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 From Sofa To Starting Line In 90 days
Submitted by Rickshaw :: Wed Apr 27, 2005 10:03 pm
Matt Russ, The Sport Factory: When my friend, Tom Matte, called and asked me to whip him into shape, I was somewhat skeptical. I had worked with Tom in the past with only limited success. Tom is your typical type A person. He is a 40-year old father of two young boys and the owner of Max2o, an Atlanta-based advertising agency. The demands these responsibilities place on him usually got in the way of his physical fitness. Tom is very goal-oriented and driven, but needs to have something specific to focus on. He did not do very well with a general fitness plan.

I explained to him that my time was very limited and I did not want to work with him unless he was truly committed. He said he was in the worst shape of his life and was at a point where he could dedicate himself to training. I suggested he set a race goal and we decided on a 3/16/2 mile sprint duathlon several months down the road. I honestly did not have a lot of confidence in him achieving this goal based on his past performance, but decided to give him a few weeks to see how it went.

I created a custom coaching plan for Tom in the software I use to work with my athletes. It was based strictly on his personal parameters: the amount of time he had to train per week, his current fitness level, and the days he wanted to train on. His workouts were emailed to him daily and included detailed instructions and heart rate zones. I started him off with a run / walk program and gradually added in cycling. We scheduled appointments twice a week to work on strength training and form. I think the structure and accountability of the online program appealed to Tom as every day he would enter his work out log data. If he hit his marks, the workout would turn green. I could easily track his progress on my end and make adjustments if needed. Tom could see his schedule a month at a time and visually track his progress from start to finish.

Tom was hitting his marks precisely after several weeks. I had never seen him so focused. He even added in additional walks at the end of the day. Tom had some muscle imbalances and his core strength was lacking which is typical of a sedentary individual. We were working on these issues in our strength sessions. By the end of the four-week block, he had completed all the workouts as prescribed and had exceeded my expectations. I decided to challenge him more in the next block of training.

By week ten, Tom could see a real change in his body. He had lost weight and had packed on some solid muscle in his upper body. His core strength had improved greatly. More importantly, he was moving along precisely as planned with his race training. If there was an issue with his workout for the day, he would email me and we would adjust his plan to keep him moving forward as efficiently as possible. He purchased a stationary trainer and we added cycling into his plan. Tom was highly motivated and resolved in his work outs.

As the race approached, we started "brick" workouts which involved running and cycling together. Tom started training on the road. His workouts gradually got more intense, longer, and specific to his race goal. A few weeks out from race day, I knew he was more than prepared, but because it was his first race, Tom had doubts and plenty of questions. I had forgotten how intimidating the first race can be. We set up a plan of pacing, fueling, and hydration and went over transitions.

On race day, I passed Tom on the way to athlete check-in. I could tell he had a serious case of the race day jitters that all athletes experience. As you get used to racing the level of nervousness usually goes down a bit but never goes away. I quickly got involved with my other athletes and did not see him again. I repeatedly scanned the crowd looking for him at the race start. I was a bit nervous not seeing him. The thought crossed my mind that maybe he had decided to sit this one out. I was very gratified when I finally saw him on the run.

When I crossed the finish line, the first person I saw was Tom's wife, Christie, and their two children. Christie had decided to surprise him by being there and videoed his finish. I did not think Tom could break two hours. He was riding my old mountain bike which was heavy and slow. I knew he would get passed like he was standing still by the lightweight tri bikes.

Tom crossed the finish line at a very respectable 1:55. There were plenty of people behind him. He said he had a lot left. His runs were in the 8:30 range which is exceptional and he had passed a lot of people on his second run. I have no doubt Tomís time will improve dramatically as we enter new training phases.

Nothing motivates like success. Tom has several more races on his annual training plan and has a dream goal of a half Ironman. I know he will achieve this. Tom is going to meet with The Sport Factory's registered dietician to come up with a specific diet plan that will help him to continue his weight loss while having enough energy to train. Tom's wife, Christie, is now training for her first adventure race and has lost a considerable amount of weight. This has become a lifestyle for them.

I have the pleasure of working with many elite level athletes but I get more personal satisfaction from seeing someone come so far in such a short period of time. To me, an athlete is anyone who sets an athletic goal and anyone can be an athlete. I don't really know what "clicks" in a person to make that turn-around. Maybe it is not unlike an alcoholic who hits rock bottom. I do know that once someone has made the investment in sweat equity he rarely goes back to his former

Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), is an Ultrafit Associate. Visit for more information or email him at

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