Clemens Coenen from Germany was the top age grouper at the 2008 Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona with a fantastic performance. But he impressed many folks even more by slowing down at the end to let the female overall champion Chrissie Wellington enjoy the lime light. We had a few words with Clemens.
ST: Top Age Grouper in Kona is a pretty big deal and you got it done. Can you talk about your race day?
Clemens: It was a perfect day. I was very well prepared and in my third race in Kona I could use all my experience. Ironman Hawaii is the only long distance race I did more than once-I know the course and the conditions suit me. In the morning I was calm and ready. The swim was easy, the usual fights in the first and last 500m but I was in a good group and cruised to the pier in 55 something minutes without loosing much energy - just what I wanted. A quick T1 and I was on my bike. The first hour was not so good; I did not feel bad but my legs where just not in race mode. I lost some positions to some crazy fast athletes. When do people learn that it’s not a 40k but a 180k bike ride? I was also passed by Stefan Werner (third in my AG in the end with a 4:40h bike). No way I could handle his speed. After Waikoloa and some good amount of food and water things start to get better and on the way to Hawi and I was actually racing. The downhill back to Kawaihae was crazy. Now I know what the Mumuku is - I was clamping on to my handlebars and I wished I had a regular helmet. Riding an aero helmet was not an advantage here. I was told to be in the 6th position of the amateurs. Thanks to the windy conditions this year I was back in T2 after 4:50h. I felt relative fresh and ready to run my 3h marathon. (Ok I trained for a sub3…) I found my rhythm and a good pace without problems, kept an eye on my nutrition and the Alii Drive part of the run was over before I knew it. At the bottom of Palani I was told that I was 2min back to the amateur leader. Palani Road was the key part for me. This hill kicked me out of the race two times but this year I was ready for it. I took it easy and cooled my self down with lots of ice. Once on the highway I switched from gels to coke - this brown juice is just great. I was passing a lot of pros and at the 20k mark I was in the lead of the amateur race. I thought: "Ok-you’re feeling strong. Bring it home!" On the entrance to the Energy Lab I high fived my pro training partner Maik Twelsiek from Lemgo and I was happy that we both had a good race. After the last turn around I saw that I was in the lead by about one mile and start to think about how to celebrate at the finish. With 12k to go this is a dumb thing! So I remind myself to focus on the race and stay with the coke instead of the champagne. On the highway back to town I was passed by only one athlete - Chrissie Wellington! She was running the sub 3 marathon I was dreaming about. I had to make the decision to dig deep and try to break 3h and end up in the medical tend or to enjoy the atmosphere on the last 3 miles. With my own wedding two days after the race on my mind I did my fiancé Yvonne a big favor to come to the finish "alive." I was happy to celebrate my good result and at the Banyan tree I sent out some "thank you" to all my people. Sub 9, 1st amateur and an awesome finish line with Chrissie - definitely something that stays with me until the day I die!
ST: When you came down the finish chute, Chrissie Wellington was just ahead of you and you pretty much "stood back" and let Chrissie have her glory. That was a very impressive and considerate act.
Clemens: Chrissie also started to celebrate her victory and slowed down a little bit after Palani and now the crowd was crazy. All the applause and the "whoo hooo" - I soaked up as much as I could from that great atmosphere. I could have out-sprinted Chrissie (or maybe not…) on the carpet, ruin her finish and make myself a fool - just to save 20 seconds in a 9 hour race? Alii Drive is a special place to me and I just enjoyed it! I let her do the “Blazeman-Roll”, gave her back the union jack (not my flag!) and I saw the winners tape on the ground. A unique opportunity go get a great finish line picture. I got a lot of mails - especially from the US. High school coaches told me that they would tell their athletes about it. Being some kind of "role model" is cool.
ST: Rumor actually has it that you had made a bet about Chrissie Wellington and how you would finish compared to her. Can you enlighten our readers about this?
Clemens: I did an interview with the owner of 3athlon.de, Kai Baumgartner a couple of days before the race. Only the faster male athletes are able to be "1st female" when Muppet is in the race. So the question was, what I will do when she beats me - or when I am not able to beat her. I said "No worries-no problem to 'get chicked' and if so, it would be a pleasure to buy her a fruit smoothie at LavaJava." But it just did not happen. Maybe next time…
ST: Your goal for Kona was to go sub 9 hours and you certainly accomplished that. What is going to be next?
