Riptide Matt

OCTOBER 2016: Matt Bartsch is well known, throughout Brighton and Hove, for having run Riptide gym for the last couple of decades.

It was a sad day for all involved when, at very short notice, his incredibly successful set-up adjacent to the beach, at the foot of West Street, was forced to close. Its roof (the pavement above) was deemed unsafe.

Despite his permanent smile and upbeat personality, Matt is still trying to recover financially from such a huge set-back in his business. But his new gym, on the site of the old bowling green in Hove Park, is going from strength to strength.

The closure of Riptide on the beach has been widely publicised. But something you might not know about Matt, owing to him being the polar opposite of one who self-promotes and sings their own praises, is the success he had, back in the 1990s, as a sprinter.

In short, he was the fastest runner in the county for almost a decade. Seven times in ten years, Matt won the Sussex Championships over 100 metres. He also held his club (Crawley AC) record for 200 metres, for 18 years.

Matt’s PBs for 100m and 200m are 10:70 and 21:50 respectively.

When you think that 20 years later, Usain Bolt’s world records are 9:58 and 19:19, it really shows how impressive Matt’s performances were.

Matt, although it was 20 years ago, I should begin by congratulating you on such a long period of success as a sprinter. What’s your first running memory?

Thank you, Mike. The success was down to being part of a close friendship-training group and a great coach (Frank Lynch), which kept the training enjoyable, interesting and progressive PLUS the belief the next season would be my best.

My first memory… being overwhelmed by the nerves of perhaps not winning a sprint race I was lined up for on behalf of my primary school versus children from other schools. I chose a heat I judged that I could beat the other runners in.  I lost.

Did you always focus on sprinting or have you done any longer distance running?

My early-days experience of athletics was joining Haywards Heath Harriers when I was 12, early 80’s. It was in October, so winter training time. There was no track and the training then involved running around the town under streetlights and trying to keep up with adults at my default running speed, which was as fast as I could to be at the front.  Of course, I got exhausted quickly and did not quite understand the meaning or purpose of such training. I was a kid with only one pace I enjoyed – all out sprinting.  I left athletics at that time before the next summer season even began, to take it up again as a hobby at 16.

Distance running for me is exercise; mainly for pleasure, conditioning and curiosity, rather than competitive performance.

What would you say are the key differences in training for a sprint race as against training for an endurance event?

The technical efficiency is high in sprinting. Broadly speaking, I’d say it’s effectively training different energy systems –anaerobic vs. aerobic.  Specifically, I would consider the difference is the intensity of the training for either the neuromuscular system or the metabolic system experienced upon the particular body type of the athlete who is carrying out the training load.

How did you manage to retain your Sussex Championship title so many times? Where do you think you had the edge over the runners you were racing against?

From a training and performance point of view, for me, it was about running technically better. I had poor coordination. (My friends from volleyball would tell you that still is the case!) On top of that were the strength gains from training more frequently, more consistently and with great intensity, as I began to understand the reasons and process of the training I was doing. This learning curve has no finish line.

Reviewing my time competitively sprinting, I would say I was at my best when I was least distracted by other factors and events in life that can take your mind, time and energy away. When I focused, reflectively, quite selfishly, on the desired outcomes and the input needs of my sporting pursuit, I got my greatest returns. Keeping life simple certainly has its benefits, especially for keeping focus.

Just keeping or winning the Sussex title was possibly down to the competition not being too fierce. It appears there were many more competitive distance athletes than sprinters in this particular county. Especially as the years rolled by, locally the event lost a lot of participation.

Was there anyone you raced against who went on to become famous as a sprinter?

For me, locally the memorable races were against the likes of Nick Buckfield (a tremendous talent and Pole Vault Olympian), Jamie Baulch (400m relay Olympian) and Sean Baldock (400m relay Olympian). In the national athletics league, student championships and regional championships, many passed me. It was hard out there; Darren Campbell, Courtney Rumbolt, Jason Livingston and there was a fellow named Christie. I think he went on to become a coach.

Although you’re from a sprinter background, I know you’ve worked with many distance runners. What would be your main tips for anyone on the verge of taking on their first half or full marathon?

Give yourself time (a plan and specific training times). You can’t rush these things.

Especially for the winter – it’s not the wrong weather; it’s the wrong clothes. So get the best/right kit for you.

Listen to your body – there is a lot of feedback you need to pay attention to that will influence what you learn about yourself, how you train AND recover that will be unique to you and your circumstances.

A big issue I commonly and personally come across is hydration. It is quite an art to master. It will be unique to you.

To be fit for something specific, you need to train specifically for that – yet there is a balance that still needs to be addressed to keep health and fitness at an optimum. Consider how you are keeping them as part of your overall program. This would be your cardiovascular endurance (no surprise there), muscular strength and endurance, plus flexibility from influences such as yoga and Pilates. Then there is your body composition. This is largely influenced by your daily diet and your lifestyle choices. The conscious habit of making healthy choices and general living activities, rather than some new fad or means to a short-term end. Master this and you are well on to mastering yourself and your health!

