Matt Russell grabbed the win at the 30th and final edition of Ironman Canada in Penticton and a week earlier had earned a podium spot at the inaugural Ironman Mont Tremblant, but this fast and humble athlete from upstate New York is not just about winning and keeping score.
Matt: Of course! Thanks, Herbert.
ST: How is San Luis Obispo treating you right now?
Matt: It's pretty amazing out here - right now enjoying a little training vacation with my girlfriend. The past few days I've been running along the ocean cliffs, stopping to enjoy the beauty. Watching surfers, whales and otters enjoy the ocean life. There's a ton of beauty out here and I absolutely love all kinds of outdoor activities.
ST: The weather there should be a bit more outdoor training friendly than in the Northeast.
Matt: I currently reside in Scottsdale, AZ, however my hometown is in northern NY about 5 minutes from the border of Canada. I was born and raised on a small farm on a dirt road so I love seeing all of the farms and cows roam the hills here in SLO. The weather in northern NY can be harsh with temps dipping down to -20 below.
I’ve moved around and lived in a lot of different places. I went to school at UNH (University of New Hampshire) for my undergrad/graduate studies. I then moved to Boulder, CO and worked as an occupational therapist for a few years. I spent a summer living in a yurt up at 9,000 ft in the mountains of Colorado and after which I moved back to my hometown for a year. I moved to Austin, TX at the end of 2010 to start my triathlon career. I lived in Austin for about a year and then I moved to Scottsdale, AZ at the end of 2011.
ST: How did you come up with that location?
Matt: A few friends of mine told me about the area. I did some research and thought it would be a great place to spend the summer to beat the heat in Scottsdale. Hence the road trip out here to end/start the New Year. The weather is near perfect year round and there are such a variety of roads to ride (flat and hilly country roads), great trails to run and many options to swim: pools, lakes and ocean. A friend of mine, Joe Thorne just moved to the area too. He would be a great person to train with since he just earned his pro card.
ST: He would be a good guy to train with even without the Pro card, or do you mean that he now has more time?
Matt: He is a great athlete with or without his pro card. I think when you become a professional you really have to commit yourself to training and making more sacrifices. It’s like making the transition from high school running to college running. You have to up your game. That’s why I think he would be a great person to train with because I think he can make that transition and be successful.
ST: Looking back at 2012 we would think that you would be reasonably pleased with your season.
Matt: I certainly was happy. I’ve been moving in the right direction since I first started triathlons in 2010. The highlight was winning Ironman Canada one week after finishing 3rd at Ironman Mont Tremblant. Everyone thought I was crazy doing an Ironman back to back and said I shouldn't do it. I'm glad I took on the challenge. It paid off with being a memorable first Ironman win.
ST: Which of those two courses did you enjoy most?
Matt: They were both evenly challenged. I literally swam, biked and ran the same splits on each course. It was the inaugural race for Mont Tremblant and the 30th and last year of Ironman Canada. Both were beautiful but the history of Ironman Canada being one of the oldest courses makes it special. There is a park with a flower garden and all around the flower garden there are plaques with each male and female winners with their year and winning time. It’s great to be remembered along with a number of Ironman legends. I hope to have a family someday and bring them to Penticton to show them the park.
ST: Your schedule was extremely packed and you raced a ton of events. Will that be the case in 2013 too?
Matt: For the past 4 years I've raced 25+ times. My body is able to absorb it and I can mentally stay in it all year, which is key. Believe it or not I’ll be racing a little less in 2013. I’m also going to be coached for the first time. Janda Ricci-Munn, an ex pro triathlete will be providing me with structured workouts and should take me to the next level. With racing a little less I can focus on training and getting stronger and faster. I have never really trained with structure - I always just go out and ride, run by feel. Don't get me wrong, I train hard and long but I’ve never had structured workouts to help me build. Instead of race, recover, race I will train and build for 6 or more weeks and then race.
ST: What lessons do you think you have learned in 2012?
