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Heading into IRONMAN Texas as a 2-time and current North American Champion, Matt Hanson was a man with a target on his back. His third victory at the Championships proved to be his most difficult win yet, ending in an exciting foot race where Hanson was able to showcase the strength of his running abilities, highlighted by his acceleration in the final mile of the race to claim the North American title.

Hanson considers The Woodlands and IRONMAN Texas his home away from home race. With 3 wins to his name on the course – 2015, 2017 & again in 2018 – this course and the typically hot & humid conditions seems to bring out the best in him. Hanson’s 2018 amazing performance is now marked in history as he posted the fastest marathon in IRONMAN history and IRONMAN retrospectively confirmed his effort an IRONMAN World record.

The 3-time North American IRONMAN Champion, who is also a professor of human performance and a First Endurance Endurance Research Board member, helps to develop the nutrition he uses to drive his performances. Hanson made some minor tweaks to his nutrition with less extreme conditions than normal in The Woodlands. “The conditions were absolutely perfect for fast racing. No wind, low humidity, and perfect temps until the last bit of the run. I actually strayed away from my typical fueling protocol of just First Endurance EFS-PRO and went with a mixture of EFS-PRO, EFS, and EFS Liquid Shot. I was able to get in 500 calories an hour and averaged 2.25 bottles an hour on the bike. This was a little lower than I wanted to target but I had some trouble getting water at a few aid stations due to a lot of bike traffic on the second lap.”

Starting off with a 52:30 swim, Hanson was 17th out of the water, looking at a 3:25 deficit to the leader, and positioned exactly 3 minutes behind eventual 2nd place finisher, Russian Ivan Tutukin. Hanson, who has seen big improvements on the swim in the last year, said “I am not terribly happy with the swim. I did not execute well at the start of the race and that ended up biting me around 500 yards in the swim and I lost the lead group”.

Lethal riding from Starykowicz, who was only 22 seconds back from the lead after the swim, and German Johann Ackermann, quickly opened up large gaps on the field and by 16 miles into the bike Hanson was 6-minutes in arrears to the front riding duo. With the 5th quickest ride in the field Hanson said “I felt strong on the bike and am happy with the numbers I was seeing. I didn’t have the smartest race from a strategic standpoint, but hindsight is always 20/20. Nine times out of 10, I would make the same decisions I made out there on the course.” Bridging to the main chase group by mile 38, Hanson rode straight through to the front of the pack trying to limit the loss to Starykowicz and Ackermann on the bike stating “I was 3 minutes down from the chase group out of the water so had some work to do to get to the pack. I bridged up alone over the first 75 minutes, then went to the front of the group, so I definitely wasn’t able to conserve much on the bike. I didn’t know what to expect from Andrew and wanted to minimize the losses to him on the bike.”

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Setting the pace at the front of the main pack of 10 for a significant portion of the bike, Hanson and the group pulled into T2 approximately 15 minutes behind Starykowicz. The stage for the battle on the run was immediately set up as Hanson lead the charge with Tutukin immediately on his heels. Hanson continued to lead the way and by 16 miles into the marathon the pair made the pass for the lead. In the past Hanson has run from behind to catch the winner and this year Hanson found himself in the lead but in foreign territory with his closest competitor matching his every stride. “I love the 3 loop run, it has so much support from the fans which makes it much easier to put yourself into that dark place”. They continued to stretch the gap on the group of talented runners chasing, but no moves were made to separate one from the other. “The run was a battle. I got a step on Ivan in the first mile, and that’s exactly how it stayed until the last mile or so. We were running hard from the get go and didn’t really slow down at all until the last 10k. I was hurting pretty badly and I’m guessing he was too. I tried to make a number of surges on the bike and wasn’t able to get away so essentially they were wasted. I wanted to make one effort on the run and make it count. With Ivan’s ITU background, I didn’t want to leave it until the end. I waited longer than I planned on, I was in a bit of a dark place at the point I planned to make the effort, so I waited until I got through that and talked my body into feeling better.”    

His third win at The Woodlands was the most difficult one yet as Hanson described “I had to dig about as deep as I ever have before. It takes a situation like this to really find out what you truly have in you. I’ve talked with Coach Julie about this a number of times, that it would likely take me being really tested for the run to find out what is possible. I guess we found out. There were a few rough patches in the final miles, but I got through the last tough patch and with a mile to go on a short downhill, at the 25 mile mark, I put in a hard surge and finally got a bit of a gap. I didn’t realize it until about 200 yards later when we got to the last turnaround and I could see about a 3 second lead. I gave it all I had for the next 100 yards then just tried to hold on.”

Clocking the fastest ever IRONMAN marathon split in 2:34:40, Hanson defended his title to break the tape in 7:39:35, 22 seconds ahead of second place Tutukin and 5:47 ahead of 3rd place, Britain’s Will Clarke. Winning the North American IRONMAN Championships for the 3rd time Hanson said

“I’m still trying to find the best way to put this to words. I’ve been targeting this race for the last 6 months. It has fueled most every training session that I’ve done. To be able to accomplish what we set out to do…and do it in such a way…indescribable.”

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Hanson has a few 70.3 races ahead on the schedule before the North American Champion turns his focus back to his World Championship Kona build.

IRONMAN Texas North American Championship
The Woodlands, Texas
April 28, 2018

1. Matt Hanson 7:39:35
2. Ivan Tutukin 7:39:57
3. Will Clarke 7:45:22
4. Tim Van Berkel 7:47:43
5. Jan Van Berkel 7:48:40
6. Brent McMahon 7:48:40
8. Andrew Starykowicz 7:50:56
9. Frederik Van Lierde 7:53:43