Matt Hanson | Professional Triathlete
3x Ironman Champion/ 2x 70.3 Champion

Ironman World Championships: School of Hard Knocks

This is most definitely the hardest race report that I’ve ever had to put together. I’ve spent a great deal of time since the race just trying to process everything that happened during the day and during the week. It goes without saying that this was not the race nor the trip that I was looking to have. Still, this result is only a failure if I learn nothing from it.

repeatsI arrived in Kona 6 days before the race. As most know, I did all of my ‘Heat Acclimation’ in The Woodlands, Texas where I spent all September preparing for the race. I was happy with my final build, however I can’t say it was the flawless build that I had leading IMTX. I had a number of disruptions in training the final 6 weeks, some were in my control and some were not. Regardless, both Coach David and Coach Tim got me to race day physically feeling as good as I ever had. I was the strongest I had ever been in all three disciplines leading into the race and am extremely disappointed that I wasn’t able to express this on race day.

I woke up race morning at 3:00 a.m. and had my typical pre-race breakfast: 2 servings of First Endurance Ultragen. I went back to bed for another hour, woke up and threw on my Kiwami Spider and went out the door around 4:45. I quickly got my transition area set up and got my tires aired and took care of all of my special needs. After waiting quite a bit longer than I hoped to for the portapot, I was a bit later than planned to turn in my morning clothes, put on my Huub swim skin and get in the water. I was in the water 10 minutes prior to the gun, but I would have liked to have had at least 5 more minutes to warm up. This was the shortest I have ever spent warming up for a race…and it was supposed to be the biggest race in my career to date. Live and learn.

IMG_4820 (1)I lined up exactly where Tim and I planned and waited for the gun. I felt focused and a bit amped up. In hind sight, perhaps a bit too amped up. In reflection, I think I over swam for the first 200 yards. At the first Buoy, I was in the top 10, by the second buoy, I was right in the middle of the main pack…which is where I wanted to be. At the 6th buoy, I fell off the back of the second pack and the third pack was a bit off to the side and I wasn’t able to get to it before they passed me by as well. Talk about a lonely swim. I swam to the first turn and was still pretty focused. I made the mistake of turning behind me at the turn and only saw 3 guys swimming behind me. This is where my focus and confidence was shattered. I spent a few hundred yards swimming with so many negative thoughts in my head. The chop was beating me up pretty bad on the way back in, likely because my hips dropped in the water as soon as my focus drifted. There is just no place for negative thoughts in a race like this. The mental component is definitely an area needing continual refinement. About 200 yards after the final turn back to shore, the other guys caught up to me. I decided to just drop back and hang on their feet rather than pull them the entire way in. This was the worst swim I’ve had since my first year in the sport. I am swimming so much better than this, I am so much better than I showed in this race. I’ll keep working with Tim to figure out how to consistently execute in the swim portion of races.

T1 was pretty flawless, I was the first out of the pack of 4 guys that I came in with onto the bike. My legs felt good, my power was right where I wanted it to be. I was frustrated with my swim, but didn’t for a second think that my day was over. I was 6 minutes down from the chase pack, but I felt like I was prepared to bridge a gap with an early effort if need be. David and I have worked to be able to deal with whatever happens in the swim on the bike so I left T1 fairly positive…at least really happy to be out of the water. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but was confident in my bike fitness. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see if I was where I thought I was.

