Thursday, October 6, 2016

Kona Profiles: Captain Matthew Davis

With the big dance a mere two days away, Matthew Davis wraps up our "Kona Profiles" segment for 2016. Hopefully you've enjoyed getting to know these amazing athletes & have felt inspired to work towards your own goals, whatever they may be.

Good luck to Matt, the others interviewed, and those we unfortunately weren't able to get to.

We'll be tracking your races and wish you an awesome day!

What’s your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

I was the opposite of an endurance athlete, playing football and running track (sprints) in both high school and college. My wife Ashley laughs now because I used to whine to her whenever my college track coach made me race more than 200 meters. Apparently 140.6 miles sounds better to me than 400 meters. ;) After graduating in 2009, I kept eating like a Division 1 athlete, but wasn't working out 5 hours a day anymore. I didn't gain that much weight... it just converted from muscle to... not muscle. Ha. Ash and I would go to the gym a few times a week, but it was very casual. Then in 2012, an old Brigham City/Academy friend, Shawn Killpack, was stationed with me in California. He had just gotten into triathlon and was signed up for a tri (Rage) in Vegas the next weekend. Shawn invited me to come along so I winged the sprint distance. I swam breaststroke the entire time, rode Shawn's old aluminum road bike, and then ran a 5K - which was further than I'd ever run in my entire life besides basic training.

I trained very casually with Shawn that summer, did the Utah Half, and then moved to Hill AFB, Utah. I proceeded to not swim/bike/run at all until the next April (2013). I trained a bit more until August, did the Utah Half for a second time, and then took a couple months off again. Finally in November 2013, I cracked down and started seriously training for my first 140.6, Ironman Texas in May 2014. I surprised myself with a 10:06 and realized there was maybe some potential there. But even then, I laid off the tri training until the winter and did LOTOJA instead that summer. The Kona quest didn't start until December 2014, when I started training for IMTX 2015 and working with my coach Wes Johnson.

What’s the vibe like in Kona? Will you be leaning more towards getting out there and soaking up the event & atmosphere or laying low this week?

It's pretty surreal to be here among so many of the world's elite athletes. An Ironman World Champ is our neighbor at our condo on Alii Drive, and the guy I'm rooting for this year happened to be right in front of me during my first ride on the Queen K. Is this real life? The vibe is awesome! Ironman is in the air. You can taste the excitement but at the same time, it's more relaxed than a typical M-dot race. There's a constant flow of insanely fit athletes running and riding up and down Alii Drive and the Queen K. Everyone smiles and waves like this is normal.

I'm soaking it all in! We had the Parade of Nations tonight, will be hitting up the expo again tomorrow, and are pumped to whip out the BAM speedos for the Underpants Run on Thursday. My parents and brother are here and I'm looking forward to them coming to the banquet to get a taste of what this is all about. There's nothing like the Ironman World Championships and I am smelling the roses for sure. The typical tourist stuff on the Big Island can wait for another trip, though.

We’re told that you faced some adversity/bad luck in your quest for Kona… can you elaborate on your journey to Kona?

Oh man, there were some serious unlucky breaks! After IMTX 2014, I decided to make Kona the goal. I got hooked up with Wes (thanks to my mother-in-law who happened to meet him in Texas) and joined the BAM fam that December. My training for IMTX 2015 went really well and I was feeling ready. But 6 weeks out, I got in a bike wreck at 30 mph. I was extremely grateful that there was no serious damage, but I had a herniated disc and a huge hematoma in my knee and was told not to even start running again for 8 weeks. But my wife had just picked up triathlon, had juggled her training around mine and being a mommy, and was about to do her first USAT-sanctioned tri - Ironman Texas. (She's amazing.) I obviously couldn't miss it. Instead of training, I focused on rehab for those last 6 weeks and made the goal to get to the start line and then to the finish line. I ended up finishing in 10.5 hours that time. Kona went to a 9:57 in my age group that year, so that was a bummer knowing it really would have been within my reach if not for the crash.

I picked Superfrog in Sept. 2015 as my redemption race but hit an unmarked pothole on the bike and went endo, landing on my head and busting up my bike. Then at IMTX this year, I had a freak accident in T1. Another athlete dropped their bike under my bare foot just as I stepped down. This sprained and cut my foot - and thanks to all that blood pumping on the bike, that cut actually developed a staph infection during the race. I ended up with a fever, nausea, chills, and an elephant-sized foot and got to walk the last half of the marathon shivering in the rain/hail. Bad luck comes in three's, though, right? So I was due for some good luck at Lineman.

Do you have any specific race goals, or is this more “icing on the cake” and no pressure after the hard task of qualifying?

This is definitely icing on the cake after a long season, and a nice break after a crazy cross-country move. But I'd still like to lay down a solid race. Having been here and seen the course first-hand, it's pretty unforgiving, so I don't have a specific time goal in mind. I'm hoping to take in the experience and really learn from it. I'd be lying if I said it was just a victory lap, though. I want to give my best effort on Saturday.

