FC: You have a very unique story about why you set a goal to do a 70.3 without any previous triathlon background. Tell us your story.
MB: On April 11, 2014, the husband (Frank Guinn) of my wife’s best friend from high school (Kim Guinn), was in New Orleans to participate in the Ochsner Half Ironman. He and his brother- in-law (Andrew Powell) were doing a shakeout ride on a portion of the bike course that can be mentally challenging. They wanted to prepare themselves for what lay ahead on race day. A driver hit them from behind, killing our friend and severely injuring his brother-in- law.
In the days following the tragedy, we knew that Kim would go to New Orleans to either do or be involved with the race a year later. My wife, Vicki, and I decided we’d be there to support her by participating in the event in memory of Frank and in honor of Kim, her eight year old triplets, Andrew and his wife Sandra. Given the fact that swimming wasn’t where I excelled, my wife and I decided to do it as a relay. Being a strong swimmer, she would do the swim and I would do the bike and run.
My wife had struggled with back issues for several years. Shortly after the accident that claimed the life of our friend, her back condition deteriorated to where surgery was necessary. We knew then that doing this race was out of reach for her. I was going to have to learn to swim. This led me on a search for triathlete coaches, during which time I came across a story about Kelly also losing a friend in a training accident. I felt that this common thread would be a great foundation. When I met with Kelly and Meghan, I was sure that they were the right people to guide me on this journey.
FC: Before embarking on your own personal triathlon journey, what were your thoughts about triathlons?
MB: I had always been intrigued by triathlons, however the swimming portion scared me away. Running is a little easier for me, particularly from a time perspective. In most cases, you can run out your door and begin your workout. Biking often requires more planning. Additional precautions have to be taken for safety, thus it was something I hadn’t done in the last 10 years. The swim portion was something that I struggled with, mentally. I grew up around a pool, never fearing the water, though swimming any significant distance wasn’t something I knew how or even cared to do. Needless to say, a triathlon was something I didn’t anticipate was in my future. I was happy to stick with running.
FC: What have you enjoyed the most about your pursuit to NOLA 70.3?
MB: That it’s over!! I’m just kidding! Without a doubt, I’dhave to say, that I’ve most enjoyed people I’ve met along the way. Meghan has been a joy to work with. She’s always so positive. No matter what reason or excuse you have for not getting a workout in or needing to make adjustments, she always puts a positive spin on it. So many other athletes who work with the Fillnow Coaching have been supportive along the way as well. As a community, triathletes are welcoming; always willing to help or give you tips. Who else are you going to be able to drag along on a two to three hour bike ride in February or March, when it’s 40 degrees other than a fellow triathlete?
My wife and our friends also supported me on this journey by recognizing the significant time commitment necessary to prepare. We even had friends who flew in from New York, drove with me to New Orleans, cheered me on during the race and stayed with us for the week in New Orleans.
In one simple statement-I’ve been empowered by the camaraderie of so many people who have accompanied me on this journey.
FC: What has been the most challenging aspect of your triathlon journey?
MB: The time commitment has been the most challenging aspect of this journey. I probably didn’t think that part through before committing to do this, but, in hindsight, I’m grateful I didn’t.
Another challenge came early in my training, when my wife had back surgery. The recovery in the two months after was much more time consuming than my wife or I expected; bringing the need for major adjustments to acclimate to the training for something of this magnitude. Meghan helped me fine tune my schedule to accommodate the necessary training. Fortunately it was early enough in the training that I had ample time to make up for it, as the race got closer.
FC: Any inspiring words of wisdom to others?
MB: When I first met with Meghan and Kelly to discuss my goal of completing this race, Meghan said it was good that I was doing this for more than personal reasons. She said, during the tough days, it would be important to have that extra motivation. I didn’t know how true that was. It was especially so on some of those long swims, when my mental strength would wane. I had several conversations with Frank during those swims, and kept telling myself how fortunate I was to be here to go through the experience. My advice to others is to find a motivator/a purpose outside of yourself.
FC: How did your debut 70.3 go?
