When you cross a 4x NCAA D1 athlete with 10+ years of coaching experience, you get one of the best Peloton coaches out there: Matt Wilpers. Matt has a wealth of experience with running and coaching, and Matt was able to sit down with HOKA triathletes Sam Holness and Sarah Crowley to chat about training, racing, and the new Clifton Edge.

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What do great athletes and great shoes have in common? Great results! As a former collegiate running, running coach for over 10 years and now a Senior Instructor at Peloton, long ago I started noticing more and more runners wearing HOKAs. Then, one of my top athletes went from being riddled with injuries to having some of the best performances of his life, simply because he started running in HOKAs. Soon afterwards, I too started running in HOKAs, achieving new successes and have never looked back.

Today I am excited to interview HOKA triathlete Sam Holness and HOKA pro triathlete Sarah Crowley about the new Clifton Edge. But before we begin, here is some background on Sam and Sarah:

  • Sam is a triathlete who happens to have Autism and is training to achieve his goal in competing at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. His intention is to motivate others by showing the world that Autism is a superpower.
  • Sarah Crowley is female pro triathlete who joined the HOKA family in February 2020 and placed 3rd at the 2017 Ironman World Championships.

Matt: Sam and Sarah, first of all, it’s an honor to chat with you today. Prior to triathlons, what was your athletic background like? When did you start racing triathlons?

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Sam: Prior to triathlons I had a limited athletic background. I started swimming at 4 years old, didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 14 and joined a running club at 18. I came late to sports because there weren’t many opportunities for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to participate, and when I did, they were team sports, where my ASD made them less enjoyable. However, I soon learned that individual sports like running, swimming and cycling were more suitable for my ASD and led to my decision to become a triathlete.

My interest in sport began after I started doing Saturday morning 5k park runs, this grew into 10k races and duathlons. My interest in triathlons started in 2016 during my time at St. Mary’s University while studying for a sports science degree. The first was Dorney Lakes, at the sprint distance, since then I have completed several half-marathons and triathlons at Olympic and 70.3 IM distances. My goal is to move up to the full IM distance in 2021.

Sarah: Growing up in Australia was all about sport. I have two older brothers, so I was always included in games. At school I was involved in just about every sport from softball and badminton to Australian rules football, but I settled into swimming and running at high school.

My interest in triathlon started in 2003, from watching a local aquathon in my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. It was an enduro format race that consisted of running and swimming. I was fascinated by the race and thought it was so exciting. I signed up for a triathlon club and was out there training the following day.

Matt: What do you find most challenging about being an athlete?

Sam: My ASD issues are mainly with communication difficulties. I didn’t start talking until I was 4 years old and still find speaking challenging sometimes. The good news is that sport has improved my ability to express myself, meet new people, travel and improve my self-confidence, and of course speaking.

I would like to see more coaches trained to work with aspiring athletes with ASD and other disabilities. I also want to see a wider diversity of triathlon participants. One way that I want to achieve this is by motivating athletes with a disability and/or from a black and other minority backgrounds to take up this wonderful sport and become great triathletes.
My journey has been made easier by my family’s involvement. My Dad coaches me, books and drives me to events, carries my bags and works with me on a daily basis on my training plans, and Mum manages my nutrition and wellbeing.

The good news is that there are some traits associated with ASD that are beneficial for athletes. For example, I am very focused and not easily distracted, I thrive on structure and doing repetitive tasks (like training) and am highly motivated. I have never missed or been late for a training session, unless I was injured. Being a triathlete is the best job ever, I love it.

Sarah: I think sacrifice is the hardest thing about being a professional athlete. Participation in high performance sport requires strong physical fitness and a healthy body. Maintaining proper nutrition, though, can undermine social activities. I sacrifice a lot across the board, but time and social activities are the hardest for me to give up. I am always declining invitations to important life events for my friends and family because of my commitment to my training schedule.

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Matt: As COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in most races for this year, how has that changed things for you? What does your training look like now?

Sam: I have missed competing and growing my medal collection during the COVID-19 lock down. Although I was unable to go swimming and to the gym for 3/4 months I wasn’t really bothered, I started indoor rowing to replace swimming, and more body resistance strength training and yoga to compensate for the gym.

A typical training week of between 15-21 hours includes 8 hours of cycling (300km), 2-3 hours swimming (10km), Indoor Rowing (40k), Running 50km-60km, including 17km Hill Reps. Friday is my rest day and I do yoga for 60 minutes each night. I also sleep for 12 hours per day (with a 3-hour siesta) so that I can recover from my morning workouts. My goal is to up my training volume and intensity in preparation for the full distance triathlons next year.

