21-year-old Professional Duathlete from Perth, Australia, Matt Smith wakes up at 3:30 a.m. every morning to train. He's been doing this ever since he raced on a tour of Europe in 2012. That year, a race in Italy made him fall so much in love with the sport that he decided to spend his life racing around the world and never look back.
In 2013, Matt's friend and training partner Kurt Wesley introduced him to competitive cycling. The 21-year-old athlete has since taken home two World Championship Duathlon wins. The only thing holding Matt back from Triathlon events is a deep hatred for swimming.
Matt's athletic success and active social media presence have earned him sponsorships from Hoka One One, Merida, Bike Force Ellenbrook, Science in Sport, and Mafro Sports. Between racing, training, and advertising himself, Matt also juggles a job at an athletic store in Perth, Australia.
In our exclusive interview with Matt, he told us about the training regime that got him this far, the difficulties that stood in the way of his early career success, and his goals for the future.
RS: Why and when did you start participating in Duathlon? Who or what motivated you?
Matt: I first started running for my school team in 2011 but wasn't very good. In 2012 the team went on a tour to Europe, so I trained super hard for a couple months before leaving. I had the fantastic opportunity to race in Italy and did pretty well. It was at that point that I decided to spend my time travelling around the world racing as much as I could.
In 2013 I made my first State cross country team, where I also met my training partner Kurt Wesley, a Triathlete who is now my best mate. I already had an average road bike, so Kurt convinced me to start cycling with him and his squad at Eclipse Performance Centre. During my training there, another training partner's dad convinced me to try to make the Australian Age Group team for the 2015 World Championships in Adelaide, Australia. That was the year I went to nationals and won my age group. The rest is history.
RS:What is your current best record for Duathlon? What will you do to beat your personal best?
Matt: Duathlon is a sport where you don't really have a personal best time, as courses for events change from year to year. Racing can also be very tactical, meaning slower or faster times might be better depending on what the race situation is like. That being said, I'll normally try to average around three minutes per kilometre on runs and around 42 kilometres per hour on the bike, depending on what the course is like.
Beating a personal best is always about training smarter, not harder for me. It's about getting stronger on the bike and a little faster on the long runs, which doesn't always mean beating my times from last year.
RS: Will you participate in a triathlon event? Why or why not?
Matt: I tried triathlon and swimming for a year and I absolutely hated it. I will probably try again in the future, but not now. I am a land mammal.
RS: What advice can you give to people participating in their first-ever Duathlon?
Matt: First and foremost: enjoy it. Your first race should not be about winning. It's about gaining experience and learning as much as possible so you can shoot for improvement in the next one. My first Duathlon was on a very cold rainy day in Perth. I learned where I needed to improve, but most of all I had so much fun that I knew I wanted to run many more in the future!
RS: Can you share your most memorable experience during the Duathlon competition? Your worst experience?
Matt: So far, the most stand-out event for me has been my second World Age Group win at the 2016 World Championship race in Spain. At the time, I was pushing very hard to turn pro but kept getting pushed back. So I went to Spain and raced in an older Age Group just to prove to everyone that I was ready to become Elite. I remember being four or five minutes in front of second in Transition 2, meaning I could just jog through the second run and enjoy the moment. I remember thinking, with about one kilometre left, "you may never win a World Championship again, so really remember this moment." I remember every step of that last kilometre as I went on to win by about five minutes and celebrated with the massive crowd that had turned up to watch.
My worst experience was cramping extremely badly on the bike in this year's (2017) World Championships in Canada and watching everyone ride ahead of me, then run past me later. I was embarrassed, angry, and disappointed about what happened, but I took it as a lesson learned and fixed a few dietary issues to make sure it doesn't happen again.
RS: How long did you train to achieve the Duathlon championship?
Matt: Very long! For each World Championship, it's about a six or seven-month lead-up of training that includes other races. My squad and I hit about 15-20 hours of training a week including riding, running, and gym training. Occasionally if I am injured and can't run or ride, I will swap in swimming training and do some slow, terrible swimming.
RS: How did you train to get such an achievement? What's your secret?
Matt: To be honest, I don't really have a secret to my training. It's just pure hard work every day. I am lucky to have an amazing group of coaches and athletes around me who inspire me to train even when I am super tired, as well as the best sponsors in the business to help me train at my 100% all the time. Mates like Kurt Wesley, Matty Ramsden, and David Cecchi are my best mates as well as my training partners, so every single training session is full of laughing and enjoyment even when we're tired. That's what keeps us going even when we all feel extremely dead.
I make sure I hit every 1% after training as well, whether that means cooling down and stretching properly, eating a healthy dinner, drinking protein shakes after a hard workout, or just SLEEP. I also choose not to drink any alcohol either, as I personally believe it would tarnish all the hard work I put in at training every week.
RS: What is the prerequisite of your future girlfriend? Must she be an athlete too?
Matt: Haha! I've certainly never been asked this question before. To be honest, I see myself as a pretty boring person who lives a pretty boring lifestyle. I get up at 3:30 AM most morning of the week, I work a lot when I'm not training, and then I sleep a lot too when I can. So with that said, I guess any future GF would just have to be chill with me being busy a lot, not get mad at me when I wake them up early every morning, and most importantly either be up to travelling with me everywhere or be cool with the fact that I could be away for months at a time racing in the future. 🙂
RS: Getting good sponsorship from brands is tough in Singapore. Can you share a little bit with us about the sponsorship and support scene in Australia? How do you get the best brands to support you, and how do you manage them?
Matt: Getting sponsorship is hard anywhere in the world. Companies want to see how much exposure and money back they are going to get from an athlete. I've found that my social media activity is the best way to attract sponsors, so I'm extremely active on several social media outlets: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and occasionally Twitter. My sponsors like seeing me win races wearing their products, then posting on social media about it afterward.
So for all you athletes chasing sponsors and Singapore and struggling, try to sell yourself as an advertising package for the company. And most importantly, always ask! Sponsors might not always come chasing you immediately—you have to go to them. I got in contact with a couple of my best sponsors by sending them emails convincing them to help me out.
RS: What are your goals for next year?
Matt: Simple: win everything and be happy doing it. (In particular, a U23 Duathlon World Championship win in Denmark would be nice.)
When he's not biking, running, or training, Matt works at Runwest, a running shop in Perth. He also enjoys playing golf, cricket, and a little bit of FIFA in his spare time. You can follow Matt on Instagram @TeamSmithie or on his blog.