Sunday, February 23, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: Matthew Kucharski - Maryland

Triple Threat is currently in the process of expanding our national team. Former collegiate wrestler and father of newborn twins Matthew Kucharski is one such new addition, representing Baltimore and the state of Maryland. Thanks for the time, Matt!

What's your background and how did you get into triathlon?
Growing up, I was always an athlete and played sports but I was more into playing baseball and soccer, as well as wrestling. I never really ran (other than to stay in shape for other sports) and I was never on any organized swim teams, so to find myself in the triathlon world is a bit odd I guess.
Once I realized my competitive days were over in those other sports, I knew that I needed some outlet. My wife is a runner, and when she decided to try her hand at a triathlon I went to support her. I came away from that event very impressed and thinking that I could give it a try. After a couple years of casually racing I decided to take the next step and became committed to the sport. I started training year round and 2013 was my first real season of competitive racing. I hope that last year was just the starting point as I continue to learn and improve going forward.

I've always respected wrestlers for the work they put in despite receiving far less glory than other sports. Has wrestling helped you as a triathlete, from a physical and/or mental perspective? Have you ever used some of your moves in the washing machine that is open water swimming?
Well thank you! It is true that wrestling does not attract much glory but I really enjoyed my years competing and would argue that it is one of the most physically demanding sports out there. I will say that the years of grueling practices and workouts have helped me as I transitioned to triathlon. Obviously the training all those years kept me in great physical shape, but I think there may be even more value in the mental aspect of things. Although technically a team sport, wrestling is very individual as once the whistle blows you are out on that mat alone and it is up to you to decide how bad you want it. I get those some feelings during a race when I am tired, and sore and just beat down and I know that if I want to just quit, nobody is going to stop me. There is that constant battle in your mind to keep going and push harder, and I think I learned to deal with that from my wrestling days.
The one challenge has been the disparity in the training regime between the sports. I spent years in the weight room trying to pack on muscle mass only to have that work somewhat against me now as I compete. It has been one of things that have slowed me down over the past few years as I struggled with accepting that I would have to basically transform my body type and sacrifice some of the muscle if I wanted to truly be competitive in this sport. I think I have finally come to grips with that and I look forward to seeing the strides I can make this upcoming season.

One added bonus is my comfort level running around in front of the spectators and fans in skin tight spandex suit! I never realized how similar a tri-suit and a wrestling singlet were! As far as dealing with the “washing machine”, you are probably right although I have never thought about it that way! I’m not out in the water headlocking guys but I do think I have a higher tolerance for the body contact that occurs out there.

How would you sum up your 2013 season? What was the highlight and lowlight?
I look at 2013 as sort of my rookie season in the sport in a competitive nature. I raced a handful of sprints and Olympics before, but It was really just more for fun and to have a challenge for myself. I think the highlight of 2013 isn’t really one race, but more so the fact that I was able to go from “participating” to “racing”. I was able to complete my first 70.3 as well as pick up a couple podiums, so just the fact that I was able to push myself to make that transition is what motivates me going forward. 
Luckily the positives outweighed the negatives but I did have a disappointing end to the season. In my last race of the year, I was feeling really confident with my chances to place overall. I had my best swim of the year, came into T1 right behind the lead pack and ready to attack on the bike course. About 5 miles into the bike, I hit a patch of gravel and sand during a turn and blew out my tire. It was a Sprint course so I wasn’t carrying a spare….my first DNF. I know it happens to everyone at some point but it definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth for a bit.
To what do you most attribute your improvement over the last few years?
As I mentioned earlier, I think the overall breakthrough was finally committing to make that adjustment to dedicated triathlon training. Increasing volume across all three disciplines while scaling back the strength training was an obvious need. I started making that adjustment going into 2013 but have really taken it to the next level this offseason.
I also learned that nutrition and fueling is really the 4th discipline, and that becomes even more prevalent the longer the course your racing. Working with Hammer nutrition to become educated on proper fueling and really nailing down my own plans made a big difference in how I trained and raced.

