Matt Hanson on Stepping Up

At the recent PTO Championships in Daytona Matt Hanson put down the hammer during the run a reeled in all but one, and while his run speed wasn't surprising, he was not on the radar for most folks in terms of podium favorites. And his expectations were also a bit more mellow.

Slowtwitch: Welcome back Matt.

Matt Hanson: Always great to chat.

ST: Are you ready for Christmas or do you still have a few things to do?

Matt: Christmas is going to be pretty low key this year, so should be all set.

ST: With so few races this year because of COVID-19 how did you keep yourself motivated to train and push forward?

Matt: Obviously it was a tough April-August. I kept targeting new races, and they kept getting pushed back farther and farther. The day Kona officially canceled was a tough blow for sure. But I have a good team behind myself and we put together what I felt was a solid plan. I’m an eternal optimist, so I felt really good about being to find some race to do in the late season. We decided to put a block of work in on the bike, and just keep the run at a point where I could be ready to race with about a month’s notice.

ST: Going into the 2020 PTO Challenge Daytona Championships recently what was the goal?

Matt: The main goal was as always to execute the race plan as best as possible. I told coach Julie going into the race that I was feeling great and thought a top 10 was possible. She told me I better have the swim of my life to make that happened. Unfortunately, the swim of my life didn’t happen. But I was able to put together a pretty darn good bike-run combo.

ST: What would be the swim of your life and what do you think still needs to happen to get you there?

Matt: I was happy with my swim in Daytona. I came out of the water with the guys I usually would when I have a good swim. The best-case scenario for me would have been being with the group about 15-20 seconds in front of me. That way I could have been through transition and settled in before a few of the better riders in the group took off on the bike. I lost a couple of the guys I thought I could target to help bring me forward going through transition. The swim has been a constant focus of mine. Now that I am living in Colorado, I can drive up and swim with the JD crew 1-2 times per week. Before I was doing nearly all of my swimming on my own. I’m now running out of excuses to not be where I need to be in the water.

ST: Your race was thrilling to watch for the fans following the race live, but was it strange to race in such empty arena?

Matt: Honestly, there was a fair amount of energy on the course. The run being four laps made the crowd support feel pretty good. There was definitely a lot of good energy on the home stretch.

ST: How did you like that distance format, and would enjoy seeing more such races?

Matt: I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I appreciate races with a 20m draft zone and will definitely seek races with them out more in the future. The venue itself was a lot of fun as well. I think it was a great way to host a made for tv event, which is what our sport needs to continue to grow.

ST: Was it pretty easy to figure that 20-meter distance? I believe I heard that the cones on one side were further apart than on the other side.

Matt: The cones on the corners seemed closer together than they were on the backstretch. The cones were a lot easier to use as a target than the dashed lines on the side of the road we use in most 12m races.

ST: Doing all these bike loops on that racetrack, how did you stay on top of where you were and how much you had to go?

Matt: The 20 laps made it pretty simple to chunk out the race and just focus on one bit at a time. It also helped with the mental focus. You got pretty instant feedback if you were falling off power or not holding a good aero position. The goal was to hit 5:00-5:05 every lap. You found out really quickly how much of a penalty it was to pop out of aero for a few seconds. I had no clue what position I was in during the race, but that isn’t entirely different than a course that is more spread out.

ST: What about lapped traffic? Advantage or nuisance?

Matt: For me personally, there was no issue. I lapped a few athletes but didn’t have to put in a huge surge in order to make a pass. There were 1-2 athletes who got mixed up with the front of the race which is never ideal. I’m not sure the best way to deal with that. It is a bit inevitable when you have the best swimmers in the sport on the same start line as the best bike-runners in the sport and bike loops that are 5:00.

ST: What wattage were you pushing during the bike and as the race developed did you feel good about your chances?

Matt: I held a .95% IF for the ride. On the bike, I wasn’t really thinking about what place I could finish. I had zero clue what place I was in or how far back I was. All I was focusing on was sticking to the plan and paying attention to all of the little details - aero, nutrition, etc.

ST: Once on the run did the legs respond as you wanted them to?

Matt: I was feeling pretty good out of the gates but struggled a bit on the second mile to fight off a few cramps. I took a gel right out of transition and grabbed a water bottle at the first aid station and caried it with me to try to force some more fluids in. I got on top of it and never had any hints at a cramp the rest of the race. I was also surprised my back felt as well as it did after being quite uncomfortable the last two laps of the bike.

ST: You surely did not look uncomfortable running.

Matt: I was definitely not comfortable for most of the second mile. My quads were trying to cramp up and I had to shorten my stride a bit. Right after the second aid station, everything settled down and I was able to find my stride and hold it the rest of the run.

ST: Did you notice Alistair Brownlee standing at the side?

Matt: I did. In big races like this, we all are walking on the razor’s edge. Sometimes we make it to the other side, sometimes the razor cuts us. Most of us have been on both sides of that at some point or the other. Never fun when you get bit. Very fun when you make it to the other side unscathed.

ST: Once you had George Goodwin as a target, did you find another gear or did slow down?

Matt: Once I moved into third, I wasn’t sure I was making much ground on George. That was honestly the first time that the shred of doubt tried to creep into my head. Do I play it safe and protect 3rd? Or risk it and make one last push. I’ve made that push in a race before and dropped…literally. Pics of you hugging a 2L bottle of coke in the fetal position aren’t a good look. But I was thankfully able to squash that moment of fear and told myself I had nothing to lose. I made what I thought was a pretty big surge. Looking at my Garmin file, it was probably only about 5 seconds per mile faster for a quarter mile.

ST: What pace were you running?

Matt: I averaged 5:06 a mile. My slowest mile was mile 2 at a 5:17 and the fastest was 4:59

ST: When you passed him did you worry about him fighting back?

Matt: You always worry about that, and you always have to fight the urge to look back and check. I was fairly confident that I had it when I finished the pass, but you never know. I definitely did not back down until the last couple of steps before the finish line.

ST: Had you met him in a race before, know anything about his prowess?

Matt: I don’t believe I had raced George before. I had seen his name pop up in a few discussions leading into the races but didn’t know a ton about him.

ST: And then the was only Gustav left.

Matt: Yup, he was hands down the best on the day. Second through 6th were all within a minute of each other, and he was a minute in front of me. He is extremely talented and executed a great race.

ST: Where does this result rank in your view?

Matt: I definitely think this was the best performance I have put together so far. No one was really counting on me to be a factor in the race, including myself at certain low points in the build. To finish on the podium was a pretty amazing feeling.

ST: Were you happy with the safety precautions before during and after?

Matt: I think they did everything they could to keep us safe. The fact that Challenge Daytona, IMFL, Arizona 70.3, and Cozumel 70.3 all went off without any reports of the races becoming ‘super spreader’ events shows how well the respective teams planned everything out.

ST: And what is next?

Matt: I’m currently trying to talk myself to come out of the end of season break. I held a fairly high level of fitness from the beginning of September through December, so my body and mind were ready for a break. I’ve been in the water a handful of times and got on the bike this week again as well. I’m waiting on a clearer picture of what the race schedule will look like next year before making a concrete race plan, but I’ll definitely be targeting the Collins Cup, 70.3 World Champs, and Kona next year.

Images 1, 3, 4 and 5 © Tommy Zafares / PTO Championships
Image 2 courtesy of Matt Hanson