Training 35 hours per week. Competing in 8-hour races. Matt Russell is known for both his large training volume and frequent racing - sometimes on back-to-back-to-back weekends. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Matt grew up in rural upstate New York just across the river (and border) from Canada. In order to participate in sports, he had to bus 20 minutes to the rival school – just to have a full team. While Matt enjoyed team sports, he developed a passion for the individual pursuit of running that stemmed from the personal responsibility its success depended on.
Running was more than sport for Matt though … it was therapy. He lost his mother to Lou Gehrig’s disease when he was young. Running provided a source of release and a mental escape where he could work through his thoughts.
Matt first got into triathlon by way of volunteerism. He and a few buddies from school started traveling down to Ironman Lake Placid to volunteer for the athletes competing. A couple years later, he returned to Lake Placid for a shorter sprint event, and began an ascent in the sport that continues to this day. That initial race was far from perfect though.
Despite the slow start, he excelled quickly. Having been on the cycling, cross country, and track teams in college, he knew where to find balance in his training. The combination of work ethic and a strong focus on maximizing marginal gains led to a meteoric rise through the professional triathlon ranks. To fully realize the benefit of his high-volume training, Matt focused on optimizing his fitness though massage, nutrition, hydration, sleep, biometric tracking, and recovery. OOFOS also became a natural fit for his routine, and what he considers the “foundation” of recovery for his active lifestyle.
Continual improvement led to a full-circle moment when Matt won the Ironman Lake Placid race that inspired his first ever start. Then in 2016, he finished 12th overall at the Ironman World Championships, making him a true global contender. In 2017, Matt entered the World Championship race with a goal of a top-10 finish. But in the middle of the bike leg, tragedy struck when a van pulled onto the course. Matt hit it head-on at 35mph. Luckily for him, there was a doctor spectating nearby who helped save the athlete, husband and new-father’s life.
Recovery took on new meaning for Matt. It was difficult and he had as many steps back as he did forward. During that period of struggle, one moment Matt will never forget was his first run 6 months after the accident. He pushed his young son Makaio in the stroller as he attempted a jog. His gratefulness to still be alive and the opportunity to experience that moment with his son overwhelmed him with emotion and tears, but also reminded him of why he loved the sport.
That run began a journey that would land Matt back on the starting line of his first comeback race. While he had to walk during the run, he made it to the finish-line – a personal victory. From there, Matt once again returned to what he did best – high training volumes, intentional recovery and frequent racing – getting better with each one. After a couple podium finishes on back-to-back weekends, Matt landed a qualifying spot back at the world championships on the same course he crashed on less than a year prior. His goal was simply to finish what he wasn’t able to before. Nobody expected him to be there ... or what happened next.
Less than one year after a crash that nearly ended his life, Matt Russell would cross the finish line at the Ironman World Championship race in Kona in 6th place with a time of 8 hours and 4 minutes. “Everything came together … emotionally, spiritually and physically.” It was the third-fasted time ever by an American on the course.
Today, Matt trains and races with a greater appreciation for life. He doesn’t take any of his blessings for granted, and balances the requirements of the sport not only with physical recovery, but with his roles as a husband and father. Matt also continues to do the well-known Blazeman roll at the end of every race in honour of his mother – and others who have battled this disease. He knows that his life will be defined by more than just sport...
You can catch Matt back in action at the Ironman World Championships in St. George, UT on May 7th – which also happens to be his home turf and local training grounds. Join us in cheering on Matt in front of friends, family and all of the people he’s inspired along the way.