Catching up with Matt Tambellini after Ironman Maryland

Last weekend, one of the athletes I coach raced his A race – Ironman Maryland. His goal was to hit a time of under 11 hours, with his previous Ironman time at 11:40. We worked together for three months with a plan that integrated the strength training and Bikram yoga he enjoyed, as well as workouts to fit around his busy travel schedule.

Empire Tri Club posted a blog recap of Matt’s race and an interview with him and me about our experience. Matt was an awesome athlete to coach – he was intentional about his training, very open to feedback and suggestions, and he asked a lot of questions, which showed me that he was truly invested in his training.

Below is the interview from the Empire blog – spoiler alert: HE CRUSHED IT.

Here’s the post:

Matt Tambellini is living proof of what a year of hard work and focus can do for your race. The 33-year-old finance worker from NJ has been competing in triathlons since 2010, but got serious about the sport in 2012. After a few years of sprint & olympic tri’s, Matt signed up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2013 (his first full distance tri). He hit his goal of going sub-12 hours (11:40 to be exact), but had a self-proclaimed “awful run” and knew knew he could do a lot better. He joined Empire Tri Club about a month after his race, and started working with Empire Coach Chris Mosier in the months leading up to IM Maryland on Sept 20, 2014.

Matt’s results at Ironman Maryland are astonishing. Not only did he beat his Personal Best by 1 hour 15 minutes – but he also crushed his 11 hour goal-time that he set for himself (10:26)!

We caught up with Matt and his coach Chris this week to learn more…
[E]: Empire Tri Club
[M]: Matt Tambellini
[C]: Chris Mosier

[E]: Matt, tell us a little bit about your athletic background.

[M]: I’ve always played a lot of sports…baseball was my main sport growing up. I played competitively through college.

[E]: What goals did you set for IM Maryland? Anything in particular that enticed you to sign up for this race?

[M]: My main goal was sub-11. Timing was the most important factor when signing up for the race. Late season and relatively close to home made IM MD a no-brainer.

[E]: How did your training for this Ironman differ from the past Ironman?

[M]: I worked with a coach (Chris Mosier) for the three months leading into IM Maryland…I didn’t really follow a program leading up to CDA so obviously this experience was much different.

[E]: What did you find most beneficial in working with a coach?

[M]: The mix of speed and interval work, combined with consistent check-ins and encouragement from Chris were definitely the most beneficial aspects of working with a coach.

[E]: Chris, anything in particular that you think helped Matt during his training?

[C]: Matt was successful in part because of his commitment to strength training. He maintained regular once or twice a week functional strength sessions all the way up to his taper week, which helped his core and muscular endurance in his race.

[E]: How did you two communicate & stay on track?

[C]: Matt and I had weekly phone calls, which helped me keep track of his progress and modify his schedule when he was traveling for work. He had a pretty busy schedule but he really made the commitment to hit his workouts, stay on top of his nutrition, and prioritize rest. He was open to new ideas in his training and he trusted the plan.

[E]: What was the biggest challenge you faced going into this race?

[M]: I cramp a lot…so my biggest challenge was sticking to nutrition and hopefully avoiding cramps. I knew I was trained enough to him my goal, but cramping was one thing that could put it in jeopardy.

[E]: Do you get nervous before big events? Any rituals/superstitions to help ease your nerves?

[M]: I was incredibly nervous before this race…it was all I thought about for the month leading up to it. A little bit of meditation and a lot of sunflower seed chewing helped me ease my nerves.

[E]: Did your race go according to “Plan”? At any point did you feel like you hit the wall? How did you get through those tough parts?

[M]: My race was a bit different than planned. The swim, which is usually my easiest discipline, was much more challenging than I thought. The bike was much faster than I could have imagined and the run was pretty much according to plan. There were definitely some points on the run that I felt like a wall was coming, but I think mental toughness (and a little bit of cola) was the key to getting through it.

[E]: One of the most frequent questions we get asked is how to fuel properly for an Ironman. What was your nutrition plan? How’d it go?

[M]: I thought a LOT about nutrition given my past cramping ailments…my plan was at least 300 calories/hour on the bike along with salt pills and a consistent dosage of salt/electrolytes every 10-15 minutes on the run. It worked pretty well as cramps were minimal.

[E]: What was your first meal post-race!?

[M]: I wanted nothing more than a calzone after the race! Every topping you can think of!

[E]: Any friends / family / teammates you want to thank for supporting you during your race / training?

[M]: Definitely a big thank you to Chris. There’s no doubt that my experience wouldn’t have been nearly as good without his guidance. Caitlin Alexander also deserves a shout out as she helped motivate me on many a Saturday morning for early morning bike rides. Last but not least, thanks to Sara Hunninghake for introducing me to Normatecs!!!

