Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An Interview With Pro Triathlete Matty Reed

Triathlon might not be particularly high profile in the U.S., but in many ways, the lack of recognition and the size and intimacy of the tri community make the professional side of the sport more meaningful for the everyman. It’s a sport where you can still walk up and shake Dave Scott’s hand or, through some random event or lucky mutual acquaintance, go on a training ride with Chrissie Wellington or Andy Potts. You can still ask someone like Matty Reed for an interview.

It’s a little intimidating to sit down to talk with one of the top pros in the U.S.—though sitting is less intimidating than standing in Matty’s case, since he’s 6-foot-5.

Matty was in Austin over Memorial Day weekend for the Capital of Texas Triathlon, also making an appearance on Saturday at Austin Tri-Cyclist to talk with local athletes about Fuji’s new time trial bike, the Norcom Straight. For him, Captex was a test, a way to tell whether the speedwork he’s been doing in training has paid off and what type of race he wants to focus on in coming months. The 2013 World Championship 70.3 in Las Vegas is definitely on his radar, he says, and he hopes to qualify for Kona at the IRONMAN North American Championship Mont-Tremblant in August.

Born in New Zealand, Matty spent most of his childhood in Australia. Matty’s long history in triathlon—22 years to date—began with his first race on his 15th birthday. From that point on, he says, he knew triathlon was the career he wanted to pursue, and after high school, he began racing professionally. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007, and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, Kelly, a former pro triathete and PR and marketing guru, and their three children. After this past year’s brutal and lingering winter in Boulder, the Reed family may be moving soon, possibly to northern California.

Focusing primarily on ITU races for most of his career, Matty switched gears after the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to dabble in Olympic-distance, 70.3, and Iron-distance races. Though he’s been successful with both short course and long course in recent years, he admits he’s struggling to find the right balance and may have to decide on a particular focus soon.

Matty introducing the Norcom Straight at ATC Barton Springs
Non-drafting races offer an athlete like Matty, a strong cyclist, a number of advantages compared to ITU. From start to finish, a draft-legal race is a battle for position, he says, and one wrong move can ruin an entire day. The contenders tend to stay together on the bike leg. Matty says he prefers the non-drafting format because it allows him to do his own kind of race.

An outlier among professional triathletes, Matty is taller than most people would consider optimal for the sport. But he doesn’t see it as a limitation, pointing to his role model, five-time world champion Simon Lessing, who is 6-foot-3. Staying lean is more important as a tall athlete, Matty says, but at a certain weight, the extra height provides an edge on the competition. “I’ve always believed that triathlon is a strength sport, so being tall is not a disadvantage,” he says.

Twenty-two years is a long time to be in any career, but perhaps especially that of a professional triathlete, a person who makes a living from a sport that started as recently as the 1970s. Matty has seen change sweep through the sport, from the advent and development of organizations like the WTC and Rev 3 to a year-round race calendar and increasingly high-tech bikes and equipment.
“I’ve seen the money come in waves,” he says. “You’ll have a few years of really good money, and now we’re on the decline for professionals, I feel. I am proud of my long standing contracts with my sponsors.” The economy isn’t as strong as it was in previous years, and sponsorship dollars are harder to come by for many athletes. Unlike in many other professional sports, corporate sponsors outside of the triathlon industry are still very rare, narrowing the sources and scope of sponsorship.
Matty says that what has changed the most for him physically over the years is his ability to recover. Though perhaps also attributable to racing short course versus long, he was able to train much harder when he was younger, he says.

“It’s really hard to continue doing what I used to do, which is the quality,” he says. “I’ve had to slow it down a lot, which I don’t like. This year, I’ve tried to do the quality a little bit more and do the long stuff as well. We’re going to see how that works in my racing. Over the last couple of years I’ve definitely slowed down. I just know that with some of the sessions I do, I know my times, and I know I’m close to where I used to be, but I’m not quite there. It’s coming.”

The most important goal of his career, Matty says, has been consistency. As a younger athlete, he would win a race one weekend and place 40th the next. Though last year wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped, from 2008 to 2011 he felt he’d accomplished his goal of getting on the podium at nearly every race.

When I ask him if the life of a professional triathlete feels like a job and what keeps him motivated to do it, his answer is quick. “Oh yeah, it 100 percent feels like a job,” he says. “It’s hard work. I love to win so the motivation to get to my best and try to win races is definitely the main reason why I do it.”

Though many would say that Matty has “made it” as a professional triathlete, and he has a number of top sponsors, including Fuji, Rudy Project, Asics, Muscle Milk, and Champion System, an athlete never truly receives tenure. To keep his relationship with sponsors, he has to race well, and to earn bonus money, he has to win.

“It’s frustrating for me the last few years to not race as good as I know I can,” he says. “So my big goal right now is to get back to winning some races and thank my sponsors for sticking by me.”

