ST: At this point last year, you already had a few iron-distance events under your belt. How have you decided to change things up this year?
Russell: Last year I spent a few months over in New Zealand and did the Challenge Wanaka and Ironman New Zealand double in February and March. Plans certainly did change because my wife and I are pregnant with our first child! We are due to have a baby boy on July 3rd which we are thrilled about. Unfortunately, my wife has been having a really tough pregnancy being sick so I will be traveling to my races solo until after he is born. We are really looking forward to this new journey of raising a child.
This year I thought I'd race a few more 70.3s to work on my speed. I've actually raced more full Ironmans than 70.3s because I believe I'm better at the longer distance so hopefully doing more 70.3s will help me in the Ironman. I do like to race early in the year and I like to race a lot.
My college (University of New Hampshire) cross country and track coach used to say they would have to race me into shape because throughout the season I always managed to get faster. I feel like the same applies to triathlon for me. As the year progresses I end up performing a little better. I know it's opposite as most people think that it's important to show up fresh to your event. I like to get a number of races under my belt before my A races. That is why last year I did the Ironman Chattanooga and Ironman World Championships double. I know Slowtwitchers love data so I've included the 12 days of my training in between Ironman Chattanooga, where I finished 3rd, and Ironman World Championships where I finished 12th.
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ST: You have raced every edition of Ironman Texas. What is it about that event that keeps bringing you back?
Russell: I was living in Austin the year of the inaugural Ironman Texas so that made it an easy trip for the first one. I typically race six or seven full Ironmans a year so that leaves me with racing practically every full Ironman event in the United States that is a professional race at some point.
I love racing in the heat and humidity and Texas certainly has that. I also have a great homestay in The Woodlands and they have practically become my extended family. I think this will be my fifth year staying with them. The whole family is into triathlon, as they are competitors themselves, and they are huge supporters. They came down to Galveston and I stayed with them for 70.3 Texas this past week. Triathlon means a lot more when you can share it with others and that makes Ironman Texas special.
I also think the top few guys this year at Ironman Texas may be under 8 hours. Obviously this depends on having some decent weather. The bike will be very fast since its flat and now on a toll road. Plus, the event moved up three weeks on the calendar so it has the potential to be a little bit cooler.
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ST: Your running background is well documented but your cycling leg truly seems to be your sharp weapon these past few years (numerous fastest bike splits). How do you approach your cycling training?
Russell: I do have a background in running but I think I have more of a cyclist build than runners build. I am 5'11" and 170 pounds and that is heavy for a pure runner. I do pretty much all of my riding indoors on the Wahoo Kickr. For me, I can mentally handle riding inside and I enjoy it. I use TrainerRoad and do many of their structured workouts. I do a variety of TrainerRoad workouts as they have a huge data base.
The key to success is consistency and working hard. I have coached myself for most of my triathlon career. I also coach athletes and I tell them triathlon is like a big jig-saw puzzle. Each persons' puzzle looks a little different and it takes time to figure out what works best for you.
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ST: We see you live in Sarasota now. Is that due to family or ideal training environment?
Russell: In the last ten years I have lived in eight different states and also multiple different places within those states as well. My wife and I have been traveling around since 2012 and love the adventure. Last year it felt like it was time to settle down and find a home base.
We had a number of things on our check list like: a good masters swim group, a good size airport that was close, fairly affordable, nice warm weather and close to a nice beach since my wife is from Cape Town, South Africa. Thankfully Sarasota has the number one-ranked beach in the country. It's also a great place to do open water swimming and since the sand is so fine, it's the perfect beach to run on. There are a lot of decent places to run around here. I will often do my long run at Nathan Benderson Park which is where the ITU Triathlon World Cup will be held this October. Once we found this gem in Sarasota, we ended up buying our first house and we are less than two miles away from Siesta Key Beach. We really like the area as it has a lot to offer.
I do miss the Colorado mountains at times but since I'm training so much, I don't have much energy to play in the mountains. They will have to wait until I'm done with triathlon. However we do plan on taking vacations to the mountains. In the summers we will be spending some time in my small hometown which is situated between Lake Placid, New York and Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.
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ST: Having only been a swimmer since 2010, has this continued to be a big concentration of your during training? Are you swimming with a squad?
Russell: I started swimming in 2010 and it has been a slow process but I'm swimming better than I ever have right now. Every weekday I swim 4500 yards in the morning and there is always some kind of speed involved. Thankfully there is an awesome pool and a great master swim group here. The group is called Sarasota YMCA Sharks Masters and there are four masters swim groups sessions a day to choose from. The coach, Dave Miner, does keep an eye on my form and gives me pointers which is much needed. The pool is outdoors and has a 25yd option or a 50m option at the same time. The best of both worlds!
Throughout swimming I have seen multiple coaches and each one has helped me in one way or another. Last year when I was in The Woodlands during the lead up to Ironman Texas, I swam with Tim Floyd at Magnolia Masters and also did an in depth swim analysis with Gemma Hollis from Push Glide Kick.
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ST: We have heard you will be riding a new Diamondback at Ironman Texas. Have you had a chance to ride it yet? If so, what have been your initial impressions. Have you worked with a bike fitter to sync your fit coordinates?
Russell: I will be on the Diamondback Andean for Ironman Texas. I have ridden it and was impressed right away with it. The bike just feels like it wants to go! I felt stable on it with some good gusts and I felt very aero on it. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Kevin Quan for a while in Kona which was pleasure because I asked him a lot of questions about the Knight Compsites wheels and the Diamondback Andean, both of which he designed. I feel confident in the equipment choices I have made to help me become a faster triathlete in 2017.
I have only had one fitter my whole triathlon career, Paraic McGlynn. His fit studio is CycloLogic out of Scottsdale, AZ. I was able to sync my coordinates quite easily on the Andean as it's highly adjustable to fit almost any athlete.
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ST: What other companies or products are you currently working with?
Russell: Skechers Performance has been my longest standing partner and I'll be with them for 2017 and 2018 in the least. FitPro Go is a relatively new sponsor which is a great protein recovery drink that is lactose free, Diamondback and Knight Composites which I mentioned earlier, Torhans aero bottles, Stages Cycling power meter, Castelli triathlon clothing and a new partner, 13MilesMovie.
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ST: What does your schedule look like between now and Ironman Texas? Will this be a primary focus for you this season?
Russell: Between now and Ironman Texas I will be putting in a solid two week training block and then a few days to do my taper. I really don't like to taper much at all. I recovery very fast and my theory is if you recover fast, you will also lose your fitness fast. The weekend before the race I will still do a long ride of 4.5 hours and do a long run of 16 miles.
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ST: What plans do you have for the rest of the season?
Russell: I'll be taking a mid season break after I go back to defend my title at 70.3 Raleigh. After Raleigh, our baby will be coming so it depends on when he is born and how the next several weeks go. I would love to race my hometown race, which is Ironman Lake Placid, but I'm not sure if that will happen with the baby being born. I also plan on racing Ironman Wisconsin. Thankfully I already have enough points for Kona so I will be back racing in Kona.
TrainerRoad put together the short video below with Matt showcasing his training in his quest for a sub-8 performance at Ironman Texas.