Did you know where you were in your AG throughout Vineman? At what point did you realize you’d clinched a Kona slot, and what was your reaction?

My wife made sure I knew where I was every time I saw her. Halfway up the big hill toward the end of the second loop, she told me I was in 5th, that 1-3 were out of reach, but 4th was fading and I could catch him. Since Vineman has an out-and-back, I knew who I needed to pass, and caught him with less than a 10K left. We figured you'd have to be top 3 in my AG for a guaranteed slot and 4th for a prayer at a rolldown. But after the race, we learned that other AG rolldowns wouldn't come to my AG, and figured the top three my age would choose to go to Kona. So we went to bed that night celebrating a great race but explaining to family that there wouldn't be a Kona slot.

Honestly, Kona was not the stated goal for Vineman. After all that bad luck, I was starting to wonder if I just wasn't cut out for this stuff after all. Vineman was meant to bring the fun back to triathlon and to be a conservative, solid, confidence-building race. So I was satisfied with how things turned out and ecstatic that I was finally able to finish a race on my terms. That made the next morning that much sweeter. I was standing on the podium when the guy who finished 2nd turned to me, shook my hand, and told me to have fun in Kona - because he wasn't taking the slot so it was mine. Definitely one of the coolest moments of my life.

Marc Rosello mentioned that he enjoys “making things interesting” in terms of a friendly wager every now and then… will there be any such wagers among BAM athletes racing on Saturday?

Nope. It's probably surprising to others, but there really isn't any competition between us. We all train together and want each other to do well. If that means we get beat by our friends, then we'll all be better because of it. On the guy's side, Jorge, Sam and I all have different strengths so it really just comes down to how things shake out on race day. We all joked about holding hands across the finish line in Texas this year, and then Jorge and I actually ended up on the death march together and did just that.

What’s the forecast looking like for race day? Are you going in with a different nutrition strategy due to the climate, or similar to Vineman and other Ironmans you’ve done?

It's been forecasting some showers but looks like it might be clear now. Sunny, hot, and humid like you'd expect for Kona. The amount of sweat just 10 minutes into an easy run here has been ridiculous, so we're all going to babysit our salt intake and hydration a bit more than normal. I've dealt with some cramping issues the past couple seasons, but got them all worked out with PhD Nutrition and the right salt levels for Vineman. Jorge has also been plagued by cramps, so we both have HotShot on hand for if they hit. Hopefully we'll be able to stave them off, otherwise it could be a long day.

Can you tell us a bit about your time with the Air Force? What’s your current role/responsibilities?

I'm a Captain in the Air Force and have been on active duty since graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2009. It's been part of my life much longer, though, due to those Academy years and an LDS mission in between. I'm an engineer and have worked at NASA on an automatic ground collision avoidance system for the F-16, at the Hill AFB office for the Utah Test and Training range, and most recently was a program manager handling upgrades for the F-22. I was extremely lucky to be selected to attend graduate school for my next assignment, so last month we moved to Ohio, where I'll be pursuing my master's degree for the next 18 months.

How has your military experience helped you as a triathlete?

You develop an almost ridiculous talent for time management as a cadet at the Air Force Academy - especially as a student-athlete. That's huge when juggling Ironman training with real life jobs, families, church responsibilities, etc. The discipline required for military life also translates well to triathlon training. As a bonus, the military places a high emphasis on physical fitness. My commanders are excited for me to represent the Air Force in a small way at the Ironman World Championship.

Doctor Delicious is thought of by some as the favorite among our Utah connections. If not him, any thoughts as to who could be first across the finish line? How bout on the women’s side?

It's a toss-up! Like I said, Sam, Jorge and I all have different strengths. One could easily be more important than the others on Saturday and any of us could have an amazing race. I just moved across the country and raced Superfrog a week ago, so I'm hoping I'm still fresh enough for Saturday. Sam and Jorge actually both have Ironman races in November and are "supposed" to take it a little easier on Saturday, but I doubt either of them will be able to hold back! So it should be fun to see how it all shakes out. On the women's side, they're all amazing. Anything could happen!

Anything else you want to share?

I just have to thank my wife Ashley for making this possible. She makes sure I get my training in and then somehow has managed to train for 2 - soon 3 - Ironman races herself, all while being the best mom to our two little kids. It's pretty special to share this Ironman world with her. Another big thanks obviously goes to Wes and his genius coaching mind for getting me here, and to the BAM fam for the training shenanigans. It's one thing to get to race Kona; it's another thing to get to race it with some of your best friends. Feeling pretty lucky over here. Finally, good luck to all those racing on Saturday and anyone working toward that Kona slot. Keep the dream alive!

"Kona... will... host... annual... Ironman World Championships!"
"Well come on, Cinderella, we gotta get you ready for the ball!"

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