Matt Gervais recently had an encounter with a Muskie while open water swimming, but this fast Canadian is not stopping his adventurous lifestyle. He is a hard core triathlete, races for a road cycling team, does gravel events and races in Zwift, and this weekend will be racing Muskoka 70.3.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Matt.
Matt Gervais: My pleasure Herbert. Thanks for reaching out!
ST: Talk about cycling please. What is your weekly mileage and how much of it is outside?
Matt: Since the injury, I haven’t done a whole lot, and I’ve only been outside twice. Before that though, I had been riding maybe 300km per week, and most of that being outside. I still do the occasional Zwift ride just for convenience, but I race on a cycling team so try to meet up with those guys as often as possible.
ST: How is your bike racing career going?
Matt: Haha. Well, I wouldn’t really call it a career! But about 14 or 15 years ago I suffered a running injury that put me off running (and triathlon) for much of the season. During that time I decided it was time to focus in on the bike which was a major weakness. That kind of set me up with a group of strong riders who eventually became a pretty strong time. We now ride as Tower International Cycling Team and have had a lot of success road racing provincially in Ontario, and throughout Michigan.
ST: You Everested on Zwift earlier this year with a few friends. How did that idea come up?
Matt: We had made a goal through much of 2020 to knock out as many of the Zwift routes as we could so did a lot of the long rides and routes together. By the end of 2020 seeing an off season that looked much the same with the Covid situation, we kind of tossed around the idea of having that as a major goal to train for going into the new year. I have been pretty close with Darcy Haggith from Infinit Nutrition Canada for years, and he jumped in with us and kind of ran with the idea, so we wound up making it a pretty big event. It was a great accomplishment, and I think we all really benefitted from the training for it. It was great to have a goal to look forward to early in the season.
ST: What was the hardest part of the Everesting effort?
Matt: I guess the toughest thing was just the monotony. Early on in the effort, just knowing there is SO much more to go. Hitting the top of the Alpe was always great relief, but then getting back on the bike was tough too. Honestly, the only thing that got a lot of us through it was having such a big group doing it at the same time to support one another.
ST: Also, what is your trainer setup like?
Matt: I have a room in the basement that we use as our training room/pain cave. We just have a Nordictrack C2450 Treadmill, and our TT bikes on the trainers. Blaire has a Wahoo Kickr Snap and I’m on a Tacx Neo. I do think it’s a nice setup with a dedicated Zwift Computer and screen, then a TV up on the wall for watching other videos or music.
ST: How much open water swimming do you right now, and how does that compare to your time in the pool?
Matt: Right now our indoor pools are still closed locally. We haven’t been able to swim at a proper pool since November of 2020. This has pretty much forced us into the lakes for 90% of our swimming. There are a couple small outdoor pools that are open, but lanes are hard to come by. In a typical year, it’s usually reverse with only about 10% of my swim training being open water.
ST: Where exactly are you located for us to put the pool closures in perspective?
Matt: I am in Windsor, Ontario (Canada). Most aptly known for being Lionel Sanders’ home town.
ST: For those who do not know you or heard about your fish entanglement, what exactly happened?
Matt: While out swimming open water last week in Lake St. Clair I had a run in with a Muskie. It clamped on to my right hand, requiring 13 stitches.
ST: How has your hand healed?
Matt: It’s still only been about 9 days, but I did get the stitches out a couple days ago and things are looking much better. I haven’t got much feeling in two of my fingers, and there is a lot of numbness, but the punctures themselves look like they may be good enough to swim late this week.
ST: What about your mind? Or are you seeing this as a complete odd chance encounter?
Matt: I am most definitely seeing this as a one in a million kind of thing, but I can’t say that I won’t be thinking about it next time I find myself in open water. I think I will just need a little time to really get over it. I’m not a real anxious guy or anything, but I think I will definitely wait for clear/calm water before I get back out in that lake again.
ST: Have you been invited to any big TV shows yet?
Matt: Haha! Not yet! It’s pretty funny the way this story has really taken off! It went from one local news station to the next, then both went National, then into the States and further. I guess people are just looking for a story that’s more of a distraction from politics and the other things that are going on in the world right now. Still holding out for that call from Jimmy Fallon though!
ST: Can you tell us what your next event is for you?
Matt: I intend to race Muskoka 70.3 this coming weekend. I had big goals for 2020, and so then again for 2021, but with cancellations, deferrals and travel restrictions, I haven’t really been able to race anything since Ironman Louisville 2019. I was also supposed to be racing Ironman Mont Tremblant last weekend, but of course that race was cancelled altogether. We had hoped to be both in Utah and in Kona this year, but never had the opportunity to race and qualify.
