Matt Hanson’s third Ironman North America Championship victory set a new Ironman brand time of 7:39:25, breaking Tim Don’s 2017 Ironman Brazil mark by 1:02. Given that the Texas bike course was 2 miles short, there must be a virtual asterisk attached as at Hanson’s race pace, he would have taken four minutes longer at the standard 112 mile bike split.
Perhaps more impressive was Hanson’s 2:34:39 marathon, which on a course which was measured twice at 26.2 miles and was 42 seconds faster than the previous mark set by Peter Reid at Ironman Austria in 1999.
But apart from the numbers, Hanson was most proud of the man-to-man duel he waged on the run with Russian Ivan Tutukin, a classic for which there is no disputing.
Slowtwitch: Take us through your race at Texas.
Matt Hanson: Last year I stayed with the main pack for over half the swim. This year I went too hard for the first three or four hundred yards and got spit off the back. That was a tactical error on my part. That being said I am pretty happy with improvements I made with my stroke to be able to swim the same split.
ST: How far back were you from the leaders?
Matt: I was 3 and a half minutes behind the swim leaders. After 75 minutes, I went to the front of the chase group behind Starky and Johan Ackermann and stayed there for most of the ride. There were a couple times some people moved out front. But I did the majority of the work.
ST: How had you raced against Starykowicz this year?
Matt: I just got beat by Andrew at Galveston 70.3 [Hanson was 4th to Starykowicz’s 3rd place, 5:34 slower than Starky’s bike split]. At Ironman Texas, Andrew showed he is a formidable competitor by swimming in the first pack, riding that hard, then running 3 hours flat. That is tough to beat and you cannot do that by conserving yourself on the bike. Last year at this race it took me 18 miles to chase him down when everybody knew he wasn't in good run fitness due to his injuries. So I definitely respect him and I wanted to limit my losses to him as much as possible.
ST: Given the controversy over the fast times this year, do you think The Woodlands is a worthy course for a regional Ironman Championship?
Matt:The Ironman regional championships have five very different course profiles. As a professional, I am going to choose a race where the course profile fits me best. I think that makes for the best competition within the fields. If every course has mountains on the bike leg, it favors a cyclist every time. If every race has a lake swim, swimmers get short shrift. So I definitely have a bias. As a side note, that's what makes what [women’s champion] Melissa Hauschildt did, by winning her third different regional championship, so special.
ST: How do you think that removing the draft marshals for safety on the second lap on the expressway affected your race?
Matt: There were draft marshals throughout the first lap. And then there weren’t for the second lap. I rode the first 80 minutes of the race very similarly to what I rode Galveston 70.3 a couple weeks back – flat out. I wanted to get to the front of the chase group and get an inventory of the field. I also took some time to recover. When I got to the group I had the choice: Do I sit in? Or do I go to the front and make sure that everyone who was there worked hard. That’s what I did.
ST: What was your deficit to Starky leaving T2?
Matt: I think 14 minutes
ST: Did his lead make you nervous?
Matt: I was pretty happy with that gap. I knew Andrew could run around three hours. I thought it would take me two laps [16 miles] to catch him. I’ve run low 2:40s on this course three times. The plan I made with [his coach] Julie [Dibens] was to go out running a 3:39 to 3:40 per kilometer pace [2:35 marathon pace]. And then go to war on the last lap.
ST: When did you and Ivan Tutukin start running together?
Matt: He had a faster transition than I did. But I caught up to him after half a mile. Then he ran on my hip until Mile 25.
ST: Have you ever run that close for so long in an Ironman?
Matt: It doesn’t happen a lot in Ironman. And it has never happened to me in a race. But my coach had me prepared for it. We worked on what could happen when somebody is running on your heels –adjusting to surges, things like that.
ST: Did you expect you and Ivan would run so fast?
Matt: I don’t think either of us set out thinking we would run the first half of the marathon at a 2:32 marathon pace. I didn’t love that I was doing all the leading. But I was fine with it because I was in control of the pace and could choose my line and he would have to adjust to that.
ST: When you passed Starky at the end of lap two, did you say anything?
Matt: I told him to hang on for the podium. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he races. He knows what strengths he has and he uses them the best he can. I said the same thing to him last year when I passed him. I definitely want our fellow Americans to do well in those big races.
ST: How did you keep track of Tutukin?
Matt: He sat on my hip so he could see how I was looking. I got no visual feedback from him. So I was listening to his breathing very closely to get a sense of how he was feeling. I was hoping to get a hint when he was starting to hurt so I could put in a surge. But it seemed that he was feeling about the same the entire time. At the beginning of the third lap, Julie yelled at me: “It’s time to start thinking about a plan.” That was new territory for me – having to attack somebody on the run.
ST: What was your plan?
Matt: I knew Ivan came from an ITU background. So I didn't want to let it get down to a footrace with 100 or 200 yards to go. My plan was to hold the pace strong, push a little bit at Mile 24 and then really push the pace at a little downhill coming round the corner right after mile marker 25.. That downhill was very short – dropping 15 feet over 100 yards.
