Marino Vanhoenacker opens up

The Belgian ace triathlete Marino Vanhoenacker is coming back from another injury and is currently training in Lanzarote out of the Sands Beach Resort, where he chatted with us about the 2014 Kona race, not going back to the Big Island, recent injuries, Belgium and weight.

Slowtwitch: How are you doing Marino?

Marino Vanhoenacker: I am good and how about you?

ST: Well I am in Lanzarote, so life can’t be that bad.

Marino: I guess it is ok here. [smiles]

ST: When did you actually arrive here and how long will you stay?

Marino: We arrived here about a week ago and will stay here 20 days. So we have another week and a half to go.

ST: When you say we, whom are you referring to?

Marino: It is a young Belgian triathlete who is coming up to 70.3 races and his name is Michael Van Cleven. He has been a training partner for the last 3-4 years and he used to travel quite a lot with me 2 to 3 seasons ago. And when we did the long camps in Hawaii and Australia he was there, so yes, he has been with me for a while. But it is not like he is doing all the training sessions exactly as I – he is still too young to do that stuff. That would probably kill him. But yeah, he is getting stronger and stronger.

ST: So what kind of volumes are you doing then if you are concerned that it would kill him?

Marino: I just started to ride the bike again 3 weeks ago and I am actually ok for the moment. I did not really expect to be still that good on the bike, although I still have a lot of work to do before I will be competitive. If you have done the sport for 15 years, and cycling is my strongest [discipline], and it seems not to fade that much even with a big training pause. In swimming and running the fitness really drops fast but in cycling it somewhat keeps at a respectable level. I did 200-300km weeks the last few weeks, and this week is a 400km one. So yes, I am going ok.

ST: I think you only brought your road bike to Lanzarote. Can you explain why?

Marino: The plan was to ride hills quite a lot here and that is what I started doing after my injuries. When I get back [home] I will continue riding on the road bike, and then second or for sure the third training camp will be on the TT bike again.

ST: You mentioned your injuries - can you tell us more about the status of those?

Marino: I have had some troubles with my heels and that has been going on for 4 or 5 seasons, but I could train and race through them and I don’t really think it slowed me down. The first big injury of my career actually came 2 summers ago in Frankfurt, where I had a stress fracture on my pubic bone. I did not even know that it was really possible, but it is apparently quite common with runners, and that took me out for 2-3 months. There I struggled really hard to come back, but it eventually worked out. Last year I went on to win two 70.3 races and an Ironman, and then I went on to break my sacrum 7 weeks out from Hawaii, but we only discovered that 4 weeks after Hawaii. So I have been training and pushing hard the last 2 months before and then racing in Hawaii with a broken sacrum. I trained for another month, and that brings me to 3 weeks ago when I started training again. I am swimming, am cycling now, and started aqua jogging since last week and the idea is to start running again February 1st.

ST: Let us talk about Kona. You said you were unaware of that injury, so with what kind of mindset did you come to the big race?

Marino: With the previous big injury there was only one plan - my 100% would be on Kona day. So we started with the last two blocks about 7 weeks out from Hawaii and that is where I was really going to put the screws in a little deeper for the run. I mean I knew my cycling was good and my swimming was good, but my running needed that extra kick, and that is something we saved for the last 2 bricks. And it actually just broke before we started. You can hope for a good race and you can believe in yourself, but if you are really honest and your last 7 weeks start with 2 weeks of no running, and you can barely walk on that leg, you are not going to win that race on the run. During the race coming off the bike there was already a huge amount of tension on that area and then I think running 20 kilometers was ok. I wasn’t running to win, but I was running for a solid top ten place. Anywhere between place 5 and 10, but then the muscles started tiring and just could not support the whole system.

ST: I think I misunderstood you earlier. I thought you did not know that you were injured until after Kona.

Marino: I could hardly walk on that left side. The gluteus muscle was completely tight, and every time we worked on that gluteus the whole left leg felt better again. The thing with the broken sacrum, exactly where the cut was, the nerve from the back runs right next to it. So the broken part was rubbing on the nerve all the time and I got a really numb feeling on the left leg. I would have troubles with my calf, then the hamstring, then the butt – it really was shifting. So after every run we worked on that gluteus like hell and everyone was convinced that the problem was there. Usually with a broken sacrum you should be in bed for 5 to 6 weeks, to let it attach again, but with a well-trained body and really strong muscles around the fracture, they supported the whole system. And that gave me the possibility to go on, and I even started training more and more. I even did a 30km run in Hawaii two weeks out from the race. I was getting hope again I would just make it in time to do a solid run, maybe not a fast one. But the thing is in the race - by the time you start running you have been pushing for 5 hours already and as soon as those muscles get too tired to support that fracture, it just goes and the leg doesn’t want to work anymore.