MB: Well, I finished! I suppose, in some sense, that was most important. When I first decided to do this, I looked up the average half ironman finishing times. I found a site that said it was right at six hours. So I told Meghan I wanted to finish under five. As I moved through this journey, I realized I had set a goal that was a bit too ambitious. I modified it to this – if everything went perfect, I’d like to be sub 5:30, but would be happy with sub 6:00 and wouldn’t settle for anything less than 6:30.
To my surprise, on race day, my swim went MUCH better than I expected. The first 40 or so miles of the bike went great as well. At that point, it was looking like it might be that perfect race. Then the clouds burned away and the sun came out with full vengeance.My mile splits almost immediately went from averaging 3:00 to averaging 3:45. The final six miles were directly into a headwind, and the splits dropped to about 4:30. At that point, I knew the 5:30 goal was not attainable. However, I also knew, with a sub 2:00 hour run, I could still make the 6:00 goal.
As I left T2, I was sitting right on four hours (or at least I thought that was the case… more to come on that topic). Right after the first mile, there was a bridge to climb. I knew after that, it was flat until we’d climb that bridge again right before mile 12. The clouds continued to disappear, causing the heat to get more and more intense. I realized that it was going to take every bit of effort I had to achieve the 6:00 goal. I settled in to keep a 9:00 mile pace, knowing this would keepme right under the 6:00 mark. If it all was only that simple, it wouldn’t be any fun!
Before the swim started, I was so anxious, I’d forgotten to set my watch to the multisport setting. As I headed from the swim to the bike, I looked down and noticed that, when I hit reset, it didn’t switch to transition. I wasn’t positive my time was right! As I crossed the finish line, the clock was showing around 6:18. I thought I had entered the water about 18 minutes after the first swimmer, so I was hoping that was right. I asked my wife and friends if they knew the time difference, but they couldn’t be certain. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I knew for sure. The official time was: 5:58:25. Though I didn’t make the perfect race goal, I succeeded in achieving my secondary goal. I’m quite pleased.
FC: What inspired you to get through the tough patches of the day?
MB: I’ll have to answer that in stages. The thing that helped me get through the swim was the knowledge that every stroke was taking me a little bit closer to being able to get out of the water. On the bike, there was relief knowing that the swim was over and the run was ahead.
The bike route took us past the spot where our friendwas killed last year. Passing it the first time gave me chills, even though we were on the opposite side of the road from where he was hit. We’d ridden out in the car the day before, but passing it on the bike was a different feeling. Then, as I came back by and passed the spot where, one year ago he was hit, and then inches past to where he never made it, my mind went tour fallen friend, Frank, his wife and their eight year old triplets. I recognized the depth of emotion that Kim would experience as she reached that same spot on her bike, hoping it would somehow be healing for her. To know that, even though he hadn’t completed that journey the year before, she had. For those who were riding in Frank’s memory, when we crossed that point, we were all finishing what he was denied the year before.
One of the most heartwarming, inspiring stories of the race was that Andrew completed the course, crossing the finish line in spite of the injuries he sustained just one short year ago. His wife, Sandra, also finished the race at the same time as her sister, Kim, who, in spite of losing her husband last year and raising three girls, was able to find the time to train to prepare.
FC: So….the big question is, are you going to do another one?
MB: I’ve run one marathon and, after that, I jokingly said I ran two in one day; my first and last, unless something monumental were to occur. I never thought I’d participate in a triathlon, let alone a half ironman. Having a friend killed preparing for one certainly qualified as monumental, though not in a positive way.
At this moment, I’d have to say I don’t think I’d do another Ironman, full or half, but, as the past has taught me, you never know what challenge or motivation might be just around the corner to change all that. For now, I’m going to ‘retire,’ knowing that, while it wasn’t the perfect race, it was a complete race, and one which was done with a keen awareness that life is short and can never be taken for granted.
For those interested in donating to a fund that was established for Kim Guinn and her girls, please go to
FC: Thanks for your time, Matt. We are so proud of all you have worked so hard to achieve. You truly honored Frank and his entire family! Prayers to Kim and her girls.