The triathlete who completed a lockdown IM 70.3 for the NHS

By Abby Coleman | 6 Minute Read

Precision Hydration caught up with 220 Triathlon magazine's Features Editor, Matt Baird, after he took on a quite remarkable triathlon during lockdown. Matt completed a half-IRONMAN in his back garden in Bristol to help raise funds for the UK's National Health Service. 

We talked to Matt to hear about the experiences, his motivations and, of course, his saddle sores...

 

Hi Matt! There’s only one place to start really - just how bad were the DOMS after completing a half-Ironman in your back garden??

The DOMS were actually alright as I don’t think I ever went fast enough to hurt myself! The joints were sore from the run, but it was my bottom that took most of the punishment.

I had to swap tri-suits halfway through and eventually wrapped a towel around my tri saddle to soften the pain. I will need to spend more time on the turbo if I plan to do a garden tri again…

 

Matt Baird garden swimCredit: Matt Baird ©

 

And so how did the idea of doing the triathlon in your garden come about? 

We have daily reminders on 220 Triathlon that the race calendar for tri events has been completely wiped out for many months, so we'd started thinking about ways that people could still safely race without actually going to an event. A man in China ran 31 miles around his living room in February and the idea grew from that.

I wanted to show creative ways of still exercising while on lockdown, so I bought a £50 second-hand paddling pool on eBay and used an indoor rowing bungee (that had never left the box) around my feet for the swim.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should attempt a half-Ironman in their garden, but there are ways of keeping fitness ticking over from home, whether that's hula hooping, yoga videos on YouTube or garden football.

 

It’s obviously been difficult for many athletes to train as they normally would – had you managed to fit much training in? 

I actually feel fitter than I have for a long time. We’re still lucky enough to be able to run in this country so I’ve been heading out into quiet areas of Bristol to run and enjoy the lack of traffic.

It’s opened up a lot of the city to me and reminded me I live in a beautiful place.

I’ve started running with my eight-year-old as well, and my five-year-old has become a mean garden footballer (although my shins are rather bruised from his late tackles). I’ve also finally signed-up to Zwift and that's forced me onto the turbo instead of my beloved mountain bike.

 

Matt Baird swimmingCredit: Matt Baird ©

 

And during the triathlon, how surreal was it to be completing the swim in a 2.6-metre paddling pool? I guess it was nice to avoid the ‘washing machine’ of a mass start...

I’m usually well behind the washing machine at races, but it was nice not to be lapped for once!

In the days before the garden tri, I tried to do lengths of the paddling pool but, even for a man of my 5ft 5in stature, it proved too short and difficult for my swim watch to record.

So I decided to go with my average 1.9km swim time of 50 minutes rather than distance. But I soon longed for an open-water swim. I also couldn’t wee in my wetsuit for warmth as I knew the kids wanted to use the pool after me…

 

Haha, at least the toilet in your house was accessible... What kept you going during 3:30 hours on the trainer? I understand you listened to a bit of Pearl Jam along the way… Well done for keeping an ‘Even Flow’ and it’s good to see you made it through ‘Alive’, although I imagine this is something you’ll only do ‘Once’ [I’ll stop with the Pearl Jam ‘puns’ now]

Ha, a fellow Ten-era Pearl Jam fan!

Zwift worked well for the first couple of hours but even my boredom threshold was spent during the last 90 minutes or so. It was at this point that I went inside, changed my tri-suit and dug out the Best of Pearl Jam.

My singing to ‘Jeremy’ nearly brought my partner to tears but it got me through the struggles and it was good seeing text messages pop up on my screen, even if most of those were comments about the state of my perineum.

 

Matt Baird garden bike
Credit: Matt Baird ©

 

Nice! Moving swiftly on. How did you approach nutrition and hydration during your challenge? It looked like your family were playing their part with keeping you fed, watered and motivated.

I managed to pick the hottest day of the year so far for the challenge, so I used bottles of PH 1000 throughout the bike leg and then in cups for the first half of the run.

I went through a whole array of gels and bars but started to struggle with sweet stuff a bit.

The benefit of racing in your back garden means easy access to the kitchen, so I had a mid-ride cup of green tea to settle my stomach and some peanuts and Rennies halfway through the bike. The kids manned the aid station, but I think they ate most of the wine gums.

 

Was the run leg particularly tough on your joins as you were turning at the end of each length of your garden? 

Turning 1,400 times on the run was hard and I’ve dodgy ankles already, so I tried to vary it and turn left sometimes, right the others, but I became a bit Derek Zoolander and struggled turning left.

 

And how did reaching the finish line compare to your past experiences of completing ‘normal’ triathlon races? It looked like there was a great reception from your family and neighbours, and it must be very satisfying to see you’ve raised such a fantastic amount for the NHS.

The toilet roll finish line was easily the best bit. My neighbours started playing Eye of the Tiger from their garden.

While I was late for the 8pm NHS applause (my one social fixture of the week), I broke the toilet roll finish line at 8.10pm.

 

 

With the loo roll safely back in the bathroom, I felt a huge sense of satisfaction raising more than £2.5K for the NHS, who have been risking their lives while I’ve been eating crisps and watching the Mandalorian from my sofa.

I’ve also never felt as close (metaphorically anyway) to my neighbours, and my sons were chuffed to see themselves on the local BBC news later in the weekend.

 

And what would be your best piece of advice for someone who’s struggling with goals due to races being cancelled at the moment? Would you recommend they attempt a similar challenge in their own back garden?

Yes, go for it! I’m no super athlete and regularly crawl across finish lines. So, whether it’s a sprint tri, 2.5km run, or hula hooping challenge, there’s athletic fun to be had in gardens or front rooms. It also gave us something to look forward to during the week and it kept my kids amused.

 

Matt Baird medal
Credit: Matt Baird ©

 

Do you have any more races or challenges (either in the garden or in the outside world) you’re hoping to complete in 2020?

The races I was eyeing up – Harlech Duathlon and Outlaw Half Bowood – have all been cancelled, so it could well be another garden multi-sport event later in May.

I’ve never raced a swimrun (no-one wants to be tied to me for eight hours), so I might recreate the OtillO World Champs in my garden - with eight runs and seven swims, a Swedish aid station complete with pickled goods, and the Cardigans on the stereo.

I’ll just need to wait for the lawn to recover first…

 

Thanks Matt, congratulations on completing your epic challenge for such a worthy cause! 

You can read about Coronavirus and triathlon in issue 378 of 220 Triathlon, out on 14 May. More at www.220triathlon.com and @mattbairdtri on Twitter. And if you would like to donate, please visit Matt's JustGiving Page

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