During my long flight home from Kauai to the Netherlands is a good time to reflect on the past few weeks. The past three weeks have been amazing, lots of impressions and memories have been made. The World Ironman Championship in Hawaii is behind us and what an experience it has been. The one race we have been looking forward to all year. As it was my second time racing in Hawaï, you would expect the World Championship to feel less special, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is something magical about the Ironman World Championship in Kona and I think this race could surprise me every time.
The island is always full of surprises as the weather can change quickly.
Competing at the World Championship itself, despite the location, is also very special as it means racing among the best triathletes in the world. And this time, it was a women’s only event for the first time ever which makes it even more mind blowing. In this blog I will give you some insights in my feelings and preparation leading into race day and the race itself.
The long journey from Amsterdam to Kona
This year I decided to fly to Kona one week in advance. Usually, I am quite good dealing with a jetlag and I decided that having some more time at home to prepare was good for me. In addition, October is always a busy time at work so I still had a few demanding days before travel day. As this was my first year working 29 hours instead of 36 hours, I have more time for training, rest and everything else. But it can still be quite challenging at some point. I managed to get every done just in time for travel day and we boarded the plane about two and a half week ago. Two long flights, one from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and one from Los Angeles to Kona. This did result in a jetlag and a temperature shock in contrast to the Netherlands. At home I tried by best to adapt to the heat. I bought a core body temperature sensor and did some heat training during cycling and running. This means running with winter gear and cycling indoors without a fan or open windows. I hoped that this would help me to adapt faster to the circumstances in Kona.
The week before the competition
As soon as you arrive at Kona Airport after the long trip, the plane doors open and you feel the humidity and heat wrap around you. You immediately know you are in Hawaï. One advantage of not being on the island for the first time is that you know your way around. Among all the other athletes looking for your bike case, which took quite some time. I was very tired and couldn’t wait to get to the AirBnb. After picking up the rental car, we drove to Waikoloa Village. I deliberately chose to sleep a bit outside of Kona (and the race madness). The days before the race can be very intense. And I can get very stressed by having athletes around me all the time. For my focus, it helps to stay a bit outside the Kona madness.
Unlike last year, I was not only with my boyfriend Thijs Bisschop. My coach Lionel Wille and his girlfriend and fellow coach Gaby Reijseger (Ferrum Endurance) are with us. How nice it is to have your coaches along the course at such a race.
The day after the long trip we participated in the practice swim. Great to swim in the ocean again. Still a special place to swim and I love swimming in a sea or ocean. My favourite kind of Ironman swim. Despite the jetlag it felt good. I took it easy because it was all about the feeling.
The rest of the week was mainly to get used to the time and temperature. As I am already familiar with the course, it wasn’t necessary to ride the course by car. Anyone who has ever watched the World Cup knows that it is a long straight highway to Hawi. Still, it was nice to run some more workouts to get used to the sun and humidity. I mainly did a few more short taper runs and bike rides, also to check out the equipment. Always a relief when the bike is back together and everything works as it should.
The week before the race is also all about preparation for me. For me, a number of things need to come together to make sure I can perform during the race. I have to be well rested, nutrition needs to be on point and the race plan should be in my head. Of course, there is also time for relaxation, fortunately with so much natural beauty the island offers plenty of distractions is possible. And you can relax just fine on a road trip to the volcano or on the beach without using the legs too much. It always helps for me to get distracted before race day, otherwise I start to overthink everything.
The day before the race
Once all preparations are complete, I was really looking forward to race day. I rehearse my nutrition plan and make sure I prepare my race bags with all the necessary stuf. Visualizing the race gives makes me feel relaxed before the race. After one last double check, it was time to go to the transition zone to check in the bags and the bike.
This is always the most stressful part, especially on a world championship. It is even more crowded, your name is called as you walk into the transition zone and you feel the excitement building. The moment you walk onto the pier is always nerve racking. This is the moment I really feel like getting started!
When the bags have been dropped off and the Cadex is in place, the preparations are finished. The excitement sizzles. That leaves me no choice but to eat well one more time and sleep as much as I can. Sleeping the day before the race remains a challenge with the adrenaline already building up in your body. The alarm was set very early as I always want to have my breakfast in 4 hours before the start. This gives my stomach enough time to digest the food.
The hours before the race
My boyfriend was fortunately able to drop me and Gaby off close to the transition zone. So that I could focus on the final checks while he went to park the car. Once we arrived at the transition zone, it was time for the final checks. Tires were inflated and the drinks were on it. After that, I still had to wait for more than an hour as my start was almost an hour after the pro ladies. The start always takes a while with the different age groups which enter the water one by one. The start was already crowded with a lot of spectators. It was almost time for that one big day of the year.
Race day, the moment of truth
One by one, the age-groups enter the water. Along with about two hundred other women, I am in the penultimate group to enter the water. Unlike other races, Kona has a water start and not a rolling start. You already in the water before the gun goes off. I was choosing my position as close as possible to the surfboards that form the starting line. It is a scramble in the water and I try to choose my position as best I can.
