The 2023 season is well underway and the first races are already done. In the first races I have already achieved some great results. Five weeks ago I finished my first full distance race of the year, Ironman Hamburg. A day that unfortunately still has a bitter aftertaste. Three weeks ago I finished in Oud Gastel, a fun and well-organized local race. Last weekend it was already time for my second full distance Ironman this year, Ironman Thun.
Prior to the race season, I always make a season planning together with my coaches, Lionel Wille and Gaby Reijseger (Ferrum Endurance). We make certain considerations and set different goals, with balance always being the starting point. Not every race has the same goal. Two Ironman's in five weeks has been a conscious choice for me. On the one hand because Thun had been on my bucket list for some time and on the other hand as a backup plan, should I have missed my Kona slot in Hamburg. Because one thing I already knew for sure last year, Hawaii has something magical and I would like to race there again. The Kona slot was, thanks to winning in my age group in Hamburg, already in the pocket. So for me, Thun was all about enjoying myself and trying out certain tactics. As a race goal, I was keen on a good swim part.
My expectations for the race in Thun were high. The bike course is really beautiful, through the hilly landscape in Switzerland. Running the marathon is always a treat for me. I felt well recovered after Ironman Hamburg and my last training sessions were strong. Still, I had some doubts, because with an Ironman you never know how it will go. That is exactly what appeals to me. Every time, the mental challenge is just as great as the physical effort. You always want to surpass yourself. The days before the race I felt calm and well prepared. Perhaps also because I had already achieved the Kona slot. This allowed me to look forward to this race in a different way. In addition, I started working for a new employer in July and had plenty of other things to focus on besides training and the race. The combination of sports and work keeps me sharp, but it is sometimes challenging. At least it keeps me from being blindsided by a race.
But now back to that swim part. When we arrived at the start on the morning of the race, it was quite obvious that there were some strong waves. The wind had picked up during the night and the water was undulating considerably. It looked challenging. In other races, I've swum with big waves before, so I didn't let this distract me. After all, Kona has big waves too, so this was good preparation for the World Championships. Together with my boyfriend, I was waiting and tried to enjoy the location and the scenery around us, trying to suppress the nerves. This time I stood quite early in the start area. I was eager to get a good spot, so that I could dive into the water early. As one of the first ones there, I was ready to start. Paul Kaye recognized me while waiting and called my name. That gave me an extra push and I felt I was ready.
The pro men ran into the water right in front of me and I was ready for the startgun. Full focus, waiting for that beep and a run into the water. Once I got to the swim, I quickly noticed that it was going to be a tough swim session. I felt like I was going in all directions and often found myself in a sandwich between other athletes. In my head I kept thinking about that good swim time and tried to keep focus on my own line and the buoys. The water in Thun is very clear and I could always see my watch. I tried not to let myself be distracted by the time. I tried to focus on a powerful stroke and a straight entry of my hand. I had given myself focal points to think about during the swim. When I got out of the water and saw a time of 1h 15min I had mixed feelings. Fortunately, I was soon told that my gap to the first woman was about nine minutes. Then I could better place my own swim time. I felt I had been swimming well and navigated well. Afterwards, I saw that I had been swimming about 400 meters extra. After the race I heard from other athletes that they had also swum much further than normal. This also made me suspect that the course was a bit longer.
I quickly left the swim behind and went hunting on the bike, after all, I had nine minutes to make up. Riding my Cadex TT, I was able to enjoy the scenery immensely. I love climbing on the bike. The disc brakes on the bike, which I didn't have before, also made the descents comfortable. Good brakes give a lot of confidence while descending. Due to gear problems, I had to climb in a larger gear. Despite that, I was able to maintain a good pace. I was told I was closing the gap to the ladies in front of me. Not much later I was stung by a wasp in my thigh. I am allergic to wasps and felt the spot burning in my leg. Despite the setbacks, I was able to keep pedalling. The course was very beautiful, which helped take my mind off it. Anything can happen during a race and I was able to get over it. I started overtaking some women, which gave a big boost on the bike. The last lap of the course was very hot. Normally that never bothers me that much, but I noticed it clearly this time. I decided to go back a bit in power, after all an Ironman is long and you have to distribute your energy well. On the last climb I managed to catch up to the first woman and I got off the bike as the first woman.
Once I arrived in the transition zone, I learned that I had a two-minute lead. I took my time in T2. My mom asked afterwards if I had taken a shower. It wasn't that bad, but I was feeling a little dizzy so I took the time to put my socks on, so I was ready for the run.
After T2, I was able to start enjoying my favourite part. During the first half of the marathon, I still didn't feel very strong and I knew that the second lady was chasing me. Normally for me during the marathon my catch-up race starts. So it felt nice that that was not the case now. The supporters along the side were fantastic and yelled often that I was in first place. I knew in my head that there was still a long way to go and tried not to get distracted. Anything can happen during an Ironman and the day is long. I ran with my cap and sunglasses on and was in my zone. That concentration helped tremendously during the run. I didn't want to get distracted and tried to keep a steady pace. At times I felt like I wanted to quit, we all know that feeling during a race. It was well over thirty degrees and I was trying to motivate myself to keep going. I told myself that I didn't want to tell all my new colleagues that I had quit. This sounds simple, but it worked motivating and it helped me keep walking step by step.
After the first 21 kilometers, I slowly started to feel better. I have more often that during a long effort I get better and better into my rhythm. During the run I had cooled down well and drank a lot. I could see on my watch that my heart rate was going down and my legs felt a lot better. I was also running ahead of my pursuers and felt like I had the race under control. The closer I got to the finish line, the more I was able to enjoy the run and the crowd. I started highfiving everyone along the course. Now it began to feel it like I was really going to win. This feeling was fantastic. Even though there was no women's pro race in Thun, I felt like a pro. At the finish line my boyfriend was waiting for me and the crowd was making a huge noise. Of course, I also heard the beautiful words of Paul Kaye "You are an Ironman". I really enjoyed that. With a second Overall Age Group win this season and a third win in my age group, my season already can't go wrong. Of course, Kona is the ultimate goal that I will be training hard for in the coming months. In between, three more Ironman 70.3s (Duisburg, World Cup Lahti and Knokke) are on the schedule. This will provide even more chances for a good swim.
And after that? Of course, I have the ambition to race as a pro. But when I want to take that step, I don't know yet. The transition is big and I hear the same from the ladies who made the switch this season. I know I can still improve my swimming, so I'm going to work hard on that during the winter. Other than that, I am trying to focus on this season and make sure I perform as well as I can now.