Marino Vanhoenacker is one of the favorites for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, but this year the Belgian überbiker and 3rd place finisher of 2011 might not even be at the start.
"I am currently 37th in the qualification rankings. Only the top 40 can go to Hawaii. That is the reason why I really wanted to finish in Frankfurt - I collected some more points for Hawaii," said Vanhoenacker to Belgian Sporza news. "Next weekend they close the ranking, but the chance is high that I will eventually fall out of the top 40. Then I still have another month to place myself amongst the other 10 candidates. So I still have to do an Ironman. And that's not self-evident at the moment, because I can't run."
We know that Vanhoenacker can run and is capable of running with anyone in the sport, but it is not about what is theoretically possible, Marino Vanhoenacker is injured.
"According to doctors I should put everything aside for three or four months to fully recover. But that is not a solution. I took the advice of a couple of other doctors and now I take heavy calcium pills hoping the bone will recover at full speed," said Vanhoenacker.
Vanhoenacker led the 2012 Kona event a good way into the marathon but blew up near the energy lab and returned into town in the back of an ambulance. That is surely not how he wanted this day to end, but that DNF has major implications for this year’s Kona qualification process. Unlike his competitors who did well there, he then started his 2013 account blank.
For a man of Vanhoenacker’s prowess that really should not have been a big deal but it forced him to race more events than he may have otherwise planned to do. It also meant that he needed to fire on all cylinders when racing, and could not just walk through a marathon to check off that required annual Ironman event. In order to get enough points he actually needed to race at least a couple bigger Ironman events.
Earlier this year at the Ironman Asia Pacific Championship in Melbourne, Australia the fast Belgian pulled away from a stellar field on the bike and only Eneko Llanos managed to run him down. That gave him 3,520 points and put him well on the path to 4,000 points, a magical number that is currently considered to be the ticket to Kona.
More recently Vanhoenacker returned to the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt to defend his title and after another smoking fast bike ride he was again alone in the lead on the run. But he was reeled in quickly by Llanos and Jan Raphael and soon after he came unglued. Vanhoenacker finished the race in 8:34 and his 19th place gave him 200 more points. Far from what he had expected and what he should be capable of.
It would be easy to blame this result on a zealous race strategy, but Vanhoenacker started Frankfurt with a stress fracture in his pelvis and while that injury apparently does not impact his bike riding, it is what may prevent him from starting in Kona.
"Ten days before Frankfurt it started hurting, somewhere around my pubic bone," Vanhoenacker explained. "I immediately felt it was serious, but I hoped ten days would be enough to make the pain disappear. But that did not happen."
"According to tests we have done I have a stress fracture at my pelvis, a little piece is broken off and there is also a lot of bone edema. Those alone are already three inconvenient things, and I have them combined," added Vanhoenacker. "Next week I will restart running slowly. I'm anxiously waiting what that will bring. I estimate my chances of making it to Kona as 25 percent. If I can restart running starting next week, I give myself 50 percent."