In his new book Fast-Track Triathlete, elite triathlon coach Matt Dixon offers his plan of attack for high performance in long-course triathlon—without sacrificing work or life. Developed for busy professionals with demanding schedules, Dixon’s program makes your PR possible in Ironman®, Ironman 70.3®, Rev3, and Challenge triathlon in just 7-10 hours a week.
A Fast-Track Triathlete Mindset
If your goal is to progress in triathlon, establishing the appropriate mindset is your first order of business. Achieving success in triathlon requires that you maneuver through a complex series of ever-changing challenges. Although triathlon should be approached as a single sport of swim-bike-run, there are three complex disciplines to master against a backdrop of regular stress and fatigue. The sport requires a lot of gear, many hours of purposeful training, and special attention to fueling, hydration, and recovery. The longer the triathlon is, the more challenging the puzzle becomes. There is no simple, formulaic approach to guarantee success in triathlon for the ambitious athlete with a full life and a weekly schedule of work, family, and community commitments. However, if you start with the appropriate mindset built upon a sound work/life balance, pragmatism, and adaptability, your journey enables you to arrive at races optimally prepared for your best performance. It’s a rewarding pursuit that renews your motivation to work toward even better results and create an avenue for continued improvement, achievement, and growth in the other important areas of your life.
In your own triathlon journey you have identified some practices that work well for you, and you have achieved some level of success, but no one gets it right all the time. Despite one’s best efforts and hundreds of hours of training, the results on race day often yield underperformance and disappointment. Many athletes remain in the dark as to why this is the case, especially after putting in loads of work at the expense of everything else in their lives. Therein lies one of the most glaring missteps that plagues so many triathletes. Underachieving usually can be traced back to being rooted in an unhelpful mindset.
Your mindset is far more important than specific workouts and intervals. I often discuss with athletes the concept of their potential within the context of the life they lead. Many triathletes never reach their potential; it’s difficult to manage all of the training hours (because of fatigue, poor scheduling, or a training plan at too high a volume), it’s not possible to be present and focused enough to train effectively, or the emphasis on training leads to feeling distracted and overwhelmed in other areas of life. Even as athletes try to cram the training into daily and weekly schedules filled with other important commitments, the results become more elusive. That kind of self-pressure puts an athlete on a downward spiral that leads to chronic fatigue, overuse injuries, frustration, disappointment, and burnout.
Ultimately, long-term sustainable success is going to require a clean slate, a new approach that permeates all areas of your busy life. The good news is that if you can take this on, you should not only achieve your triathlon aspirations but also establish a platform for excelling in health, work, and life as a whole.
Balancing the Sport/Life Equation
In seeking an effective performance model, it’s natural to look to those achieving great results. Amateur triathletes as well as many coaches have traditionally turned to top-level pros for inspiration, studied their approach, and mimicked how they train. Although there are certainly many things to learn about training and racing from the professionals, it’s a mistake to attempt to emulate a professional approach at the amateur level, especially within the context of a busy life. Professional triathletes train many more hours every week than you can, and they can put more time, effort, and resources toward training and recovery because triathlonis essentially their full-time job.
The programs I design for professional athletes are unabashedly built for world-class performance. Many coaches suggest that amateur triathletes try to execute a similar training regimen summarily diluted to accommodate far fewer hours of training every week. However, it’s not that simple. In fact, for a busy amateur limited both by athletic ability and by other commitments, a training plan that imitates a pro athlete’s preparation develops bad habits rather than performance. If an athlete is never able to effectively execute the requirements of the training plan, it creates a platform for failure, opens the door for many other follow-up mistakes, and ultimately invites overload and exhaustion.
I believe in amateurs pursuing performance in the context of a balanced life. The goal isn’t to qualify for Kona, become an age-group Ironman 70.3 podium finisher, or even just improve your time from your previous race at the expense of life. Performance should be built on a platform of health. An approach centered on pragmatism and adaptability that takes into account your own life circumstances, physiology, and focus will put you on the path to continued progress and success.
Everyone has a different set of life circumstances, but some basic tenets apply to just about everyone in the sport. It all starts with understanding the context of your life and how triathlon fits into it. That looks entirely different for professionals and aspiring age-group athletes. A professional triathlete doesn’t just “fit in” the training; life is anchored by it, and maximizing performance is the highest priority. In many ways, professional athletes are the barometer for performance. They are our lab subjects for learning how different training stimuli affect the body. The training/adaptation equation is simplified when you isolate the variables in this way. The opportunity to push against an athlete’s physical limits in order to gain a positive performance adaptation can be met more easily with an equally appropriate amount of rest and recovery. When we add to this the greater availability of nutritional supplementary therapies for intake, the parameters are widened for continued improvements.
When I coach professional or world-class amateur triathletes, I am looking to suppress all factors that contaminate their sports-life equation. This means reducing their lives to simple components. I’m not aiming for some sort of former Eastern Bloc, machine mentality. I firmly believe professional athletes should be healthy, happy, and able to pursue relationships, but their chosen profession (their job) is world-class triathlon performance. So our collective approach reflects that ambition. I’ve coached athletes through the transition from amateur to pro. It entails a massive shift in mindset that illustrates why the pro approach isn’t a good fit for amateur athletes.
In Fast-Track Triathlete, elite triathlon coach Matt Dixon offers his plan of attack for high performance in long-course triathlon—without sacrificing work or life. Developed for busy professionals with demanding schedules, Dixon’s program makes your PR possible in Ironman®, Ironman 70.3®, Rev3, and Challenge triathlon in just 7-10 hours a week.