medals. The more growth we get out of our coaches, the more access kids will get opportunities, and the more likely we are to get medals,” Stewart said.

Australia’ main team comprised of Junior Champs

Australia’s Commonwealth Games triathlon team is essentially comprised of many junior champions, but Stewart is confident in the selection committees’ decisions. “If you look through the qualifying period, Luke Willian only just missed out on individually qualifying for the Gold Coast by 10 seconds,” said Stewart. “The selection committee see him as someone who could be a force in Tokyo.”

Willian is known as an up-and-comer, but Jake Birtwhistle is already well known.

“He’s with a chance at an individual medal if the planets align.”

“The selection committee sees Luke (Willian) as someone who could help Jake win a medial or go for an individual medal,” said Stewart.

Matt Hauser is another well-known champion who surged to greatness as Junior World Champion in 2017 after a disappointment in Mexico last year. “Sure he’s a young kid, but the mixed team’s relay is probably about promoting younger people,” said Stewart. “If it was an Olympic distance race, it might have been a different team, but because it’s sprint distance it’s opened it up to younger athletes.”

Disappointment stems from depth of field

While some triathlon fans have been surprised with the youthful Commonwealth Games team, Stewart is adamant it’s a positive sign, so many great Aussie athletes have missed out on selection. “We’ve come out of a period where we’ve never talked about who’s missed out as we haven’t had the contenders,” Stewart told Trizone.

“The fact we’re having the conversation shows there’s a depth of talent within Australia.”

While Stewart was very stern when discussing the topic of athlete selection, he did soften when he remembered his past as a professional athlete. “It’s never nice to be that athlete who missed out though,” he added kindly, “I’ve been in those shoes.” Recovering himself, Stewart adds “it’s not an easy decision either. The selection committee has very robust conversations for final selection.”

Aussie athletes must stay on track to access funding

“While athletes continue to deliver, we’re happy to support,” said Stewart of the high-performance division. “We have to look after the funding the sports commission provides us, and there are parameters around that.” In other words? Athletes have to perform well and under approved environments. “If someone jumps in an environment where performance is diminished, we have to decide if we’re going to fund that.”

“High performance is an ugly space where it’s all about how your race.”

Has Stewart delivered what Triathlon Australia needs?

So far, yes. Since our last catch up with Miles Stewart, he’s helped decrease Triathlon Australia’ debt, so it’s now in the clear, plus he has stayed true to his mission of supporting younger athletes. Better yet, he’s encouraging the value-based culture of the business, while continually looking for ways to offer member even more value.

What remains to see is Australia’s performance at The Commonwealth Games and The Multisport World Championships in Copenhagen, where the world will know if it was the right decision to choose youth over experience.

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Interview

Elena Goodall: Controversy Follows To Busselton

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Elena Goodall is charging towards Ironman Busselton and Noosa while juggling moving cities and starting a new job. Phew! Trizone caught up with Elena to discuss her training for Busso, plus the controversy that follows the newly-made celebrity.

Roads are busy for bike training in Brisbane

“Sunday after I arrived, I prepared to go for a big four-hour bike ride. I tried to go out on the road, but I was too scared! I wasn’t confident at all, I did two hours worth of going around my block two-million times because it was the only area I felt comfortable,” Goodall told Trizone.

Luckily Goodall met a fellow triathlete who showed her the best bike trails around the city. “Now I know the areas where I can do a five-hour ride without stopping at traffic lights. It’s a huge learning curve,” said Elena.

Missing out on her training has been important for Goodall considering she’s training for Ironman Western Australia on 3rd December. “It’s important not to lose focus when you move,” said Elena, “you may not be able to train without all your gear, but you can take your swimmers and runners.” The move to Brisbane is a big one, yet exciting one for Elena who was based in Mount Isa for the last seven years, the place where her food addiction began.

Elena is ready for Busselton

“I’m pretty happy with my swim and ride, and I’m starting to get my kilometres up on the bike. The other weekend I got up to 120kms, and I’m building on that. Each weekend I’m doing long rides,” said Goodall.