[E]: Looking ahead, what are your plans for next season? Will you be signing up for another Ironman? Any goals for your next race?

[M]: Next season I’d like to connect with the team more and compete in a team-sponsored 70.3. My goal will be to break 5 hours, as I haven’t broken that in the half distance yet.

[E]: Chris, you must be very proud as a coach. Any last thoughts?

[C]: Matt was the type of athlete every coach would love to have: he was goal-oriented, gave me great feedback, and asked a lot of questions. I couldn’t be prouder of Matt – he worked very hard for those results and it was great to have him exceed his goals.

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HITS Naples 140.6 race report – race and results

 Race Day
I woke up at 4:55 am and had a bagel with peanut butter, honey, and banana, along with a cup of coffee and water. I double checked my nutrition, filled my bottles, put on my chip, and we were out the door around 6 am to get to transition, which was 5 miles away.

The traffic leading up to transition was stopped, because it was one road leading to a parking garage and an outdoor lot. I got out of the car and walked with my stuff the last quarter mile or so. Actually, I jogged straight to the portapotty, and then into transition for body marking. I set up transition, which did not have racks for bikes; the bike tire gets racked in a low bin make out of wood. This makes for bins near the tires for extra items, which was great for putting my wetsuit in and out of the way during T1. I put my wetsuit on halfway, grabbed my goggles, cap and Aquaphor, and head towards the beach as they closed transition at 6:40 am. After a few more rest stops, I put my cap on, put Aquaphor on my neck, wrists, and ankles, and zipped up. The race director did the final speech, and we all went towards shore. The race was both half distance and full distance athletes starting at the same time: 70.3 did one loop of the swim, and 140.6 did two loops.

The Swim (1:15:00, 20th place)
My goggles are not great. I have not been able to find a goggle that fits my narrow face without sucking my eyeballs out. The ones I was using, TYR Nano, would have worked okay… but when I put them on I still have a bit of Aquaphor on my hand, which made it impossible to see out of the lenses. I calmly found a spectator in a t-shirt on the shore and asked him to clean them for me, as my wetsuit wasn’t going to help me much. Thank you, kind sir! I went into the water and popped down to get water in my suit. The water temperature was perfect both before and during the swim. Not too cold, but no overheating either. As I fixed my goggles, the gun went off and the race started. This was not at all concerning to me, as I am totally fine with taking off in the swim whenever. I’m finding that I don’t need to start as far back as typically have, but I do not need to be on the front line for a swim. I started off calmly and without problem.

This was, without question, my best swim ever. Lake Placid might be my favorite swim ever because of the underwater cord, but in terms of my physical and mental performance, this was my best. I did swim off course a bit, but I also did all of the swim alone, without drafting, as there just weren’t enough people. I did single side breathing most of the time, stayed in a comfortable breathing pattern, and switched sides occasionally, particularly when the sun came up on the second loop. After the first loop I had to run up on the sand (only about three feet) and go around the buoy. I wished for some water to drink after the first loop but there was none. After a few high fives, it was back in the water with myself and the other full athletes, and off again. I adjusted my goggles and got a few extra breaths in, and took off again. I was focused on kicking and pulling, and spent the swim focusing on my form.

T1 (2:52)
I came out of the water alone and started running the quarter mile to transition as I stripped my wetsuit. Once near transition there were real wetsuit strippers. I ran into transition and saw a LOT of bikes. Usually about half are gone by the time I’m in, but most were still there. I knew I had a decent swim. I tried to put some spray sunblock on but could not get the nozzle to open, so I abandoned it quickly. I forgot a towel to dry my feet, so I used my morning shirt and then put my socks and shoes on. I put my race belt on backwards (on purpose), helmet on and clipped, sunglasses in my mouth, and ran out and across the street to mount my bike.

The bike (5:30:28, 4th fastest)
I had a solid plan: ride easy for the first 30 miles, more steady for the next 30, faster for 60-90, and easier for 90-112. In theory this is great, but I know that the 80 to 90 mile segment has historically felt like it was hours long, so it would be difficult to do. I started passing people within the first 5 miles of the ride, but some were 70.3 athletes, which I could tell from their race numbers.

At mile 5, I passed my wife, who wore an orange shirt (perfect for sighting!). I yelled to her for some sunblock on my way back, but I knew I would be fried by that time. She rang the cowbell and yelled, and I was gone. I passed more people from mile 10 to 28, where the half athletes turned around, until I was mostly alone. The wind was about 15 to 20 miles per hour, and switched direction frequently, which was confusing. I took in only water until mile 15, when I took an EFS shot.