Sarah: Ordinarily we would be travelling to Europe in May and then the USA in July for my Ironman world championship preparation. This year we have had to stay local and with no races, we have adjusted my training to be more sustainable and to also have less drag on my immune system. I am lucky to live in Queensland, Australia, which has been relatively free from COVID-19 cases, so we have been able to add some variety to my training by travelling to various locations around the state. We travelled to Noosa to swim open water during the initial lock down period when pools where closed. Right now we are in full Ironman preparation for IM Cairns in September back in my home training base.

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Matt: What are your thoughts on the new Clifton Edge? How does it compare to previous HOKA’s that you have worn?

Sam: The first thing that hits you about the Clifton Edge is the large heel. Although I tend to be cautious about anything new, within 10 minutes of my first run I was impressed with the feel and was happy that my pace was not impacted. I like the style of the shoe, and a lot of runners have asked me what I thought about them. The Clifton Edge is perfect for runners that heel strike. My only suggestion to HOKA is to make a wide fitting version of this shoe.

My Carbon X and Rincon shoes are used for race days, The Clifton Edge and Mach 3 are used for daily distance workouts and my Speedgoat 4 for trail running. I love all of these shoes, please don’t let me choose between the Clifton Edge and Mach 3.

Sarah: I enjoy the light feel of the shoe, with soft and springy foam it feels very plush, comfy and responsive. I usually train in the Rincon and race in the Carbon X. The Clifton Edge is more like the Carbon X than the Rincon and so I hope to utilize it more as my standard training shoe. I like the way the shoe extends out from the midsole. I am a heel striker, so it allows me to contact with the ground earlier and roll forward more efficiently onto the front of the shoe. The upper of the shoe is also similar to the Carbon X with very little stitching. I really can see the Clifton Edge becoming my training shoe of choice to compliment my Carbon X on race day.

Matt: Personally, I was surprised that once I started running in the shoe, it felt easy to just keep rolling. Is this what you experienced?

Sam: In terms of what I look for in a great running shoe, the Clifton Edge is right up there, it is innovative, comfortable and fast. This a light shoe, and I quickly forget the oversized heel and started to enjoy the running experience and racking up the miles.

Sarah: Yes! I have particularly loved the Clifton Edge on long runs where my focus is often maintaining a consistent high cadence. I find the shoe helps the transition from the heal to the forefoot and also provide some leg protection from the soft and springy foam. I will still use my Carbon X for speed sessions, but this shoe has been perfect for my long tempo training sessions.

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Matt: What are you planning for the remainder of the year for training?

Sam: The key focus for the remainder of 2020 and until the season starts next year is to build a stronger aerobic base, iron out any swimming and running technical issues, and improve my core strength and flexibility. I will also increase my weekly training hours and intensity in readiness for next year’s assault on full IM races.

I plan to run a couple of 50k trail races in 2020, do some cross-country running in 2021 and more indoor rowing during the winter months. I am booked to attend a tri-camp in Lanzarote in January.

Sarah: Well with a year as strange as this one we have made a lot of changes. We are hoping to race the Cairns Ironman in late September. So, it is full gas with training at the moment preparing for that. After Cairns we intend to travel to the USA to race Challenge Daytona. It is obviously a very loose schedule at this stage, with restrictions changing regularly. We will train in Southern Utah or Arizona for Daytona. We are yet to confirm what racing we will do after Daytona.

Matt: As someone who’s always looking for the silver lining, 2020 has been a year of training, lots of sleep and reassessing my training routines. What are some positives that you have experienced this year?

Sam: I agree with the sleeping part, I sleep for about 12 hours each day. Training is all about mastery for me. I train to do a task to the best of my ability and then execute it in a race. I believe that if I work hard and have the right training plan then I will do well.

Although not racing in 2020 has been annoying, I have been happy that I have had more time to work on my endurance in readiness for 2021. I am a glass full kind of guy.

Sarah: I have spent a lot of time in 2020 reflecting on ways I can leverage my brand and set up my marketing in a way that better supports my sponsors. I started working with professional photographer and videographer, Dale Travers at the start of 2020 with the intention of taking my marketing and advertising to the next level so my brand would grow and be more valuable to sponsors and generate future income streams.

I noticed in 2018 that I was developing a strong personal brand but hadn’t formalized what it looked like and really hadn’t sent a consistent message out about who I was and what I represented. This was a key driver for the brand review with Dale, and the current tone of my images and my website relaunch. Now, with a clear brand, I am able to service followers and fans better with merchandise and more appealing content.

At this stage I am fully focused on my next race and maintaining my performance at the top of the triathlon game. However, from this experience I have become very passionate about helping fellow athletes maximize their value and am more than happy to chat with them about strategies to realize their individual brands. If you would like help, please reach out to hello@JSIglobal.live.

Thank you both for your time today and thank you HOKA for creating such an amazing shoe. I look forward to watching you both crush your goals!

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