She may have only taken up triathlon in 2015 and turned pro in 2019, but Brit Kat Matthews has been tipped by many to podium at the Ironman World Championship in St George this week.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the trained physio, and it’s one that shows no signs of slowing up as she prepares for the world champs and then a sub-eight-hour long-distance triathlon attempt as part of the Sub8 Project.
Here, Matthews speaks to 220 about some of the key moments in that journey and opens up on her hopes and expectations for this weekend’s race in St George.
Kat Matthews on… making the switch from age-grouper to pro
The thing that inspired me about middle-distance [racing] was there didn’t appear to be any ceiling. You could just keep getting better and you always had access to the very top.
You didn’t have to be selected or jump through any hoops. The better you were, the higher you got to race. So you always raced against the professionals and then you could compare yourself. The thing that motivated me about the pro-license was that you were then racing in the professional field against the very best.
That’s the reason I wanted to do it. Not because I wanted to be a professional athlete. It’s still [the same] now, to be honest. It’s still just to race the best, not to have it as a career. That doesn’t motivate me – I mean, it does a little bit now because I’ve spiraled a little bit, but yeah, it was just about seeing if I could get those percentages to get a pro licensed so I could race professionals, and I got it in that first race.
On how it felt to first race other pro triathletes
It was my last race as an age-grouper. It was the only race I did [as an age-grouper] with a professional field. We started eight minutes behind the professional women and I ran past all of them but one, so yeah, it was quite cool.
On moving up from 70.3 to full-distance triathlons
Middle-distance was what I was excited about in 2019, but I watched some of my army mates doing Ironman Estonia in 2019 and thought, well, if they can do it, I can do it. So I entered an Ironman.
Since I did that first Ironman I basically got hooked on the Ironman distance instead of the middle distance.
On coming fourth in St George at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs
I was still just focusing on Ironman and thought, ‘oh no, I’m definitely better at Ironman than I am at middle-distance’. And I had a couple of people tell me that, you know, you’re obviously good at Ironman, don’t worry about middle distance.
So in 2021 I was only going to do Kona, which was in October. The [the Ironman 70.3 World Champs] were three weeks earlier so I wasn’t going to bother doing them, even though I’d qualified.
Then obviously Kona got canceledbut I had a really great race at the Collins Cup, so I thought, actually, maybe I could be quite competitive at the middle distance. George Goodwin offered me a bedroom in [his group’s] house that was already organized and I flew out the next day. It was like, why not give it a go?
I couldn’t really run when I got there, because I was still nursing a running injury. But when I say injury… with the physio head on, I’m constantly managing niggles and rather than letting them affect my races, I’m just constantly managing them before they get to a full-on injury.
I had a bit of confidence, I guess, but went into the race with no real expectation because I hadn’t done the run training – it was up and down on massive hills on the run. I didn’t have the best performance on the day, but my swim and bike was good and then to come forth was like a gift.
On whether she thinks the St George course is suited to her strengths
Yeah, I really do. Personally, it’s way more fun. I’ve done one flat course before and it was so dull. Mentally it was like the hardest challenge. I think, being a more powerful athlete and technically skilled compared to some of the other girls, there’s aspects of this [course] that I think will really benefit me.
I guess I showed that on the 70.3 course. This year I’ve continued to get better training data-wise for the last six months, so it’s really exciting for me. [I’m going] into this world champs knowing I’m going to be better than I was at the 70.3 world champs.
Obviously there’s going to be a different field. Those top three girls that beat me [in the 70.3 World Championship] don’t do – or aren’t doing – the Ironman race, but there’s another few who will be there who’ve been specializing on the Ironman distances.
On how she’s feeling ahead of the Ironman World Championship
I’m feeling really good. It’s really cool to have raced as I did in Lanzarote [where she finished first, over three minutes ahead of Anne Haug] and know that it wasn’t like, whoa, where did that come from? Am I ever going to be able to do that again? It was exactly as I planned. So that’s given me a lot of confidence.
I’m never 100% sure I’ll feel on race day. I’m still nervous about the swim start, the swim, who I’m going to swim with, whether I’ll be a few minutes down, how hard I’ll have to work at the start of the bike… but overall, Yeah, I’m really excited. I guess there isn’t this sort of apprehension and tension that perhaps Kona holds, because the environment isn’t so extreme.
On where she thinks/hopes she’ll finish on race day
A key thing at the 70.3 worlds was that I went into it thinking that top five was amazing and I was running along [in fourth] thinking cool, I’ve already succeeded. I don’t even need to try any harder. And I’m not saying that I could have tried harder, but I didn’t have anything to work for.
So I spoke to a sports psychologist last year… I want to be in the race and genuinely think that I can win. It’s taken a few months to try and get that idea into my head, but no, when I’m on the start line, I’m going to try and win the race.
Obviously it’s my debut at the Ironman World Champs, but I’m going to try and win… I’d obviously be really happy with a top three – I’d be gutted to miss that podium considering the shape I’m in now. I think something will have had to go really wrong if I don’t get to podium, which is quite cool to say.
We also spoke to Matthews about replacing Lucy Charles-Barclay for the Sub8 attempt. Here’s what she had to say on that.
Top image credit: Ryan Jenkinson/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images