Matty’s three children—two, five, and seven years old—add another element to his training. “It’s definitely tough, because I like to spend a lot of time with my kids, and I like to play with my kids,” he says. “I hate the fact that I’m out doing a long ride when my kids are at home and I should be playing with them, but I know it’s got to be done sometimes, and a lot of times I schedule my training around what they do, like their school.” With Ironman training, however, it’s nearly impossible to get everything done in time to be finished when they come home.

“But it’s my job,” he says, “and I’ve got make the most of it because I’ve only got probably four good racing years left in the sport.” When he retires from competition, Matty sees himself working for a sponsor and hosting triathlon camps, but for now, he’s putting everything into his training.

Serious triathletes—professionals and elite age groupers alike—are among the most driven and focused individuals in the world, taking every aspect of training and racing to an extreme level. They do have their playful side, though.

Matty, like most Kiwi and Aussie triathletes, has a well-known nickname. When I ask where “Boom Boom” came from, he tells me two stories. The true origin of the name was a 1000-meter time trial when he still lived in Australia. He was neck and neck with a friend, but then suddenly accelerated and dropped him, taking the win. The friend said, “Man, when you got to 500 meters you just went ‘Boom.’”

But Matty says the more interesting story is the one Chris McCormack told Matty’s future wife at their first meeting. Macca, a training partner at the time, introduced Matty to Kelly at a dinner in San Diego. As Matty was walking up, Kelly asked Macca about the meaning of the nickname. He told her, “Ah, he’s got really big privates. They go ‘boom boom.’” Five seconds later, a little flustered, Kelly shook Matty’s hand.

Matty Reed may be one of the world’s top endurance athletes, but he’s no prima donna. At ATC's meet-and-greet with Austin athletes and fans, he seemed friendly and down to earth, happy to answer questions and listen in turn. Pro triathletes are often a nice reminder that people with superhuman athletic abilities can still be human.

Training tips:

Matty says that in his own training, recovery sessions have been key. Rest days add up—one day a week becomes four days a month, which is around 50 days a year. “That’s nearly two months you’ve taken off in a year from just taking one day off a week, so I don’t believe in taking a day off a week,” he says. “I believe in recovery sessions.” A coach can also help a lot, he says, primarily with doing the workouts that you don’t want to do.

For age groupers working full-time jobs, he says quality is the most important aspect of training. “You only have a certain amount of time to get sessions in, so you don’t want to waste your time doing easy sessions,” he says. “Whenever you get the chance to get out there, you make the most of it. You get your heart rate up and train hard.” He says joining a masters’ group often helps, providing companionship and additional motivation.

Matty’s bike setup

Since early May, Matty has been on Fuji’s newly minted, top-of-the-line time trial bike, the Norcom Straight. He says the bike’s slogan—“Fit comes first”—says it all.

Previously, he rode Fuji’s D-6. “I was kind of sad to see that go, but also excited for the new one because I knew it had better technology and was more aerodynamic and stiffer than the D6,” he says. He said he noticed the improvement in fit and stiffness immediately.

Many of the top TT bikes currently on the market have custom, non-standard front ends with limited adjustability. The Norcom Straight solves the problem of combining an integrated, aerodynamic front end with greater flexibility in seat height, stack, and reach. Any regular stem can be used, but the Norcom Straight also offers a wide range of custom stem sizes for a fully integrated, aerodynamic stem setup, with a total of 24 possible positions. The bike comes standard with the UCI-compliant Oval Concepts 960 aerobar, but you’re free to use any aerobar you want.

Wind-tunnel designed and tested, the Norcom Straight is 18% faster across the most common yaw angles than its predecessor, the D-6. The bike supports fully internal mechanical or electric cable routing, and other features include integrated aerodynamic brakes, electric shifting battery mounts on the seat tube, and horizontally adjustable vertical dropouts that make wheel changes a piece of cake. Five frame sizes are available: S (49cm), M (51cm), M/L (53cm), L (55cm), and XL (57cm). Matty, of course, rides the XL.

Gruppo – Campagnolo EPS

The Electronic Power Shift is Campy’s latest production electronic gruppo, 11-speed and similar to the Durace Di2 in many of its features. The Super Record model is the lightest electronic gruppo currently on the market.

Wheels - Lightweight Fernweg

Top dollar, these are the lightest deep aero wheels in the world.

Saddle – Dash Cycles Tri.7

This ultra lightweight saddle looks like something out of Star Trek, but its cutout and unique shape make it popular for TT positions.

Aerobars - Oval Concepts 960 aerobars

These UCI-legal aerobars come standard on the Norcom Straight.

Crankset – Campagnolo Bora Ultra

Campy’s attractive and aerodynamic crankset, 55T.

Pedals – Keywin pedals

Made by a company in New Zealand, these lesser-known pedals are very adjustable; riders can easily adjust the length of the axle and the float.

For more info on Matty Reed, check out

Read other ATC Blogger interviews:

Colin O’Brady, pro ITU triathlete (coming soon)
Brandon & Amy Marsh, pro triathletes
Tristan Uhl, pro mountain biker
Jeff Symonds, pro triathlete (before his podium at Las Vegas Worlds in 2011)

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