Triathlon training can get you in the best shape of your life, physically and mentally. It can even help spark your career. Just ask Matteo Guidicelli."/>
(Article first appeared in Men’s Health, February 2013 issue)
ACHIEVING a delicate balance between satisfying the need for speed and harnessing the virtue of patience is crucial for racecar drivers. And those who wait patiently for the right opportunities to push the pace are the ones who pop the bubblies on the podium. It seems, then, that racer turned actor Matteo Guidicelli got this formula down pat at a very young age. As even before he was in high school, he was already considered an up-and-coming driver, raking in accolades including three Karter of the Year awards. But he’ll be the first to tell you he’s far from being a patient man.
He’s more like Ricky Bobby, the character Will Ferrell popularized in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby —he knows only one speed. Guidicelli wants to go fast, all the time. And this attitude has shown through even after he switched careers, trading the racing circuit for the world of glitz and glamour. But while he sped his way to the top during his stint in motorsports, he found the road to success as an actor bumpier than he had expected it to be.
Though initially reluctant to try acting, Guidicelli eventually fell head over heels with the craft after he auditioned and nabbed a starring role in a high school play. “Sabi ko dati, ayoko mag-audition kasi athlete ako. Eh, nakakahiya di ba? Pero I did it, and it totally changed my life,” he recalls. “Parang a different part of me opened. And I said, ‘Wow, I want to do this.’”
Great athletes know that success depends on training, and Guidicelli applied this to his acting as well. He trained under renowned theater actor Franco Laurel. After graduating from high school, he left for Chicago to study musical theater in Columbia University. And it was during his third year that he got his first big break. “Pagbalik ko ng Pilipinas, [Star Magic] called me, and they cast me for Agua Bendita,” Guidicelli says. This was his first lead role in a primetime drama. I was surprised kasi, kakarating ko lang, may show na kaagad. So I felt blessed. From there, tuloy-tuloy na.”
And after Agua Bendita, the projects kept on coming. He was a regular host for the now-defunct noontime show Happy, Yipee, Yehey! He also played one of the leading man roles in the hit soap My Binondo Girl and starred in two movies, including My Cactus Heart, where he shared top billing with Maja Salvador. Despite these early successes, Guidicelli felt lacking as he felt he was skilled enough to take on more demanding roles.
“It wasn’t an easy journey. Mahirap talaga, and I had a lot of struggles within,” Guidicelli says. “I was blessed with [projects], pero it was just steady. I was just there.” For a young man coming from a sport where speed is the name of the game, this steady state was jarring. But athletes like Guidicelli don’t become successful if they aren’t coachable. And the former racer is a sponge, ever absorbing lessons that will help him improve his craft. “One of my mentors, a guy I look up to, is our unit head, Direk Lauren Dyogi. He always tells me to be patient. Wag akong atat,” he shares. “My manager tells me the same thing. Derek Ramsay, another guy I look up to, also tells me that. I guess that’s the key, being patient. And I’m trying to learn that.”
But while the once speedy racer appeared to be content with the steady pace of his acting career, he kept his skills sharp as he waited for an opening to the breakthrough he sought. Thanks to another kind of racing, it came. And he was more than ready to capitalize on it.
Matteo Guidicelli’s a transformed man. His complexion’s darker than it was when he first started appearing onscreen. And in the showbiz world where white is might, Guidicelli is defying convention by gaining more and more popularity with his new look. He also appears slimmer, but he denies having lost any pounds, saying, “My weight’s always been 150-155 lbs. It’s my fat percentage that went down.” This is a fact certified by coach Froilan Dioso, a fitness trainer who has worked with Guidicelli for three years now. “We started na ang body fat percent n’ya is more than 20 percent,” Dioso says. “After 2-3 months of training, napababa natin ang body fat percent n’ya to 10 percent. Ngayon ang huling kuha ko is 4-5 percent body fat s’ya, ripped talaga.”
But it’s not just the weight training that has produced these changes in the actor. One main factor behind Guidicelli’s transformation is his deep love for a sport he got into just last year, a sport that now enjoys mainstream popularity due to the growing list of celebrity aficionados. It’s a sport Guidicelli initially rebuffed as no country for young men.
