This week's random age grouper is Matthew Rose, an athlete and coach from Atlanta, Georgia who had multiple random encounters with the slowtwitch editor-in-chief during this year's Kona week.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Matt.
Matt: My pleasure, Herbert. It was a treat to meet you en route to Hawaii, overshadowed only by the wonderful, authentic Mexican lunch we shared while fine dining at LAX on our layover.
ST: You seem to have a good sense of humor. Fine dining is not what I recall.
Matt: What do you mean? A $20+ meal that includes refried beans done extra dry, 2 rubber carne asada tacos, half brown lettuce, all-you-can-drink LA tap water and surly service is not fine dining? Herbert, it’s a shade below The Palms. A shade.
ST: I hear you. Along those lines are you enjoying somewhat of an off-season as we speak?
Matt: I am, maybe too much. From Halloween through the New Year, this is my favorite time on the calendar. Training time is low, family time and energy levels are high. Halloween is like a Christmas appetizer for our kids (4 and 17 mo) and those in our neighborhood. All the while the leaves are changing, it’s perfect running weather here in Atlanta, Thanksgiving is a chance to really reflect on our blessings and Christmas is, well, Christmas – awesome! As for training, it’s a time to rest body and mind, and I am diligent about using that as the focal point of how I structure my training this time of year. That and making sure that Warren Buffet’s Berkshire dividends are a bit larger given my regular trips to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard.
ST: Looking back at Kona, did that race go as you had hoped?
Matt: The result wasn’t what I had intended but the effort was exactly spot on which ultimately allows me to grow as both athlete and coach. I couldn’t have been more proud of my effort that day. In pursuit of "great” I sacrificed “good” as I blew up just after mile 21 on the run. But for the first time in 5 finishes at the distance, I actually raced an Ironman as opposed to primarily managing the distance. Granted, on that day I raced 135 miles and some change. I then managed the last bit with some good old-fashioned determination and invaluable encouragement from Chance Regina of Blue Competition Cycles and my pregnant wife, Elizabeth, who walked all the way out to the Queen K to check on me and get me home. I am a firm believer in the aphorism, “the journey is the reward.” In the case of my race this year, I was able to learn a lot about racing Ironman firsthand. The results will be there. Most importantly, I am will be better to counsel my athletes having lived the experience.
ST: As a coach, what would have been your advice to yourself?
Matt: The critical learning point this race is - always be prepared for the next “small chunk” in the run, especially when you are at your most vulnerable, both mentally and physically. So much of the run is about mentally breaking down the distance into the “small chunks” – small milestones that minimize the magnitude of the entirety of a marathon effort. At mile 21, I passed a particular athlete I had been chasing since the first step of the run. In my head I had been fixated on this goal alone: chase and catch this athlete. Well, when I caught him after mile 21 and then passed him, I literally said to myself, “now what?” About 15m later, I was doing my best Exorcist impersonation, projectile vomiting and all – total shut down. In short, this athlete was my finish line. I had not prepared, mentally, for the pass by setting my next goal or small milestones. I didn’t have any small chunks after I made the pass. My assessment, as coach, is that without the next small chunk, my mind told my body – race is over, you can let down now.
ST: Rumor has it there was a race for you within the race in Kona, specifically the swim.
Matt: Ah, you always have the best sources, Herbert. Yes, one of my athletes, Haley Chura, has had the fastest overall female amateur swim in Kona for the last three years. However, she did not hold the title of reigning Kona swim champ from Dynamo Multisport (our team) last year, as her wily coach used old age and treachery to steal victory from The Mongoose (Haley) in 2010 by the slimmest of margins. I am convinced that Haley’s biggest goal of 2011, though unstated, was to get the title back regardless of the consequences on her race. Fortunately for both of us, she did retain the title and had a great result.
ST: Who put out the first fighting words?