With her longest run scheduled to be 35 kilometres, Elena has some work to put in over the next few weeks. “My coach says I’m nearly there on my run days. My running has never been my strong point, so I’m putting a huge focus on the run,” said Goodall.

Nutrition for training is tough for Elena

Healthy eating and nutrition is a huge focus for Elena of course, but her stomach gets extra fussy during training weeks. “I’m trialling rice balls at the moment. They seem to be doing the trick,” said Elena. “During training, my gut doesn’t like much at all, especially if it’s sugary.”

Controversy follows Elena

Shake brands illegally using Elena’s story. “A few companies have taken my photo and said I’ve been drinking their product and that’s how I lost the weight,” Elena told Trizone sadly.

“I got incredibly upset about it. It’s a lie.”

A vocal advocate against fad diets and all things that encourage unhealthy eating habits after her past addiction to food, Goodall has been furious at the brands using photos of her for false advertising.

“They’re putting words in my mouth. They even made up a little blurb about things I apparently said about their product, and it’s all completely false. There’s another brand on Instagram who has used my before and after photo.

“They even tagged me in the photo and said I’d been using the shake to lose weight.”

A new job at Lorna Jane is controversial due to lack of plus sizes clothes

Elena Goodall may fit into Lorna Jane clothes now, but her supporters who are still plus-sized aren’t thrilled with her new job choice. “I’ve always wanted to work for Lorna Jane but I used to be too big, and I didn’t fit the clothes,” said Goodall. “Now I’ll be working in their store. They have an active room where I can invite people to sit down, stretch, and do yoga. I can get to know them and talk to them, and it will work really well.”

“Some of my followers have asked ‘why are you supporting a brand that doesn’t support plus sized women?’”

Many of Elena’s supporters on social media, and in the real world, are plus-sized, so it’s understandable some may feel slighted by her newest employment choice. “Even when I was plus sized, I never said Lorna Jane should make plus sizes too. A few of my supporters have said they need active wear more than anyone as they need to get fit, but you can go to Best and Less and get plus sized activewear,” said Goodall.

Don’t mistake Goodall’s comments as flippant, she intends them to be understood, so she doesn’t offend her fans with her new job choice. “When I was still a really big girl, I went to Lorna Jane in Brisbane and spoke to the manager there,” said Goodall. “She followed me on Instagram, and I told her I’d always wanted to work for the brand, but I was too big.

“I bought my first sports bra from Lorna Jane. It didn’t fit me at first, but I hung it on the wall to motivate me and remind me where I was going.”

Lorna Jane job is more about their ethos of healthy living

“It’s not just activewear. She does cookbooks, inspirational books, and plenty of other stuff that is made to inspire you to get moving,” said Goodall passionately.

“The brand inspires healthy living through more than just activewear. That’s the side of Lorna Jane that I truly believe in.”

Goodall believes the brand gives girls something to look up to. “Maybe they’ll buy their first water bottle from there, then their first Lorna Jane sports bra,” said Goodall. While controversy follows Goodall, she sticks to her authentic message of inspiring people to get moving.

Goodall’s story inspires a cancer sufferer

“I met a man on the wharf in Brisbane when I was doing some yoga, and he said he wanted to be able to do it, but was too old,” said Elena. “I told him my story, and the huge evolution of my body’s ability and he started to cry.

He told me he was battling cancer and was losing hope, but my story made him want to keep fighting.

I started to cry too, and we hugged. “I’m so privileged I get to share my story, and hopefully create a positive change for people,” said Goodall.

Busso and Noosa; the countdown is on

Elena Goodall is now a local celebrity, with fans asking for her photos at coffee shops, a strange popularity she’s not yet used to. Despite her new status, she’s still a fierce triathlete looking to do well in Busselton.

“My coach Emma put a note in my Training Peaks. She said ‘we’re in the final phase. We need to start bringing together volume and a little intensity. It will be so good mentally to tick off the distances of each discipline. Crossing that finish line will be totally worth the final push.’”

With an inspiring coach, a fierce self-belief and formidable training volumes under her belt, we think Goodall might just smash through Busso and onwards to Noosa. Look out for Goodall’s interview on Sunrise in Noosa, and follow the #womenfortri on twitter for updates from the inspiring athlete. Trizone wishes Goodall best of luck for these incredible races.