“My dad [weighed] 240 lbs, and my sports manager, Noy Jopson, who’s a champion triathlete, convinced him to do triathlons,” he says. “From 240, he’s at 180 lbs now because of triathlons. Walang diet ‘yan — training lang. Na-addict s’ya, and he’s already 50 years old. So my dad told me months ago that he’d buy me a bike. I told him I’m not gonna do triathlon kasi pang-matanda ‘yan.” Guidicelli laughs at the memory. But once he tried the tri, he had a total change of perspective. “When I started doing it, I realized it was okay. In fact, if I had the time, I’d want to be a full-time triathlete.”
Still, even with his newfound sport, his inner Ricky Bobby rears its head. “Even in my training sa triathlon, I want to do everything in one day,” Guidicelli says. “But my coach, Noel Salvador, says we have to stick to the program. Run lang today, tapos swim bukas. Kasi kung atat ako, baka ma-overtrain ako [at] magkasakit ako. I learned that the hard way. I got sick. So I realized I’d have to listen to my coach and to be patient. I think patience is very important with everything.”
But as vital as it is, patience is just the first of many lessons that competing in triathlons has taught him. And the sport has not only transformed him physically. More importantly, it’s helped him mature and improved his adversity quotient. Lessons ingrained in him by the greatest teacher of all — first-hand experience.
The education of Guidicelli began the minute he joined his first race — a sprint distance triathlon in Cebu, where competitors had to swim 500 meters, bike 30K, and then run 5K to the finish line. “Sabi ko, ‘Sisiw ‘to,’” he shares, recalling that he even started among the pros at the front of the starting line “Boom, go na. I swam. Nawalan ako ng hangin. Pagtingin ko, malayo pa ang buoy, pero swim pa rin. When I got to the buoy, bago mag-swim pabalik, patay na. I swear to God, I thought I was going to die.”
Guidicelli adds that, at this point, he just floated on his back, praying and saying his personal goodbyes to his family. A rescue boat came to offer help but, he says with a laugh, “Sabi ko, ‘No, andaming taong nanonood. Nakakahiya. I really thought I was going to die. It was the hardest and scariest part of my life. Imagine, open water, itim ang tubig, wala kang makita sa baba, tapos mag-isa ka lang na walang hangin. Scary, man.”
Salvation came in the form of a pacer. “This guy, James, was pacing a girl, and he saw me. He asked if okay lang ako, and sabi ko, ‘Hindi, bai, mamatay na ako,’” Guidicelli says, making a slashing motion across his throat to emphasize his point. “He told me to relax and pace with him. So I swam slow with him and ended up finishing the swim. Then I biked, I ran, and I finished. And after that day, I realized that triathlon is very challenging. And I’m going to train hard for this. It made me take it seriously kasi masarap, eh.”
Triathlons have given him, as he says, a new lease on life. And the sport has also pushed him to learn about how to take care of his body better — not just because his career demands it, but because he knows it’s what living a full life requires. “I learned so much about how to take care of my body when I got into triathlons,” says Guidicelli. “I learned the hard way that recovery is part of training, so after taping, I sleep at least 5-6 hours. I can’t train without sleep. And nutrition is very important. ‘Yung nutrition and sleep and the supplements you take, you have to be conscious about all these. You can’t abuse yourself with food.”
Health and fitness make up Guidicelli’s new gospel, and he plans to preach it with aplomb. He has taken to reading, mentioning books about the Paleo diet he’s currently trying to adopt. Check his Twitter feed (@mateoguidicelli), and you’ll find tweet after tweet about training, as well as motivational quotes for the added mental boost. “I want to spread the word, especially to showbiz people, that it’s important to be healthy, it’s important to eat right. You have to take care of yourself all the time.” Well, the people handling his career have certainly taken notice of his transformation. It wasn’t long before the opportunity Guidicelli’s been waiting for came knocking.
Guidicelli’s popularity is rising right now, thanks to his show Precious Hearts Romances Presents: Paraiso. In it, he plays the lead male role, that of Brennan Galang, a married man who falls for a stranger he gets stranded on an island with. After they get rescued, their paths cross again, which is when the conflict begins. The show’s enjoying high ratings mainly due to the undeniable chemistry and improved performances from the lead actors, Guidicelli and Jessy Mendiola. Guidicelli says he’s had an easy time adjusting to the role’s physical demands, and this helps him act more naturally and gain more confidence in the process — thanks to his new sport.