Matt: The Mongoose is part Honey Badger, part Big 5 Accountant. She’s an assassin – cool and calculated. However, since she’s a "youngun," she can get rattled so she naturally fired the first salvo this year. I swim with Haley at least once per week during season and am often on deck coaching for another of her swims. I knew I had no chance of swimming with her this year. None. So the only route I had was to play some friendly mind games with her. As the reigning Kona swim champ from Dynamo Multisport, I at least had to try something – go down with a couple of haymakers, right? So we took our jabs initially via group emails to our friends at TYR that ultimately ended up on Twitter. All in good fun, of course. Oh, and as for the race this year, the only time I was with her was for the thirty minutes we spent treading water next to each other before the cannon. Once it went off, like Kaiser Soze, she was gone.
ST: What was her swim time and what was yours?
Matt: Haley put down a nice 53’33 to my serviceable 54’33. Apparently 12 months of boiling, frothing, deep-seated revenge adds up to a minute over a 3.8k swim. The real feel-good story in all this is that the splendid Kona volunteers in the women’s change tent weren’t subjugated to a litany of her choice four-letter words this year unlike last. Now that I think about it, I hope NBC contacted her for this year’s coverage. Haley’s is exactly like Sister Madonna, except younger, taller and a bit faster in the water – very compelling content in these eyes.
ST: What is a hard swim set you might do at Dynamo?
Matt: The following set is “hard” in that it requires patience in the beginning and focuses on specifically on managing pacing. The interval isn’t hard at the beginning as the pacing is easier but as the intensity goes up, the rest feels shorter and shorter:
20x100m (long course) @ 1’30 as sets of 2 or “couplets” (yes, I was an English major in college and love me some Shakespeare). So that’s 10x[2x100 @ 1’30]. Before the set begins, you look forward and establish a final couplet goal pace and then add 2 seconds per couplet pace to the beginning to establish the first couplet pace. For example, Haley might want to end her final couplet at 1’06s. So for the first couplet, she must hold1’24s. The second couplet (the 3rd and 4th 100), she should hold 1’22s, the next couplet, 1’20s and so on. We pass through various energy systems along the way and really try to establish muscle memory for a variety of paces. It’s deceptively hard. This was a monthly staple in my own college swimming program and I like to revisit it when I’m on deck.
ST: Where did you qualify for Kona?
Matt: I had the fortune of qualifying at Eagleman 70.3. Vigo and Jerri put on the best-organized race I’ve attended here in the States. Like Kona, it wasn’t the prettiest finish but it was functional. Some silly mistakes made it an “interesting” day and reminded me that I’m not half camel and need to hydrate well from the beginning of the bike.
ST: How often have you been?
Matt: This was my 3rd Kona. Each time I go I learn something that ultimately I get to use with my athletes, let alone myself. It’s great primary research, which is invaluable. Most of my training and racing these days is just that – primary research – so that I can provide better counsel to others. Yes, I absolutely love it, but it has another function, too. I’m no spring chicken and my first priority is always my family. I don’t have many Kona opportunities left given my commitments as a spouse and father, first, and as a coach, second. I find myself taking a lot of notes when I’m out there training and during the race so that I can provide better counsel to my athletes in the future.
ST: What is on schedule for next year?
Matt: Well, my wife is blessedly pregnant with our third child, a player-to-be-named later, who is scheduled to arrive sometime the first week of April. As you know first-hand, nature’s schedule and our schedules don’t always necessarily jibe. Assuming that everything goes as planned with mom and #3, I will be doing Ironman Brazil at the end of May. After that, everything is open. I have precedence with this scenario, as our second child, William, was born around 9 weeks before Ironman Louisville in 2010.
ST: Do you have a favorite race?
