Do You Know Your Limits? Faces of PPF: Nancy Clarke

Purple Patch Fitness is proud to have created a community that comprises triathlon first-timers through to world champions. What connects each Purple Patch athlete is a “desire to improve.” We are not interested in trying to achieve quick results, leaving a trail of fatigue and destruction in our wake, instead, we aim to integrate training into busy lives, and establish sustainable programming that creates ongoing improvement.

At Purple Patch, we are most proud of our pattern of continued progression and success that extends over seasons, ranging from long-standing professional development projects such as Meredith Kessler, Jesse Thomas, and Sarah Piampiano, to our large group of amateur athletes who continue to inspire us.  

One great example is Nancy Clarke, a performance level coached athlete, whose journey holds a story many of us can learn from. Nancy arrived at Purple Patch in 2013, with 6 years of training and racing triathlon under her belt. She joined PPF to “seek more from the sport and from herself” she wanted to see what she was truly capable over IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 distances.

Four years into her journey of development with Purple Patch has done quite a bit: Nancy consistently places in the top 5 of her age group at 70.3s, Nancy has qualified for IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships multiple times and even scored a top ten age group placing in her debut IRONMAN race. Most importantly, Nancy has evolved without compromising other areas of her busy life, remained incredibly healthy and injury-free, and has yet to lose any passion for her performance journey.   

3 Key Ingredients To Her Success:

  1. Focus On Process Over Results

With placings, qualifications and overall season rankings these days in triathlon, it can be easy to get swept up in achieving a specific result. I often use the word journey because performance doesn’t happen overnight. It was clear that Nancy quickly latched on to the notion of the “journey” and understanding the process has been key to her success. 
At Purple Patch, we ask athletes to take real ownership of their training journey and retain a pragmatic and fluid relationship with the prescribed training plan. Life is hectic, and by immersing yourself in the process of long-term development erodes the immediate and myopic pressure of hitting every single session because it is 'planned.'  

Ownership, coupled with a little planning each week, allowed Nancy to create fantastic long-term consistency in her training, ensuring she executed the key sessions in any week of training.  As Nancy says: “every Sunday evening I look at the coming week as a whole... and I prep for those days where I am going to need to be ready to go hard. This means paying attention to the supporting workouts so I don’t blow it!”.  Nancy also recognizes that the training plan is bigger than a single workout: “I can see that the plan follows a bigger picture in the subsequent weeks and months, and I focus on doing the work and doing it well, preparing for what is coming my way.” She also acknowledges that this approach sets her up to be successful “even on those days the workouts are anything but.” While outcomes such as achieving an age group podium or Kona qualification can help with motivation and getting out the door on cold, rainy mornings, success cannot be rushed and is a journey best served by a training approach that provides layers of consistent training, day in and day out, over months and years.

  1. It's Not About Going Hard - It's About Doing Things Well

A critical aspect of our purplepatch coaching program is a true focus on education. We believe it is important for our athletes to understand why they’re doing what we are prescribing. Having a training plan may be step one in your journey to performance, but failing to execute on the plan as intended will only likely lead to trouble. A smart and engaged athlete, who appreciates the big picture and training approach, is going to follow and execute the program properly, and yield greater results. With this in mind, we have an overall saying extending to all three disciplines: Form over force. This comes from the belief that we want athletes to always do things well, and not simply chase a heart rate or power/pace output to seek validation.  This mindset helps establish the ability to also hold form under fatigue, which is massively important for retention of race pace in the middle to back end of races. 

Check out the full purplepatch education library by clicking here

For Nancy, a large focus in her journey has been the quest to improve on the bike, in particular, learning how to push her own boundaries and find out just how hard she can ride, while still running well. While we wrapped training and progression around using power and other metrics, the true improvements arrived out of the technical aspects of riding well. Nancy immersed herself in becoming one with her bike, improving handling skills, becoming a student of terrain management, shifting the load on the bike through utilizing gears, and handling corners and descents efficiently and without fear. While all this seems quite basic, it is a clear weakness of the vast majority of triathletes.

Nancy has benefitted from an improvement in output (power) that the training has provided, but more importantly, she has learned how to maximize resources to transfer that power into best speed across a course. This is where the intersection of training effort and skill creates a successful athlete. Nancy demonstrated her improved ability at IRONMAN 70.3 St. George recently, where she rode the course better than ever and earned her first ever podium at that race. “I have come a long way in learning 'how' to ride my bike well and I still a have long way to go, but it is part of the journey!”

  1. Integrate Training Into Life - Not The Other Way Around 

At purplepatch, we strongly believe that amateur triathletes need to find a sustainable balance between training and the other factors in their busy lives – work, family, friends, travel, outside interests etc.  Performance gains come from some harmony between life and the training load, as only then can the body fully absorb the training stress.  As a busy mother of two, Nancy is like many of us trying to manage the conundrum of family, work, and training. Her days are full, prioritizing family, work and social: “I like that the workouts are written in a way I can take ownership of,” says Nancy. “If I only have an hour to swim because I need to get my daughter to school, then I can scale the session to my available time and still achieve the purpose of the workout.”

Training progression comes from longevity and the goal is to develop a training pattern that athletes can repeat over weeks and months, while still being dynamic enough to adapt to the other stressors in life. Nancy embraced this aspect of the program, and I feel it has helped her evolve: “the training schedule allows for flexibility, so if I have to move a key run from Tuesday to Thursday in order to get it done and do it well, then I can do that, because Thursday is an optional run day on my plan.”
Well done to Nancy on the journey so far.  We have plenty more to accomplish together. 
Enjoy the journey,
Matt Dixon