Beginners, Podcast, Time management, Training

Balancing a Big Life with Big Performance – Matt Dixon | EP#60

 September 21, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Balancing a Big Life with Big Performance - Matt Dixon | EP#60

Matt Dixon offers busy triathletes a plan of attack for high performance in long-distance triathlon without sacrificing work, life, and relationships.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • How you can train for and race half and full distance triathlon on 10 hours per week or less
  • How you can learn to take control of your training plan, instead of it controlling you
  • Scaling workouts for time running out or fatigue
  • How to deal with busy travel schedules
  • How to balance a big and busy life with training that allows you to achieve what you consider success


02:23 -

  • This book is a description of how we do things in our coaching of age-group triathletes at purplepatch.
  • It's for the time-starved triathlete who has aspirations to go and race half Ironman and Ironman races while trying to integrate the sport into a very busy life.
  • It's a from the ground up fix for athletes that not only want to cross the finish line, but also want to improve on their health what they can bring to work, life, family, and relationships.

What made you write this book?

04:08 -

  • I was approached and asked to write the book. The time felt right because so much of the training, approach, and methodology seen in media is trying to force athletes to fit their life into their triathlon training.
  • For many years now, at purplepatch we’ve gone about it from completely the other side of the equation.
  • We want to keep those immovable things – things that we don’t want to dilute – like work performance, what you can bring to your relationships and your family, what you can do to your health to be your foundations.
  • Our project or goal is to integrate this sport into life.
  • Many athletes that comes into purplepatch have confusions, frustrations, and barriers to entering. In fact, many people won’t even race half Ironman or Ironman because of the misconception that they have to train X number of hours to get ready, which simply isn’t the case.
  • My hope is that the information and the training plans that we provide in the book stirs the conversation towards pragmatism and away from dogmatism.

How do you train for half-distance in 7-10 hours/week and for full-distance on 10-12 hours/week?

06:14 -

  • The average number of training hours that a purplepatch athlete (excluding pros) is doing is between 10-11 hours a week. The reason for this is that we have other things in life that we’re not willing to compromise. Yet, the results that we achieve are very good.
  • We have to start with the reality that life is not rigid, it is not a spreadsheet. It is dynamic, it’s movable and it ebbs and flows.
  • If we have no commitments outside of life, absolutely, I would deliver more training hours. If the opportunity arrives to give more training hours because the athlete has more time, we use that.
  • But, on an ongoing basis, it’s grounded on the belief that consistency is the key with specific training.
  • I have two training programs in the book, one as a ramp to get ready for half Ironman distance and the other to get ready for the Ironman distance. Both are all in the time-starved mindset.
  • We’ve created the training program so it’s dynamic and flexible, and ultimately scalable. Those hours in the training program were suggested as this is what we want to be able to repeat and repeat in a sustainable way.
  • If life ebbs and flows, you might have to peel off and still retain specificity.
  • At the same time, if you get the opportunity, you can do more training hours.
  • In the actual training programs, in any given week, an athlete might need to pick and choose and be pragmatic. And in some weeks maybe hit 6-10 hours a week of training.
  • On the flipside, there’s opportunity in the program to get up to 15-18 hours a week of training if the opportunity arises.
  • This is a really unique training program and approach that we’ve built that empowers the athlete to scale based on time restrictions and fatigue.
  • At the same time, the athlete will have a clear understanding of the most important sessions to get in each week so that they retain specificity even when life brings chaos.

What is athletic IQ and how can you develop and improve it?

10:05 -

  • Athletic IQ is a term coined by Gerry Rodrigues from Tower 26.
  • This is empowering the athlete to understand the intent of the prescription, why they’re doing a session, and ultimately have self-management or ownership over their program.
  • In the book, I firstly educate the athlete on the backbone of the program, why they go about the sessions that I prescribe in there, and what the focus should be.
  • Secondly, I then empower the athlete to take ownership of their program, take the training plan, apply it to their life, and then execute on a week by week basis.
  • Then it quickly becomes apparent how to actually self-manage. It’s not a rocket science for the athlete.
  • Once you have a few rules in place, once you understand the key premise of each week of training, and the role that it has on your journey, then you understand the key sessions in which the training stimulus is built around.
  • This is not to dilute the value of the supporting sessions because those are important too. But once you have a hierarchy, this empowers the athlete to be able to make smart decisions as they navigate through life.
  • As the athlete goes through a few cycles of this, a few weeks, a whole build, and ultimately a whole season of training, they start to understand and gain confidence in self-management.
  • The outcome of this is firstly, the athletes have greater consistence and they arrive on races as fit as they need to be but also fresh.
  • The second thing is that there is a real confidence that comes because they don’t arrive a week before their race and look back and think that they failed because they haven’t reached 100% of their training program.
  • This is what we’re trying to do. This is not what’s necessary to be ready for a performance in half Ironman or Ironman.
  • The outcome are healthier and more confident athletes, and ultimately athletes that enjoy and immerse themselves in the process more because they understand why.

How to scale your workouts for time and fatigue

14:42 -

  • Firstly, if an athlete is time-starved there may be a 60-minute, 75-minute, or 90-minute session of swimming, cycling, and running in any given week.
  • What does an athlete do when life gets in the way? For example, you have a 75-minute track interval session with a warm-up, pre-main set, and main set. Yet you arrive at the track and realize that you only have 50 minutes.
  • Every single workout in the training program gives you tools and directions on how to peel back. Normally, that involves reducing the warm-up, limiting the pre-main set, but retaining the main body of the workout.
  • Secondly, if an athlete is exhausted what do we do? We give you tools, education, and guidance to empower you to try the start of the workout and see what happens.
  • If the body is simply not responding, it’s better to move on and come back to that workout at a different time. We integrate into the fatigue scale what you can do in this kind of situation.
  • You can transition into a form-based run based in our case studies or into a progressive, building, smooth effort that still has high value but deviates from the original prescribed effort.
  • Both of these approaches are all about using big picture lenses which is never focusing on any training program or athletic success being driven by a singular workout.
  • This will force the athlete to take the big picture and consistency view so that they can tie together weeks of training to deliver performance rather than obsessively and stubbornly driving yourself off a cliff of fatigue which will lead to injury. This is what we want to avoid.

