Matt Bach - unexpected champion

With Ironman Maryland not featuring a Pro category the race was wide open and when it was all said and done Matt Bach was the new Ironman champion. We had a few words with the man who was a bit surprised and overwhelmed himself with both the result and the aftermath.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Matt.

Matt Bach: Thanks for having me! I loved your Kona coverage this year and particularly enjoyed the piece you wrote called The Power of Kyle Buckingham. It’s not often we get to view a comparison of an athlete racing as an age grouper and then as a pro in back to back years.

ST: It has been a while since your big win at Ironman Maryland. Has it all sunk in by now?

Matt: Yes, but only since two weeks ago when I stopped waking up in the middle of the night and wondering if it was real! While the days immediately after were exciting and a lot of fun, I’ve had a chance to unwind and reflect now that the publicity has steadied a bit.

ST: From what I understand the win at that race took you by surprise. What was on your mind going in other than a Kona slot?

Matt: Priority number one was the Kona slot, but I had some time goals too. I conservatively estimated 1:02/4:55/3:10 for a total time around 9:10, but knew that my training was going really well and I could go sub-9 if the day went really well. In my “dream scenario” I would ride 4:45 and run sub-3. I ended up riding 4:41, which was beyond any of my expectations, and ran 3:00:25, just missing my goal. I’m trying not to be too upset about it given how great the rest of the result was!

ST: Even if you hadn’t won, should or could you be really upset about 26 seconds?

Matt: Not too upset, but being able to say I ran a sub-3 hour marathon at the end of an Ironman has a nice ring to it. Going to have to see if I can step it up for my next shot at it in Kona!

ST: How overwhelming was the aftermath?

Matt: Totally overwhelming! Like you mentioned, the thought never crossed my mind that I might win before the race, so when it actually happened, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As I crossed the line, there were a dozen photographers flashing cameras, reporters rushed up to interview me, and the staff had me autograph the finish line ribbon. I had a moment to recover in the medical tent before interviewing with Jeff Meeks (Ironman announcer) back at the finish line. They invited me to high-five the athletes coming home in the final hour before the midnight finish, which was something I never dreamed I’d get the chance to do. Spectators took pictures of me with their kids and I even had a few selfie requests. There was more buzz about me on Facebook, Twitter and web forums in 2 days than I think I’ve had in my whole life. I did podcasts with TheRealStarky and Endurance Planet the week after the race. I’m a Team Zoot athlete and Zoot put a post about me on their main webpage, and Team Zoot has a photo of me as the profile picture on Facebook. I’ve been invited to be the “featured speaker” at a few events recently, and, as if all this wasn’t enough, I’m going to be on a billboard in Times Square next Saturday!!

ST: Have you been invited to the David Letterman show too?

Matt: Not yet! Do you have a contact??

ST: I am not that well connected. Back to you though, you had not qualified to race in Hawaii this year and I believe the Ironman Maryland race was your first M-dot race since you competed in Kona in 2013. Was that a planned break?

Matt: It was. After doing 3 Ironman events within 2 ½ months last year, I decided to take it down a notch to relieve the burden on my wife, Lauren, and to spend more time with her. We decided I would train for half distance events and that’s what I did from January through June. At that point, I was seeing huge improvements in my training and started thinking about throwing a full on the calendar to qualify for Kona way in advance. Kona was 3rd of the 3 IM events I did last year and I was mentally shot by the time I got there. I didn’t want that to be the case this time so we decided on Ironman Maryland. I would ramp it up for just 2-3 months and give it a shot. Mission complete! And then some!

ST: What was your previous best long distance effort before you got into the limelight this year?

Matt: At Ironman Louisville last year I went 9:42. I biked 37 minutes faster and ran 20 minutes faster than I did there, and my 8:51 overall time at Maryland was a 51-minute PR.

ST: I had noticed that 9:42 and a couple barely sub-10 ones, but thought I may have missed a faster one. If someone in your shoes asked if they could go from averaging 9:42 to 9:59 to sub-9 in a year, they would likely get laughed at. So what was your magic trick?

Matt: I wish I had one! One thing I’ve learned is there is no silver bullet in triathlon. I made loads of changes this year and all of them turned out to be improvements. I got a coach for the first time, power meter for the first time, made a huge leap forward in my nutrition through metabolic efficiency, religiously did strength training particularly during the offseason, and did much more work on the trainer this year than past years, even during the summer.

ST: Some of your faster times were achieved in Half distance races. Is that something that suits you well?

Matt: The longer the better for me. I did well at Rev3 Quassy in June this year, finally getting my running legs back under me and running 1:19 on the notoriously hilly course, but the full Ironman distance suits me better. I’ve never been considered a “talented” athlete like some of the guys I’ve trained with who can run a 4:40 mile after 3 months of no training, but I think I’m able to make up for that with a strong tolerance for discomfort and willingness to sacrifice. There’s no faking it in such a grueling event as Ironman – those who have put in the work are the ones who usually end up on top, which is something I really like about it. I’ll note that my Half Ironman PR is 4:28, which is more than half my overall time at Ironman Maryland.

ST: But as mentioned before well better than your previous best Ironman results.