ST: So the days leading up to the race you actually felt good and confident?

Marino: As I said before on social media, I did stuff on the bike that I believe maybe only 5 other guys in triathlon can do, not in training or on race day. And I was confident that after the swim and bike that I would be in podium contention, but the running was a big question mark. I just had no idea when that gluteus was going to act up.

ST: Were there any surprises how the race developed on the bike?

Marino: Not really, but sometimes when I look back I wonder how someone with a broken sacrum was able to get to the half marathon [of the race] in 5th place. That is a little bit annoying for me. But everyone knows when Hawaii is going to come and you have to be 100%. In previous years when I heard a competitor was out with an injury I thought too bad, but life goes on and that is someone you do not have to beat in the race. And now I am in the losing corner. That is part of sport.

ST: You said shortly after Kona that you are done with racing there. You had some time now to think about it, and that may have been said while still down. Do you still stand by that?

Marino: Everyone said it was an emotional decision, but you have to understand that I was walking for 2 hours and that allowed me to think long and hard about it. I already went into that race thinking this is my last chance. I f I don’t make it to the start 100% then maybe that is another sign to give up on that dream. I have invested so much time, energy and money into that race and got 6th, 5th and 3rd, but the last few years I got injured. It doesn’t make any sense to me to go there again with maybe only 90 or 85% of my capacity. Would it be enough for a top 10? Maybe, but I would rather win another Ironman during that time instead of going to Hawaii and blowing up again or getting a 9th or 10th.

ST: What is next on your schedule?

Marino: The plan is now to make it in time for Ironman Brazil, which is at the end of May. If I can really start running without pains at the beginning of February, and it looks that way, then it should mean I can be very competitive in that race. After that we will have to see. I will go to the hospital after the race to do full scans, even if I don’t feel any pains or aches.

ST: What else might you do?

Marino: I don’t know. Brazil is the first and then I might do another summer Ironman in Europe or a Challenge race for that matter. But that is still not yet decided.

ST: Challenge Roth?

Marino: Yeah, that would be interesting. I haven’t won that one. That would be a nice one.

ST: In a few weeks you will be back home in Belgium. Do you mind training there during the winter?

Marino: In the past I did 6 or 7 hours on the turbo trainer and it wasn’t a problem. I still am very motivated and it is still no problem. I will only be home for a week, so it is more or less a recovery week. But we live in Belgium and we know what the weather is like.

ST: You mentioned gaining 10kg since Kona when I first saw you. Can you talk about that?

Marino: Sometimes I already gained 4 or 5kg by the time I stepped off the plane from Kona. I never hunger myself and I am actually quite ok food wise. There are some people who question my food habits but I am happy with it. Of course there are seasons during the year where you eat a little healthier, or a little less healthy. But if you push your body that hard for a long, long time before the race, sometimes after hard sessions and during tapering I gain 2-3kg. I mean you do not do anything for 2 or 3 days and my body just got the idea, now you get some reserve. When I was 20 I did not gain a kilogram, when you are 30 it is 5k, and now I am 38 and if I don’t pay attention it is more than 10kg, and that is what happened. But I don’t think it has to be a bad thing. There is a reason why your body does that. There is a reason it did not do that when you were 20, and there is one why it does it when you are 38. But I am not worried. Every training session I am doing here in the Lava fields of Lanzarote I leave ½ a kilogram behind.

ST: Plus it has been helping you with the winds here.

ST: You see it and feel it on the watts up the hills, but going down hill with the side winds that bike does not move at all. In Kona when you are 10kg lighter you get blown all over the street, and now the bike just stats, and that is a good thing.

ST: As a final word, what is your go-to or reward treat?

Marino: Everyone is going to laugh now, but I really like the Dracula Teeth.

The Dracula Teeth pictured below were not in Lanzarote with Marino, but rather generously sent to us by Pieter De Neve.