Matt: This is going to sound trite because of its repetitiveness in the industry media, but it’s Kona. Kona is in my mind the Masters of triathlon. Kona is where as a coach, athlete and fan of triathlon and all of sports in general my heart goes to without hesitation. It's the ‘A’ Final at the Olympics; it’s the World Cup; it’s Game 7 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium; it's where all of the special things about sport - history, drama, location, competition, mystique - all converge. It's the one time per year (lucky for us) that all eyes of our sport are in unison. I treat that race in those regards because of this and because of the context of how I "grew up" as a coach mentored by Richard Quick at Stanford. Does it mean that it's the only race that matters or is worthy of being a favorite? Absolutely not. For me, Kona's rarefied intersection of history, nature and competition amplifies what you experience in other races.
ST: Which races do you enjoy in the greater Atlanta region?
Matt: We are fortunate to have several great RDs in the area who put on equally as good events. I’m particularly fond of the Tri the Parks (TTP) races which are a series of sprint and Olympic distance events that take place in state parks across Georgia. They are drivable in the same day, have challenging parcours and are well-run. They also have a refreshing grassroots feel. I don’t participate in many local races each season, as I try to protect my weekends for my family, but when I do go local, it’s usually a TTP race.
ST: Your mom is Brazilian, does that mean you speak Portuguese?
Matt: I can speak a little but I am by no means fluent. I probably have the vocabulary and grammatical pace of a two year-old, which makes me functional when I’m down there. My comprehension is much better. On the bright side, I can curse like a maniacal cab driver. Like my mom, when I am at my angriest is usually when the Portuguese comes out, and it’s usually not PG material. Less like Lion King, more like Goodfellas except in a different language, of course.
ST: You plan to go to Brazil in May, but have you raced there already?
Matt: I have. My first Ironman was Brazil in 2006. We planned the trip around a large family vacation to Rio with the race as the first leg of that trip. At the time, my wife had never been to Brazil, so we got to share that beautiful country with her. My mother, a Carioca by birth, had never been to Florianopolis, so it was a great opportunity to have her see another part of her homeland. Spending time with our relatives in Rio was spectacular. It was a month before World Cup ’06, and every storefront in Rio had a futbol theme. I’m a sports guy, love everything about sports, so to see firsthand an entire country galvanized behind one team was, well, viscerally moving. We really don’t have that here in the States, even during the Olympics. Lots of green and yellow everywhere, which can only be a good thing.
ST: So which other sports do you particularly enjoy?
Matt: My first true love is college basketball. My father has been taking me to University of Memphis Tiger games since I was 5. In fact we just got back from a Thanksgiving trip built around on a tournament in which the Tigers were playing. And yes, he took his little boy to the games. I’m not naïve to think big time college sports are amateur athletics, but I find it easier to cheer passionately for young adults than to be crazed about grown men and women in professional sports. Since I grew up a swimmer, started my coaching career as collegiate swim coach and am affiliated with one of the most successful age group swim programs in the U.S., I still follow the sport closely. In truth I just love sports and the metaphor for life’s ups and downs that it provides.
ST: We know you like Blizzards. What other foods do you enjoy?
Matt: Fejoida (black beans & rice) is a staple in our house as it was when I was growing up. When I slum it, I’m all about pizza and beer with the occasional whiskey (single malt, 12 years minimum, preferably 15+, though that’s a bit pricey). What can I say, I also love foie gras. Actually, can I say that? I think I just alienated most of your California readership.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Matt: I’ve been truly blessed with a wonderful wife and two amazing kids who all support this passion for coaching and a this vision I have for Dynamo Multisport so much that I actually get pursue it as a career. I would be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity in particular to thank my wonderful athletes who entrust in me their own passion and dreams, and my two colleagues at Dynamo, Maria Thrash, the Head Coach of Dynamo Masters Swimming, who is one of the best swimming coaches in the world and truly the best coaching partner as well as Andrew Shanks, a young, rising talent in the profession. All3Sports, Blue Competition Cycles, TYR Sport, GU Energy and CycleOps are all critical in my career and help make my athletes and me more successful. I also need to give a shout out to Chris Hauth for his mentorship the last couple of years. Though he is a dirty Wolverine (Michigan), he is a great coach, colleague and person.