Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness coaches some of the sport’s biggest names (and Kona’s brightest prospects), including Rachel Joyce, Rasmus Henning, Linsey Corbin, Luke Bell and Meredith Kessler. (He also coaches Chris Lieto, who will not be racing the Hawaii Ironman this year.) Dixon gave Triathlete editor-in-chief Julia Polloreno some insight into how his athletes’ prep has been going for the Oct. 13 race, how he advises his athletes to pace the Kona course, and another, shall we say, revealing topic.
Julia Polloreno: With Rasmus announcing his retirement and that this will be his final Kona, do you think it adds to any pressure he feels going into this year’s race?
Matt Dixon: Actually, I think it’s completely the opposite—I think he has absolutely no pressure. The last couple of years Rasmus has had a lot of pressure externally and internally to perform well in Kona, and I think the hardest thing for any athlete is the back side of their career. Many athletes struggle with knowing when to walk away and when to call it a day, and I think Rasmus is an athlete that is really satisfied with his career. He’s had a tremendous career. He’s moved back to Copenhagen, has built a house there with his family and is really content. He can go to Kona this year as more of a celebration and enjoyment of the last chance to see friends, represent his sponsors and race without any shackles on whatsoever—just go and have a tremendous day and have fun. What that means in terms of his performance on race day, well, we will know on Oct. 13.
JP: Does that mean his preparations for Kona have been more lax, or has he still been training pretty hard?
MD: He’s certainly been doing the training on a daily basis, but I don’t think he’s carrying the same obsession or weight of expectations in the preparation that he had in previous campaigns. It is not like he’s been sitting on the couch and doing nothing; he’s prepared and physically fit and he has no pressure on him, but I wouldn’t say his training has included a daily drive and obsession around this event. The positive is that he has a wealth of training experience, and he can treat his approach as one fun experiment. I think it’s a chance to go in and have a race without shackles on and see what happens.
JP: A lot of people remember how in 2010 he rode the entire Kona bike leg with his swim skin on because he forgot to take it off in T2. Does he tend to get flustered in high-pressure races? How has his mental game come around?
MD: I would first note that Rasmus has a big record of major wins in his career, including two Olympic games, World Cup wins, this year’s Abu Dhabi and others. He certainly has the ‘big day mentality.’ With this, Rasmus is an emotional athlete who does require the proper approach and balance to hit his optimal performance.
He’s a consummate professional—Craig Alexander is an example of another athlete who is also a great ‘professional.’ It’s a profession, not just a hobby he likes to do. He’s a very caring guy, so it means a lot to him. The mental preparation and being in the right mind space is really, really important to him. A couple of years ago when he made that mistake—it was before I was coaching him—there is no doubt that the pressure contributed to his mistake. He’d had a lot of hurdles, a lot of obstructions—things hadn’t gone too well for him. On top of that he felt tremendous pressure to do very, very well.
In stark contrast, leading into Abu Dhabi this season he had a great build up and felt very strong, and also he got to the place where he thought, ‘I’ve done races like this before, I’m happy and content, I’m going to go and see what happens’ and his body responded very well and his mind space was in the right place.
JP: Moving on to Rachel Joyce. She’s obviously been climbing the Kona ladder, with a 6th place result in 2009, followed by 5th then 4th last year (9:06:56). Could this be her podium year?
MD: There’s no doubt that there’s that potential. She is one of the smartest athletes I have ever coached, and also has tremendous ability. While she is often overlooked, she has a winning mindset and the tools to take the title. With Kona, the key for success is consistency in the build up—not having too many hurdles, injuries or illness during the build phase. The perfect scenario is building consistent periods of big work, while not showing up for the race overworked. That’s the place she’s at. She’s not fatigued and has more consistency behind her than she’s ever had over the Ironman block of work. This gives her every chance to go and have her best Ironman performance. Of course, to move up toward the podium this is exactly what is required, as no one is going to give away free spots on the podium. To win this race someone is going to have to do something very special, but that is the same for any athlete vying for the title. I think Rachel has the physical ability and emotional maturity to stake her own claim.
JP: For the first time she spent the summer training at altitude in Boulder—what’s your impression of how that’s gone and how it’s affected her build for Kona?
MD: We did a couple of things that were really important. We put her into Boulder—into altitude specifically—early and tested how she responded coming down from altitude by going to Roth [Joyce won in 8:45:04] in July. We’ve also really been monitoring her health status throughout the training process, and we know that she’s responding positively to the training and not getting overly fatigued. We didn’t go up and just hope, we really monitored her all summer to make sure she was staying healthy. Her body has responded very, very well to the altitude as well as the times she’s come down to compete. It was useful to have her compete at Roth, Kansas 70.3 and Calgary 70.3 (she won all three events) and be able to test her run, and the timing of the departure from altitude.
The other thing we’ve tried to do is keep her out of the hubbub. Boulder has the who’s-who in triathlon, and that can be a distraction for many athletes. Rachel has chosen to train with fewer people, enjoy the town and see people, but not get too hooked up into being completely about triathlon. She’s been doing some of the swim speed sessions with Dave Scott’s group and been swimming and riding a fair amount with Julie Dibens and some of the guys. Her partner Brett is doing Hawaii as an amateur so he’s been her main training partner. Boulder has been an ideal environment.