Home sweet home! The last three weeks have been a blast, including a lot of ups and downs. From catching Covid just 9 days before leaving to the Unites States, to a world champion Ironman in my age group. What an adventure it was. In this blog, I want to share my adventure with you.
The weeks before
The weeks before the World Championship were very stressful. For example, 9 days before leaving for the States I got a positive Covid test. My boyfriend had Covid the week before. Fortunately, I have not felt very sick but caught only a huge cold and a sore throat. Talking was painful, which was a challenge for me. I can't keep my mouth shut. Sometimes very annoying for the people around me. But now I had to. It was not sure whether we could travel to the United States. A negative test or recovery certificate was required. In the end, luckily my test was negative one day beforehand. I did not feel completely recovered but well enough to make the trip anyway. I was crossing my fingers to be recovered in time for race, on the 7th of May.
April 28, a 10-hour flight from Amsterdam to Las Vegas. After arriving in Vegas, I wanted to go for a run, which was quite a challenge. It is clear that Vegas is not meant for exercising. It smelled like smoke everywhere and there was a traffic light every hundred meters. I took it all for granted, I was happy to be able to run again. Because of Covid, I had to skip several training sessions.
On Saturday, we got our rental car and drove all the way to St. George, with a quick stop at the Hoover Dam. Besides racing, I wanted to be a tourist as well. When we arrived in St. George, I was very impressed by the surroundings. What an amazing place for a race, in particular a World Championship. Normally the Ironman World Championships are hosted at Kona, Hawaii. But in my opinion, St. George was a very good alternative. After a bike course recon, I knew one thing for sure, the conditions of the race would be tough! The heat, the dry air, the elevation gain and the cold swim water. Everything together promised a hard day. I tried to get used to the conditions as much as possible. I also focused on rest and recovery. Hoping to get rid of the last cold symptoms.
In St. George, it was not difficult to get into the Ironman mood. The Americans were very enthusiastic about Ironman and there were triathletes to be spotted everywhere. The week beforehand was all about preparing as well as possible. I also made time to enjoy the World Championship vibes. I went to the All-World Athlete breakfast and bought merchandise. On Thursday, it was time for the race briefing. During the briefing, all the important details for the big day were shared. Always mandatory to go there as an athlete.
The day before race day
On Friday, the day before the start, we had to bring my bike and run gear to the transition zones. It was really hot. I was trying not to drive myself crazy and focussed on the circumstances that I could influence. My bike was all set in the transition zone. I finished a short bikeride and a short run. And just like every other day before race day, my legs felt horrible. That is normal to me. I always hate the taper feeling.
Late in the evening, after a 11-hour flight to Los Angeles and a long drive to St. George, my coach (Lionel Wille, Ferrum Endurance) arrived. I was glad he could be there to support me and coach me along with my boyfriend. It is far and a long trip so I am glad we had the opportunity to arrange this.
The hours before the start we discussed the raceplan and I got some good tips from him. I was extremely nervous and barely able to sleep before the race. I felt insecure because of the missed trainings and because I was not quite fit yet. As with most athletes, this all feels extra intense the hours before the race. Fortunately, Lionel was there to reassure me and we went to transition together to see if my bike was ready.
My agegroup start was one of the last (almost 2 hours after the start of the pro atletes). This had some advantages and disadvantages. I tried to keep my nerves in check and tried not to worry about the things I had no control over. Once in the starting area, I talked to some other ladies in my age group. We wished each other luck and dove into the water. The coldness of the water wasn't too bad, but I couldn't find a rhythm. Swimming is always most challenging part for me and now it felt like a slalom around participants. Usually, the open water swim goes better for me than in the pool. But 2 KM on the way, I already knew I wasn't going to set a top time. I had trouble breathing and was glad when it was over. 1 hour and 17 minutes. Definitely not my fastest time! I let it go and jumped on the bike. At the first transition zone, my coach and my boyfriend were standing there. That gave me energy. Ready for the bike part.
