Riley’s next stepNot many people start running triathlons at age 14. It isn’t an easy race and it certainly isn’t easy training.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
Not many people start running triathlons at age 14. It isn’t an easy race and it certainly isn’t easy training.
But to Matt Riley, now a 21-year-old from Red Wing, triathlons just fit.
“I really enjoyed the biking and I swam and ran in high school so it just seemed to make sense,” Riley said. “I kind of fell into it.”
Riley, who graduated from Red Wing in 2009, was introduced to the sport by Red Wing head cross-country and girls track coach Jesse Nelson. Nelson was doing triathlons and, as Riley’s coach with the Wingers, he influenced Riley’s attachment to the grueling three-part endurance test.
“I told him, ‘You try one of these; you’d be pretty good at them.’ It was pretty fun introducing him to it,” Nelson said. “It’s just rewarding obviously as a coach and a mentor that you’re having an impact on kids; influencing others to become healthier.”
So Riley decided to join Nelson for a triathlon in Elysian, Minn. From there, the 14-year-old’s love for the sport grew. Now Riley runs two or three triathlons a year and also got involved in mountain bike races. Riley is dealing with an injury right now but last year he ran in two triathlons and competed in six mountain bike races.
“It’s a different challenge than going into a swimming race or going into a running race,” Riley said of triathlons. “Even the little things, the transitions, how do you make a smooth transition?’”
Injury created a lull in his running and biking regimen and it became a frustrating reminder that every facet of training, warm up, stretching and cool down, are equally important.
“I think I learned that I just need to stretch more,” Riley said. “I was warming up and cooling down, but I don’t think I was stretching as much as I should have been and doing the little strengthening exercises … to help prevent the injuries.”
Riley said the physical therapists believed his issues stemmed from illiotibial band syndrome, a common overuse injury involving tissue that runs outside of the thigh, and some alignment issues with his knee and hip, but it was never fully understood. The trouble started in the second week of October, but Riley said he assumed it would get better with time. The knee, however, continued to hamper him into the spring. He could ride a bike for 15 to 20 minutes before his knee would start to tingle and then sharp pain would follow.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Riley said. “I kept doing the physical therapy things. There was a couple times where I thought I was doing too much too soon and that pushed me back further so I dealt with that. It took quite a bit of time just trying to get better to run.”
Riley went to Patterson Chiropractic the first weekend of May and the problem finally started getting better.
“I went to one adjustment and the clicking I’d had in my knee for seven months went away,” Riley said. “I was in disbelief. I thought, ‘No way.’”
Since then it’s been a process of rebuilding the muscles and getting the leg used to training and racing.
“In everyday life, I’m pretty comfortable,” Riley, an on-call firefighter in Red Wing, said. “(My leg) can’t handle the long days on the bike or the run.”
Each discipline in triathlons takes an incredible amount of training — time that Riley lost in the last year. Riley said before the injury he would bike about 100 miles per week, run 45 consecutive minutes three times a week and swim 2,500 yards two or three times per week. Now he’s lucky to run 20 minutes twice a week, but he’s getting back into shape, he said.
Riley finished first in his age group at the 2012 Life Time Fitness Trinona triathlon June 10 in Winona, Minn., racing in his first Olympic distance triathlon; a 1.5-kilometer swim, 28-mile bike ride and 10K run. Riley ended 28th overall in 2 hour, 23 minutes and 41 seconds.
“I would say that was my best one even with dealing with the injury,” Riley said. “That was a fun event because I was proving to myself that I could do it again and that was my first six-mile run in eight months at that triathlon. The run was mentally really hard. It was a good test.”
A month later, he finished third in his age group at the 2012 Life Time Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis July 14.
Riley came in 25th place overall in a faster time of 2:19:30.6, despite having two close calls in the race’s biking portion. On two occasions, water bottles from another competitor rocketed off the bike and nearly hit Riley.
“You have to adapt and be aware of everything,” he said.
Despite being a swimmer and runner in high school, Riley said he enjoys biking most now. He also works at Wheelhouse Cycles in Red Wing and his boss, Andrew Peterson, allows Riley to try out some of the best bikes available.
“He’s helped me out a lot along the way,” Riley said. “Very flexible with the work schedule, which has allowed me to train and helping me out and letting me ride bikes.”
Riley introduced his parents, Chris and Dave, to triathlons and all are signed up to take part in the Wingman Triathlon Sunday morning at Colvill Park in Red Wing.
“My mom and dad probably help me out more than anyone,” Riley said. “They’re on board, they’re helping me out. … It’s something my mom has done and my dad enjoys. It’s easy to do with a family when you all enjoy the same thing. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
There are many other people who help Riley, including a Wednesday night road biking group in Red Wing and the Red Wing high school boys swim team.
“That’s always fun because they can beat me in pretty much every set,” Riley said. “It really pushes me when I swim with them. It’s a big push to put in more yards.”
The discipline and hard work needed to improve as a triathlete is the next step for Riley even as it takes minutes of coaxing his body into the pool nearly every day.
“I’ll sit at the edge of the pool dipping my feet in the water, ‘Oh, do I really want to get in,’” Riley said. “It takes a bit; you’re tired but once you get started, and I think that’s with everything, once 5, 10 minutes go by you really start to enjoy it. That tiredness or laziness, whatever it is, that starts to go away.”
Riley said his goal is to someday follow in the footsteps of Nick Early, who grew up in Red Wing and now competes in triathlons professionally, but it won’t be easy. He also wants to compete in the 2012 Xterra Nationals in Ogden, Utah, Sept. 22-23. The off-road race includes swimming, mountain biking and trail running.
“That’s the main goal,” Riley said. “I really enjoy the off-road triathlon a lot. You throw mountain biking in there and it makes it a little harder. A road triathlon, you get done with the swim and you get on your bike and you just hold on, you get a break. You get on a mountain bike and you’re trying to turn.”
Nelson said he thinks Riley can make nationals soon because of his competitiveness and history with cross country and swimming in high school.
“He has experience in all three (triathlon events),” Nelson said. “It’s just a matter of devoting more energy, money and time to it. … He’s got all the tools and if he can stay injury free, making the Xterra Nationals, is definitely not out of the question.”
Last year, Riley took third overall in the Xterra Dairyland race in Sheboygan, Wis., and qualified for nationals but didn’t attend. He plans to compete in an Xterra race in Peoria, Ill., and qualify again.
“I’m looking forward to going,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll make it.”