From Bolton to Hawaii... Met police detective inspector Matt Hogg preparing for the Ironman World Championship
Matt Hogg qualified for the Ironman World Championship in wet conditions in the north of England.
And, if all goes to plan, he will soon be taking on the globe's toughest athletes in searing heat in the town of Kailua-Kona against the backdrop of the Hualalai volcano in Hawaii.
The 32-year-old father of two, who moved to Thorley four years ago, has got his fingers crossed that the USA will ease coronavirus travel restrictions to enable him to travel to the Pacific Ocean state for the race on October 9, when he will compete against his fellow 30-34 age group athletes over a 2.4-mile sea swim and a 112-mile bike ride before running a marathon through baking-hot barren lava fields.
It would be the trip of a lifetime for Matt and his young family. His wife Natalie, who is a teacher, and their children, two-year-old Seb and 10-month-old Lottie, have never seen him race, and the plan is for them all to travel.
And there is another reason why Matt – a detective inspector in the Metropolitan police covering Camden and Islington, managing the domestic violence teams – wants to find himself on the start line in just under two months' time. The event organisers have said competitors cannot defer their place for a year, so he would have to complete the qualifying process again in 2022 to get his moment in the world spotlight.
"If I find myself on the start line I'll be stunned, but I'm training as if I'll be able to go. I'm just trying not to get too excited about it, which is a shame," said Matt, who does his swimming training at Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre in Bishop's Stortford and Redricks Lakes in Sawbridgeworth.
"If I go then I'll be trying to enjoy the race as much as I can and bask in the fact I'm at the world championships.
"Normally it's a FaceTime afterwards, so it'll be nice to have my family there with me.
"Qualifying for Kona has really been a team effort. I might be the one who does the training sessions and performs on the day, but really I'm only able to do that because of my wife, who looks after the children and ultimately allows me to achieve to the best of my ability."
Matt, who is originally from Watford, began by tackling half and full marathons before taking up swimming when knee injuries meant he was unable to run.
Having completed a marathon in 3hr 19min, three years ago he decided to move into triathlon and took on his first competitive half Ironman at Hever Castle in Kent in 2018. In torrential rain and mud, he crossed the line in 6hr 18min.
Matt was a member of Stortford Tri before getting his own coach – former professional triathlete Fiona Ford – with the aim of doing his first full Ironman in 2019.
He achieved his goal by taking on Ironman UK in Bolton. A total time of 11:02 – 56min swim, 6:10 bike and 3:41 run – put him seventh in the 30-34 age group and saw him miss out on World Championship qualification by one place.
With the bike being his weakest element, Matt used the coronavirus lockdowns to improve it, doing six sessions a day.
After coming third overall in the Huntsman half Ironman in the New Forest in the spring thanks to a time of 4:40, Matt found himself back in Bolton on July 4 attempting to secure his trip to Hawaii.
A lake swim in Pennington Flash (1:02) was followed by a hilly bike ride featuring 2,500m of elevation in heavy rain – "the last 20 miles was just about survival" – and a marathon which took him 3:26 for an overall time and personal best of 10:22.
He finished fifth in his age group to secure his place at the World Championship. He was initially disappointed as he had been aiming to run around 11 minutes faster, but, once he had time to reflect properly, he was pleased having knocked 40 minutes off his 2019 time.
Now, despite the uncertainty over whether he will be able to get to Hawaii to compete, he has been preparing for the body- and mind-sapping conditions that lie in store.
An average week would see Matt train for 12 or 13 hours, with that increasing to up to 20 hours a week two months before an event. He has even installed two fan heaters in his 'man cave' to crank up the temperature for his bike sessions on the turbo trainer.
In Kailua-Kona, no wetsuits are allowed for the ocean swim while the athletes – around 2,500 would compete in the event in a normal year – can be buffeted by 50mph crosswinds on the long, straight roads during the bike ride featuring 1,700m of elevation. And the lava fields produce a wall of heat for the marathon, increasing the temperature which is already expected to be around 30C.
A far cry from a grey day in Bolton, then, but Matt is hoping he will have enough energy left in his legs by the closing stages to get over the finish line in a good time.
"It's going to be a significant contrast. It's going to be as different as you can get," said Matt, who has always been competitive and likes that there are so many things to think about in Ironman, including tactics and, crucially, getting the right nutrition.
"I know the marathon is going to punch me in the mouth because that's when the heat will really kick in.
"I tend to do okay in the heat here, but I don't live in a hot climate so I'm not going to be acclimatised to it. It's going to be quite a challenge.
"It will be about relying on the training and inner strength. Whoever you are and whatever pace you're doing, by mile 21 or 22 of the marathon, you hurt."