Getting to know Matt Lieto

Trek/K-Swiss Pro Matt Lieto has shown a few times that his older brother Chris isn't the only Lieto who can go fast in a triathlon. We cornered BigMatt Lieto in Bend, Oregon where he is currently preparing for Lake Stevens 70.3.

Slowtwitch: Matt, we expected to see you in Calgary, but there was no sign of you.

Matt: I had to make a few changes to the plan recently. I skipped that race to put some quality training in for Lake Stevens to carry through to Canada.

ST: So what is the plan?

Matt: My plan is to go to Stevens and test myself against some great competition while getting in a last good quality hit out before Stevens. As per the Lieto protocol I will do my best to swim with the guys and separate things a bit on the bike. I believe I still have the bike course record and would like to improve upon it and put myself in a position to win the race on the run.

ST: You haven’t raced since Coeur D’Alene. Where have you been?

Matt: Well, that is a long story, but I have been figuring out some strange health issues and have had some good down time getting healthy again. I have spent a lot of time at the doctors getting tests to clear some things off the list. I spent a week up in Seattle getting things straight with my good friend and alternative sports health care provider William Pettis. He really got to the bottom of my issues and we think I am quite close to being fully recovered.

ST: Neither Coeur D’Alene nor St. George went well. Can you talk about these events?

Matt: Thanks for noticing Herbert. Well, to put it lightly these races were quite disappointing for me. My goal for this year was to put the early time in the cold of Bend and have some solid IM performances building into Kona. I was in the best shape I had been in my career thanks to Matt Dixon, and 5 days out things went wrong, very wrong. My stomach was bloated and just felt really awful. It just seemed to get worse and the day of the pro meeting I was too weak to show and weighed 7 lbs under race weight. I decided to give it a go, knowing it could be rough. I was able to get into the lead group swapping turns and feeling really strong till 60 miles when the bottom came out and starting vomiting and shivering and the legs just wouldn’t go. Realizing I was going to dig myself a big hole to finish, I pulled out. Later that week I was diagnosed with Giardia, which was an explanation for my symptoms.

In CDA I felt that I was fully recovered, and was ready to race. Little did I know, I was not, and my 3 races in 3 weeks combined with my illness had put me into a poor position starting the race. I felt week on the swim, was able to make up a 3 minute gap to get into the lead group by mile 10 on the bike and just tried to do my best to ride well up front. My last hour on the bike was pretty awful, but still got off in the chase group and was running in top 6 when &^$% got real. I held a 6:30 pace average through 3 miles when I felt my energy just completely drop. I started running towards the side of the road for safety and I am glad I did, cause I passed out at running pace. I was in and out of consciousness a few times and apparently tried to move forward every time I came to. It was kind of funny actually, my Garmin GPS shows me running steady then abrupt stop, then a short slow few meters then a stop a few times over, pretty cool to see. Lucky for me, my old coach and great friend Muddy was there to pull me off the course and made me call it quits. The scary thing was that it was 85 degrees out and my body temp didn’t get over 92 for 3 hours after my ambulance ride and visit in the med tent. Not good. This is what scared us the most and the reason it has taken me so long to get back to training. We had to rule out all heart conditions before I could get rolling again especially with my good friend and training partner Steve Larsen passing away last year from a heart condition. We just didn’t want to take the risk that I might have a serious condition. It turns out my Giardia and the medication to cure it had ravaged my system so deeply I was malnourished and imbalanced to the extent that my body would go into shock under extreme stress. Turns out that Ironman is stressful.

ST: Your performance at Honu 70.3 was very nice, especially your bike split. Were you happy with that day?

