How I became a Purple Patch athlete

Within the fold of our San Francisco community, much has been made of my ‘return to racing,’ with last week’s successful completion of the North Face Challenge Marathon in San Francisco.

Before this race, I hadn’t trained for anything competitive for more than ten years, with the last races being relatively negative experiences as I struggled through the decline of a professional career and the lingering effects of chronic fatigue. Between the prior experience and this last weekend, I was kept busy with things such as coaching my individual athletes, growing Purple Patch as a business, and fatherhood. I had little time or energy to give to my athletics, but my journey over the last year reminded me that I should take more of my own medicine, and act more like a purplepatch athlete.

The journey to this race started about twelve months ago, as I wandered around a wildlife museum in Montana with my family. At the museum, a bear was standing on a set of scales, and there was a scale next to the bear for kids to weigh themselves and then compare their weight to the weight of the bear. Wrapped up in winter gear, I made the mistake of standing on the scales. With trembling knees, I blamed what I saw on the extra layers of clothing, but once home it became a catalyst to change my behavior. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a tired fortysomething, carrying a few extra pounds, who tended to grab a beer to go with dinner each night. I was the antithesis of high performance, something I help a wide variety of people with on a daily basis. I wasn’t walking the walk. I was great at faking the little fitness I did carry but realized that I was likely not bringing the best me to my family, to Purple Patch and the athletes, let alone myself. I decided to do three remarkably, unremarkable things:

  1. Eliminate all alcohol from the week: I don’t believe in being a monk, and I am English, but there was no need to disrupt sleep quality with one or two evening beers, especially as I am an early riser for coaching.
  2. Exercise frequently: I have lots going on in life, so running was the obvious time-efficient choice, as well as truly working hard in my coached cycling sessions.
  3. Clean up eating: Integrate the habits that are integral for Purple Patch athletes, namely committing to post-workout fueling, then plenty of protein, oils, veggies and fruit, with limited starchy carbohydrates outside of breakfast and post workout fuel.

I had no goals, no reason to stand on scales, and no aspirations as an ‘athlete.' Don’t call it a comeback; it wasn’t. My daily commitments as husband, father, coach, CEO remain the priority.  

As my fitness improved, and the pounds fell off, a couple of friends and I decided it would be fun to have a target to base some of this fitness around. A trail marathon, with plenty of elevation gain, sounded like a new challenge. It was appealing to me as running is my weakest endurance discipline, the course exposes all of my weaknesses and aspects like pace and time have little relevance or context. Who knows how long it would take me to run a marathon on trails, covering 5500 feet of climbing? I didn’t, and that suited me just fine. As we progressed toward the event, we managed to be consistent with our runs, with most of the sessions completed with either other purplepatch athletes, chasing the professional women around, or with my friends on the weekend. It was social, but I wouldn’t call it ‘training.' We progressed with three to four weekly runs, in a social setting, with some weeks getting to go a little more, while busy weeks meant a little less running. My goal was consistency and integrating it into a busy life. Another goal was to create a section of life that was ‘mine,' a real escape and piece of the week that I could feed my social and physical health. During the training I wasn’t wearing the coach hat. I was exercising for the joy of it.

So why do I tell you all this? It isn’t because of some inner need to share a race report or self-glorification at managing to get across the line. It is born out of some of the reaction I got from others. Race day was great but tough. It is a very hilly and tough marathon. With this, I outperformed my expectations for what I could do on the day, which was a fantastic surprise. I was proud of my efforts and equally happy for my two friends who also had good days on the course.

I place no value on who of us crossed the line first, what time I did, or even what place I finished. My marathon journey over the last months drove home what it means to me to be a purplepatch athlete.

I am proud of my effort, which took me to the very edge of my physical and mental capabilities, and I am happy with the results on the day. These simple results driven outcomes are fun, but not the heartbeat of success for me. The great part about training for and racing in the Endurance Northface Marathon are and will continue to be:

  1. The training and process: going through the process and journey was the fun part. The training runs, in fog, rain, and sun, were enriching, and where most of the memories will lie. I did this for the journey, certainly not just for the result.
  2. Sharing it with friends: The journey was so much better as it was a shared experience. Heading to race day, we all wanted the best for each other, with little to no value placed on winners or losers. We hoped for our best personal performance on the day, but for us all to do well.
  3. Life performance: Going through the journey has been essential for me. Not to improve run speed, but to help with daily energy, mental clarity and focus, health and what I can bring to business and life. It is a part of my performance, and critical to elevate other parts of my life. Just as I push others to do.

By making these themes the central priority and focus, my results bubbled up out of my training approach.

Make no mistake, I work my butt off every day to try to help people reach their goals, and I want my athletes to win World Championships, but the results are not the sole driver or mission. My love is to help people become better versions of themselves, to integrate fun and beneficial performance journeys into their lives, and have great results bubble up out of a mindset of personal performance evolution and excellence.

The love and fun of the training process is what I mean when I title the blog ‘How I became a purplepatch athlete.'

When I raced at the elite level, as a swimmer then as a triathlete, it was almost exclusively results focused. My coaches and I set the results-driven focus. Ironically, it did not create the environment that would yield my best performances. It led me to a focus on things that wouldn’t help me succeed and placed unnecessary pressure on outcomes. It is no wonder that many swimmers of my generation ‘retire’ at 22 years of age, and never get in the pool again. They missed the joy of the journey and were chasing a pass or fail result.  

A results driven focus is the antithesis of purplepatch philosophy. We want amateurs to successfully integrate the sport into their busy life, and create a harmonious relationship with this sport and other areas of life. The purplepatch results stand for themselves, from the professionals down to the hundreds of amateurs achieving great personal triumphs. If we only hammered on results, we would fail. I believe great results bubble to the surface when you have a roadmap, get the right personal recipe, love the journey, and have fun along the way.

So, when people ask how the North Face Marathon went, my answer is  ‘great, thank you,' but don’t make a mistake to think I am judging that on where I came, or what time I did. That response is all about the journey.

Matt Dixon