Peak Performance at 48 Years Old (And Not Done Yet)

Meet Joseph Hicks 

A year ago, Joseph Hicks, who is 48 and a successful orthodontist based in Knoxville, Tennessee, reached out to purplepatch for coaching guidance. He was ramping into his first IRONMAN, but really wanted to improve his overall performance in the sport (in both IRONMAN 70.3 and IRONMAN racing). He arrived at purplepatch with a strong pedigree in both cycling and running, but hoped to take several steps up in performance over the coming seasons. His mission is to do this while also remaining a strong participant in family activities, including keeping up with his two teenage boys, as well as continuing to grow his orthodontic practice. You might say he is a classic ‘purplepatch athlete’, and you are correct, but his journey so far has created some share-worthy lessons to many aspiring athletes seeking performance gains.

2017 Goals

  1. Break 5 hours in an IRONMAN 70.3
  2. Prepare and successfully execute another IRONMAN (Florida)

We purposefully did not add a specific time goal for the IRONMAN, but we have a benchmark from his initial IRONMAN race in 2016 - so we know we want to ‘race’ it rather than simply complete it. His goal of breaking five hours was reasonable, as he had completed a few races below 5:30 and felt he was ready for a big jump. One that popped out was his 2016 Muncie 70.3, in which he recorded a highly respectable 5 hours and 19 minutes.

The Start of The Journey 

It was clear that Joseph was highly committed, balanced and fit. His prior training logs showed great consistency, some healthy breaks for structured training, and gradual improvement in each discipline. He was also a reasonably high ‘volume’ trainer, accumulating many long rides and run miles; however, he lacked the variance that comes with specificity and intentionality in training. It was immediately clear that his training program required:

  1. An increase in specific biking intervals
  2. A shift to a more strength-based biking and running program
  3. Greater swim frequency and radical shift in swimming intensity 
  4. Slight reduction in overall weekly training hours to allow mental recuperation and positive recovery adaptations
  5. Introduction of a proper strength and conditioning program

Joseph had a lot of ‘good’ in the program, but needed some laser-like specificity, as well as heightened focus on recuperation and strength-based conditioning, riding and running.

Joesph's Weight & Bike Transformation 

Joseph came to PPF with a classic ‘tour de France’ body type. A slight and athletic man from the onset, he began his purplepatch journey as a very slender 118 pounds. If you are wondering, that is the weight of my left leg - seriously. Joseph had long fallen into the 'lighter is better' mindset, but clearly lacked some of the much-needed resilience to swim-bike-run over many hours. His profile was decent for a 5 or 10km running race, but not ideal for an IRONMAN 70.3.

The final aspect that really jumped out at me was how Joseph rode his bike. He leaned on the classic ‘spinny spin’ style, bursting high rpm in all conditions. He spun over 100 rpm on the flats, 90+ rpm on the hills, but had no ability to maintain low rpm and strength-based riding up hill.  It was a major limiter to his racing - especially the capacity to run well off the bike, handle headwinds, and ascend climbs. It also reduced his flatter time trial speed.

The Intervention & Plan Forward

Joseph was open to a dramatic shift in approach and from the first day he dove in with both feet. The main features of his new program included:

  • Twice weekly full strength and conditioning programming in the gym
  • Strength-based low rpm cycling throughout the winter
  • Hill Based running sessions with a focus on propulsion and power
  • Large increase in swimming frequency, ramping up overall load and intensity
  • Reduced overall weekly training volume
  • Increased amount of low-stress days to allow real rejuvenation
  • A large increase in daily caloric intake (J already ate healthily - but simply needed more calories)
  • Increased focus on post training fueling.

All of these refinements fall under ‘nailing the basics’. While we shifted the bike position a little, the primary focus was on very basic fundamental areas.  These were the boulders of change, and we hold back on the details for now.  Nail the basics, review the progression, then we can refine in the future.

The Results So Far

With full credit to Joseph, he has embraced the changes and reset his mindset for his journey. He has effervescent passion for the process of improvement and has not lost sight of where it fits within family and work. The changes haven’t been shackles, but chances to freshen up things and try something new. He has even begun to embrace and enjoy both the gym and the swimming pool.

Joseph now weighs 130 lbs, which is about a 10% addition in body weight that he must carry around. His first tests have been a series of local 5km, 10km and half marathon races that he loves to compete in annually. Each one of them have been personal bests, despite the additional (functional) weight. The real tests have been during IRONMAN Santa Rosa 70.3, which was his best race to date, followed by that Muncie 70.3 performance. Muncie is a super race, with a rich history, and an honest course. It is a pure IRONMAN 70.3, with nice variety on the bike course and a hot run. It provided Joseph with a great opportunity to judge his progression since last season. The result?  He recorded his best swim, bike and run performance in an IRONMAN 70.3 enroute to a 4 hour and 56 minute overall time. A huge breakthrough and goal number one accomplished.  

The backbone of his performance gains are rooted in the development of resilience, strength, and tools - in conjunction with a highly consistent training program that promotes health and evolution. He is the technician and deserves great credit for his balanced demeanor, training mindset, and keeping it fun the whole time. Lighter isn’t always better in this resilient sport, and I am excited to see the continued progression of Joseph as he continues on his path toward performance.