IMG_2249The ride was cut quite a bit shorter than planned. I knew Palani was really the only technical section of the bike. I have raced the course twice before and wasn’t really that concerned about the “hot corner.” Unfortunately, as soon as I started to brake about 1/2 way down the hill, I had a mechanical issue (I’m working with the company to figure out exactly what happened so that is all on this for now). I spent about 200 yards knowing I was going to crash…not a fun feeling. I hit the metal barriers at 46.2 mph according to my garmin. I careened along the barrier and ended up running into a Police Officer who was directing traffic on the corner. I jumped up quickly and tried to assess the situation. My shiny new QR PRsix was completely destroyed. The Police Officer was lying flat on his back. This might have been the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Two of my Woodlands friends who saw the crash ran over to me and started to check me over, calm me down, and somehow a neutral bike showed up pretty quickly. I wasn’t in a ton of pain right away, likely due to the huge adrenaline rush that I had. As the techs were getting the neutral bike ready for me, I went over to apologize profusely to the Police Officer. I had a seriously awful feeling that I ended up hurting someone else, especially someone who was there trying to ensure that we had a safe day. He was standing and moving around before I left, which made me feel a bit better about the situation (I did later find out that he suffered a concussion, but was going to be ok). I got on the neutral bike and tried to push on. I quickly realized that I couldn’t hold on to the bike with my right hand. Every bump was sheer agony. I kept thinking “just get to the Queen K, the roads are smooth there.” I tried to focus on just pedaling. I had no power and no place to mount my GPS, so I rode by feel. Surprisingly, despite some nasty road rash on my hip and elbows, my Kiwami suit remained in good condition so I didn’t have to worry about giving the crowd more than they planned on seeing.

Men15KonaBike21

Photo Credit: Herbert Krabel of Slowtwitch

I made it up Palani and at that point I was just focusing on getting to the finish line. I have never had a DNF before. I had so many friends and family who came a long way to watch the race, and I did not want them to see me experience my first. The Queen K turned out to be a very lonely place for me. Obviously, I was well behind all of the men. I caught a few females along the way, but for the most part it was just me and the road. The pain was getting worse and worse and my wrist was swelling more and more. The race band on my wrist started to cut off the circulation to my hand. I couldn’t shift the bike or grip the handle bars with my right hand at all. This meant that there was no way I could take in any nutrition as well. I was determined to try to get to the finish line, but the winds picked up and I wasn’t able to control the bike with just one arm. It was getting to the point where it was dangerous for me to continue. I couldn’t imaging riding down from Hawi with those tail winds and just one arm, so I decided that I needed to withdraw for safety reasons. I got off the bike at an aid station around mile 40 and immediately broke down. That is not a feeling I ever want again.

My thoughts as I was riding down the Queen K in extreme pain were definitely not positive. I kept focusing on the sacrifices I made to prepare for the race, most notably being away from my wife for 5 weeks to put myself in the best environment for training. To walk away from the race with “nothing to show” was absolutely devastating. It took me a while to get there, but there are things that I can learn from so when I return to the island I will be stronger and more prepared.

Soooo…take home lessons from the experience. The things that make this situation more than just “coming away with nothing.”

1) I need to continue to work on the mental mindset, especially while swimming.

2) I need to improve my bike handling skills. Yes, I had a mechanical which resulted in me not being able to slow down enough. However, I panicked when I was flying down the hill towards the barrier. If I had better bike handling skills, perhaps I could have made the curve, maybe I would have kept my cool and figured out a way. Need to fix this.

QR Bike Check3) With a rare exception, my sponsors care about me as a person just as much as they do as me as an athlete. Many of the people I work with found me right after the race, or reached out to me in some way. I really appreciated this. I do need to thank Quintana Roo from the bottom of my heart for their level of service throughout the entire week. I had a small issue during the week with my bike and the good people at QR spent a great deal of time making sure everything was ready to go. They took my bike apart after the wreck and were able to show me where and why the mechanical issue occurred (definitely not in any way QRs responsibility). They made me feel every bit the rock star that they did after IMTX and it reminded me why I love working with them so much.