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Interview

Flora Duffy: Behind the Athletes’ 2017 success

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Flora Duffy is the ITU World Champion, again. Trizone caught up with Duffy to discuss everything from injury to insight into her own training.

“Coming into this year, there was a lot more spotlight and expectation placed on me,” said Duffy, and she’s not wrong. After winning ITU, ITU Cross and Xterra in 2016, Duffy was the target of every woman on the ITU circuit. With so many of her key competitors pregnant and unable to compete, Duffy’s field became more concentrated. “Usually there are other girls around to spread the spotlight, and the pressure,” Flora told Trizone.

Starting the year injured

“I started this year injured, and really didn’t want to be a one-hit-wonder,” said Flora, “starting the year injured was frustrating, and my injury was pretty serious.” Duffy was forced to pull out of the year’s first WTS race in Abu Dhabi due to her hip injury.

“I was luckily able to come out the other side,” said Duffy, almost forgetting it was her hard work at rehabilitation that got her back to racing.

“Coming into Yokohama I’d missed the first two races, which I thought might have taken some of the pressure off me.

But it was the opposite! It was like ‘the world champion is back!’” said Duffy.

Consistency is key to Duffy

“A lot of people aren’t able to back it [a huge year of winning] up,” Duffy explained, “being consistent year after year seems to be more of an issue on the women’s side.”

One element of Duffy’s consistency is her ability to inject her own input into her training. “Over the last few years I’ve taken a bit more accountability for my training,” said Duffy, “I’ve been trying to understand why I’m doing everything. It’s not just about getting onto Training Peaks and just doing it, but last year I started to question things a bit more and bring my own ideas to the table. It’s been really great,” said Duffy.

“I think if you’re a pro, you should be taking lots of accountability for your training and your sessions.”

Partner Dan is a key person in Duffy’s team

Duffy has a small but mighty team with her, and a key player is her partner Dan. “Dan watches most of my races, so he can see first-hand where the gaps are, and where races are being won and lost,” Duffy told Trizone. This valuable relationship has helped Duffy develop her own insight into her racing.

“A coach can tell you, but until the athlete knows what they need to do, it’s not going to happen.”

Preparing for the worst

“We discuss most of the race scenarios and know what I’ll do in each of them,” Duffy said of her working relationship with Dan. “That really helps because I have my plan for everything that could occur.”

It’s not just positive scenarios either, Dan and Duffy set plans for everything. “If I bomb the swim, the plan is first, ‘don’t panic,’” laughed Duffy, “do this, this and this.”

How Duffy stays grounded

Despite the huge pressure Duffy faces as the world’s top female ITU athlete two years running, she tries to stay grounded. “We race high-pressure races all year,” said Duffy, “so I try to remember it’s just swimming, bike and run. I tell myself it’s not that bad, I’ve been doing it all year.”

That makes it very different going into Rotterdam. I’ve raced Ashleigh [Gentle] all year,” said Flora. “That gives me confidence, but everyone’s different.”

Running off the bike is Duffy’s new superpower

Duffy’s racing has come together in 2017 with flawless precision and strategy, and it’s the one thing that Flora Duffy is noticeably proud of. “I’ve developed to be able to run well after such a hard swim and bike. It’s something I don’t get enough credit for,” said Duffy proudly.

A key part of Duffy’s strategy is getting to the front of the swim. “My plan is always to get a small group away. That’s always the plan. You have to be at the pointy, pointy end of the swim to really execute that perfect swim/bike break. I always look to get a little group away.”

That’s a whole different skill to develop; being able to put yourself in that pointy position in the swim.

What is the pointy end? It’s the top five Duffy says. “It’s different to being just in the front pack. I swam in the front pack in Hamburg and I came out of the water in 10th. Then you’re deep in the front pack and you have to work a lot harder to get away,” said Flora.

Being the world champ means a target on your back

Being the world champion of everything means Flora constantly has a target on her back. “When I do get away in the main group, I have to figure out how to get away. That’s harder because I’m such a marked person when I’m in a group,” said Flora.