Quickly I noticed that I was not managing to push the power I had envisioned. A lot of discomfort in my throat, amplified by the dry warm air, made breathing difficult. I tried to find my focus and kept overtaking other athletes. Due to the late start, there were a lot of people on the course. I tried to pass them as quickly as possible. This proved to be a challenge at times, especially at the aid stations. The first 50 km flew by. Then it got warmer and I had more trouble finding a good mindset. Fortunately, my boyfriend and coach were at many places along the course, which helped me to keep pushing. I kept that finish line in my mind and tried to stick to my power plan as best I could. However, this became increasingly more difficult as I felt like I was last in my age group. I did not know I was actually second at this point. When you have to overtake a lot of people, it's hard to keep an eye on competitors. It was a challenge to hydrate properly, at every aid station it was crowded and the water bottles flew out of my water bottles.
At KM 150, it was time for Snow Canyon. A beautifull climb in a national park. This is the best part of the course. Here I yelled to my coach that I was not really up to it anymore. He figuratively gave me a kick in the ass, so I knew I had to keep going. Snow Canyon was a great experience and afterwards it was a striaght downhill section to transition. Last miles to T2. With less power than hoped for I arrived in St. George after 5 hours and 46 minutes.
Once I arrived in the second transition zone, five volunteers came up to me. They helped me with everything. The dedication of those 4,800 volunteers was so beautiful to see. It gave me energy. Everything was so well organized, different compared to racing in the Netherlands.
Leaving the second transition zone I was ready for the marathon. I started running and immediately felt why I love this sport so much. My legs felt top-notch and I was looking forward to that marathon again, crazily. I had clearly found the motivation I had lost on the bike. My coach, who was already standing along the course again, shouted that I should start running slowly. I did. I kept my heart rate under control and tried to hydrate as best as I could. Soon I saw many people walking, as it was 32 degrees. I kept running nicely, waving to some of my competitors and some other friendly athletes. I was in a super flow. Mainly uphill, which I prefer over running downhill.
The last lap my legs still felt very good. I kept my pace steady, not to take any risks. A competitor of a different age group yelled at me from the course that one of my competitors was walking. Other than that, I really had no idea what competition I had at that point. I focused on my own plan, I just really wanted to get to that finish line. The rest was something for later.
Given my last few weeks, I had let go of my goals. Finishing and running my own race was the most important thing. I knew I was in good shape before Covid. But had no idea where I would be now. At KM 30 I got information from my coach that I was about to overtake a competitor. He said: you keep running and don't look back. That's what I did. I also knew that the toughest part uphill was coming. Here I ran uphill easily and caught up with my competitor. The last few kilometers were downhill and flew by. In Mallorca, at my first Ironman, I needed a stop in an ambulance at KM 38. Now I felt super strong. I was convinced I was going to cross that finish line. The last kilometer, my coach told me that I had to enjoy the finish line. And that's what I was going to do! Once on the magical "red carpet" I was super relieved and happy. I ran the marathon in 3 hours and 25 minutes. My coach shouted very loud that I had won my Age Group, but I totally missed that. It was just something I did not expect at all. One of my biggest dreams, but I was too scared to dream given the past couple of weeks.
I AM A WORLD CHAMPION!
After the finish line, I wanted to get to my coach and boyfriend as soon as possible. I wanted to hug them. I was immensely grateful to them for all the support. When I saw them, over the fence of the athlete garden, they told me again that I had won my agegroup. I finally understood then what that meant. Something I never expected after all the stress of the past weeks.
Afterwards, we had a nice dinner together and I had to make a difficult choice. Now there was a Kona’s spot waiting for me, which will be the World Championship of 2022. As the race in St. George was the 2021 World Championship, deferred due to Covid. I had not thought about that yet. Actually, I had deliberately chosen St. George last year because I had already qualified for the World Championships 70.3 (half distance) in October in St. George. Now the doubt, Kona is surely the ultimate dream of every triathlete. I knew it would be financially challenging but decided to take the slot anyway. After all, you don't get the chance to do an IRONMAN World Championship twice in one year every year, right? Now I am very happy with my decision and looking forward to the preparation. Also very thankful to my sponsors, without them it would be impossible for me to race two World Championships in one year. I am ready to defend my title as World Champion Age group F25-29! But first time for more recovery. Because my next full triathlon (Ironman Hamburg) is already in 4 weeks!
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