Matt: Thanks, yes I was pleased with my performance, especially on the bike and with the heat compared to the snowy conditions back in Bend. It was my first race since my Giardia, and was happy to feel decent all day. I was hoping to finish up higher on the podium, but was great to be able to push and be pushed by Tim Deboom and Luke Bell all day. I hung within a minute of them till mile 11 hoping they would punch each other out, but with their class I had to settle for 3rd to some of my early role models in the sport. It’s funny, Tim was and is someone I always look up to and was actually kind of hard to be in a race mindset against someone I used to cheer for when I was first exposed to this event as a 250 lb spectator. When he passed me I kind of half cheered for him, then realized that is probably not the way to try and psych out my competition ;)

ST: What else is on your schedule for 2010?

Matt: Stevens, Canada, then we take things from there. If the body feels right, then Kona (pending qualification) then a 70.3 or 2, and XTERRA nationals and maybe worlds thrown in. It is really going to depend on my recovery. It is really frustrating as all I want to do is race, but I need to get 100% healthy before I can get back at it full throttle.

ST: So you would not go to Kona if you were not fit? Not even in a different role?

Matt: It is not a question of fit, but a question of healthy. I will not put myself in another race if I don’t think it is the best thing for my health. Don’t get me wrong, if I am healthy I will be in Kona. I have been going there for 10 years mainly as a spectator for big bro, so if I have a chance to see his 1st victory while racing with him on the course, you better believe I will be there.

ST: Where does the nickname BIGMATT come from?

Matt: That nickname comes from an old Tour Team in the late 90’s. I liked their style and would rock their construction style bike kits. The nickname came while watching the tour one year, and a buddy decided that was a perfect nickname for me ;) It works because well, I am big 6’2 175, but used to have another 75 on this frame. When I was first introduced to the sport 11 years ago I was a cheerleader for that Chris Lieto guy, and topped the scales at 250. I was inspired by him and the rest of the amazing athletes in Kona and dropped the weight in the next 6 months.

ST: So the 250-pound spectator comment earlier wasn't just a figure of speech. How many folks other than your family and close friends do you think remember you like that?

Matt: Not many. It is funny, not sure even if most of my family remembers me as that kid anymore. If anyone can still envision that chubby kid it is most likely me.

ST: Do you own one of those BigMat cycling kits?

Matt: Of course with matching cap, although I am looking for another one as the team is back for this year. My kit is about 7 years old and red- not real classy if ya know what I mean.

ST: Why Bend, Oregon?

Matt: Bend is an amazing place with tons of open roads and pristine single track trails. I moved here from Danville, where my brother still lives, to have some different training grounds and to surround myself with some like-minded people. Bend’s athletic community is so unique and so diverse, and it’s just so easy to feed off the energy of all the amazing athletes in town. I am able to train most days with athletes that are the best in their professional sports, whether it be road cycling, mountain biking, Nordic skiing or cyclo cross. I really value these friends in town as we all push each other to succeed in our own sports, but don’t always have to converse about our own sports drama all of the time.

ST: No worries about the weather in Bend?

Matt: It can definitely be a pain at times, but it is doable. I usually need to take several well-timed 10-14 day camps to get some bike mileage in. I like the diversity and the fact it forces me to take a bit of a break to do some different things. I tend to Nordic ski a bit in the winter and get on the mountain bike more than usual. Definitely had some quality sessions on the PowerBeam this year, but think that in the end that is a good thing.

ST: Who is your roommate as we speak?

Matt: Um…. I think you are probably asking about Carl Decker, who is my Don Knotts at the moment. He is a pro mountain biker for Giant and the winner of the Downieville race this year as well as X-Games rally cross racer this past weekend. I joke that he makes me feel like less of a man daily, as he welds axels, grinds camshafts, and throttles his rally car, while I am tanning at the pool.

ST: Does Carl work on your car too when it needs some help?

Matt: He definitely points me in the right direction. I am not the most auto intelligent man on the planet, so I surely get his advice when something goes wrong. Next step we’ll wrap the outback in Trek/Kswiss and be the first ‘02 Outback Wagon at the X-Games. Or,… maybe not.

ST: We noticed that Carl has a Citroen 2CV in the garage. Does he race that car too?

Matt: No racing in that one, but it is pretty much the classiest motor pacing vehicle I have ever seen.