In Montreal, Flora came out of the swim in 11th place and set to work on the bike with a huge target on her back. “The girls ahead of me knew I was coming at some point. One or two spectators shouted ‘Flora’s coming. That’s the wheel you want.’ I was not having a great day that day.”

In my head, I was thinking ‘you should be riding as hard as you can right now, not looking behind at me.

As Flora breaks away in a race, she decides who she’s going to bring with her. “That’s probably what Neal and I discuss the most. We chat about things like – do you leave one or two people on the front a little longer? That’s when the real bike racer in Neal comes out; it’s what we’ll be working on next year.”

Flora Duffy’s technical preparation for the World Championships

Preparing for Rotterdam, Duffy worked on the technical aspects of racing. “We practised lots of corners, lots of surges, lots of U-turns. We worked on coming in slow to corners and really having to push big power out of them,” said Flora Duffy. “I knew it was going to be extremely technical and have a lot more surges.”

We wanted to know exactly what she worked on, so here it is.

We worked on short intervals, with short rest then high power. We mixed that in with threshold work. I’ve tried to work on my flat power as we race mostly flat.

One training session in particular sticks in Duffy’s mind. “We did moto pacing between two motos [motorbikes] I’d be behind one moto, and Neal would beep and I’d spring up to the next one. There was no specific 20-second rest or anything,” said Duffy, “it was just whenever Neal or the other coach on the other moto felt like pressing the button.”

Boulder is the best training environment

Boulder is a well-known training hot spot for some of the world’s best triathletes, but we always wondered why. Flora Duffy says it’s about her training companions and her program. “I’ve created my own swim program based on what’s available to me,” said Duffy, “some include Julie Dibens sessions; one is more aerobic and one is top end speed. I do my threshold swim with two training partners.”

Boulder has it’s own celebrity triathletes, and the Saturday morning ‘who’s who of Boulder’ is an open water swim session for pros only. “It’s a nice mix of a lot of different people. It’s mostly long course guys and ITU girls,”

Being surrounded by countless other pros works for Duffy. “It doesn’t bother me being here with a lot of other pros. I think that’s because they’re all long course.”

“Things may be different if I had a lot of my short course rivals around me every day.”

Duffy’s team is small but mighty

Far from those athletes who are followed around by giant entourages to inflate their egos, Flora Duffy just gets the work done. “I’m pretty low key. I don’t like the thought of having a big entourage and making a scene,” said Duffy. “My team is pretty tight-knit.”

Duffy’s tight team is made up of a few key people:

Neal Henderson: Main coach.

Ernie Gruhn: Running coach based in South Africa. “When I’m there I run with his group twice a week. Each person gets a session tailored to their needs in the season. It’s a really great group of people to run with,” said Duffy. “Ernie has helped me with biomechanics and he has his own view on triathlon running. He’s also taken my injury problems into account, and made a few goals:

  1. Be able to run consistently
  2. Alter biomechanics
  3. Run decent mileage week in and week out

He really looked at how I ran, and told me what I need to do to improve. It’s pretty neat and a really valuable addition to my evolution as an athlete.

Ernie is the newest addition to Duffy’s team but is now incredibly valuable, and he coaches her remotely when she’s not in Africa.

Dan: Partner. “He has to deal with a lot of the workload,” said Duffy. “He’s the team psychologist as well as tactician.”

Massage therapist: twice a week.

Evan: Manager.

“My team is pretty small compared to most people’s, maybe because I’m from Bermuda,” said Duffy. “The federation support is the big piece; I’ve got to build my own team which is cool because I get to choose who I work with. Most people don’t get that,” said Duffy.

Flora Duffy’s pet peeve

She’s the most easy-going pro out there, but even Flora Duffy gets annoyed at this one thing. While she never said the word annoyed…she hinted:

A lot of people like to tell me what they think. That’s something I’ve learned; not to listen to everyone.

Flora Duffy is the world champion of everything, plus she’s cool, calm, collected and modest. We’re obviously huge fans, and we hope this insight into Duffy’s training will help you with your next event.

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