Just home from the ETU Middle Distance Championships with a gold medal and her first official title, European Middle-Distance Champion! Shortly after, Katrina Matthews gave us an insight into her recent success.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

Living as a professional athlete has meant a few adjustments to general lifestyle, routine but also fitness/race fitness mentality. I have spent the last couple of years as an “age-grouper” training hard with a full time job, planning long term and “peaking” fitness for a determined race. With highly regarded advice, from multiple sources, as a new professional my mentality was “I’m fit, lets race”. This was the idea that got me into racing back to back middle distance triathlons over the last 2 weekends. It is a fortunate position to be in because optimal recovery can be achieved rather than a 40hr working week, compression socks and some early nights. I raced hard in both races, but I did have a game plan and tactics to which I was also granted some luck that I was able to play it out. IM 70.3 Finland was the priority race of the two, being first and with a known highly level of competition. I was up against a few ex/current ITU athletes and a former 5th in the world and seasoned pro plus a few other big names. With a tough bike I landed well into 3rd on the run and having run comfortably into 2nd I was able to drop the pace and conserve the stress thinking ahead for the next weekend. The European Champs was held in Targu Mures in Romania, not a part of the world I would have thought specifically to visit if not for this race. The town had culture and such a welcoming atmosphere my preconceptions were immediately wiped. It was my first time in Elite GB kit but I still very much felt part of the wider GB Age Group team with a few friends racing as well. Despite the occasional bad credibility rep and expensive nature of the GB Age Group, the team ethos really excels itself in these events!

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

By arriving into Romania on Thursday (race Sunday) I had had 4 days of very light training around travelling constraints and very little else. I had focussed on good sleep, good food (substantial carbs, protein, fruit/veg and chocolate) and lots of general self TLC. Despite this, on Friday morning I was still feeling fragile, unmotivated and just tired. Not ideal for 2 days out, but with some positive encouragement (and another nap) I got out on the bike to recce the course and although I couldn’t muster the effort required to physically recce the swim course I took a thorough look (2hrs lounging in the sun on the bank watching in admiration very motivated age group athletes). For me, the day before a race my nerves dissipate, as by this point you can’t really do anything else so the race is out of your control- hence why worry. Not a conscious mental strategy just (in my head) factual. Normally the day before a race I would do a very light swim (20mins), spin (20mins) and strides (15mins) but not be tied to this. This race, just a swim, due to the higher overall load during this period my coach decided it was all that was necessary which I was more than happy to agree with! I was feeling so much better having dropped the training yesterday and feeling it was the right decision (I’m good at convincing myself of this) I ticked off race admin, elite briefing and found some relatively plain spaghetti before an early night. Having been slightly unwell in a the last few races I am playing around with my pre-race and during-race fuelling strategy. This race is the best so far; super plain carbs (sadly no pizza now) and zero planned caffeine during the race (hoping to build this back in).

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

Race day was a very friendly 0900 start, swim was non-wetsuit which wasn’t ideal for me with more ex ITU swimmers. I was 3rd out of the water, which was pretty good. My only race specific plan today was to go steady on the bike (IM 70.3 Staffs and Finland I had gone too hard early and paid for it). Legs therefore felt great today sitting at “easier” watts. By the second lap of 4 I got a bit bored and pushed on (thinking I was now in 2nd, but actually was leading). 2 more laps of constantly undulating and technically challenging TT’ing flew by and the heat of the day was building up (late start negatives starting to shine through). Into transition and my first experience of handing someone your bike and they rack it for you (amazing) I heard I was in the lead “by miles”… not that useful but reassuring all the same.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

4 laps of 5km with 3 dead turns a lap all in the centre of a small town was challenging but with hundreds of supporters (including lots of GB Age Group supporters) it was actually great. After 1 lap I had a 4min lead, 2 laps 4.5mins and knowing it would be a tough challenge for even the best runners in the game to take 4 mins out of me in 10km I settled into a much more socially pace for the last 10km, just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to grab as much water as I could.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

I knew the only thing that would stop a win now was the temperature, now 29C. The water being handed out wasn’t cooled (at all) and I was barely getting a couple of gulps per aid station. I made a real effort to slow into the aid station (dodging a few people each time), ensuring a decent cup of water and now an available soaked sponge. My father had also lent me a plain white hat which, although initially didn’t quite meet the image standards, I was so grateful for mid run. Crossing the line was a happy relief. A tough 8 days “in the office”. It was made so worth it for the win and the experience. I’m really proud with my body for coping with this back to back racing load and I have learnt so much about the importance of physical and mental wellbeing. Re-confirming my belief in knowing when it’s ok to just say no, I’m not going to do that session and having the confidence to believe you can achieve something which on paper looks out of reach. Two years ago, I raced as an GB Age-grouper for the first time in the Europeans and today I won the Elite race. How? I just continued to work on my weaknesses (and strengths) day in day out, committed to just improving myself.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