4) I can only control the process. Hopefully if I stick to the plan, the results will figure themselves out. However, sometimes crap happens. This race reminded me the reasons that Coaches Tim and David always push me to focus on Process. Process….Process…Process

One final note. I was listening to the radio while driving to a swim one morning while in The Woodlands and heard the quote: Your profession is not your purpose but your platform to show your true purpose. I am a triathlete. I want to be World Champion and I will do everything in my power to make that a reality. When it comes down to it, I am not the one that will determine if this goal will ever come to fruition.  All I can do it make sure I am using every race, and for that matter every day, to live out my true purpose. If I can do this, I will have a successful career regardless if I am able to meet my performance goals or not. I am anxious to move forward and get on the next start line possible. I’ll get my arm checked out on Monday, but as long as all is well, I’m planning on finding my way to IMAZ.

14 Comments

  1. Jeff Sternman

    October 15, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    You say “They took my bike apart after the wreck and were able to show me where and why the mechanical issue occurred”…..curious as to what was the cause. Can you elaborate?

    • Matt

      October 15, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Hey Jeff. At this point, I am holding off on giving the details of what happened. I want to square everything away with the company first. Will give a full report in due time. Thanks for reading.

  2. Chuck Rosenbaum

    October 15, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Great write up Matt! Keep inspiring!!

  3. Chris

    October 15, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Great write up Matt and thanks for sharing the lessons. Keep your head up!!

  4. laura norton

    October 15, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for posting your experiences; I’m so sorry crap happened. I’ll be watching for your future successes!

  5. Tanner

    October 15, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    You showed your true self in defeat. The way you handled yourself in extreme adversity says a lot about you as a person and your work ethic. That first instinct to check on the officer shows your true colors my friend. And your ability to push aside the pain to try and finish when many others would have not even hopped back on the bike proves to me that you have a bright future in Ironman. You will reach all your goals, stay humble and keep working hard. Hope you have a speedy recovery!

  6. Armando

    October 15, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Great race report. Your humility shows in the way you describe your experience. I DNF’d IMTX, my first IM, because of my own hydration mistakes and was devastated as well. Reading your report takes some of the sting out of the experience. Good luck in your recovery!

  7. Brad

    October 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Great write-up Matt. It must have been a dark few days after the race but I’m glad you have the positive vibe going. I’m not surprised that your sponsors responded like they did. They know they have an exciting long term partner in you and that you have many great things to come.

  8. Khurram Khan

    October 15, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Matt,

    I can only imagine what you went through during this whole process. I was following you very closely during the race and as the commentators would say your name I got really excited. They commentators had some really nice stuff to say about you. Nonetheless you gave it all your best during training and I guess this was just meant to happen. We all learn from our mistakes and move on and ensure we don’t repeat. That’s all what life is about. Look forward to seeing you again when you make your way down to Woodlands. Hope you recover soon from your injury.

  9. Payton

    October 15, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Matt, you’re absolutely one of the most stand-up guys I know. You’re attitude and fortitude through this experience is inspiring and I know all of us can’t wait to see you toe that start line again. Keep being the kind of man you are and your legacy will live far beyond just the roads of Kona.

  10. Brian dela Cruz

    October 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    I admire your attitude Matt. Humble and hungry.

  11. Cathy Fitzhenry

    October 16, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Matt, I can only read this and can only imagine how tough of a journey this experience was for you. Life is curriculum, continually giving us lessons. Should we fail a lesson, life will deliver the lesson again and those who embrace the lesson as a learning opportunity usually pass only to rise to new lessons. Those who embrace the journey of learning both emotionally and tactical are the ones’ that lead their field. I can’t wait to see you rise above it all, master the setbacks and reset your success. You are very inspiring –keep the faith! I look forward to your future success and the thrills!

  12. Francesca

    October 17, 2015 at 3:50 am

    I was standing at hot corner when you crashed. It looked awful and I couldn’t believe you were walking around after it, especially given the condition of your bike. I was impressed with the care and attention you gave to police officer – not all athletes would have done that. I’m sorry you couldn’t finish out the day but I’m glad you didn’t sustain more injuries. Best of luck at your next race!

  13. Fred

    October 17, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for sharing! Praying that your arm is okay and will be cheering for you from afar at IMAZ!

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