Matt Hanson | Professional Triathlete
5x Ironman Champion/ 4x 70.3 Champion

Murphy’s Law- Kona

90a88fbee81ac8cda1ce8117b73f78d4Saturday was my last official race as an amateur (for a few years at least!). I didn’t go out with the bang I was hoping to…unless you count the sound of tires popping! It took me a few hours to be able to say this, but all-in-all, I had a decent day. I had a PR in the swim, a PR (and the fastest amateur) run split, and I finished 9th in my AG. Settling for a top 10 was no where near where I wanted to be, but I battled some tough adversity on the bike and was able to put up a good run split. It was definitely a learning experience and a test of overall mental toughness.¬† It was ALL I could do to not to give the McKayla Marone “Not Impressed” look for this Finisher Pic


Swim- 1:00:28

Bike- 5:07:33
Run- 2:53:33
Total- 9:07:56

Race Morning

My wife and most of my family were volunteering race morning, so I woke up when they left the condo to get ready to go. My dad dropped Ashley off at the race start then came back to pick me up. I actually slept alright all things considering. I had my typical breakfast (a Naked Fruit Smoothie) and pulled my nutrition together and headed out the door. I got to transition right at 4:45 as it was opening up. I got my bike and nutrition set up with little difficulty, visited the bathroom twice, and got ready to get in the water.

I got in the water pretty early and warmed up for 5 to 10 minutes then made my way to where I wanted to start. I forgot how aggressive people get during the 20 minutes of treading water before the swim start. There is a lot of pushing, elbowing, and jostling for position. The guys on the surf boards are constantly trying to push people in the front back and the people in the back are constantly crowding forward. It is not a fun experience to say the least!

78393e717fbe5632fd754ded75a7be28The swim start caught me a bit off guard. One of the guys on a surf board yelled out “4 minutes before start” and then “Boom!” Everyone took off and it was a mad house for the next 5 minutes. I intentionally tried to stay in the traffic as much as I could, especially on the first half. Tim, my swim coach, convinced me that I’ll be much faster even if I don’t feel if I am swimming as smooth in the wake of the madness than feeling like I am swimming smooth by myself. Anytime I would get tempted to get out of the madness, I just reminded myself that everyone stayed there for a reason, and I should buy in. I swam about as hard as I could for about 300 yards or so, a little longer than I wanted to. The swim catching me off guard made me a little off of where I wanted to be so I pushed a little early on to get there then settled into my pace.

dae922a180a9ca5e210fc7192388c5e3Once I settled in to race pace, I was able to get into a good rhythm and keep it constant for the entire swim. I felt really smooth and was able to keep form for the entire swim. I have put a ton of time working on my swim over the last two months and it really paid off. Tim had me ready to race! I felt great at the turn around point and was picking off quite a few people on the swim back into the pier. I got out of the water and smiled as I looked at my watch. I was 9 minutes faster than I was last time on the big island. I thought I was set up for a great day. That thought would change pretty quickly on the bike.




I ran up the stairs peeled off of my swim skin and threw it in my bike bag. Everything was already on my bike so I made my way to my bike quickly and was off to the Bike Out. I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to due to the congestion of all of the other racers but I made it to the mount line in 2:15.


373ca747f95eb3d54beaaefeab118152The bike leg started out great. I got up the first small hill and got settled in. I passed a few big packs of bikers early on and was pretty much in the passing lane for the first 20 miles. I was averaging a little higher watts than I planned on for the first 20 miles, but I felt great and I was starting to get the sense that the weather was not going to be much of a factor on the day. The conditions were turning out to be perfect! I averaged 27 mph for the first 40 miles (with a slight tail wind). At around 41 miles, I made a rookie mistake. I came up on a group of 5 riders and stayed to the right for a second too long and got boxed in. I wanted to pass the whole group, but I couldn’t move to my left because there was someone sitting there. I was already in the draft zone of the rider in front of me, but I sat up to slow down just long enough to try to get to the left of the entire group to pass. Right as I sat up, the moped showed up and called my number for drafting. I didn’t argue, but I was frustrated. I certainly wasn’t trying to draft, but I did enter the draft zone and drop back so there was nothing I could do. I decided since I was going to have a 4 minute rest in a few miles, it wouldn’t hurt anything to put in a surge to the penalty tent. I pushed the watts up about 15 above my target until I got to the tent. I had never been called for drafting before and was a bit frustrated to have it happen at Kona. I just focused on getting as much fluid and calories in me as I could while I was sitting watching people fly by. I looked at my watch as I was about to leave the tent and was still averaging 26 mph, well above my goal pace so I was still optimistic on the day.