ST: How were you feeling?
Matt: Everything was getting tight. I couldn’t open up and keep the efficient stride I had since the beginning of the run. My hamstrings started to cramp a little bit, which is to be expected at that point. So I took a little packet of salt and some water at the last aid station and my stride just came open again.
ST: Did Ivan fight back?
Matt: Someone took a video of us right after the downhill. I saw it after the race and I had two seconds on him. So the elastic band started to break. Three hundred yards later there was a turnaround and I had a three to four seconds gap there. Then I put in 100 meters just as hard as I could. Half a mile more to the finish, I just had to hold the gap.
Matt: Julie was there and hollering “Hold it in for the world record!” All I was thinking was get to the finish line as fast as I could. When I got about 50 yards out, I told myself: Stay composed. Stay composed! About three or four steps before the finish I lost it a little bit and celebrated as I crossed the line.
ST: How does that moment rate?
Matt: It was a pretty incredible moment. Even better to have my wife Ashley embrace me just after crossing the line. It meant a lot for sure.
ST: What did you think of Ivan’s race?
Matt: That was a heckuva battle that brought out the best in me. Hopefully I brought out the best in him. I was fortunate enough to end up on top this time. He pushed me to find everything that I had – way deeper than I would have been willing to go on my own. Hopefully the people who were there got to see something they won’t forget
ST: Talk about the furor about course length. Ironman stated that the bike course was shortened to 110 miles this year.
Matt: At Mile 98, I was in the middle of an attack trying to get away and I was in a rush to try to hold high power and fill my water bottle between my arms and I busted my Garmin mount. So I didn’t get a bike course reading this year. Last year I had 109.9 miles on my cyclometer and it was the exact same course. So, after the race, the officials came up to me and said; ‘Hey congratulations! Just so you know, your world record time won’t count.’ But two days later, Ironman released a statement that the world record will stand.
ST: What percentage can the ideal conditions account for your 2:34:59 run split this year that was seven minutes faster than last year? And your 7:39:25 overall time that was 13 minutes faster than last year?
Matt: Last year it was a bit overcast and a little windy and I think it was a little bit cooler. But when it is overcast the humidity is higher. So this year it was warmer but lower humidity. I do well with dry heat. I could not have drawn up better race conditions. Sure this is a really fast course. But if we had run the race Sunday, the wind was pretty brutal and times would have been about 20 minutes slower. We just caught it on a perfect day.
ST: Do you think the differences in times this year were extreme?
Matt: Last year I won the race by 3:37, this year I won by 32 seconds. I attribute the difference to being pushed by Ivan every step of the way on the run. A lot of people who did the race last year and this year had similar run times. Will Clarke had a fantastic race both years. Last year he ran 2:42:01. This year he ran about 1:20 faster.
ST: Do you feel your marathon split is a valid Ironman brand record?
Matt: Ironman certified the run course two times the day before. On Friday morning they certified it and then they got it exactly on 26.2. Ironman officials told me that the Prince of Bahrain [sponsor of Bahrain Endurance 13 team] asked them to do it again. So they did. The second time they did it they got it 80 meters long. Obviously the rumor mills travel fast. Some people said the run course was short as well as the bike. You are hearing all kinds of things. But I think the run was legit.
ST: If valid, was your run a quantum leap in Ironman running?
I think Peter Reid ran a 2:35 a while ago.
Reid ran 2:35:21 at Ironman Austria in 1999 on his way to a 7:51:56 finish. There were some claims that run course was short.
ST: What did your wife Ashley say to you after the race?
Matt: After the race, she said “We did it.” We both made sacrifices to support each other in our respective careers. So we definitely love to celebrate our successes with each other.
ST: Any point in your career when you doubted if you should remain a professional triathlete?
Matt: I quit my job teaching at the Buena Vista University and became a full time pro after winning Ironman Texas in 2015. Later that year I proceeded to crash at Ironman Kona. And I passed out with 2.5 miles to go at Texas in 2016. And I crashed out again at another race. I was beat up mentally and physically and I was definitely questioning things. That was the time when my agents Shannon Delaney and Wendy Ingraham introduced me to Julie Dibens and said “Hey I think she could be a good coach for you.” Julie coaches [previous Ironman brand fastest time holder] Tim Don too. She has the Ironman figured out and she does a phenomenal job with her athletes.
ST: After your win at the Ironman North America Championships in 2017, what happened to you at Kona? You went 9:02:04 as 35th male pro.
Matt: Last year after Ironman Texas I tried to hold my fitness too long and ended up getting sick 10 days before the race. I had a full blown upper respiratory infection when I got to Kona.
ST: How will you prepare for Kona this year?
Matt: Last year I went to Tucson to do my final prep for the race. It was hot, but just not as humid as I needed. I will probably go to Kona in September and do my heat and humidity acclimation early and come back and do my last long workouts here in Iowa.