One of the best things with going to races abroad is that you often meet new interesting people. On the trip to Ironman Cozumel I was fortunate to get to know professional triathlete Matt Russell from USA. As we were both traveling without families and staying in the same hotel, we started to chat during a breakfast and over the course of the stay we spent some time talking about training and racing. When his amazing story unraveled I just had to ask if I could write about this and share it here, on my Runners World Triathlon Blog.
Matt Russel at Ironman World Championships 2016
For those who dont know about Matt, he placed second in Ironman Cozumel this year with the impressive time of 08:04:24. With a background on the college team in track and field, specializing in 3 000 meter steeplechase and more recently Duathlon, Matt found triathlon in 2010. Lacking a swimming background (as many of us do) he had to do the hard yards and learn to become an efficient swimmer and is still making improvements in this discipline. Matt raced professional for the first year in 2011 and has since then completed close to 40 full distance Ironman races winning Ironman Canada and finishing top two and three in a substantial number Ironman races (Matt Russlell’s web page, FaceBook)
Matt is the kind of person that proves the hypothesis The better and disciplined the athlete – the more humble, approachable and non-bragging person they are. It took several days until he shared some of the extraordinary training values that he is capable of – or what do you think of a resting heartrate of 30bpm, max HR on the bike around 182bpm and an ability to produce 269W average (not normalized) over 2 hours with a heartrate of only 119bpm.
One thing that I found amazing is that Matt does up to 9 Ironman races as well as several 70.3 per year and quite often they are not very far apart – twice in 2016 he did Ironman races that were no more than two weeks apart. The shortest time in between two Ironman races was one week and Matt feels that he often has a much better second race if they are close together, for example this year he raced Ironman Chattanooga and placed third just two weeks prior to Kona where he finished 12th overall. How is that even possible?
Matt says that he has a very fast recovery and that he found his ideal way of preparing is quite opposite to the traditional several days of complete rest during a tapering period and rather prefers to continue with a rather high trainload all the way up to race day. For example, the week leading up to Ironman Cozumel Matt did over 20 hours training. He found his training formula almost by accident – when he entered a half ironman race in the middle of a hard training and racing period and had a great feeling in the race as well as great results.
Over the years Matt worked with different coaches and have tried many ways of periodization, training and tapering that are common in the sport. He has found that following his intuition and listening to his body was a better alternative and now prefers to take planning into his own hands and to continue to experiment to find what works best for him.
Matt Russel at Ironman World Championships 2016
Another interesting aspect is that Matt does all his bike training on an indoor trainer which seems to becoming more and more common for high performing Pros (same with Canadian Pro Triathlete Lionel Sanders). Main reasons are the fact that spending time on the trainer is more safe and provides the optimal environment to better focus on power levels, form and actual training rather than traffic situation and trying to staying out of accidents. Even in Cozumel Matt had his indoor trainer with him and did the bike training in his room. This might be hard to imagine for many age-groupers but is undoubtedly the best way to get the max out of your training time.
Most of his training has been endurance/distance but before Ironman Cozumel Matt added a 4-week period of more intensity, VO2 max and speed, which obviously worked well and resulted in a personal best improvement with ten minutes.
Its interesting and inspiring to meet people who chose a different path, who are eager to test new training methods and explore boundaries. Also, its fascinating to meet an athlete whos willing to undertake the challenge to train on the indoor trainer to that extent.
Matt says; Its great when you finally get to race day and can unleash the speed and the feeling of going fast again outside – thats the reward that makes all those hours on the trainer worthwhile. He also points to the fact that enduring so many hours on the indoor trainer (and treadmill) builds his mental strength and prepares him to dig deeper than most are capable of.
Enjoying a few days off after the race Ironman Cozumel.
Truly a remarkable athlete. Im not sure what is most impressive, his physical capabilities and talent or his relentless training and racing discipline, one thing is for sure – its inspiring! Meeting with Matt and getting this inspiration came at the best of times possible – during the cold and dark Swedish winter. We are still at least another three to four months away from the possibility to ride safe and comfortable outside again – at least for a sunshine cyclists like me.
Happy Holidays on the trainer !