I made it to the climb into Hawi pretty quickly after the penalty. I pushed 270 watts for most of the climb and felt really strong. I was feeling really confident with my training and the plan that Michelle, the coach I work with for the bike and run, helped me set up. Despite the 4 min set back, things were going better than planned and I felt great. I made it up the hill and to the turn around point, which is were things took a turn for the worse. Within a quarter mile of Hawi, my rear tire went flat. I was racing on tubulars for the first time ever. I had a can of Pit Stop with me, so I wasn’t too upset about the flat yet either. I jumped off of the bike and got the tire blown up. I could see a small puncture in the middle of the tread with some ooze coming out. The tire was full, I gave it a quick spin and everything looked good. I hopped back on my bike in just over a minute. Again, this didn’t bother me too much. I was still sitting great and ahead of my goal pace and wattage. I got back up to speed and quickly started passing people on the descent again.


I had to jump off of the bike for a third time about 5 miles later. My front wheel had gone completely flat this time and I almost biffed it on the first turn after the Hawi descent. I jumped off and took a gamble. Instead of changing my tire, I tried to just put some air in the tire and hope that it would make it the last 30 miles. I again hopped on my bike in just over a minute and was on my way. I started to worry a little at this point, but was thinking if the tire would just give me 30 more miles, I was still sitting in a great place and was still ahead of my planned pace. No luck. In about 5 miles, the tire went completely flat again. I jumped off and took off the front wheel. I went to grab my tire lever and it wasn’t there! I had it taped in with the spare tubie I brought but it must have fell out after I removed the first layer of tape holding the can of Pit Stop in. I improvised a bit and unscrewed the valve extender and tried to use that to pry loose some of the glue. It took me about two minutes to get the valve extender underneath the tire and start working away at the glue. I ¬†finally got the tubular off right as the tech wagon showed up. Thankfully I had my spare tubie with me. I actually called coach Michelle the day before the race and asked her if I should just ditch it. I mean, who gets more than 1 flat in a race anyway??? She told me to just keep it on like I planned, which turned out quite helpful (unfortunately!). The tech had a tool and a pump, and got my spare on my bike as I started to work on hydration again. The second tech inspected my wheel and showed me a very similar puncture hold in the middle of the tread. I must have hit the same rock, nail, or tack with both wheels. I finally got moving again but this change was over 10 minutes! If you’re adding, that was more than 17 minutes of sitting motionless on the bike. Not a good recipe for a PR. I really started to get frustrated at this point and even had the thought of just stopping the race because my shots of getting accomplished what I set out to do had just been taken away. The thought was short lived and I jumped back on my bike and began the last 25 mile stretch.

The last 25 miles were actually pretty tough. I was struggling to fight mentally with all that had happened already. The wind had picked up significantly over the last hour and I was a bit on my own on the bike. It was really difficult to keep focused for me, something I really haven’t experienced in a race before. I finally saw the airport and knew I was getting close. I went by the turn to the Energy Lab, and that is where I decided that I was going to do everything possible to salvage my day. I was going to run hard or blow up trying. I made sure my nutrition levels were good as I made my way into T2.

fde2a18e677768f3e2f36e6695f62344I have no idea what I totaled for nutrition and water intake. I stopped paying attention. I just made sure I got my Infinit Napalm in on schedule and downed all of my bottles of Custom Blend that I had with me. Other than that, I just worked to make sure my stomach was full of fluids at all times. I was targeting 245 watts for the ride. I haven’t got the chance to look at my full data yet, but my moving average was 260 watts. I am sure my average was lower than 245 though.






I had another unplanned stop here. I have NEVER had to pee during a race before. I always have balanced my fluid intake so I was uncomfortable, but never so uncomfortable that I actually had to pee. Evidently when you are sitting still for a total of 17 minutes on the bike, your kidneys decide to start back up. I could hardly stand up straight as I was coming off of the bike so I stopped in the Port-a-Pot in transition. I peed for 2 minutes straight! When that finally ended, I made my way through the changing tents and into the run.