Kat Rye Meglio Ironman Triathlon

You’ve spent the winter training, trying and sometimes failing to hit all the sessions set by your coach or yourself, but now you’re in race season and every race needs a plan. When to taper? How much to taper? What numbers to hit on the day? The reassuring fact is that there is no one right way, no perfect solution for everyone. You can’t follow a set recipe for this, but you can make your own recipe based on a few key ideas. For IM 70.3 Finland I had an unusual taper week with an Olympic distance race chucked in as well (not advised!) but I still tried to follow my basic principles.

The feeling of laziness or restlessness during taper week can make you feel like you’re “losing” fitness. In actual fact you’re allowing your body the optimum chance to adapt to the training load you have put it under. The shorter more intense sessions you do during taper week remind your body of the work to come and maintain the readiness. Tip 1; You might feel like you want to “do more” during the tapering period but try and resist. Add in an extra light stretching session, a yoga class, a foam roll or even find a new skill/hobby. In the week building up to Finland I started researching new recipe ideas and making some new tasty dinners, this kept me occupied and enabled me to resist the urge to do more.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

Race nerves can be your biggest enemy. They make you think your body is falling apart, the little niggle you wouldn’t have thought twice about has now become something you think about with every set of steps even though it hasn’t actually got worse. By focusing on recent successful training sessions, you can rationalise that you have good form and that these nervous feeling are just irrational fears, admittedly easier said than done. Tip 2; Make sure your plan includes the effects of race nerves. Know you’ll feel more stressed and try to be comfortable with it. Add extra faff time, extra snacks and just take the time for yourself. In the build up to Finland I took the time to scroll back through training peaks and look at the stats I had achieved and focused on those to plan accurate time/pace goals for the races. This really calms my nerves as you then know you can hit these SMART goals as it’s data from things you have already achieved!

My final tip for race week is to make sure your equipment is in the best shape it can be. We spend so much time training and looking after our bodies, yet people often neglect their equipment. Tip 3; Clean your bike, especially your chain. The science says a clean bike is quicker, you want all the watts you’ve trained so hard to get to go straight into your speed. Treat your equipment with the same respect you treat your body. Ensure it gets the best care!

Pre Finland, I had a full wash, a new chain and a visual check test of my TT position I had been training in. I also packed wet wipes and chain lube along with my foam roller and lacrosse ball- body and bike; equal respect!

So, having put my pre-race plan into place as best I could I was on the start line at 1530. The unique afternoon race start meant all the pre-race admin was saved for the race morning which was great because you then didn’t have to do any of it the day before and you could rack and prep in slow time.

The pro men were off first and as the gun went for us, I found a good spot to find the feet I realistically could hold. I knew Lucy Hall and India Lee would be well out in front so I held onto Anna Noguera for the first half of the swim until we both went off course due to the current and a sighting mistake, frustrated I took the lead and then held in a small pack with Kaisa Sali. Out the water in 3rd (just) and onto the bike course just ahead of Anna and Kaisa.

Both of them tracked me closely for 15km before Kaisa overtook and started pulling away. I decided to stick on my planned power rather than push on with Kaisa. Anna still on my wheel. At the half way point I realised both Kaisa and Anna had been issued a drafting penalty and when I looked behind I was on my own for the second half. With no idea of the gaps ahead I pushed on but held steady watts over the fast homeward bound route.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

I felt like I was really lacking leg power and could see my average watts just slowly dropping. Frustrated and disappointed I just sat in and tried to hold on. I often use the tactic of “just get to T2” and then decide how you feel. At this point my back and left knee were starting to build in discomfort and I was also worried about my previous knee injury. All of these thoughts were getting me down but… I pushed on.

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

Into T2 I heard splits and knew I had a podium chance again! I couldn’t really believe it so settled into 3:50/kms. A bit fast but I felt great. All of my issues on the bike dissolved (again, similarly to 70.3 Staffordshire) and I felt great. I had hydrated and fuelled well on the bike too so had nothing to worry about. I ran a steady but strong 10km stepping up into 2nd past Lucy Hall and around 15km it was clear I wasn’t losing time and could relax and enjoy it!

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

At the back of my mind I knew I had only a week to recover after this race so I took a rare opportunity to sit back in the last 5km and drop the pace slightly, an incredible privilege that age group racing doesn’t have as you never know where you are in the race. Crossing the line to podium again was incredible, 2nd was the absolute best I could have had against star India Lee so I was very satisfied. Eager now to get that top step though!

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio

Kat Rye Ironman Triathlon Meglio