An how did you first get involved with Riptide?

I left school and trained as a chef. It seemed the most interesting thing to me at the time. Fitting that working life in with improving my sprinting and meeting regularly with my coach was quite a challenge. I managed to enrol as a student on a Sports Science degree. Upon finishing university, I was out of athletics due to an injury and so I committed a great deal of time working at gyms to continue my education/ knowledge/experience, and rehabilitate my body and maintain my fitness levels by other means. This led me to managing a gym in Brighton called Royales, in the basement of the Queens Hotel.

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, to assist in managing and opening the doors of Riptide Fitness Centre, on the beach, in October 1996, for a local company looking to make good use of the arches on Brighton Seafront, other than it being a club or café.

I understand you’re also currently involved with coaching pupils at Brighton College, whereas your Riptide clients are all adults. Which do you prefer and what are the main differences between coaching adults and coaching teenagers?

The teenage spirit, energy and varying levels of attention, distraction and focus, bring as much joy as it does challenge, when coaching. In many of us, our ‘inner child’ often comes out if there is something presented that we do not want to do and then our avoidance behaviour starts.

What motivates any individual to exercise or train is varied and personal. Generally, we all want to look good and feel good about ourselves, and that can include performing better and managing our health. Identifying that which is meaningful and useful to any individual, where exercise is concerned, I consider to be part of the role as a coach, trainer or instructor.

If it is exercise for the sake of exercise, without purpose or joy, it’s no wonder people did not like PE & Games at school.  If it can be communicated and understood that how what is happening can contribute to a better performance or an outcome of personal significance, we all get a better experience and hopefully this will be what keeps people engaged. Easily said!

When people volunteer and enrol themselves to training, there is a greater embracing of the session’s activities, even if they may be very challenging at the time. This is over those who have to exercise or train as part of a mandatory curriculum. Things do get complicated and hard when so much can be made about measuring, comparing and judging particular performance outcomes, rather than the state of just doing something as an end in itself.

What’s the most notable improvement you’ve seen in any client you’ve coached?

Generally, it’s when individuals get more from the process and the doing of exercise than they expected when they started. This maybe that they find they are able to run or move better, or to lift weights they thought only bodybuilders or Olympic weightlifters were capable of. Even people who find they can now touch their toes! There are the surprise benefits noticed in other living activities, as simple as getting out of the car easier or lifting and carrying shopping, going up stairs with ease or getting out of a chair without pain.

Confidence usually occurs from the process of overcoming what looked like a challenge, and getting on with chipping away at it until it becomes the (more) natural expectant ability. That is a sweet victory in any pursuit. However, the process of starting is often very intimidating, and many books and great motivational quotes and videos exist, attempting to nudge individuals and groups from a mental block into physical action. Although I can try to influence this, it has to come from within the person.

Have you had any serious injury yourself and, if so, how did you deal with it?

Turned ankles, strained Achilles, pulled hamstrings and shin splints, seemed to be part of the course as a developing sprinter. My lowest point was having shingles diagnosed when I was 23, on my second year at university. Hard working on my education, excited by a fresh and exciting new relationship, training hard and plenty of going out with my housemates, led to an exhaustion of my nervous system.

Before I totally succumb to the tired, heavy symptoms, I was running some of the best times of my life. I finished my season that year only making my way half way through it. It was a case of taking a slowly, but surely, more measurable training approach on the way back, and being more attentive to my fundamental needs, like getting enough sleep, and not taking my health and youth for granted.

You always come across so enthusiastic. What do you enjoy most about your job? And how do you manage to, seemingly, have such a positive outlook on life?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some winning combinations and opportunities in life. I love being able to help. I have found something I enjoy, and love sharing the things I believe can help others. I think there’s a part in all of us that gets a kick out of doing something of positive significance for someone else!

I get the impression you enjoy being close to nature. And I‘ve seen hundreds of amazing photographs you’ve taken. Am I right in thinking this is an important part of your life, that perhaps helps you see the bigger picture of things?

I think this is again when you find something you like doing and have a place to share it. When it comes to photos and social media, the sharing is a little too easy, yet fun.

When considering a shot, it does often allow you the opportunity to perhaps take a little time to appreciate it and consider something in a bit more detail, or even to idealise a view. Or, when it’s not about that, maybe it’s just an opportunist digital snap and you share it because no one was hurt, it looks nice and could make someone happier… and therefore, why not ? That’s it!

Matt, it’s been a pleasure chatting, as ever; your knowledge, positivity and enthusiasm is quite remarkable! Thanks very much for all the support you’ve given to RunBrighton; it’s great to see so many of our runners enjoying the benefits of having attended your classes at Riptide. I wish you all the success you deserve going forward.


By Mike Bannister