Onwards and Upwards for Kat Matthews

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ST: What is your specific perspective of training?

Kat: A very fair follow up to my vagueness in the previous question! Upon reflection perhaps training should not be so specified, and more of a spectrum. My hesitance to accept I am currently training is more of a psychological protection perhaps? To allow myself more time, where recovery is the focus not progressive swim, bike, run overload. I think training would be where I felt I was fulfilling a weekly schedule of sessions and held back by training fatigue not anxiety over pain or overload currently from the incident.

ST: How big of a group were you and what do you still remember from that day?

Kat: I was not cycling in a group at the time of the incident, however there were two friends/parts of the training group also on the same road at the same time. My memory of the morning is intact up until the incident. I had not the best morning, the pressure of Hawaii was rising, I was not feeling my best and I knew the day held some high training expectations. I briefly stopped for a quick gas station iced coffee and it was within 10 minutes after this I must have been hit. I have no recollection of the incident other than perhaps fabricated memories from the witness statements. I was just cycling along the side of the road as usual and without concern for the cars coming on the opposite side of the road (why would I). A driver turned across my direction/lane of the road (to a church car park) and collided with me. I was thrown over the windscreen/side of the car, landing on the road, I believe, clipped into my bike.

ST: Rumor has it that you were quite feisty and somewhat unaware after the crash.

Kat: The rumor is as you and I am told.

ST: What did Patrick Lange say to you after, and it appears that he took it very hard.

Kat: You will have to ask him what he said. I would not comment on how he “took it”.

ST: You were a favorite for the title in Kona, but sadly that all was gone. What emotions were going through your head when it was clear that racing in Kona would have to wait at least another year?

Kat: Sadness, grief. Nothing else, just loss. Loss of the opportunity, loss of the time I had invested, loss for my team, husband, coach, and friends. Oh, and rather a lot of pain, although that was well controlled for most of my memories.
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ST: You ended up traveling to Kona anyhow with a big neck brace and support from friends and your husband. How much effort and pain medication did it take to get you to Kona from Texas?

Kat: Honestly, it was no effort on my part and no increase in pain medication. Mark, my husband, arranged everything. He packed, arranged, drove, coordinated prescription collection, new accommodation plan etc. I kept my original flight plans, car hire. It was easier to go to Hawaii than it would have been to arrange new travel plans home for us and for my training partner Ruth Astle. I was comfortable and well supported. It was much more fun than dealing with the situation, sulking, going home. I slept a lot on the travel and the energy of the Island saved my morale, I think.

ST: A positive morale while not easy to have, likely helped here.

Kat: Of course, a positive morale helps in any life situation. To activate a positive moral, you need a strong support network as well as the mental agility. I was in the best possible situation to enable this, surrounded by friends and understanding, supportive peers in the sport. I mean, a holiday in Hawaii is not exactly a hardship many would struggle with!

ST: Your friend and team-mate Chelsea Sodaro ended up with a fantastic win in the women’s race. Where were you during that race and what did you say to her after?

Kat: So, so happy for her. I was moving around, I spent time in the race center, in the commentary booth, in the AC of the hotel and chatted with Chelsea’s parents. I did not see her on the day after the race and would not have wanted to encroach on her family time celebrating but Mark and I did spend the evening with her and her family later in the week basking in her success.

ST: Did you spend as much time out during the men’s race where Maxxy Neumann had a superb day too.

Kat: Honestly, I spent more time out during the Men’s race. At that stage in my recovery 2 days made a big difference to my fatigue levels. I also found the later stages of the Women’s race emotionally challenging because I found myself putting myself in the race scenario. However, I could just fully enjoy the Men’s race with my friends and just cheer! We positioned ourselves well, right outside Lava Java, enabling excellent breaks for their iced coffees when required!
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ST: How much time did you spend there in total and what is occupying you now?

Kat: I spent the full planned 10 days there. The last few days after the Men’s race did drag a little but they were planned as I would have hoped to be recovering myself. I couldn’t really enjoy the fun adventurous parts of the island as I was still very restricted in my activity levels and energy.

