Ironman triathlete running with people in the background
December 20, 2018

Mike Ricci



Matt and started working with D3 Coach Dave Sheanin a little over a year ago and Dave shared that Matt has made huge gains as a triathlete during that time.  He came in with a goal to go sub-5 at a 70.3 (he had been flirting with that 5 hour mark but never got himself under) and then do his first full-distance race this season. 

Training went very well through the spring and he toed the line at 70.3 Texas in the spring.  At about the halfway point on the run, he was on track for a 4:50 or 4:55 day when he had a major back issue that caused him to have to drop out of the race.  We got that issue quickly diagnosed and resolved and he came back 5 weeks later to smash 70.3 Gulf Coast in 4:42, qualifying for the World Championships in South Africa in September.  That trip was more of a reward/vacation but he turned in another sub-5 day on a blazing 1:31 run split.  We then turned our eyes toward IM Florida in the fall. 

Matt trained diligently and made huge gains following the plan, and then Hurricane Michael blew through as we were starting taper and Matt decided to switch to IM Cozumel rather than race the new/modified Florida course.  So that gave us an extra couple of weeks and Matt made the most of it, leading to an 11:26 IM rookie debut, despite injuring his foot right at the swim start when he didn't understand the "no bucear" ("no diving") instruction that was announced in Spanish. 

What you can see from this summary, and what I appreciate most about working with Matt, is his ability to adapt and adjust as needed.  Training progression never happens in a straight line and the best coach/athlete relationships are able to navigate the curves.  I can't wait for Matt's second IM next season where I expect he'll be sub-11 and then we can start making longer-term plans for continued improvement at the distance and maybe someday, a big race out in the middle of the Pacific some October!


Enjoy his Q&A below.

1) What was the motivation behind your setting a goal for a sub 5 hour 70.3?

Self-coached, I took myself from a 5:27ish in my 70.3 debut down to a 5:12ish.  I languished in a comfort zone, got acclimated to the idea I was a 2:00/swimmer, 19.5mph cyclist, and 7:30/mi. runner, and had a long break from triathlon for an ongoing knee injury.  When I finally came back from the injury (basically starting triathlon from scratch), I arbitrarily set a sub-5 goal because it seemed like a good reach and the next natural benchmark.  My last race before I joined D3, I went 5:00:40.  But sub-5 really isn't the end.  Now that I have a 4:42 under my belt, I want to dive into the 4:30s next.  I enjoy the process of identifying what I think are my limits, achieving them, stepping into deeper and uncomfortable waters, and then finding out I was wrong all along about what my limits are.  Continually setting goals and re-defining my limits is why I find triathlon so rewarding.
Also in part, I have a buddy who is also D3-coached (shout-out Taylor Brinkman!) who is always driving me to get better.  We both started in the mid-5s at the beginning of 2017.  I took the time down to 5:00:40, he matched and got a 5:01.  I took the time down to 4:42, he matched and got a 4:43.  So now I obviously need to take the time down even more.  Can't be letting him have a time so close to mine... #d3rivalry

2) Describe the situation as you realized you were on target to achieve the goal but had to pull out because of an injury.
I was pretty upset.  At Ironman Texas 70.3 I paced very evenly on the swim and had a great bike ride.  Based on what I knew I could run, I projected that I'd come in right at 4:50-52.  But I began experiencing electric/shock-like pain in my lower back at around mile 4-5, which got progressively worse through about mile 9, where I ultimately pulled out.  The pain had just become too debilitating and was affecting my gait and posture (I could feel myself beginning to lean severely to the left).  It was a very difficult decision to DNF, and that decision stuck with me for a long while after I walked off the race course.  I kept second-guessing my decision and eventually decided to sign up for Ironman Gulf Coast 70.3, which was only four weeks after my failed attempt in Galveston.

3) Please share your thoughts on qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships.
In Florida, I had a great day.  I had what was at the time a PR swim, a PR 2:23 bike ride, and started my half marathon knowing I only needed to run something like an 8:30 minute per mile average to achieve my sub-5 goal.  I held around a 7:20 average for the half marathon . . . I just didn't want the wheels to fall off, and it was hot out.  I finished in 4:42 and not only went sub-5 but went 8-10 minutes faster than what I was projecting I'd finish Ironman Texas 70.3 in.  Lauren (my wife) and I decided to go to the award ceremony just for kicks.  I wasn't in the top 2 so a slot wasn't a guarantee, but we figured it could be fun and that there may be some possibility of getting a slot.  The first slot was promptly scooped up, but somehow the second slot rolled down to me.  It was an exciting experience getting to go out to the World Championships and compete with tons of amazing athletes.  Plus the safaris . . . animal reserves . . . etc.  Those weren't shabby either.  It was a great trip for Lauren and I.

4) You had to make a choice between IM Florida with a modified course or shifting toward IM Cozumel.  Why did you decide IM Cozumel?
Honest answer?  Because my wife, who is my amazing and biggest supporter, and who knew she would be out there for 10+ hours watching my first full Ironman, wanted to watch me from a beach with a margarita in her hand, not from the modified Ironman Florida course in Haines City.

5) This was your first Ironman ... in 10 words or less, please describe it!
A first-timer's haiku:
Swim then bike then runThought it was a good ideaOuch that really hurt

6) What is one of your favorite (or not-so-favorite) Coach Dave workouts?
Whenever he throws me challenging interval workouts on the track or trainer.  Anything that pushes me out of my comfort zone and makes me go harder, push more watts, run faster, or go longer than I think I can.

7) Coach Dave recognizes that you are able to adapt and adjust.  Speak to how you learned those skills (as not everyone can) and how that flexibility helped you navigate your training.
I have a very demanding full-time job that is constantly forcing me to move things around, plan and time my day to a 't', etc.  By nature we have to adapt and adjust, or else we will never train.  Dave gives me great workouts and a great structure that I then may make several adjustments to (shifting workouts around where needed).  I try to always visualize what the whole week will look like in totality and am always actively planning outside the boundaries of TrainingPeaks to make sure I get everything in, have good spacing between each type of workout, etc.  That's probably the biggest thing.  The plan on TP isn't just something I log in and read . . . it is a plan I am constantly internalizing and integrating into all the other obligations I have that week.


Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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