Then there’s the cannon shot, the surfboards turn a quarter and it’s go-time. The start is always a struggle and I was fighting for some space. The waves combined with the rush in the water made it hard to find a rhythm. I prefer to swim my own rhythm and I tried to let the other participants distract me as little as possible. Finding good toes also always remains a challenge so I like to focus on my own capabilities. Especially because of the late age-group start it was super crowded in the water. Only a few meters on my way, I already bumped into the slower age-group swimmers in front of me. From that moment onwards, the swim became a slalom in front of the field and I have to make a lot of extra meters to get past all the other participants. The first half of the swim was a steady swim, but it took a lot of energy to swim past the other athletes. After the boat, which is the turning point, I went a bit more to the outside to create more space. I was therefore able to set my own pace which made me swim faster. I thought I was finally having a good pace and I came out of the water to 1h and 9 minutes with a total distance of 4200 meters. 2 minutes faster compared to last year and 400 meters more than necessary. I am satisfied with the pace, but I know that with a less crowded swim course and a straight line there is still time to gain.
I came out of the water around 70th place. Not in front but a good starting position for me to play a little catch-up game on the bike. Out of the water, the transition zone was super crowded and I tried to get out of it as fast as possible. The first meters after the tranisition zone are uphill in Kona, on Palani drive. After a good start, I was able to put some power on the bike right away and my bike ride could begin. The start was a loop of about 6 kilometers through Kailua-Kona. This loop ends with a steep climb up to Palani drive towards the highway. There are two time measurement points at these first kilometers. After two climbs and a descent I made up almost twenty spots in the ranking of my age group. The first kilometers were very busy so I tried not to take any risks.
The remaining 170 kilometers on the bike are all on the same highway, the famous “Queen K’ towards Hawi. This highway is long, straight and rolling through the island's lava fields. It was a very warm ride through the black lava fields as there were no trees and not a lot of wind to cool down. Fortunately, I am relatively comfortable in the heat and it was a pleasure to ride my Cadex time trial bike on the long straights. The bike felt super fast on this course and the first part of the ride felt amazing. Unfortunately, after 80KM, my stomach played up and I had to throw up multiple times on the bike. I knew that I had to make sure to get nutrition and drinks in. I decided to take extra gels but this resulted that I was out of my nutrition very fast. This caused me to throw my original nutrition plan in the trash.
Something always happens during an Ironman, so I can't help but deal with it and keep going. Especially in a race like race, where it is very hot, stomach problems are not unknown to me. In the aid stations I could get some extra gels and I pedal on steadily. During the outward ride to Hawi, I can follow my cycling plan and achieve my planned wattages. At the turning point in Hawi I got told that I have made up quite a few places and am well into the race. On the way back from Hawi to Kona the stomach problems got worse and I had to back off a bit in wattages. Finally back in Kona I got off the bike after 5h and 3 minutes. A big improvement over last year! After the cycling leg I am in the top 10 and my favorite part can begin.
After another smooth transition, it's time for the marathon. I always look forward to running, but also know that the marathon on Kona is a very tough one. The sun, the heat and that long highway without a lot of spectators make the course challenging. During the bike, my Garmin gave up and I was not able to see my data anymore. Coming into transition I knew I had to run the marathon by feel. This made me panic a bit. No heart rate, no pace. How will I know how fast to run? I tried to run by feel, but had no idea how fast I was running. I kept telling myself that a couple of years ago, everybody had to run by feel. My mind became more relaxed and I just tried to keep a smooth pace. The first kilometers of the marathon go through Kona itself, here there is quite a crowd along the course. After about 10 kilometers you turn up the same hill (Palani drive) that we had to cycle too. From there it's all along the highway to the Natural Energy Lab and back to Kona.
The Energy Lab is the most feared part of the run. As I had no clue about my pace or de distance in the run, except the course markers, I had to take nutrition in on feel as well. I knew the distance between the aid stations on average, so I used them as a guidance for my nutrition. The marathon was tough, I walked at every aid station to grab enough water and ice to keep myself cool.
I also knew I lost a lot of my nutrition due to vomiting. It was even more essential that I took care of myself on the run. This became my main focus for the marathon, as I wasn’t able to focus on the pace anyway. Usually, I use my Garmin as a distraction, to count the kilometers and the pace. Now I had to find something else to distract myself from the pain in my legs and the heat. I also was not able to monitor my heart rate and I really wanted to stay on the safe side. I took it for granted and went from aid station to aid station and from gel to gel. Compared to last year, I had some support on the Queen K during the run. Thijs and Lionel were on the bike and gave me some updates during the run. This motivated me to keep going, especially in Energy Lab as I was again having a hard time.
During the marathon I overtook even more competitors. By the time I am almost back in Kona I was in 5th position. Position 4 was a few minutes ahead of me but I didn't want to risk overheating in the last few kilometers. I took my chances and had to walk a few meters in the last few kilometers. Top 5 was the set goal and I knew I was close. Two more turns and then onto the iconic Ali'i drive. The last meters of the marathon the realization that I was going to finish again sunk in. I crossed the finish line in 5th place in a time of 9h 46 minutes! Top 5 in my age group and 14th age-grouper overall! And also an improvement of 50 minutes over last year.
At the finish line I was super grateful to see Thijs, my coaches and friends. What a day it was and what a race. Now it's time to enjoy, relax and unload.
AND after, time to make plans for 2024
Special thanks to Henry Piek and Thijs Bisschop for the awesome shots.