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

Ironman World Championships – Race Report

This might be the record for the longest it’s taken me to put my thoughts down about the day post race. Needless to say, I didn’t get the result that I was hoping for out of this race. I frequently get asked what my expectations are going into a race. My response is always the same: Execute a clean race plan. Coach Julie and I work together leading into each race to put together the best plan based off of who is racing, my current fitness, and my strengths. I felt like Julie put together a great build for me and we put together a solid plan for race day. Unfortunately,  I wasn’t able to execute the plan.

This was my 4th attempt at Kona. I’d say I executed the game plan well once…and of course it was the first time I was on the island as a naive newcomer to the sport. I prepared much more specifically for the race this year. I made two 10 day trips to Kona to train during throughout year. I went to Tucson to get some heat prep at the end of September, then went straight to Kona 10 days before the race to get the final heat prep. I knew the course, knew how brutal the conditions would undoubtably be, and was very happy with my fitness. The one problem…about 2 weeks before race day, I started feeling a little off. Just before leaving for Kona, I accepted the fact that I was dealing with a bit of an UR virus but was confident I had plenty of time to kick it during the taper. It lingered…and lingered…and lingered. Wednesday before the race, I saw a doc in Kona who basically said there wasn’t much I could do, just had to let the virus run its course. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Looking back, the URI that I was dealing with likely affected me more than I would have cared to admit possible leading into the race. I’ve cramped early in a race before, but never experienced the issues that I did during the race in the past.

Race Morning 
I did the usual race morning, woke up 3 hours pre race and had 2 servings of First Endurance Ultragen. I went back to bed for 30 min and got up and had Ashley drop me off at the transition area. Everything was there waiting for me so I was able to quickly get everything ready to race. I went for a jog, and was the first guy to get in line for the swim warm up. In 2015, I made the mistake of not warming up enough. I managed the start well, but wasn’t able to hold pace after a few 100 yds. This year I took a long and slow warm up, spending 25 minutes in the water getting ready for the race.

Swim – 51:22
I got off to a great start and managed the pace well. I was swimming hard, but didn’t overextend myself at the beginning like I have some races in the past. When things settled down, I found myself about 5 people from the back of the big front group. I was swimming hard, no doubt about it, but I never felt like I wasn’t going to be able to hold on to the group. I managed the surges at both turns and settled back in on the return trip to the pier. At the 5th buoy on the way back, so roughly 3k, my body decided that it wasn’t happy with me. My lats, my glutes, my hamstrings, and my calves all cramped up at once. It was a miserable feeling as the 5 guys who were behind me swam over the top of me as I flopped around trying to make any movement resembling a swim stroke. I finally got things to settle down a bit, but the group was long gone at that point. I swam the last 1k on my own but still made it to the pier with probably the best Ironman swim I’ve ever had. I have come so far in the swim since starting as a pro, so looking back on the day, this was a huge confidence builder for me.

T1 –
I got through transition with no issue, the cramps had gone away as I was running but my HR seemed through the roof. I grabbed my bike and quickly started off trying to chase the group of 30 or so guys that was about 90 seconds in front of me.

Bike – 4:40:45 
This definitely was not the bike that I wanted or am capable of. The early miles of the bike, my power was a little low and my hr was very high. I kept on telling myself that it would settle down and just keep grinding. My HR never dropped, I had my highest ever 60 minute and 90 minute HR with quite low power. I was taking in my EFSpro and water as often as I could, but my stomach just wasn’t feeling right. My power drifted further and further down with my HR staying in the same range. When Ifinally got to the turn around in Hawi, I decided that I needed to change something. I didn’t feel like my body was absorbing anything that I was taking in, I felt full but felt drained at the same time. I thought maybe a little caffeine could help out, so I took in coke at a few of the aid stations. Obviously, not the smartest move to change up my nutrition plan in the race….or to think that taking caffeine would help my HR settle down…but I was desperate. I had a few short sections where all of the sudden there was some power in the legs, but they were too few and too far between. My quads and calves were cramping for about 80% of the ride and I couldn’t figure out any way to make them relax.

When I finally got back to transition, I tried to remain positive. I didn’t have a good bike, but there was still hope that I could put together a decent result if I could run the way I have in the past. I was limping badly off the bike due to the cramps, so I took my time in transition. The volunteers were great with getting me water, cold towels, and even forced me to talk to medical. I finally limped out the tent and started to run.

Run – 3:23:58 
This is officially my slowest run ever in an ironman…including my age grouper days. I was badly limping for the first 1/2 mile because my calf was completely locked up but I was actually moving at a decent pace. Then, all of the sudden everything relaxed and I was able to settle in to my run form and pace. I was really excited and hopeful that I was going to be able to put together a good run. I got to the 5 mile turn around and was feeling ok, but as soon as I slowed down to turn, everything locked up again. I fought to hold form as I ran to Palani, but going up the hill things just fell apart. I started walking through the aid stations and tried to run between. As I got to the energy lab, my hamstrings started to lock up and would allow me to take any meaningful stride. I was slowing down to a shuffle. The last 2 miles were completely miserable. Everything was cramping and I had been out on the course for almost an hour longer than usual. I was definitely disappointed runnding down Ali’i drive but still found my family who were cheering wildly for me as always as I made my way to the finish line.

Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media |

Overall – 9:02:04 
As mentioned above, this wasn’t the showing I had hoped for but it was still a great learning experience. I’ve been asked why I finished quite a few times since race day. Many people just pulled out to save their legs for a later date. Honestly, that thought never crossed my mind. Not once. After crashing in Kona in 2015 and being forced to DNF, there was no way that I was going to choose not to cross the finish line. Also, when things are going their worst you can often learn the most. I learned a great deal from this race that will help me on future trips to the big island. I still feel that I have all the tools that it takes to win a World Championship. This is a multi-year process and this was just another step in the right direction.



  1. Dave Howard

    December 31, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Sorry to hear about your tough race. Much respect for gutting it out though!
    I total get why a Pro may drop when things arn’t going “just right” but I do believe the fans and AG athletes appreciate when the “heroes” fight to the end. As I have graduated from an ‘Ol CD0.1 to a fancy PR6 Di2 – and have raced in some windy conditions (particularly IMAZ this year) I believe the PR6 seems superior at big yaw angles of wind vs several of the newer “superbikes” even with a rear disc. Not sure If you can concur (I’m 20-21MPH IM rider so may be more relative angle to me)

    Heres to your success in 2018 in life and Tri!

    • Matt

      January 1, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Hi Dave, Thanks for the comment. Yes, the PRsix performs great in crosswinds. I’ll be taking a trip to the wind tunnel early this year so I’ll have come concrete numbers to share. Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *