Slowtwitch talks to Yvonne Van Vlerken

Yvonne Van Vlerken recently broke the long standing record of the great Paula Newby-Fraser over the Iron distance with her time of 8:45:48 at the Quelle Challenge in Roth, Germany. We wanted to find out more for our Slowtwitch readers about this flying Dutch woman.

ST: Yvonne, you just recorded the fastest time ever by a female athlete over the Iron distance. Were you surprised how well your race at the Quelle Challenge Roth went?

Yvonne: No, I discovered that I could double the time of a Half-Ironman and hold the speed of that distance throughout the long distance. I won Ironman 70.3 Austria six weeks prior to Roth. That race was a test in terms of where I was standing and if you look at the times you can see it is pretty much exactly the half time of Roth. 4:22 vs. 8:45! At that point I was about at 85% of my ability.
After I was so close to the record last year I only dreamed about breaking it. My total focus was on that particular day and on the record. But I also had to pay my dues for that. I could not race IM Malaysia in February like I could if I would have been in top shape. Our trainer Mario Huys and also Tommy (J. Vonach), my boyfriend, training-mate and manager follow the rules, that you can only have two to three absolute top peaks a year. I needed those peaks for other occasions than the qualifier for Kona. It is hard not being in the role to win if you know you could. I had to learn to set my priorities and everything I trained for in this year was for Roth and the world-record. The best experience in Roth was that as soon as I could distance Erika I really enjoyed the last 7km, I felt great and could cruise home. Good to know to have something left in the tank.

ST: There were a surprising number of sub 9-hour finishes in the women’s race. What are your thoughts why the times in Roth seem to be so fast, especially this year?

Yvonne: We had one of the best female fields that a race outside Hawaii ever saw and there were girls like Gina Fergusson, Belinda Granger, Erika Csomor, Rebekah Keat and Charlotte Paul, who have been close to 9 hours already. They all knew that they could go close to the old best mark. This year it was like: if you want to win you have to break the world-record. The race itself was perfect for me as the wet weather is something that suits me, so some of the girls couldn’t play their cards. Roth was always fast. If you look at me, I was only 6 minutes faster than last year and I can add up what the reasons for that improvement was. Generally my training with Mario Huys, who trained Kate Allen and Luc van Lierde in the past. He was in Roth this year together with Tommy and I got some great input from those two from outside during the race. My swim training with John Beckworth (swim-trainer of Kate Allen) and my new wetsuit of 2XU in the swim. On the bike-portion, the fact that I knew the course blind, because I have been training in Roth for several times. My new bike (I am riding a 26’’ Cervelo P3 now, going to the smaller wheels was a very good decision as I have a perfect TT-position now) and the fact that I slimmed down 4kg (nice on the uphills in Roth). On the run, loosing 4kg simply gave me the ability to run 4min faster. And if you add the fact that Erika was chasing me all the run you end up where I was: 8:45

As for the other girls I can’t talk, but I think if I am able to go Sub-9 there are others that can do that too. Maybe they have worked on their target to go sub-9 in the same focused way as I did. And some of them looked maybe at the time I did last year in Roth and said to themselves: ”If she can do that we can do that also…!” We should not underestimate the mind-game when you want to go Sub-9!

ST: There is a heated debate in the Slowtwitch forum about the distance in Roth and at Ironman Austria. Do you think the distance is accurate?

Yvonne: First of all I like to mention that for me it was important to break the record on the same course as it was set. And I only want to speak for Roth regarding that question as it was a factor that was discussed by my manager Thomas J. Vonach and Felix Walchshöfer/RD Challenge Roth prior to the race. I don't care if there is a particular brand on a great old and traditional race like Roth or not. I only can say that the race organizers did everything to verify a possible world record. Beginning from measuring the course which was also under the jurisdiction of the German Triathlon Federation to the anti-doping-program that was executed before and after this year's race. We had 62 blood tests on Thursday and 28 urine tests including EPO on Sunday after the race. Since the organizers had to insure the race for $50.000,- that was on until last year for the men's world record, the insurance company "Allianz" asked that the course had to be measured exactly. "Team Challenge" did that together
with the organization that also measures the freeways and other roads in the area. This should be exact enough for a triathlon course and the course has not changed from last to this year. Further I had absolutely no intention to draft, and the other girls either. There were always race marshals with the girls in the front as we asked for that also prior to the race. Paula set the time 14 years ago in Roth and that was never questioned as I
am informed. People came to us that saw the race and also were there 14 years ago. They congratulated me how I performed, especially how fair the race was regarding drafting. We all know that Roth is a fast course, but it is not an easy or too short one! They have the greatest audience in the world in triathlon there, don't underestimate the psychological factor when you want to perform like we did that day in that kind of weather.

ST: You come from a duathlon background and still seem to do quite a few duathlons. Will you now focus more on triathlons?

Yvonne: I came to triathlon through duathlon. This is where I know Erika Csomor from as we had so many fights in the last eight years of my career as a duathlete. We changed places on the World Championship podiums and now we meet again in triathlon.
Duathlon still keeps me fast and fresh. If you race in duathlons after some triathlons you will really see what pain means. The speed is so much different. In duathlon you have to run a 54min for the first 15km in a Powerman-duathlon. If you convert that to triathlon to Half and Full-Distance it will give you a greater amplitude for your pace. You are not limited to 16km/h, because you are also partly racing at 18km/h. And if you have that you will feel more comfortable when you run 15km/h in an Iron-distance. I did focus more on triathlons this year, but I raced mainly on short-distances as a preparation for Roth. My target is to keep my speed from duathlon because it is essential for my ability to go fast in triathlon.

ST: Of all your wins in your career so far, which one do you cherish the most and why?

Yvonne: That is an easy question for me ;-). To really break Paula Newby-Fraser´s 14 year old record and win Roth in that tremendous field of great female athletes was the most satisfying and rewarding moment in my whole career. The race itself was such a big hurdle. I knew what I could do and I really wanted it. Erika (Csomor) wanted the same. In the end we both were left to fight it out. The battle with Erika was the final and ultimate mind-test if I really want it bad enough. I think the fact that everything else had to stay behind this goal in my preparation gave me another reason to push myself so hard: my boyfriend, my friends and family etc., everything that I usually give space had to be in the background. The price was a high one and that is why I cherish it so much. I dreamed about that record and the race nearly every night since last year. But I have to mention that the great audience in Roth takes big part in that achievement. I really enjoy the people there and love to race for them. Now I can say that it is possible: breaking a record and also enjoying the atmosphere and the audience. I even had time to throw endless of kisses on my last kilometer.

ST: What else do you have on your race schedule this season?

Yvonne: The main race for me of course will be the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. But I will also race at the ITU Long Distance World Championship in Almere in my home country when my recovery from Roth is quick enough. It is the last year that the old distance (4-120-30km) will be held by the ITU. This distance suits me well and the fact that it will be a home game is very motivating to me.
I would be qualified for Clearwater, but I will wait until after Kona to decide if I will be there or not. Generally I like to race permanently, but Tommy and our trainer Mario have shown me how to really plan clever to have the peak-day where it should be. I was leading of the bike in Clearwater in 2006, but I was not able to turn over my run as I was simply too tired from too many races!

ST: Please describe a typical hard training week for us.

Yvonne: A hard week in my preparation for an Iron-distance race adds up in about 30-32 hours in total. I will swim 5 times in that week with workouts from long endurance sessions to speed-drills. In cycling there will be about 400-600km on the list, some of them very easy with transition-runs, some shorter rides with different programs. In running there are long runs and fartleks included, as well as a session on the track. Brick training is also a part in that kind of preparation. And I am working lots and lots on my mental side…

ST: What do you do to overcome a disappointing race?

Yvonne: I just look forward to the next race and Tommy, Mario and I analyze what went wrong in the particular race before. This gives us the chance to develop strategies suiting to the races and my competition. “My two men” have endless experience in triathlon and long-distance-racing. I am a good pupil, maybe sometimes a little stubborn, but I am learning a lot. From that side of view very few races went wrong in the last two seasons.

ST: How are things going for you in terms of sponsorship?

Yvonne: After I won Roth last year it was much different. My main sponsor VELTEC who is the distributor for the Benelux for brands like Cervelo, Profile Design, Powertap, Sidi Shoes, Easton and Enervit is a very great partner. Veltec is also operating in America. We are working on a sponsorship for helmet and run-cap next year and I want to have agreements with some of the companies that Veltec is distributing in the Benelux. Guess my results could be interesting for some of the companies.
We have had agreements for this season with the small sponsors that have stayed with me from the beginning. But it will not be possible for some of them to grow with me. We will continue with those sponsors on another platform, as these are friends as well. So the conclusion of the answer: I am doing well, but we are open to get better and improve to a more professional level.

ST: How do you typically spend the off-season?

Yvonne: The last winter I spent in Austria. So I had the chance to go cross-country skiing. That looks pretty funny when somebody from the Netherlands does that the first time…haha. I rather stick to hiking because that causes less damage to the beautiful Austrian nature through my crashes. I enjoy less training, but to be honest there is not much of an off-season as our off-season training-weeks includes about 15-20 hours of training. From January on we spend most of the time on the Island of Lanzarote where we can stay with some dear friends that live there. Peter Dalkin is 69 and started triathlon when he retired and finished Kona in 2007. He is crazy about triathlon and we feel very home there. They take so much care of us and it is the perfect start of the season and the perfect build-up.

ST: Can you tell us more about your family?

Yvonne: I was born in a little village called Krimpen aan de Lek near Gouda (where the cheese comes from). My parents still live there as well as my only brother. My brother runs a lot as well, but mainly behind his two little baby-kids. My father was born in Linz/Austria during World War II and was an excellent soccer-player. Unfortunately his father died very early of Parkinson and he had to take care of his brothers and his mother. That was pretty hard for him, as he loved his sport. That is the reason why he and my mother travel to races wherever Tommy and I am competing as he is happy that we can follow our careers without big hurdles like he had. They are standing behind me a 100%. It is a funny turn in my life that I met a man form Austria and now moved back to the country where my father was born. They miss me a lot, but we talk very often, thanks to Skype.

ST: Do you follow any other sports?

Yvonne: Through my occupation as a fitness-trainer, aerobic-instructor and sports-massage-therapist I worked in the sport-school until July last year. I did this for over 13 years. I played soccer for the southern Dutch National team. Now I stopped every kind of sport that is a potential risk to injure myself as I am earning my living with triathlon. Sometimes I miss soccer and watch games on TV (especially the Dutch team of course). I like to watch ski races in the Austrian television, as we don’t have that in the Netherlands. It’s fun, but I never would dare to do that myself. This would not only be unhealthy for the Austrian nature...

ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?

Yvonne: First the most important: I am a total chocolate-lover! For the healthy side of my nutrition I really like fish, vegetables and any kind of salads. During the day there is great Austrian bread with cheese and cucumbers on it or some fresh yogurt with raisins and seeds on my nutrition-plan. I also like nuts and Dutch pancakes and I love the “Apfelstrudel” (special Austrian style of apple pie) of Tommy’s mother.
I don’t like and eat meat (since over 8 years), further I can live without rice and potatoes. But sometimes I eat them, because they are essential for me.

ST: What about music? Anything you listen to more often?

Yvonne: I like music to chill down during a massage or when I am meditating. Further there are some bands and singers that have songs that give me a lot of energy or are simply meaningful to me. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Morrissey, Anastacia, The Killers or The Eagles belong to them. When it comes to the Chilis there are two songs that really give me goose-bumps any time I listen to them: “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “Californication”.

ST: What was the last book you read?

Yvonne: “Tinus! Tinus!” about the life of Leontien van Moorsel. She is the best female cyclist there ever was in history. Leontien is from the Netherlands as well and the special thing about her career is that she had to overcome a really big crisis in her health with eating disorders. The book is very honest, full of joy and sadness. I read it before my race in Roth. This gave me a lot of strength.

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Yvonne: Still happy and healthy living my sport together with Tommy. And maybe also people outside of the global triathlon-family will recognize my name. We are working on that…

ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?

Yvonne: I have a nice website where you can discover more about me. :-)