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Kat Matthews Serves Notice to Reigning Ironman World Champion

The emerging talent from Britain put the pedal down in a dominating performance over world champion Anne Haug at Lanzarote 70.3. Here’s how she did it.

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Her beaming smile while taking the tape proved it was a fun morning’s work. But when it comes to contending for major Ironman titles, Britain’s Kat Matthews means serious business.

As a first race of the year and a tune-up for the full distance World Championship in St. George in six weeks, Lanzarote 70.3 couldn’t have gone better for the 31-year-old Team BMC triathlete. 

The star-studded podium consisted of reigning Ironman world champion, Anne Haug, and Tokyo mixed relay gold medalist, Jess Learmonth

But Matthews dominated, and it was evident that would be the case from the moment the British army physiotherapist—who is being supported in professional triathlon by her employer—pulled away from Haug and caught early leader Learmonth on the 56-mile bike leg.

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“I’d been training so well. My numbers on the bike have been really good, and I’ve built a really strong base from running,” Matthews said. “But sometimes it can be hard out there. You just don’t know. This race is really important for St. George because it’s part of my hard training block. I hit the targets I set myself and ran my race. I’m happy.”

(Photo: Ryan Sosna-Bowd/Getty Images)

The Race

A three-minute deficit to Learmonth and Lucy Buckingham—two of the fastest swimmers in women’s triathlon—was quickly wiped out on the way to a 2:27:56 fastest bike split. There was daylight by the time Matthews reached T2, and the 1:17:55 half-marathon sealed a morale-boosting win by over 3-and-a-half-minutes from the always fleet-footed Haug. 

“To swim with Anne was as I expected, but to beat her by that much on the bike gives me a lot of confidence,” Matthews enthused.

The two will meet again in May in Utah when Haug will set out to defend her Ironman crown. While the German will have a marathon to run down her opposition on that occasion, there are no guarantees. Haug may be renowned for her footspeed, but Matthews is no slouch. The Brit clocked a 2:49:48 marathon to finish runner-up to Daniela Ryf in Ironman Tulsa last year; Haug ran 2:43:54 in Roth four months later. Both are among the fastest times ever for Ironman women. 

RELATED: How Fast Can the Fastest Pros Run in Ironman?

Matthews’ Background

Given June 2019 marked her first professional race, that performance in Tulsa only illustrated Matthews’ steep trajectory of improvement. It was also just one highlight in a stellar year where she also placed fourth in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and added further victories at the Collins Cup and Ironman U.K.–the latter by a 22-minute margin.

What’s the secret to becoming this fast? “I think that’s the question everyone wants to know the answer to, but I don’t think there’s anything special. I’ve come into this sport late, I’ve got a really good aerobic base, and I’m consistently building.”

The Secret to Success

“It’s about self-belief, having a team behind you that tells you you’re good enough. I’ve a guy [husband Mark] who every day says: ‘No, you’re too tired. Or crack on, you can do it!’ And I really listen to my body, get enough sleep, know when I’m pushing too hard and when I need to push a bit harder.”

Matthews lined up in Lanzarote confident, having posted better power numbers in training than during the three-week training block before St. George last year.

“I started this season already hitting the targets I’d aimed for last year—so I could just build on those. I did some really good training with my coach, Björn Geesmann, and the Germans—Patrick Lange and Boris Stein. I was recalibrating the power meter every few days and was like: ‘Seriously, this can’t be right?!’”

Making a Statement

Learmonth, the Olympic mixed relay gold medalist stepping up to long-course for the first time and racing on a road bike, provided an extra incentive boost. 

“Part of me wanted to show that we [the non-drafting specialists] are quite good at this and that she couldn’t just come into it and take the win. But also, I was so impressed with how Jess swam, rode, and ran to finish third.”

Lanzarote has a reputation as Europe’s answer to Hawaii, due to its harsh terrain, volcanic rock, and vicious crosswinds. Yet conditions on race morning were tame, and Matthews chose to ride a disc wheel. The Brit doesn’t feel the equipment choice played a role.

“I rode a disc, Anne didn’t, but I climbed better than her. So, while you could say I took some time out of her on the downhill [due to the disc], I took the same on the uphill too. I think it was a power course—and I just had more power.”

That bike power proves an added bonus when it’s enough to hit T2 in front. “Half of the run course here is lined with spectators and when you’re at the front everyone is a lot more receptive to you running past. 

“To be able to start the run in front is the gift of this sport, as is knowing that you have a comfy lead and don’t think you can be outrun. The support on the course when you’re in a good place is amazing.” 

Was it good enough that Matthews could put the discomfort to one side and enjoy it? “Almost.” 

RELATED: Triathlete Hour Podcast: There’s No Secret Sauce to Kat Matthews’ Success

(Photo: Ryan Sosna-Bowd/Getty Images)

How Kat Shaped Up For 70.3 Success

“I don’t have key sessions before races, and I haven’t done any structured brick sessions. I’ve just consistently hit the training numbers—moderately hard, every day, three-to-four days in a row and then a day off.”

However, she still takes on consistently challenging workouts and with Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote tackled in the middle of a hard training block, Matthews shared a day’s “over pace” training set by coach Björn Geesmann that she undertook a week before the race:

Morning: “Over pace” on the bike

Total: 3hrs

Warm-up: 30min

Main set: 3 x 10min intervals at “over race pace” (including 2 x 30sec sprints), 5min rest between intervals; Followed by 100min at Zone 2 riding (5-zone system, Z2 below LT1)

Afternoon: ‘Over pace’ on the run

Total: 75mins

Warm-up: 20min

Main set: 3 x .5mile at 4:50min/mile “over threshold”, 4min rest between intervals;
Followed by settling into 3 x 6mins at 6min/mile “race pace,” 5mins rest between intervals

Zone 2 run: 15min

Get the stories – and the workouts – behind the big performances from the big names in triathlon: How They Did It