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Last week, the photo of Matt Reed riding his bike in his wetsuit at Ironman 70.3 Boise took a viral spin around triathlon communities—the sight of the 6’5” pro donning his neoprene in aero definitely made us do a double take (view the photo here). To top off an already crazy race, Matt crossed the finish line at almost the exact same second as 28-year-old Kiwi pro Callum Millward. We talked to Matt and his wife Kelly about what happened.
Although Boise was in the 80s this weekend, on June 10 weather was a different story—it was a chilly, windy, rainy 40 degrees at the race start. “It started raining, and raining harder, then the wind picked up. It was the worst conditions I’ve ever had before a race,” Matt says.
Matt joked with some of the other athletes the day before about wearing wetsuits to keep warm on the bike, which he truly meant in jest when the ride was 56 miles. But when they announced it would be a 15-mile bike right before the race started, “then I thought, ‘well, it’s only a half hour bike ride, I’ll just keep the wetsuit on, stay warm and have a quicker transition,’” Matt says.
His concern about staying warm after swimming in 57-degree water may have stemmed from his experience racing March’s Oceanside 70.3 and finishing a disappointing 6th. “The cold water really affected my race and my run. My legs just not working the same,” he says.
In Boise, he exited the swim, got on his bike still in the wetsuit, and rode 15 miles. “It was pretty restricting, and I lost quite a bit of power and I was slipping off the seat a lot,” Matt says. “But I was warm. I think I made the right decision.”
Back in their hometown of Boulder, Colo., Kelly got a text that said, “It appears Reed is in his wetsuit.” At first she thought, “Oh no… There was this joke after Rasmus Henning [biked in his wetsuit] in Kona, and then Matt did it in Kona last year,” Kelly says. “He was third out of the water, got on his bike still in his speed suit and had to turn around and go back. That’s why he was last out of transition and went chasing hard.”
Despite the wetsuit, Matt had a reasonably quick T2 (1:35) and took off. “I started running and my feet were cold, but my legs feel good, I had good turnover,” he says. “I knew TO [Tim O’Donnell] wasn’t too far ahead, about 40 seconds or so. I thought if I could catch him and then run with him—because, as you know, he’s one of the best runners in our sport.” Matt caught him at about three miles in, then O’Donnell caught back up to him around mile 8. “We knew we had a pretty good deficit to Callum. The time wasn’t coming down fast enough. When TO caught me, I sat on him for a couple miles to recover and get ready for the last few miles. We had a time split on Callum; 25 seconds with 3 miles to go. I knew that if I wanted to win I had to go right then. I passed TO and did some surges.”
But the gap wasn’t coming down as fast as Matt would’ve liked. With about 800 meters to go, he caught up to Millward. “I thought I would be able to out-sprint him,” Matt says. “My sprint is good, it’s not fantastic, but it’s usually better than most triathletes. I didn’t know Callum, I didn’t know how fast he was.”
With 600 meters to go, he tested him with one really hard sprint, and Millward stayed with him. “An old coach taught me to go as hard as you can with 150 meters to go. I went for it, he matched me, he came straight next to me. We were side by side with about 50 meters left. The rest was kind of just a blur. I was going as hard as I could, he was going as hard as he could.”
They crossed the finish line together, except Matt leaned forward with his chest into the tape. “When we hit the line I knew I didn’t lose, because you can see when someone is ahead of you,” he says. “I thought I got it.”
They were both on the ground when they called Millward the winner—his timing chip crossed the line .03 seconds ahead of Matt.
“Someone said, ‘Matt had lost by .03 seconds. I said, do they have a sight cam? How do you lose by .03?’” Kelly says.
“There was no telling where the timing mat was in relation to the finish banner, so when they called Callum the winner I got up and went straight over there and said ‘You guys need to look at a photo before you call that.’ I was quite mad, actually, because I knew I hadn’t lost,” Matt says.
The officials agreed to take a look and make a decision. After about three hours of deliberating, they decided to call it a tie. Ironman split the combined first and second place money into a $10,000 prize for each.
While ITU racing and USA Track and Field have different standards for photo finishes, most long-course triathlons don’t have the “lean rule” in their policies.
“It’s a good thing for triathlon to realize,” Kelly says. “What if it came down to a sprint in Kona? What if it comes down to a sprint in Vegas? Because it could with the quality of the men’s field these days at 70.3. It could come down to the last 400 meters.”
Next up for Matt is a full schedule, including Life Time Minneapolis, 70.3 Vineman, Boulder Peak 5150 and more. His goal is to compete at the 70.3 World Championships in September.
Follow Matt Reed on Twitter @Boomboomreed.