d0915cf096604814999ffdde7ebe83b9I started the run like every other race that I had before. I don’t typically look at my watch for a pace for the first few miles. I typically just run on feel for the first 5. Michelle really wanted me to focus on controlling the pace for the first 10 miles, then push it hard the last 5. I was running angry for the first mile and let the pace get a little ahead of where the plan had me. My first mile was a 5:48. I did look at my watch at the 1 mile marker and had a mental battle with myself. I had to force myself to accept the fact that I couldn’t run angry for 26 miles in the heat and humidity. It honestly took me about a mile and a half to make that decision. I dropped to a 6:00 pace while I was having the mini mental war, then forced myself to pull back to a 6:15-6:20 pace. I actually saw Tim on the run course and he yelled out at me to stay focused and salvage what I could out of the day. That snapped everything back and I settled back to the original plan. I held a steady 6:20 pace up through mile 9, then hit the first big hill up Palani. Man did the hill hurt. I realized I was going to have to be smart on the up hills and use the descents and flats to push the pace. I usually struggle more on the down hills at this point in the run, but my hamstrings just weren’t there and my quads felt great. The climb up Palani was at about a 7:15-7:30 pace, I just couldn’t keep any speed. As soon as I turned left onto the highway, the course leveled out and I was able to get back to a 6:30 pace. I did start to feel some cramps sneaking up on me in both calves and quads. I took my 6th salt tabs of the day and decided it was time to switch to Cola for the rest of the run. I was staying with my Napalm with Caffeine every 3 miles plan. My stomach felt pretty calm, so I knew that I would be able to get whatever I needed calorie wise and be alright.

e7501ec0bdcc525d4cdba0371276a362For the first highway stretch, I averaged 6:30s. I was feeling pretty good. At the last stop before the Energy lab, I dumped as much ice down my shorts, grabbed as many sponges as I could, and threw every cup of water on me I could grab. I got into the lab and could see quite a few AGers making their way out. I resisted the urge to be frustrated again and just focused on finishing the final 10 miles strong. I wanted to break 2:55 on the run and was sitting in a great position to do so. I made it to the turn around and grabbed my special needs bag. This was another first, I had never used special needs before. All I had in the bag was two bottles of water. I froze them the night before and threw them in the bag. I took a quick sip of water, and dumped the entire first bottle on my head. It was still ice cold! I carried the other bottle with me for a half mile, took a quick sip of the water after a shot of Napalm and two more Energy Lab ElectroSalts (fitting name given where I was!) then dumped the rest of the water on myself again. I remembered how much I baked in 2011 in the Energy lab and did everything I could to prevent that from happening this year. The slowest mile of the day came as I was trying to climb out of the Lab. Again, I just couldn’t hold the pace. That mile was about a 7:45 but as soon as I crested the hill, I quickly settled back into my 6:30 to 6:40 pace. I was sitting good on time as long as I didn’t blow up on the last few miles.

I hit mile 21 and decided it was time to push it in. I wanted to make sure I gave myself a cushion to break 2:55. The cramps that I had been fighting off for 12 miles started to rear their ugly heads again, but I was determined not to let them show up. I held 6:30s for mile 21 and 22 then slowed to a 6:55 pace for mile 23. I made it a final mini goal not to let the last three be above 7 min pace and I stuck to it. Mile 24 was a 6:50. With 1.5 miles to go, I finally caught a guy I had been trying to chase down for 2 miles. I passed him and he decided he wanted to battle a little and ran with me. I actually really enjoyed it! I had never had to push that hard to the finish. We turned down Palani, but this time gravity was in my favor. I was flying down the hill. I checked my watch once and it showed a 4:05 moving pace…at mile 25 of the marathon! My right hamstring locked up hard on the down hill, but I was moving too fast to even think about trying to slow down. There was no way I could have beat the momentum. The last 1/2 mile was pure pain. I never looked, but I thought the guy was right behind me so I kept the pace up as hard as I possibly could. I saw Tim, my brother and my dad with just under a half mile to go and then the rest of my family right at the gate to the final stretch to the finish. They gave me the last bit of encouragement I needed to push through the chute with a PR of 2:53.

4497c36e9e6ad695c87a59293caf046dThere were a ton of mixed emotions as I crossed the finish line. It definitely wasn’t the surge of joy I felt in 2011. I knew I did everything I could to salvage the day. I ran as hard as I could have. On the flip side, I knew that I didn’t come close to the overall goal that I had coming into the race.

I think I am most frustrated by the fact that it was pretty evident that my fitness was where it needed to be to finish where I set my goals for. I keep returning to the idea that you are dealt a hand of cards for each race and it is up to you to play them as well as possible. Overall, I think I played the cards I was dealt pretty well all things considered. I am still bummed I didn’t get the result that I wanted, but I learned a lot from the race, had a swim and a run PR, and battled through some pretty tough times mentally.

I was so blessed to have the support of my family who made the trip. It was awesome to have some encouragement on the course, I definitely needed it at times.

One Comment

  1. Christopher M

    October 21, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    You did a great job with everything that was under your control! It was cool watching you to go from about 61st after the bike to 9th after the run.

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