How would you rank the three disciplines from your personal strength to weakness?
If I had to rank them as they stand today, I would say 1) Bike 2) Run 3) Swim. I think the swim is a pretty common weak link for a lot of triathletes that don’t come from a swimming background. It is a steep learning curve trying to develop proper technique as an adult. I don’t think I’ll ever be an FOP (front of pack) swimmer, but ever since I started attending a masters swim class and putting in the time to get comfortable in open water as well, I have seen a world of difference.
The running has come along slowly but surely over the past few years, and for someone who never ran track or cross country, I am proud of the progress I have made just with a combination of logging the miles and shedding some of the bulk I had been carrying. As I continue to increase the mileage and trim down the weight, I hope to continue to make those strides.
The bike is my favorite to train and race. I think it’s just a result of taking to the discipline well. It doesn’t hurt that there are endless amounts of toys you can buy these days. I think most would agree that one could spend a fortune collecting gear to get more aero and to try and shave a few seconds.
In your application you wrote "I love having a goal to strive towards year round. When I am running, or on the trainer in the morning, or at the pool on the weekend - I am training for something. I am not just exercising to stay in shape--I am training with a purpose." What's your focus in terms of racing and/or goals for the 2014 season?
My goals are pretty simple at this stage. I hope to see my training pay dividends with each race. That could mean winning or placing at each event---but that could also mean seeing a PR with each race I compete in. I would like to qualify for USAT nationals again and be able to eventually earn a bid to represent the US at worlds, but if that doesn’t come this season I will still feel successful as long as I keep getting faster and show that the hard work is paying off.

How did the Hammer sponsorship come about, and what have Hammer products done for your training and racing?
Well as you would attest to, racing can be a pretty expensive sport so any age grouper or pro that can secure a sponsorship(s) can consider themselves pretty lucky.
More importantly, finding a sponsor whose products you believe in that is willing to provide you that support can be even more challenging. As I started my search for a sponsor prior to last season, I thought about the products that I already use and where there could be a good fit. I have been using Hammer products for a few years already, so when I applied with them to be part of their race team I was stoked when things worked out.  Everything that I need to get through training sessions and races they offer and on top of that they have been able to help educate me and develop a fueling plan that works for me specifically. Myke Hermsmeyer and the rest of the team at Hammer have been super supportive and awesome to work with. Fueling can be tricky and overwhelming when getting started and I can say that since hooking up with them that is one less worry that I have on race day. I would highly recommend checking them out if you are looking for help building out your nutrition plan as they can offer everything from Energy Gels,  and electrolyte replacement, to recovery and protein products.

As far as personal accomplishments go, in your application you first talked about how proud you are to have your twin girls (born on Halloween). What are your daughters' names, and has it been a tough transition?  Have you ever timed yourself on the changing table?
Yes—it has been an awesome, and at times overwhelming, experience for sure.Maya and Arya were born on Halloween and they have already got me wrapped around their fingers already. It has been an adjustment for sure and not just for training but for life in general as they pretty much decide what my wife and I are going to do each day. We went from only having my 5 year old son, Jackson ,part-time, to now having two infants at all times. My wife Lauren is like a supermom. She has patience beyond my imagination when they are both upset and really handles the heavy lifting. Communication and organization have become key when planning anything now and my wife and I try our best to support each other when it comes to hobbies and activities. I don’t think I would be able to stick to half of my training if I didn’t have such a supportive spouse.
I now frequent the bike trainer at 4am during the week, and I take advantage of getting the majority of my runs in during lunch. These are just the types of sacrifices that I’ll need to make so that I don’t interfere with family time. I need to respect the support that I get from my family and if that means training while everyone else is sleeping so that I can still pick the kids up from daycare and cook dinner then that is just how things will need to be for awhile.
Can you tell us a bit about your day job, and what hobbies do you have outside of work and triathlon?
I work for a company that specializes in “Project Rescue”. I left my job at a major financial firm after about 10 years to help start up and build this consulting firm. We specialize in project management services for companies within the financial and healthcare industries and will come in and take a project that may be stalled out or have failed in the past and apply our style in order to get it on track and see it to completion
In order to take triathlon seriously, I really had to drop any other hobbies or activities that I used to participate in like playing softball and soccer. I am a big country music fan and still try to catch a few shows every year. I am also a diehard Baltimore Orioles and Washington Redskins fan. We live about 15 minutess from Camden Yards so we usually attend a decent amount of games each summer.

You mentioned that you have "quite a few tattoos which seem to draw attention at races." What are your thoughts on the controversial subject of the "M-dot" tattoo... still cool, or an over-done stereotype?
I think tattoos in general have become more mainstream in the past few years. I know the whole “M-dot” topic will usually garner opinions that sit strongly on both sides of the fence. I honestly think that if you complete a full IM and that is what you want to do then I think you have earned the right to do so. I know that some view it as getting a corporate logo branded on your body so I see their point as well, but there is a difference between someone proudly displaying the M-dot and someone getting the Mcdonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh inked on their calf.
I think a good compromise, which I have seen a few examples of, is to use the M-Dot as a start but to design something more custom and unique that represents the accomplishment. This way you can still commemorate  the 104.6 accomplishment but keep it unique to you.

Check out more on Matt!

Twitter: @matthew_Kuch

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