Faces of purplepatch case study: faster at 45

by: Matt Dixon

I cannot tell you how many athletes approach purplepatch as they creep into their 40’s with the hope of simply ‘slowing the regression’. Seasoned athletes, with years of experience, who believe or have been told, that their bodies will slow as age creeps in. I have known Jordan Blanco for many years, and had closely followed her development across a decade of racing while she wasn’t a purplepatch athlete. Her journey included four trips to IRONMAN Hawaii and some other great success. In 2014 she approached me about coaching her. Her burning question as an athlete in her 40s was “should I just expect to slow down from here?” For a brand new athlete the answer would be ‘no!’, for a world champion professional, with the rigors and demands of an evolving sport, a ‘maybe’, for Jordan I felt like there was more to still gain. The key to helping Jordan evolve was going to be some out of the box thinking, a willingness of Jordan to evolve her approach and mindset, and a redistribution of focus and intent around some of the areas of performance.

Three years on and the project is in full swing, with Jordan recently winning her age group at IRONMAN South Africa in a highly respectable time of 10 hrs 42 mins. The time was just shy of her PR set 9 years earlier, but on a more challenging course. As I told her in 2014, and will repeat again, there’s still more to achieve and there’s no reason that she can’t continue to improve. So how did we do it?

Endurance Training

I had noticed that Jordan was a disciplined and dedicated athlete. She had spent many years accumulating miles in training, particularly on the bike, and had established a tremendous endurance base. In beginning the coaching journey, I was immediately struck by a lack of range in her athletic abilities, having spent so many years training in a narrow endurance zone.

I felt the path forward needed to introduce a greater emphasis on “end of range” training, particularly boosting her top end power and speed, so that the backbone of massive general endurance could flourish. The challenge for the approach to be successful, required Jordan to shift her value proposition on the accumulation of weekly training hours. Some bigger miles would still be valuable, but success would be built around key (and tough) sessions. I asked Jordan to train fewer total hours, with key sessions at a higher intensity, and the easier work being focused around adaptation and preparation for upcoming key work. I wanted her to arrive more powerful, or fit n' fresh as we like to call it, and lean into the background of already established fitness.

As an adult onset swimmer, I also felt there was also plenty of potential for Jordan to improve in that discipline. This was one area where I asked Jordan to increase load. Before joining the purplepatch swim program, much of her swim training had been executed at a single speed and her longest swims would top out at 4,000 yards. The purplepatch prescription for Jordan would be to develop her strength in the pool as well as enhance her top end and sustainable speed in the water. We integrated paddles, and even a swim parachute in training, to focus her attention on pushing water backwards to generate force. Her weekly swim yardage also increased with her biggest sessions increasing to 5-6,000 yards. The goal was to build resilience so that she arrived in T1 with minimal fatigue.  Beyond simply ramping swim performance, it was a sneaky way to maintain and increase overall cardiovascular endurance, and some range in that stress, without loading with muscular fatigue. Typically, the higher intensity and load swimming has a wonderful cross-pollination effect with the other two disciplines, and this logic certainly flowed for Jordan.

Strength and conditioning

Jordan’s prior training schedule had largely neglected strength training, prioritizing swim, bike and run sessions in her busy schedule. As Jordan evolved and moved into her 40’s, I felt this was priority #1 for her global performance evolution, but also her health. I strongly believe that strength training is particularly critical for all women and so I encouraged Jordan to integrate two sessions each week into her plan. The mission would be to improve coordination and stability, increase the muscle fibers into the usable mix, and provide a platform to support the “top end work” she was doing in the pool and on the bike.

The functional strength, including mobility work, aided in minimizing Jordan’s injury risk as the focus on range or motion, as well as specific activation work, eliminated recurrent hamstring pain she had experienced in the past.

Nutrition

In chatting to Jordan, like many age group athletes, she believed herself to be eating a healthy but not overly strict diet, enjoying wine and desserts with dinner several times a week. Her approach was certainly relatively good, and she was enjoying life, and it was clear she was generally eating high quality, nutritious foods. Upon closer analysis her total calorie consumption was not enough to support her training for long distance triathlon, an extremely common challenge for many training IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 athletes. Furthermore, she frequently reported feeling tired, with high levels of muscle soreness, even several days after a hard session.

The simple reaction would have been to cut back Jordan’s endurance training sessions, and give her more recovery, but I felt that she should be absorbing the training she was executing. The answer lay in her diet and approach to fueling. Not only was she not consuming enough calories, she was also short-changing her body of high quality, complete proteins to promote the appropriate recovery from her training sessions. An enhanced focus on nutrient composition in her diet, including doubling her daily protein consumption, have allowed Jordan to develop more lean muscle mass, recover more quickly between workouts and continue to develop strength even in her mid 40s.

Beyond the wonderful progression of results, it has been super to witness Jordan evolving in athletic confidence, but also in health and overall life. Let the journey continue.


Cheers


Matt