Matt: Yes, and certainly hoping to improve on that PR next year!

ST: I believe you started with triathlon in 2010.

Matt: That’s right. On Thanksgiving day in 2009, Lauren and I were driving to visit some family. I turned and asked her if she wanted to do a triathlon together, fully expecting her to laugh and say no, but I must have caught her at a good moment. We did spinning classes and swam alongside each other to simulate the thrashing at the beginning of a tri, and ultimately raced the Jersey Shore Kickoff Sprint Tri in May 2010. I did 3 sprints that year, a few Half-distance races the following year, and then my first Ironman in 2012 at Lake Placid.

ST: Did Lauren enjoy her race too and did she do more?

Matt: She did! She felt very accomplished to have finished a triathlon and has done about 5 sprint triathlons since. This year, she and my dad stepped it up to the Olympic distance and I admire their willingness to push themselves out of their comfort zones.

ST: Who or what inspired you?

Matt: Justin Bach. He was my brother and he battled bone cancer for 3 ½ years until he passed away in 2008. He was only 1 ½ years younger than me, we spent a lot of time together and we were close. When he was sick people would give him money, but much of the time he would donate it to St Jude Children’s Hospital, hoping that no child would ever have to go through what he was going through. That inspired my wife and me to do our first triathlon in memory of him. We raised money from family and friends to donate to St Jude’s in his name, and ended up collecting $3,500. We were blown away by their generosity. Since then, we have done the event every year, my dad has joined us in doing the triathlons, and we’ve raised over $67k for St Jude’s in Justin’s name.

ST: Do you think Justin was smiling down on you on that day in Maryland?

Matt: Yes, I’m blessed to have had a lot of awesome things happen in my life - Lauren always says that it’s Justin helping me out, and jokingly wonders when it’s going to be her turn!

ST: What is your day job?

Matt: I work as a trader at a hedge fund called Ophir Partners in Manhattan. I love the work as I find it similar to triathlon in that what you put into it is what you get out of it. I work with a great group of people and my boss is very flexible and supportive so it provides me the opportunity to have a life outside of my career.

ST: Have you considered getting a Pro card?

Matt: Definitely. It’s been on my mind for a couple of years now, gradually becoming a more serious thought, especially after Ironman Maryland. It’s tough to make it as a Pro though. I would want to fight to be the best in the world and working full-time isn’t conducive to that. Without the right financial support, I’m not willing to subject Lauren, and maybe children soon, to the near-poverty status of a triathlete with a dream. My wife didn’t sign up for that! She married the chubby guy she met in college!

ST: Do you know of any Pros who make great money?

Matt: No! Though I expect Mirinda, Sebastian and a handful of the other top triathletes in the world aren’t doing too badly for themselves.

ST: And how much money did you win in Maryland?

Matt: $0. You knew that!

ST: With your race kit in Maryland you certainly looked like a Pro. Talk about your current sponsors and supporters.

Matt: I’m glad to hear that! Well first and foremost, Lauren is my biggest fan and for that I can’t thank her enough. She attends all my races, hand-paints T-shirts for my spectators for the major events, and gets up at 4:30am with me on race morning. She even retrieves my bike from transition after it has pee all over it.

I’ve had an awesome experience on Team Zoot this year as it’s given me the chance to represent Zoot (and other great brands like Garmin) and to meet an esteemed group of triathletes. My Zoot suit was very comfortable and I totally love the shoes I wore (Zoot Ultra Race 4.0). They feel like slippers and I’ve never completed an Ironman with so few blisters.

Earl Walton, my coach who owns Tailwind Endurance, was a massive part of my success this year, challenging me to some intimidating key workouts that pushed my limits. It was my first year with a coach, and surely my first of many with Earl.

Josh Grahlman, owner of Clutch Physical Therapy, kept me healthy on the run, something that I had struggled with for two years before working with him. He also designed strength routines that took me to a new level on the bike.

Joe LoPorto at FitWerx was a huge help this season fitting me to my bike, setting me up with my powermeter, and tuning up my bike before Ironman Maryland.

Nicci Schock, owner of Elevate By Nicci, guided me through Metabolic Efficiency Training which allowed me to consume just 830 calories for the entire Ironman, and without a single nutritional issue. It still blows my mind that I could consume so little, have no GI issues, and race a sub-9 hour Ironman!

I’m thankful to have such a great team to support me!

ST: So what big plans do you have for the off-season?

Matt: Gain 10 pounds, drink some scotch and beer, go to bed past 9:30pm sometimes, and let my bike get a layer of dust on it. After I’ve accomplished those things, then I’ll get my body and mind ready to make the charge at Kona 2015.

ST: How long of a break will you take?

Matt: I’m going to run the Philly marathon in a few weeks though I’m not putting any real pressure on myself to perform. I won’t do a thing between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then I’ll start up a strength regimen for the next couple of weeks leading into the New Year when I’ll start base training again.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Matt: For any Slowtwitch readers in the NYC area, all are welcome for the Billboard party in Times Square at 4pm on Saturday, November 8th – come join us! Oh, and my wife and I have two awesome (but mischievous) dachshunds!