Solvang Coach Guides Athlete to Ironman Record!

Erich Manser & Matt Smith – IRONMAN Minute

Erich Manser has been slowly losing his vision and he teamed up with Matt Smith as his guide today to race IRONMAN Maryland. Watch their IRONMAN Minute!

Posted by IRONMAN Maryland on Saturday, October 7, 2017


When Coach Matt Smith’s phone rang last January with a request from visually impaired athlete Erich Manser to guide him at Ironman Maryland, it was no surprise to hear that Matt’s decision to help was a swift and an unhesitating yes.

Matt, a 3 x Solvang coach and coach of our Solvang Endurance Camp in 2018, shares some great insights into their Ironman Maryland race below. It truly was a day to remember, where Erich pushed the boundaries of the sport to a new visually impaired Ironman World Record, and the expertise, experience, and energy of Matt shone through with this selfless act.

This video shows footage of Erich and Matt on the course. Congrats to them both for an amazing performance full of trust and determination, great stuff!!

1. How long have you known Erich and how did your guiding role come about?

Erich and Matt ready to start their day at Ironman Maryland

I have known Erich for about 5 years. We met when the Denver Triathlon hosted the visually impaired championship race for the Olympic distance and I had volunteered to be a guide. Supposedly, I was the only person capable of keeping up with him on the swim, which I did not do in that race. I have worked with him on a couple of other shorter races and he called in January to ask about Ironman Maryland because his usual guide wasn’t able to do a full IM race this year. When he called, there was no hesitation, I said yes right away as I knew it was what I was meant to do.

2. There must be so much that goes into guiding a visually impaired person across 3 different sporting disciplines. Did you guys train together before the race? What strategies did you have to make this look so effortless on both your parts?

This is the coolest part about the race to be honest. Coolest and scariest for me. Erich lives in Boston area and I live in Denver so it wasn’t in the cards this summer to train together until the Thursday before the race. We went for a bike ride on his new tandem which I had never seen before and it just felt right. It took me a few turns to get things down but once we did it just fell into rhythm. The same thing happened for the swim and the run. That’s the cool part.

The scary part is that he had to have complete faith in me, my sight and my judgement of our pace, direction, just about everything regarding the race.

It’s scary to have that much responsibility in your hands for someone’s success. I think what makes it look effortless is that he has complete trust that I’m going to steer him in the right directionand I take that trust seriously and respect it wholeheartedly. Anything less would lead to a meltdown.

3. Erich is one fast athlete, was it always on the cards to go for the world record at Ironman Maryland?

Excellent race execution by Erich and Matt – an Ironman World Record!

Erich had set the world record at 11:09 a few years ago and since then a few guys had gone faster dropping it to 10:46. When we first talked, he mentioned that he would like to beat it but he was happy with a finish where he knew he gave it his all. We always had it in the back of our heads and intuitively, I was thinking about it regularly and visualizing that day. We really didn’t talk about it until we had 10km left in the run and I did some “Ironman math” and realized we had just under an hour to run a 10km. We weren’t quite on that pace so I remember asking Erich if that’s what he wanted and letting him know what we needed to get it.

He went for it and dug deep. I have never seen someone go that deep mentally in a race before.

4. With a 9 hr  Ironman time to your name and 9 Ironman races already under your belt, plus your coaching ability and incredible patience, you are an excellent man to guide any athlete through a race. But, as you know Ironman is not a foregone conclusion, the race can throw any athlete a curve… did you feel any pressure to deliver a good performance for Erich on the day?

Celebrating in the Ironman finish chute!

I have raced an 9:20 Ironman and this was number 10 for me so I did have some confidence I could deliver a 10:30-40 race with Erich. It’s true that you never know what Ironman can throw at you and I never took training for granted. I made sure all the long efforts I did I could ride at 20-30 watts more than I expected on race day and run 20-30 seconds faster per mile as I knew I would need to be 100% present the entire day and couldn’t have a mis-step as he can’t tag in a new guide (race rules say you start and finish with one guide). I had to be able to make it through or his day was shot. I felt a lot of pressure and took this responsibility seriously. In most races it’s just me but he had invested the time in training, paid for the race entry and our lodging.

5. Was there a key moment where Erich and you both knew the world record was within grasp? What was it like to be part of such a performance?

What a fab day all around. Matts wife Molly won  the women’s race overall, and Erich and Matt got an Ironman World Record!

When we came off the bike, we knew we had a good buffer based on what he had run in the past. If we could run 4:05-4:10 which was his IM PR, we would be sub 10:30. We went out on the run confident and controlled (a little fast probably). Around mile 10, things went South fairly quickly and we ended up walking a bit more than we had planned. I didn’t know it but Erich had given up the thought of getting the record until we had 10km left and I told him we had an hour to run it to beat the record and that no matter what he would set a PR.

The record at that point was just gravy but how good is gravy at the end of a hard race was the question I asked :0

He must like gravy as that lit the fire and he gutted out a hard 10km where we ended up in basically a sprint finish with me running a bit in front yelling to give him something to follow so he could sprint as hard as he could.

6. Of all the races and memories you have from the sport, how does this one rank?

I’ve been racing almost 17 years and I would say this ranks at the top by far. Without going into too much detail, I had a very humbling experience at a race a year prior that left me questioning why I do the sport. I heard a quote once that the hardest pill to swallow is one’s own ego, but after I got over my own goals and selfish pride, realizing the true WHY behind racing and how that aligns with my personal values is a lesson I won’t soon forget.

I’ve had some good days personally but to be tied into someone else’s day, to share in the rough spots together, the joys of the great spots and finish strong was just amazing.

We also got to share the course with my wife Molly and seeing her waiting for us as we crossed the finish line was huge. Also knowing she won her first Ironman overall made it even sweeter.

STC – Thanks Matt for sharing, great insights. Congrats to Erich, yourself and Molly. See you at the Solvang Endurance Camp in April!