Fast-track Triath­lete

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - NEWS - POW­ERS

Matt Dixon

TO ALL THE am­a­teurs who train like a pro for triathlon suc­cess, Matt Dixon would like to say, “Don’t do that.” Pro­fes­sional triath­letes work that hard be­cause it is ac­tu­ally their job. On the other hand, am­a­teurs who ex­ces­sively pres­sure them­selves can end up los­ing in all ar­eas of life, in­clud­ing their race per­for­mance. Af­ter log­ging so many hours, at the ex­pense of ev­ery­thing else in their lives, why do triath­letes ex­pe­ri­ence un­der­per­for­mance and dis­ap­point­ment? “Therein lies one of the most glar­ing mis­steps that plague so many triath­letes,” writes Dixon. “Un­der­achiev­ing usu­ally can be traced back to be­ing rooted in an un­help­ful mind­set.” Dixon is fa­mil­iar with am­a­teurs who mis­tak­enly think that loads of train­ing time is their barom­e­ter of suc­cess. “In­stead, they should es­tab­lish a mind­set that con­sid­ers the con­text of their en­tire lives and al­lows for con­sis­tency over many months and prag­matic adapt­abil­ity on a weekly ba­sis to get them to their races fit, strong and healthy.” Think in­te­gra­tion, not ac­cu­mu­la­tion, within a full and de­mand­ing life that in­cudes your work, fam­ily, friends and other in­ter­ests. Fol­low­ing a prin­ci­ple of ef­fi­ciency, he says, it is far bet­ter to per­form less train­ing well than it is to per­form more train­ing poorly.

Dixon views each per­son’s po­ten­tial within the con­text of the life they lead. Many triath­letes never reach their po­ten­tial be­cause they ap­ply too much self-pres­sure, lead­ing to a down­ward spi­ral that cre­ates fa­tigue, in­juries, frus­tra­tion, dis­ap­point­ment and burnout.

“I’ve coached ath­letes through the tran­si­tion from ama­teur to pro,” writes Dixon. “It en­tails a mas­sive shift in mind­set that il­lus­trates why the pro ap­proach isn’t a good fit for ama­teur ath­letes.”

Jim, a highly am­bi­tious triath­lete, had a de­mand­ing job, a fam­ily with two young chil­dren, a 45-minute daily com­mute to work and a goal of qual­i­fy­ing for the Iron­man 70.3 World Cham­pi­onship. As his coach, Dixon wasn’t look­ing for a “utopian bal­ance within a highly goal-driven in­di­vid­ual,” but he wanted to help Jim be ef­fec­tive and max­i­mize per­for­mance gains.

Jim thought he needed at least 15 hours of train­ing ev­ery week and cut back on his sleep to fit that in. This led to an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of fa­tigue that showed in un­der­whelm­ing race re­sults and low per­for­mance pro­gres­sion over sev­eral sea­sons. His com­mit­ment wasn’t de­clin­ing, but he cer­tainly wasn’t thriv­ing.

Jim re­duced his train­ing to about 12 hours a week by cut­ting out all but one evening ses­sion, los­ing one morn­ing ses­sion and sav­ing four week­end days over the sea­son for sleep­ing in, spend­ing the day with fam­ily and hav­ing down­time for him­self. This pro­vided four to five ex­tra hours of sleep a week, bet­ter daily en­ergy, more time to think and a net per­for­mance gain.

“The take­away is not that less is more,” ex­plains Dixon. “Jim made a strate­gic plan to se­cure ‘more’ of what was hold­ing him back: sleep. He ended up mak­ing per­for­mance gains in sport and life as a re­sult.”

In the greater con­text of life, the wrong mind­set brings down many triath­letes and makes their re­sults mean­ing­less. Dixon re­al­izes his ap­proach might be con­tro­ver­sial be­cause “it de­bunks the pre­vail­ing be­lief that triathlon has to be a self­ish, ex­clu­sive pur­suit that stands be­tween you and your fam­ily and friends.” He goes on to say, “If you are a re­ally busy per­son, your pur­suit of triathlon had bet­ter be fun and bring you hap­pi­ness. Oth­er­wise, what’s the point?”—he­len

He­len Pow­ers is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Triathlon Mag­a­zine Canada. She lives in Dun­das, Ont.

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