ST: Are there Muskies in Muskoka?
Matt: No Muskies there! I don’t anticipate any anxiety getting in the Crystal Lake up there. Pretty excited for it actually - assuming my hand it good enough.
ST: And I did not mean to leave out running. So talk about that please.
Matt: My background in triathlon really does come from running. I mean, I did my first triathlon about 25 years ago, so hard to say now that I’m a runner that does triathlon, but I would still call it my strength. I turn 40 in a couple weeks, but over the last couple years I have been able to up my run mileage and focus on some run work. I was able to win the Muskoka Marathon last year in 2:43. I also did some speed work with Lionel Sanders through last summer and got my 5km times back down under 16 minutes. I hadn’t seen times that quick since the late 90’s! I also did some quick stuff with you on the treadmill this past winter Herbert!
ST: It seems so long ago. Do you still do any Zwift running racing?
Matt: I still battle a few little running injuries, so even in the summer, sometimes I will jump on the treadmill for some easy miles so I can stretch, or bail easily, but I do all my fast stuff outdoors. We are lucky to have some nice places to run right near the house.
ST: How did you get started with triathlon?
Matt: I was running and swimming in high school, and actually my uncle got me into road cycling at a pretty young age, so it was sort of a natural thing for me to attempt my first triathlon at about 15 years old.
ST: You and your wife Blaire actually met through triathlon. Maybe you can take us back to that day.
Matt: My wife and her entire family (Kniaziew’s) have always been kind of legendary in the triathlon community in Canada, so I of course knew of them (and Blaire) pretty early on. In 2005 I was training for Ironman Canada as my first Ironman. Blaire raced Ironman Frankfurt that year and placed 10th overall to get a slot to Kona. We then wound up doing a lot of our training together through the summer and early Fall and she finished 8th in Kona that year. The rest is history!
ST: I believe you switched back and forth each year who could focus on racing. Is that still so?
Matt: Yes, when our son was born, we knew that we wouldn’t both be able to put in the hours required to continue to race at a high level, so we decided we would swap years and whoever’s “year” it was would choose our race schedule and take the training time priority. In our first years of this, Blaire was able to medal at the 70.3 world’s in Vegas (2013), and then in 2014 I was able to qualify for Kona for the first time at Ironman Couer d’Alene. Our son Karson is 10 now, and very interested in the sport himself, so it has been far easier for us both to train together again, so no need to swap years. He really enjoys coming to the races and rides along with us on a lot of our training runs. And Blaire definitely still finds herself at or near the top of most podiums. I believe (outside of World Championships), she has only missed the top step in her age group once at the 70.3 distance.
ST: Talk about your race bike.
Matt: My wife and I are both racing on Felt IA’s. I am riding a 2019 Felt IA Advanced Force ETap AXS. I’m riding with the integrated Quarq power meter, Hed Disc, and I actually use my Cannondale front wheel from my road bike for racing.
ST: What kind of wheel is that?
Matt: The Cannondale HollowGram 64 SL Carbon Wheels. They come stock on the Cannondale System Six.
ST: Have you ever been properly fitted?
Matt: No, I’ve never technically gone for a proper bike fit. I am co-owner of Cycle Culture (Lionel’s earliest bike sponsor and still home bike shop), so when I get on a new bike, we try to set it up using my old measurements, and I will have those guys look me over before taking it out.
ST: So Lionel lives near you?
Matt: Well, he grew up about 30 minutes away in Harrow, but when he moved into Windsor, he lived just down the street. He has since sold that house to stay in Arizona more full time.
ST: You seem to race race gravel events too. What kind of bike do you have and which event are those pics from?
Matt: I’m riding a Cervelo Aspero and love it! The pics are from the Dirty Thirty Gravel race near Grand Rapids Michigan.
ST: Other hobbies?
Matt: With triathlon, there isn’t a whole lot of time for much else. I love to spend time with my family. We love to travel, and we are big fans of spending time outdoors and on the water either kayaking or other water sports.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Matt: Just really looking forward to getting back to a start line soon. I think we’ve done a good job of keeping fit, and somehow staying motivated, but really miss the adrenaline and the extra anxiousness that only comes from real competition. When the border opens back up to us, and we can get back to some regular training, I’d really like to try some new things. I’m really interested in getting out to some SwimRun events.