It doesn’t matter which room you’re in, Matt Hanson is probably the smartest guy in it. As a former professor of exercise science who quit academia to race full-time when he was just six months from tenure, he knows more than your average pro triathlete about how the body works. He also knows more than most about how to respond—and bounce back from—adversity.
The 34-year-old is the proud owner of the fastest run in Ironman history (2:34), but right now he is only just returning to “proper” run training after more than four months off due to a sacral stress fracture. And although he boasts an enviable race resume that includes back-to-back wins at the Ironman North American Championships in Texas (2017, 2018), he has also suffered his fair share of tough results, most noticeably on the biggest stage of all—Kona.
In early September 2019 Hanson was in the form of his life and excited for the race around the corner on the Big Island. Then one morning, after finishing a bike-run workout the day before, he woke up barely able to walk. He was eventually forced to DNF in Kona after the bike.
“It really sucked for it to happen when it did, but it has also caused me to go back and examine some of the symptoms I’d been experiencing. It led to us discovering a long-time issue with my SI (sacroiliac) joint,” he says.
He says “us” because during the course of his recovery, he came to realize that his team of coaches—namely his triathlon coach Julie Dibens, his bike coach Matt Bottrill, and his strength and conditioning trainer Kevin Purvis—are designing the best possible situation for him. Together they have seen a lot of doctors and specialists, and had set him short-term goals each month with the ultimate target of being back to running by January 1, which he achieved.
“As tough as it’s been, it has also led me to really examine what it takes to be successful there (in Kona). I’ve recently come to realize that if I never win Kona, it’s not because I don’t have the best team behind me. This whole process has really shown how invested everyone is in my success.
“Obviously it was a tough situation, but I think I’m a much better athlete because of it, and I’m a little bit smarter because of it,” he says of his injury. “I’m excited to go forward not having to force every run I do. I’ve learned a lot about my body during this whole process.”
If everything goes right from here with Hanson’s training and recovery, you can expect to see him at Ironman 70.3 Campeche, Ironman 70.3 Texas, and then an early season Ironman in either April or May with a plan geared toward redemption in Kona.
“Kona is where all of my goals in the sport really are,” he says. “When you look at the people who have done really well there, they’re often coming off an injury.”
He’s hoping he’ll be the next one to come back faster, fitter, and wiser.
A Week in the Life of Matt Hanson
- 6K aerobic swim, 60 min easy spin
- “Terrible Tuesday” 5-5.5K threshold swim, treadmill or track run, 90 min hard bike
- 2K recovery swim + 3-5hr long aerobic bike with cadence or aero drills
- 6K swim + double run Thursday, usually covering 20 miles in total
- 75 min hard + fast swim; “openers” on bike—a short, sharp session to get ready for a big weekend of training
- Long race-specific bike with run off the bike
- Long run + 30 min lake swim in summer or 2K pool swim
Hanson says: “I never add up or look at my training hours; I just take it day by day. When I’m not training, I’m working with the 12 athletes I coach and spending time with my wife Ashley, our two dogs Rocky and Zoe, and looking after our garden where we grow everything from tomatoes to bok choy.”