“Occupying” sounds rather sad. I am a professional athlete and what occupied me a few months ago and what occupies me now is really identical, 14 waking hours of the day to optimize performance. My level of performance is obviously reduced and so training structure, duration etc is changed. The other elements are all there; focus on appropriate fueling, appropriate training/progression, appropriate recovery/rest, admin, studying, planning… etc .

ST: What is a typical training week for you like and how much of it is generally indoors versus outside?

Kat: I am assuming you mean prior to the incident. I do not have a typical training week. I feel us pros are constantly trying to dispel this myth of typical because that is the nature of elite sport, adaptation and flexibility. I swim 5x, bike 5x and run maybe 3x. Perhaps. These sessions vary from 45mins- 3.5hrs. Under my coach, Bjorn Geesman, I often do a 3-4 day training block and then a day off.

I have barely trained indoor in 2022, although I will be doing so over the next 2 months more due to the weather and the reduced requirement to go away on a training camp as it is easier to optimize the load at home at the moment.

ST: And what is your indoor setup like?

Kat: I have a treadmill from Zwift, and also a team turbo trainer set up ready to go. A small fan, headphones and easy reach to my phone for moments of boredom. Scattered around the house I have a lacrosse ball (for some trigger point massage), a foam roller and currently different colors of Theraband to entice me into some quick rehab post incident, not normal. If I feel the need to do strength work, I will go to the gym. I can’t motivate myself at home to do home based sessions or any core etc.
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ST: Looking back at the sub-8 challenge, that was quite something in terms of speed and execution and it seems that day was super memorable for you also.

Kat: Yep, It was. I considered the opportunity to do it very seriously and looking back I can’t believe I even had to think about it. I did not expect it to be such an incredible experience. The team element to achieve something never achieved before really motivated me.

ST: Do you think more is possible?

Kat: With regards to the time, of course, more is always possible. I had raced St George IMWC just 4 weeks before, I was the limiter on the swim, bike and the run. We could do it every section faster in theory. My interest from the Sub8 project lies not with a repeat similar situation but fulfilling the boundaries broken in a real race, where I go Sub8 solo. I had considered racing IM Cozumel this year after Kona to do exactly this [makes sad face]. I fear I will be beaten to it perhaps.

ST: Well, folks had the opportunity to do that in Cozumel before.

Kat: True, but I believe it is not just a barrier broken for one person. When barriers are broken it opens the opportunity to all to now see what is possible. However, I think my run really solidifies my ability to be a fast IRONMAN distance triathlete, being able to run a 2:40-something off the bike I think is a key part of the ongoing Sub8 challenge, only a couple of Ladies have shown that yet. I’d like to add that this idea of a record attempt is only a small motivator for me. It is main competition - the IM World Champs that really drives me, not chasing a TT.
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ST: Let us also talk about St. George. You ended up behind Ryf on this challenging course, but you gave notice with a very fine result against tough competition.

Kat: I was unwell a month before St George. I arrived in the USA hoping I was totally physically recovered and I was able to put in some training sessions in the 2 weeks prior to the race. I had a lot of confidence from my race in 70.3 Lanzarote - 6 weeks before St George and knew that if I could perform to my potential on race day I would win. Daniela had an outstanding race and I was more pleased for her that she was healthy and fit than I was at all negative about being beaten. I think it showed me and perhaps others, that even on a bad day where I under-performed on the bike (personal data) and run, I can be competitive and that I can win.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Kat: Coming from a Physiotherapist background I can’t imagine anyone else in a better position to deal with this multi-faceted high trauma injury. My mental health fluctuates day to day, but over the week my steadfastness in optimism is overarching.

ST: Did you not just receive a big honor?

Kat : I was shortlisted, along with 3 other highly successful Army athletes, to be considered for The British Army; SportsWoman of the Year. I believe the results were decided a few weeks ago (so regardless of the bike incident) but I was announced live on stage this week as the winner for 2022. The 2nd at the IMWC and the Sub8 success were large parts of the award win. I have been involved in Army Sport for the last 8 years, since joining the Army, starting triathlon and climbing through the sport. The award recognizes success at any sport, of which the Army participates in basically every sport. So it truly is a real honor! I am mainly rewarded by the amount of my military peers reassuring me that it was a deserved win and how important my role was for all in Army Sport as a role model.

ST: That is fantastic.
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