Matt: That money has little to do with happiness. I think some people can really get wrapped up with chasing the wrong things. I think triathlon brings a certain level of happiness for me. For the past 3 years I've been chasing a dream that has kept my wallet stagnant but I’ve made so many memories with the journeys I've experienced and that is priceless. Life is really short so we need to make the most of it. I’ve met so many remarkable people and hope to be a positive influence on others.
I’ve learned that it is really important to market yourself in order to make a career in this lifestyle I choose. I've had to learn to trust my instincts more. Triathlon is a unique industry, there are no guidelines on how to do things. I've learned some tough lessons this year on the business side and have made some changes for 2013. I’m looking forward to working with some new sponsors and continuing to build on some existing relationships.
ST: With your top 20 in Kona you moved up a few spots from 2011, was that what you had in mind?
Matt: I think everyone hopes to move up a few spots and improve on the previous year so I was happy about that. It comes down to the swim as it really sets you up for the rest of the day. If I had gotten out of the water in under an hour I'd be chasing to get in the top 10. However I was really happy that I finished strong with running a 2:51, which was the 4th fastest run split on a hot day.
ST: I ran into you a few days before the race and you had manufactured a visor for your helmet. How did that all play out?
Matt: I just taped a clear visor to my Rudy Project helmet and it works pretty slick! When I wear sunglasses sweat gets in the lens and it’s difficult to see. The visor does the trick and when I get into T2 I pop on a fresh clean pair of Rudy Project Sunglasses.
ST: What is possible for you in terms of the run?
Matt: In 2012 I was very consistent with running six marathons in the Ironman between 2:51-2:54. Back in 2008 I ran an open marathon in 2:29. I’m still developing as a triathlete and with being coached for this season, I believe I can run in the 2:40’s.
ST: You are right there with your cycling and running strengths, but what about your swim?
Matt: Yes, my strengths are in running and cycling. I ran for the UNH and after college I starting racing duathlons. I have had some success with duathlons and have a few national titles under my belt. I started swimming in 2010 because I wanted to take on a new challenge so I am clearly new to it. When I first started I struggled to swim 50 meters without stopping. I've worked with some swim coaches, Frank Sole out of Scottsdale, AZ and Karlyn Pipes from Kona, Hawaii to clean up my stroke.
ST: How long of a process will that be?
Matt: Hopefully sooner than later. I just have to be patient though. I've been putting in the volume lately with swimming 25-30,000 meters a week. Something I have never done before is put the necessary time in the pool. Last year I was only swimming 10-15,000 meters a week. Hopefully this big winter swim block pays off. I just swam a 3800 meter swim test in 56:10. However a pool is different than open water.
ST: Ironman Cabo is next?
Matt: Yes, looking forward to starting the year off in Cabo. I'll be celebrating my 30th birthday two days after the race there.
ST: Looking back at your resume I found a few snowshoe results. Do you still get to play in that arena?
Matt: I haven't done a shoe-shoe race in a few years. I love challenges when it comes to pushing your body to the limit. In the future I may jump into a few. After a snowshoe race it makes running seem easy.
ST: All well with sponsors?
Matt: I explored a lot of options for 2013. When I was in Kona I talked to a number of agents: Leanda Cave's agent, Andy Potts agent and even Josh Cox. I also chatted with Brett Sutton (Team TBB). The best fit for 2013 will be Team Timex, which I am excited about. I am also partnering up with Destination Kona (triathlon store) and CycloLogic (bike fitting). Continuing with Vim Sports (bike shop), Zico, Endurance Rehab and Extreme Endurance. I don't quiet have a secure running shoe sponsor yet so I'm keeping that option open right now.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Matt: Yes, at the end of the Ironman I always do the Blazeman roll in memory of my mother who passed away from ALS when I was 13. Mike Reilly always mentions Jon Blais. Maybe this year he will mention her as well. :) My mother has played a big part of my life as she taught me to follow to my heart.
For people who would like to follow my journey they can go to MattRussellTri.com