“Triathlon training came months before Paraiso, so timing talaga dahil ‘yung katawan at kulay ko naiba, bagay sa role. It helped me prepare for Paraiso physically,” Guidicelli says. “Marami kaming eksena na swimming sa open water sa umpisa, so [it] really helped boost my confidence na hindi na ako takot sa open water.”
But Guidicelli’s success can’t be attributed to just the physical changes and the added skills from tri training that he credits. He turns 23 next month, but he speaks with a maturity that’s been sharpened by the obstacles he’s already overcome from the triathlon races he’s finished, the kind of trials that make grown men cry. “Every triathlon race is a hard race,” says Guidicelli, who was recently named Male Triathlete Rookie of the Year by www.swimbikerun.ph.
“Especially sa run, ‘yun ang time na ang sugar level mo bumabagsak at ang fatigue level mo tumataas. You’re very vulnerable there. Anything emotional will hit you hard, and baka umiyak ka pa while running. Hindi biro. Ilang beses na ako naiyak, sa Ironman 70.3 sa Cebu, sa X-Terra World Championships sa Hawaii. Iiyak ka sa sakit, pero the feeling when you finish? Indescribable.”
Guidicelli’s applied all the lessons he’s learned from his approach to triathlons to his acting career. Mainly, he points out that focus and dedication in training has helped him improve his finish time for the half-Ironman triathlon distance (1.9 K swim-90 K bike-21 K run), going from 6 hours and 20 minutes to 5:30 in just a month. Because he has the same focus on his career, he foresees only better things to come. “When Paraiso came, I knew I had to give my 110 percent, a totally different me,” he says. “I realized that this is a serious job. There’s a lot of competition, and ang galing ng mga tao dito. And if you take your job for granted, baka they’ll drop you. So I’m totally concentrated, with no more distractions. I just got all my priorities straight and decided I have to concentrate on my career.”
This time around, Guidicelli’s also learned to temper his expectations. The inner speed demon is dead and swimming with the fishes. He now understands that a slow and steady pace doesn’t necessarily spell doom, that in some cases, it’s what’s needed to succeed. “One thing I live by is there are no shortcuts to success in life. There’s no shortcut to anything,” he says. “You have to really work hard. Just do good, honest, hard work. Kung dadayain mo, if you try a shortcut, maka-karma ka lang in the end. You really have to work hard for what you want.”
Matteo Guidicelli, who’s currently making waves in the local triathlon scene, offers a few pointers on tri training.
Best workout for running: Guidicelli recommends doing interval training. “I try to run 1K in 4:30. But you have to rest for a while then repeat it six more times. Patay ka na after that.”
Best recovery tip: “Sit down, wear compression socks, don’t do anything, and watch TV,” he says with a laugh.
Best mid-race motivation: “You have to think about all the hard work you went through in training,” Guidicelli says. “Ayaw mo ipahiya ang trainer mo, your family, because you trained and placed so much time into it, so you don’t want to give up, right? Positive thinking na lang, and just push yourself until the end.”
Best quote to post on your mirror: Guidicelli tweets quotes that help him push himself in training. His current favorite? “‘Train insane, or remain the same.’ That’s what’s in my head now.”
Best pre-race meal: “I like to eat pasta the night before, but nothing too heavy.”
Best post-race reward: “Oh man, ice cream, lechon — lahat ng masama sa katawan,” Guidicelli says with a grin.
There are no shortcuts to six-pack abs, but coach Froilan Dioso, who trains Matteo Guidicelli in the gym, says this intense but surefire exercise will deliver results faster
1 Start in a pushup position and do one pushup.
2 Immediately stand and jump to hang on a pullup bar, then do a pullup.
3 When your chin passes the bar, keep you body steady as you perform a leg raise. That’s one rep. For beginners, do three sets of 15 reps. you can progress to doing 20 reps if 15 becomes too easy. (And that’s a big if, mind you.)
You can reach coach Froilan Dioso through his Facebook page, Facebook.com/Coach-Froilan-A-Dioso, or follow him on Twitter, @coach_froilan. You can also contact him at 0915-4873147 for more on his tailor-fit training program, which he calls Fitness Science.