What do you think about breaking up the intervals into shorter segments to try to get a lot of the work in but not sacrificing form and focus due to long intervals?

18:39 -

  • There is often a difference in the perception of fatigue and the actual physical resources that you have.
  • Secondly, we don’t want to pull the pin on hard work every time you get tired. You always have to give the body its chance.
  • Just because you’re sleepy at the start of the day and life has got on top of you, it doesn’t mean that you always take the fatigue option. You still go through warm-up and the pre-main set. Quite often, you go on to have a fabulous training session which might be the one originally prescribed.
  • If the body is truly cognitively fatigued then there’s a lot of ways to scale. One of the options in some of sessions in the book is to scale down the duration. Don’t go 400’s, go 100’s but do them well to still get the stimulus.
  • Then don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel like you’re a failure. You’ve still got some high value out of it.
  • Ultimately, carry this mindset of what happened today until tomorrow which is the pragmatic, honest, and reality-based approach where you’re always looking to yield. You’re not looking to pull the parachute every time you get little bit tired.
  • Also, on the reverse, don’t just drive yourself off a cliff because that’s written in the plan, because you will end up getting poor training with little value, high propensity for sickness and injury, and great inconsistency.

How do you combine a busy travelling schedule with training?

22:42 -

  • We have a whole section in the book around training and travel.
  • You can manage or manipulate things like light, the timing of eating and hydration, before, during, and after your travel.
  • On top of that is how you actually weave the training, how you organize your days leaving into and coming out of the travel.
  • There are two main factors to consider. First, if you’re crossing time zones in your travel, are you aiming to remain on the same home time zone that you left from or do you need to adapt to the new time zone? This is in order to have peak performance.

Other practical training tips to some challenges during travelling like not having access to a bike or pool, and having long workdays

25:52 -

  • The first thing is to take a step back. What we try to integrate as a habit to an athlete that is time-starved is planning.
  • Normally during a Sunday, planning is where we look at the landscape of the week. If there’s travel coming up, the first thing to do is to plan for it.
  • The second thing is that you can’t ignore the stress when you’re traveling. So we try to avoid high intensity or heavy stressful sessions on the day of travel or even the day before.
  • On a macro level, if we know that the athlete is away for a week or 10 days and they will not have access to a bike, we modulate the training program. Rather than on focusing on what we can’t do, instead we use this as an opportunity to focus on what we can do.
  • The lovely thing about triathlon is that it is one sport comprised of three disciplines – swim, bike, run. The challenge is working with all three disciplines at once. When you can’t ride a bike during travel, it provides you an opportunity to work on your running and put a little running block there and potentially swimming if you have access to a pool.
  • It comes back to the overriding thesis of consistency over many months being the most important thing. So one week of no riding is not going to be a factor.

How to balance a big and busy life with training that allows you to achieve what you consider success

29:30 -

  • We have to first talk about stress, the big life that we all live, and the immovable factors in life which for most people is work, family and relationships, potentially some travel, and hopefully some form of social life. Then we’re looking to fit in this demanding sport, getting ready for an Olympic distance, half Ironman, and Ironman.
  • These are not mutually exclusive, they interact with each other, and they’re all part of a big parcel. So I spend a couple of chapters in the book framing what success is and how we can actually be successful.
  • In training we always talk about maximizing your specific training time while yielding positive adaptations. If you can do this in creating sustainable effort, then the net effect is you should improve across all the disciplines.
  • We also talk about the impact of stress with the lack of sleep or very good quality of sleep, poor nutrition or really good nutrition, making sure that we’re ready to perform at work and for our family, and everything else that goes along with the big life.
  • If we can get this recipe right, the net effect is that not only should you improve in triathlon but also in other factors of your life. You should have more energy in the day with better energy balance. You should have better health profile. It should be easier for you to come to a better body composition, and hopefully you should be happier.
  • We have first to explain how this all interacts and what are the key basic or central habits across all of those disciplines that will yield that rather utopian outcome that we talk about.
  • This means that we have to discuss and implement proper sleep, fueling, nutrition, hydration, and ultimately all go around in a very simple smart application that is driven by pragmatism and the reality of life.
  • This is why we always talk about performance within context.

Final tips from Matt

34:33 -

1. In a utopian mindset, if I’m training a professional triathlete or someone who has absolutely no restrictions in their life and all the time in the world, then I would apply more training hours.

  • When I ask an athlete how many hours they would need to get ready to successfully complete or improve their performance in an Ironman, they typically say at least 20 hours a week. It’s simply not true.
  • We’ve had multiple age-group world champions in half Ironman and Ironman that have consistently trained 10-11 hours a week. Is this optimal if they didn’t have any other factors in their life? No, I would apply more training. But in the context of their life, it’s absolutely the appropriate dose.
  • But all of those athletes we’re very consistent. They were really healthy and fit but fresh when they arrived at their races.

2. The central part of purplepatch outside the normal coaching and providing training programs is education. So there’s a code in the book that opens up access to all of our education. Once you finish the book, you can carry on your education there.

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Matt Dixon

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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