Purple Patch Fitness founder Matt Dixon’s coaching approach focuses on helping athletes integrate performance into their ‘time-starved’ lifestyles.
Matt recently took on the epic seven-day Haute Route Alps as part of the wonderfully named ‘Drunken Donkeys’ team. So, we caught up with him to find out how he incorporated his coaching methodology into his own preparations for an ultra-endurance event…
Hi Matt, congratulations on completing HR Alps and finishing an impressive 42nd out of more than 300 competitors. How did you go about planning for a 755km, seven-day ride when you’re juggling a busy work and family life?
A few years ago my brothers and I discussed how nice it would be to take on Haute Route Alps together. My wife Kelli and I then plotted the best year for me to train for it, considering this in the context of the needs of our 10-year-old son Baxter and our business, Purple Patch.
When it comes to planning, we use our four-month calendar on our kitchen wall. We post everything - school events, championship swim meets, Purple Patch camps, spring breaks and anything of note. This retains perspective and helps us align on priorities and ensure we don’t take on too much.
We both have a tendency to jump into everything, with a reputation of ‘everything is a good idea’. So our planning was less about ‘if’ and more about ‘how’.
Ultimately, the key is communication and collaboration, as well as tackling something that can be done in the context of larger priorities (i.e. family and Purple Patch).
What were the biggest challenges when it came to balancing those priorities?
The big challenge is what my ego and emotions drove me to want to do, versus the realities of life schedule. Ironically, the schedule and limitations became the catalyst to me arriving really fit.
I arrived at this race fresh, which is the first time I have done this since my teenage years. Almost the whole of my elite swimming career and professional triathlon career were spent truly fit, but fatigued.
My freshness was a catalyst to better recovery each day and meant I was truly able to race the event.
Once you signed up for the event in January 2022, what were the most significant changes you made to your training structure?
It was an incremental shift, but I think the order was simple:
- Increased focus: I began really focusing on each session and ramping awareness of managing training load
- Dialling in nutrition: I amplified focus on eating more, but reducing weekly alcohol. Throughout the training program I ate more calories each day than I have since being an Olympic-hopeful swimmer, and fueled considerably more in training thanks to the advice of Andy Blow
- Build weekly training: I ramped up trail running to three or four weekly sessions as it was the most time-effective tool for me. I also averaged three-to-five weekend rides each month, whilst building the duration as we got closer to the event.
All of this was underpinned by two-to-three weekly bike trainer sessions, which I coached. My average training hours ended up being:
- Average hours: 11 hours per week
- Average running hours: 4.5 hours per week
- Biggest training week: 22 hours (training camp)
- Lowest training week: 7 hours
And how did that look in practice?
A ‘typical’ week of training was:
|Monday||Easy Trail Run||50-60 mins|
|Tuesday||Bike Trainer Intervals (High Intensity)||60 mins|
|(Occasional afternoon run)||(30-40 mins)|
|Wednesday||Hilly Trail Run||75 mins|
|Thursday||Bike Trainer Intervals (Strength Based, Low RPM Intervals)||60 mins|
|Friday||Trail Run||50-60 mins|
|(Or Gravel Ride)||(90 mins)|
|Saturday||Longer Ride||3-5 hours|
|Sunday||Training Run||90-100 mins|
|(Or Gravel Ride)||2 hours|
Training camps were great opportunities. I led three camps in 2022, and each provided some chance to ride two to three days in a row.
I managed to hit three weekends that allowed me to double-up, with a big ride on a Saturday of up to 6 hours, then 2-3 hours on Sunday.
I certainly wasn’t over-trained - but my quest was consistency across many months. This allowed me to arrive fitter than I have been since professional racing, but fresher than I have ever been for an event.
How happy were you with how you'd balanced your priorities when you got to the start line?
I honestly would have changed nothing with the overall approach, although I was my own worst student when it came to strength work. I wish I adhered to the strength more, and so I give myself a weak C- grade in that area.
The thing I’m proud of is that, while it certainly pulled my attention and focus with all the excitement, I don’t feel I let my family, Purple Patch team or coached athletes down.
I truly raced the event, every day, and I believe a large part of that capacity was built on two main factors:
- Arriving fit n’ fresh from the integrated approach that allowed long-term consistency.
- The valuable advice from Andy around daily fueling and hydration in the event. It honestly changed my performance, and I managed to truly race every day and never had any fluctuations in energy. I was stable and strong, while able to maintain focus, throughout the whole event. I've never had that experience before.
What advice would you give to someone who's looking to find balance with family, work and training for a big challenge?
- Take on the challenge. The reward - if done right - goes beyond the event. You can become more effective in life and work, and the lessons of the training journey align with business and life.
- Collaborate and communicate. Don’t start with your interpretation of what you believe to be the best training program, then start trying to work out how to ram it into life. Begin with life first, identify non-negotiable commitments and priorities, then build around these.
- Take more time than you think. True performance emerges from months of consistency, not weeks of dedicated focus. This can only be successful if you integrate training into life and work. Then you can excel.
Don’t bypass the personal opportunity, it can amplify life.