Clemens: There is that marathon thing. "Sub 3" is written on a piece of paper at my fridge. I think this is a barrier to be a top athlete, provided you don't cruise on the bike. Swim and bike with the competition and run sub3 makes you a winner in almost every Ironman. I think I can’t come back to Kona as an AG. Turn full pro or start to make a career in the corporate world is the decision I have to make until the end of the year.
ST: Can you describe your athletic background?
Clemens: Pretty much versatile. As a kid I tried a lot such as soccer, track & field, handball, sport shooting (air gun), field hockey and recreational cycling with my dad. I did my first race in 1992 and from 1995 on it was my sport.
ST: What was one of your best training weeks leading up to the 2008 Ironman World Championships and can you give us some details?
Clemens: For most athletes the best week is the biggest. Triathletes are crazy. Over the years I found the right balance between intensity and volume. A really big Kona prep week is about 16k swimming, 600k biking and 90k running. Plus 2-3hrs of core work, which is the key. People get slower when loosing form. One detail I can share are 30km runs with little "breaks" in between in witch I do sit ups, push ups und one legged jumps…
ST: In which of the 3 sports do you see yourself most improving moving forward?
Clemens: Running! That’s the key for a good race and I am happy with my improvements. It took me two years to come back from a big injury/accident (broke my leg, lived with a steel rod in it for over one year) to a flat 3hr marathon and that’s not the end. Two more years and we talk about 2:50h. I play a long game! But I also have to stop the downward trend with my cycling. I lost some power here. Two years ago I was able to ride around 4:30h but run 3:20. It is about the balance.
ST: Although you are competing as an age grouper, how are things going in terms of sponsorships?
Clemens: Some local companies paid my tickets to Kona and I appreciate that. I don’t have contracts with companies but it helps a lot to get some money from my club TV Lemgo, a Quantec bike, Sailfish wetsuit and Powerbar nutrition for free. I’m happy with their products but somehow I have to pay for food and rent the apartment. Also my parents are big fans. You know what I mean…
If you look in the results you will see that in 2005 I already raced as a "professional" in Kona, but in terms of sponsorship this was my worst year. No bike sponsor back then and instead of proper training, I worked the whole summer in a garage to pay for my Hawaii trip. Professional to me means being able to make a living with your sport. Many "pros" can’t do that. After my accident (while working in a furniture company) in 2006 I did not buy the pro-card for the next year. With some strong partners I would try again.
ST: Talk to us about that other big event for you in Hawaii.
Clemens: Sure! As I said before, two days after the race I married my fiancée Yvonne at St. Peters by the Sea (blue church on Alii Drive). The same place we got engaged in 2005. My broken leg in 2006 kept us away from the Island for a while but after the qualification in Monaco 2007 we made plans to execute the last step. Her parents and my brother planed their vacation on the big island and we had some company from some athletes/friends. It was a very special day for us and the ceremony was wonderful. Another day I will remember for ever-but that one is much more important than a stupid sporting event. Being married is special!
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Clemens: My interest for cycling decreased a little bit in the last two summers but the mountain stages in the big races are still fascinating. During my visit to South Africa I got familiar with rugby, a very manlike and fair sport. Wintertime in Germany means biathlon time (cc ski and shooting)-very exiting and fast sport. Worth an afternoon in front of the TV.
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Clemens: I am a pizza and pasta man. A good steak is also something I don’s say no to. Fresh fruit, salad, potatoes… you name it. I am big eater and since my visit to Japan, my dislike for seafood and sushi has gone. If it is dead I will absorb it!
ST: What music do you enjoy?
Clemens: Radio Top 40 is fine for most workouts. If it is getting hard, I prefer P.O.D or Linkin Park. Nickelback has a good sound and Jack Johnson is always good for chillin´.
ST: What was the last book you read?
Clemens: The German version of "Kite Runner" from Khaled Hosseini. I would like to see the movie.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Clemens: Eventually with kids still living in Lemgo, because I love the area here. Maybe with a few good tri results under my belt. Winning an Ironman event somewhere in the world would be a nice challenge. Also coaching and training with kids is a satisfying thing to do. Or you will see my in the office as a business engineer in the logistic sector and triathlon is just a weekend fun thing. We’ll see, the future is wide open and in the next 6 months Yvonne and I have to make some decisions.
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Clemens: In my first triathlon I was disqualified as I did just one instead of two bike laps by accident. What a great start in this sport. Since then I never got penalized again. No drafting, no short cutting, no cursing.