Matt Hanson (USA) won his fourth Ironman North American Championship title at Ironman Des Moines in atypical fashion on a hot and humid day. Hanson, who usually comes from behind to run himself into contention, showed an aggressive performance on the bike to put himself in the lead earlier than normal. While Hanson still showed his prowess on the run, the hot and humid conditions proved to be his biggest competition. Hanson almost fell over at the finish line but, racing in Iowa, the wins on the day were more than a championship title.
The race started off with a two-loop 2.4 mile swim in Grays Lake. Hanson says he swam primarily by himself after trying to follow a move from Brazilian Andre Lopes to bridge up to the leaders. “I couldn’t get all the way up to his feet but I got rid of the group. I was happy with the swim overall and it set up a good day,” he says. The swim proved to be a key part of Hanson’s day: “In my race plan, if I was within two minutes of the lead group I would chase to try to get to the front as quickly as I could. If I was over two minutes, then I would sit in and set up for a run day. I was right in the two minute window coming out of T1.”
Hanson admits it wasn’t his intention to lead the bike but, after catching the front group, he changed his race strategy. “I had the opportunity to get away. I was sitting on the front and we turned a corner and there was a big hill,” he says. Hanson attacked on the short climb and dropped the pack. Two competitors bridged back so Hanson surged again on a flat to get away. Already qualified for the World Championships in Kona, Hanson says he was able to make riskier decisions and be more aggressive than usual on the bike. “Mid-race I decided to put out an Ironman race effort that I would need in Kona, not just for the race we were having that day. I turned it into a learning experience to see what I need to do to have the day that I want on the Big Island,” he explains. At the end of the 112 mile bike, Hanson’s efforts gave him a 25 second lead.
The marathon is where Hanson shines and he took full advantage of his strengths. “I just decided to go out and build the lead,” he explains. At the midway mark, Hanson had a healthy seven minute lead so he “stopped building and started protecting.” However, the hot and humid conditions started to affect everyone and Hanson slowed significantly toward the final stages of the race. “I was doing a little bit of math but I knew if I just took care of the things that I could take care of, that I was going to be fine. I was still well and in control,” he says. One thing he did take care of was taking on fluids, so much so that he stopped mid-run to use the toilet. “I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have a large lead but it was better than peeing on the people around me,” he laughs, explaining his confusion over why it caught everyone’s attention on the live broadcast.
Despite sacrificing a lot of speed in the final miles, Hanson crossed the line two-and-a-half minutes in front of the next competitor—but then he almost toppled over. Hanson says his vision was even slightly blurry after he bent over and had trouble standing up again. Initially, he thought it was the heat but after analyzing the race, he says it was a simple lack of energy: “I was so worried about the fluids and cooling myself down, I didn’t take in enough calories.”
Capturing a fourth championship title wasn’t the only win for Hanson. Spending most of his adult life in Iowa, Hanson says racing with a “home court feel” was special. “I had a lot of friends and family on course. My wife and sister both raced, my parents were there, my in-laws were there, a lot of alumni and people I worked with came out. It would’ve been a little bit more fun to look a little better at the end but, that’s all right, we got the job done,” he smiles. The final cherry on top of Hanson’s performance was his second visit to the finish line. “One of the traditions in Ironman is giving the finisher medals out in the last hour but they let me sneak in and give both my wife and my sister their finisher medals. That created some special moments.”