ST: Do you get tortured on mountain bike rides, or do you hold your own?

Matt: Haha. Well, in this town, with all the ridiculous talent, I guess I would be closer to getting tortured versus holding my own. I love mountain biking and Carl has shown me a few things that keep me up to pace with most mortals out on the trail. I actually raced and won my first attempt at the XTERRA discipline this year in Folsom, Ca. So I guess I am not THAT bad ;) I raced there after only 2 rides on the Trek Top Fuel, so am looking forward to racing it again at either XTERRA National Champs, or at XTERRA Worlds later this year.

ST: It appears everybody on the Trek / K-Swiss team is getting along quite well.

Matt: For sure, well except for that Chris Lieto guy. We just don’t seem to get along at all ;) The team has been a great opportunity for all of us, and I think we are all excited to be a part of something so unique. Everyone on the team seemed to have bonded over our team camp and we are all waiting for another opportunity to hang out and train as a group. We are a great collection of athletes, but as it was important to Nick Howe of Trek and Erik Vervloet of K-Swiss, more importantly a collection of fun and inspiring personalities. (Well, except for that Chris Lieto guy). We all seem to be thriving off of the team atmosphere and the encouragement and support that is being shown is quite cool.

ST: What else is going on for you in terms of sponsorship?

Matt: The Trek/K-Swiss team truly makes me feel like a pro and have encouraged me to step up my game. The team is taking the professionalism of the sport to a new level and am stoked to be a part of it. I have also been blessed to be supported by PowerBar for the past few years and am loving the new Ironman Perform electolyte drink. This year a new sponsor for me has been CycleOps and their Power Taps are keeping me honest in training and racing. Oh, and of course Base Performance and their bevy of products. This stuff is really amazing and has helped my training immensely (and I am not just sayin that because the brother founded it).

ST: Do you think that Cul-De-Sac haircut image will follow you for a long time?

Matt: I kinda hope not ;) That was a fun night of team bonding and glad that the Cul-De-Sac was entertaining to all. Don’t think I have ever seen Mark from Trek laugh that hard EVER, so it was worth it. I had always wanted to do the Cul- De-Sac, but next year I am thinking bout growing my hair longer so at team camp big bro can shave in a Cul-De-Sac complete with a Comb-Over.

ST: Do you follow any other sport?

Matt: Ummmm, kinda sorta. Mostly Curling and extreme Fly-Fishing. I am a big fan of cycling and keep a close eye on all my training buddies in town and their respective sports.

ST: What foods do you like.

Matt: Well, I am fairly particular about how I eat, you know, due to the previous fatness and all. I have been eating mostly gluten free for the last 8 years and since my recent issues William Pettis and I have found I need to be more stringent with this diet. So, I am eating off of the celiac protocol, so lots of rice, gluten free oats, veggies, good meats and yes, Panda puffs. I love me some Panda Puffs. I eat a ton of food, and never really “diet” just focus on fueling correctly via Matt Dixon’s fueling protocol. Guys in town love riding with me in the winter as I always make time to stop at my favorite gluten free bakery on every ride for treats and espresso.

ST: What was the last book you read?

Matt: Greg Mortensen’s 3 Cups of Tea

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Matt: I see myself still being immersed in triathlon. Hopefully having a successful career as a racer and Ironman Champ. Hopefully by that time trying to live up to my brother’s World Championship pedigree ;) Either way I will be in the industry with the goal of getting people off their couch and trying something they never thought possible.

ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?

Matt: My most consistent trainer partner is a 16 lb parson’s terrier named Mili. She goes on my long runs (up to 20 miles), and makes me feel like a chump when I am doing speed work and she drops me for a squirrel. Just throwing it out there- I have put a Garmin on her and her max pace is 3:15 mile, and she averages 30% more distance than me on most our runs. She is sponsored by RuffWear and is training for a dog/owner 30k in the fall. If it sounds like I am calling out other Pros who think their dog is the best, I most certainly am.