My bike nutrition was three flasks of First Endurance EFS liquid shots (1200 calories), to be supplemented with on course drinks. The EFS shots worked very well for me in training, particularly on my Knighthood ride, and did not cause stomach distress, which had been a problem for me at Ironman Lake Place 2012. I had one bad drink at the first stop (they mixed the recovery drink instead of the electrolyte drink, noticeable to me by taste, so I tossed it) and I had one missed drink handoff before the halfway point. I did not finish the one bottle of their electrolyte drink, but I did finish my three flasks of First Endurance EFS shots. The final flask was a mixture of the EFS liquid shot and half serving of PreRace, to make a sort of rocket fuel for the run. I wanted to make sure my stomach would be okay before taking this. To my surprise, I felt great on the entire ride, despite the heat and excessive sweating. I did not make any bathroom stops, which was slightly concerning.

The course was an out and back, so I could see the leaders as I approached the halfway point. The 1, 2, and 3 guys were a good distance ahead and I knew I would not catch them. But I was surprised to count off 4, 5, 6, 7 and then the guy in front of me at the turn, putting me in 8th place at the halfway point. I passed 8 and 7 within a mile of the turnaround, and kept a steady pace. I kept repeating to myself that I had to “stay within myself,” meaning not exert any extra energy at this point, and that the goal was to put together a solid run after this, which helped me keep the cadence high and steady. I passed the number 6 guy about 28 miles out, and stayed in 5th place until T2.

T2 (1:28, fastest T2)
I knew I could chop huge chunks of time off my PR with faster transitions. I At mile 107 I passed my wife again and got sunscreen, so I had to put some on before the run. I dismounted, ran to my rack, swapped my shoes, squirted a ton of sunscreen in my hands and on my arms, and ran out dripping white. I rubbed it in as I ran.

The run (4:03:36, 4th fastest)
2014-01-11 17.40.32There were no clocks so I had no idea what my race time was at this point. I ran out steady, knowing that I have a tendency to run out too fast and slow down. I wanted an even pace for the race, and I knew that if I could keep running, I’d likely stay in the top 5 because it was so hot that most of the runners around me were walking and holding side cramps. This was the case with the number 4 guy, who I passed around mile 3. At the turn around at mile 6.55 I used the portapotty, and at the mile 7 rest stop I sat to put vasoline on my left foot, which developed a hot spot during the bike segment. At that time, a volunteer poured ice water on my head – it was wonderful, except that my left shoe got soaked. I ran away with a squish-squish-squish in my left shoe. I passed the two guys behind me around then, noting that they were about a mile back. It would have taken a very strong marathon effort to pass me, but I had to make sure to keep my pace up. I stopped again at mile 9 aid s

At the turnaround near the finish line, they told me I was in 5th place. I was confused because I was passing people on the run who I wasn’t sure was part of the full race. I was happy with 5th, and took off again. I chose not to do a special needs bag, but I would in the future put a pair of socks in there.tation to ring out my left sock and blot my left shoe to take up some of the water. I had one gel here, my first of the run.

The second half marathon was steady, and I focused on mile by mile progress. I didn’t walk at all, except the length of the tables at the aid stations. I drank a little coke at every other table. Around mile 14, my stomach started making a sloshy popping noise, so I backed off the liquid, even though my body said it wanted more. I think the heat – it was 85 degrees with no shade – was telling me I should continue to drink. I didn’t have any more until mile 20, when I had a second gel.

On the way back for my final 10K of the race, I kept a steady pace. At that point I knew the 1, 2, and 3 guys were too far ahead of me to catch. I was on track to finish just around my goal time of 11 hours, when I saw my wife about 2 miles out. I asked what time it was and she said 5:40, meaning I had 20 minutes to get there. I instantly picked up the pace to about sub 7 -minute miles and kept that pace through the final two miles. It actually felt great to open up my stride a bit from the iron shuffle I had been doing. I knew I could hold it for 2 miles, and then at one mile the finish line was close enough to really go in for it. I finished the final two miles in about 13:30, and crossed the line with a finish time of 10:53:26, blowing away my 11 hour goal.

At the line they announced me as 5th, and then told me I was actually 4th overall. The 5th place finisher arrived over 8 minutes later.

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Less than a week to go

Less than one week remains until my 140.6 race in Florida. There was some bike shipping drama on Friday due to weather, and a few final workouts this weekend: 

Saturday: 2:45 bike / :30 run brick

Sunday: 3200 m swim / :60 run

Now starts the real taper.

I’m feeling confident about my race, although I have a gut feeling it will rain. And I like to run in the rain – particularly rain that is warm – so it will be fine either way. It’s hard to believe, after all of the training, race weekend is nearly here…