The Value Of Multi-Discipline Training

by: Matt Dixon

Peak Run Performance At 63 Using Multi-Discipline Training 

One of the great things about our sport is the multi-dimensionality of it. While it creates programming havoc for the coach and athlete, with many joking that triathlon is a great sport for those who wish to be mediocre at three things, there are some great health advantages to the sport. Swimming is a wonderful total body workout, running provides the load required to help bone density and strength, and riding provides an avenue for adventure and muscular resilience. If we add some strength training in, then the sport can be an amazingly healthy endeavor - as long as one doesn’t stray to obsession. These characteristics of the sport can also be leveraged for those who look to challenge themselves with different events but, for one reason or another, shouldn’t be solely focused on a single disciple. Recently we have had a couple of great examples of athletes who have been willing to lean into the three legs of triathlon to prepare themselves for something quite different, willing to throw away the rule book and allow us to craft a novel and unorthodox training approach for performance. There is no better example than the recent exploits of Rick Wimmer.

ppf Case Study: Rick Wimmer 

Nine months ago, Rick joined purplepatch with a couple of triathlons on the schedule, but the real goal was a 7-day running race that circumnavigated Mont Blanc in France. A massive ask for a man in his early sixties with only a limited background in running. As soon as you think about preparing for 7 days of running in a row, with close to a marathon’s duration of trail running each day, it is easy to think training should revolve around massive running miles, accumulated day after day, to develop muscular resilience for race day itself. Almost every training program would certainly have prescribed this. According to the textbook, to be a great runner, or be ready for a big run like this, then you better have a singular focus on running. We did not agree!

Paul Buick took charge of Rick’s programming, mapping the roadmap for the months leading up to the race. The first thing we realized was the biggest challenge Rick faced was arriving at the start of the race without injury. We decided to rewrite the script and go about the challenge a different way. While there was no way to sugar coat the challenge Rick had laid in front of himself, there could be a path to remain healthy, while being physically and emotionally prepared for the race challenge. 

Setting Up Rick's Training 

  • Heavy swimming training to develop the cardiovascular conditioning elements required.
  • Consistent and strong cycling with plenty of strength-endurance work to help improve muscular resilience.
  • A progressive strength program to help with resilience, overall strength, and mobility of joints.
  • A rewrite of his approach to nutrition and fueling.
  • Enough running (mostly with strategic walking) to build resilience for the duration. This included double runs and mini run blocks with long gaps of muscular recovery.
  • Hiking and treadmill hill walking to help load bearing muscular resilience.

The training wasn’t easy, but the golden ticket was that it was sustainable and enjoyable. Rick was consistently challenged but continued to incrementally improve his running resilience. By carefully layering running, his readiness caught him by surprise, allowing him to carry confidence into the event because he didn’t experience massive gaps in training due to sickness or injury.

Race Day Results & Recovery

There was no doubt the race was going to be a challenge regardless of preparation, but Rick was successful and had a wonderful experience throughout this challenging event. It was super to see his determination and willingness to approach the challenge from a different lens facilitate so much success. The added benefit was that his emotional and physical recovery was reasonably quick. One of the key factors in a recovery that so many don’t realize is that the recuperation isn’t just from the race itself, but also from the erosion of the training prior. With the lower overall running approach, this came into play for Rick’s journey, and he is already back into action preparing for a late season IRONMAN 70.3.

As Rick put it, "Think about this -- a 63 old male that in December could hardly run 3 miles, even after doing 6 IRONMAN events in years past as well as other marathons, and be able to (1) complete Gulf Coast 70.3 with fastest bike split ever and (2) run around Mont Blanc covering 128 miles and 21,000 feet of elevation, while maintaining my role as the CFO of a major corporation and not get injured!"

While you may not be preparing for a 7-day running race around one of the highest peaks in Europe, you should still draw lessons from Rick. We are not training for three sports, but one sport of three disciplines. It is swim-bike-run. This means we are not forced to always train at an even distribution amongst swimming, cycling and running to have a positive effect on a single discipline. There is cross-pollination and influence between the three areas. Whether you are managing an injury in a single discipline and needing to lean into the other disciplines, or simply backing off on one of the three due to a specific focus, you are always lifting the tide of overall performance.