Welcome to the VTLZR’s newest series, “Hybrid Athlete Highlights,” focusing on the extraordinary accomplishments and unique journeys of hybrid athletes who take on strength and endurance athletics.
These exceptional individuals redefine the boundaries of fitness, demonstrating the potential of human physicality, dedication, and resilience. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring a variety of athletes, each with a unique combination of skills and a compelling story to tell.
We hope this series will inspire and motivate you, whether you’re an athlete or simply interested in the world of sports.
Meet our first Hybrid Athlete: Matt Zelaya
Matt is a 24-year-old hybrid athlete from New Jersey who’s played sports his entire life, playing elite levels of football and baseball, and now, conquering marathons and Ironman triathlons.
We sat down with Matt to discuss his evolution into a hybrid athlete and the challenges and lessons he’s learned along the way.
Who are you, and what is your athletic background?
My name’s Matthew Zelaya, and the majority of my athletic career was football. I played Wide Reciever at a top-ranked high school in NJ and got a scholarship to play at a top-ranked D2 School in the country. I played baseball and basketball as well until I got to high school.
Why did you pursue hybrid athlete training?
Hybrid training found me in a way. Once football ended, I was on a journey of finding the best version of myself physically. I immediately went into American Ninja Warrior for 2 years and had some success there.
From there, I decided to run a few spartan races because they had roughly the same obstacles I’d been training on. I ended up placing in my age group in every spartan race I ran. Once I realized I could make it into something, I decided to do a half marathon, leading me to where I am now. I never wanted to stop lifting, so I’ve found ways to incorporate it safely while still running fast, and I’ve never felt better.
What is your favorite accomplishment as a hybrid athlete?
My favorite accomplishment thus far is running a 2:55:05 Marathon in September 2023. This meant the world to me because I sacrificed so much to get to that point.
On top of that, I was going through a lot mentally, and life was kickin’ my butt in every area. I lost relationships, friendships, and almost myself throughout that process, which is why I was overwhelmed with emotions when I crossed that finish line because it just meant so much.
What is your training routine and the specific goals you’re working toward right now?
Currently, I’m training for a full Ironman on November 19th. Most of my training is built around that. Monday, I bike and lift. Tuesday, I swim and lift. Wednesday, I bike, run, and lift, Thursday, I swim and lift, Friday, I do a long run and lift, Saturday, I do a long bike. I’m in peak week, which adds up to 15 ½ hours of training between lifting, biking, running, and swimming.
What is the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome as a hybrid athlete, and how did you deal with it?
Hands down, the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a hybrid athlete is training for this Ironman. It takes a lot of time to fit all this training into a day, and it gets in the way of everything. Finding 4-5 hours to be on a bike, then 30 minutes for a run, and another hour at the gym is something not many people will do.
The way I got through this was sacrifice. Going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, saying no to going out, saying no to doing anything that’ll get in the way of training. Those are the hardest decisions you have to make because no one understands what or why you’re doing it, but I had to keep the end goal in mind and remind myself this is only temporary.
How do you balance both endurance and strength training?
A big thing for me to make it work was to build my endurance training days around my lifting days unless I’m training for a race – then it’ll be switched. I like pairing up my speed days (or any hard effort days) with a lower body workout after to double down on fitness.
How has hybrid training impacted your physical health, performance, and overall athleticism?
Hybrid training has opened my eyes to what my body can truly do. I’ve gone through multiple training phases of all different types, and I’ve never felt as good as I do now.
Beyond physical benefits, how has hybrid training impacted your mental health, confidence, and overall well-being?
Beyond physical benefits, this style of training has been my outlet for happiness. When everything goes wrong, there is always ONE thing that reciprocates good back to me: training time and time again.
I feel angry? Lift weights. I feel sad? Go for a run. I feel stressed? Do both.
What advice or tips would you give aspiring hybrid athletes considering combining strength and endurance in their training?
Don’t start with everything. Slowly incorporate the new style of training into your current regimen because, like anything, it’ll take time to adjust. It’s the same as scaling up your weekly running mileage too quickly – you’ll experience injuries. On top of that, overwhelming yourself by throwing everything in at once can make you never get in a groove and end up hating it. Take your time.
For those who would like to follow your training, train with you, or get in touch, where can they find you?
You can find me on Instagram @matt_zelaya! That’s where I’m most active and can answer any questions. I’m in the middle of launching 1-on-1 hybrid athlete coaching and am now taking early consultations. Always feel free to reach out and let me know how I can help you reach your goals.
Fun facts about Matt Zelaya:
Hometown: North Haledon, NJ
Favorite sport: Football
Favorite exercise: Track or American Ninja Warrior workouts
Favorite food: Spaghetti carbonara
Favorite movie: Too many, but I love Marvel, so I’m going with Avengers Infinity War
Favorite song: I’ve been listening to a lot of Noah Kahan recently
Favorite quote: “For where your treasures are, that is where your heart will also be” – Matthew 6:21
Be sure to follow or connect with Matt on Instagram to follow his journey, get inspired, and learn more about his hybrid athletic training system and coaching program.
Good luck in the upcoming Ironman, Matt! We’ll be rooting for you. Keep pushing the boundaries and inspiring others to do the same.
That’s a wrap for Volume 001 of our Hybrid Athlete Highlight series. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories and tips from hybrid athletes worldwide.
Stay up, stay active, and stay hybrid!