I’m sorry. This race report got way too long. I really tried to write down my thoughts as concise as possible, but found out that after a race like this it would be lame to sum things up while so much happened. Hope you like the full read!
3:45am. The alarm goes off. As always, the night of sleep before the race was too short, but I actually slept quite deep and woke up feeling fit. This was the big day. The first of 6 races in this world trip. The one in which I really really really love to qualify for the World Championships since I’m in such good shape and it would make the rest of the trip so much more relaxed. After eating as much breakfast as possible (I suck at eating while nervous, so this was a very tiny meal actually) it was time to hop on the bus towards the transition and start area.
The night before the race it rained hard. The road was still wet and I just hoped the little garbage bags that covered up my bike held up. They did. The bike looked good and after going through my routine of getting the bike ready I was off to the swim start. There was some time left to warm up and after a couple of short sprints and warm up minutes I lined up in the fastest age group coral; <30 minute swimmers.
After the pro’s took off we lined up and once the horn blew it was go time. I felt great and ready. I sprinted towards the water, hoping to ‘catch some good feet’ and have a smooth and fast swim. I knew I had to go fast and probably suffer a bit early in the race because the more in front I exited the water, the faster the bikers I could ride with as well. I didn’t want to end up in ‘nomansland’ chasing the faster bikers.
My swim has improved a lot over the past year. It has always been my worst leg, but with a 58 minute swim at IM Maastricht (with wetsuit which really helps) I was confident that I could go sub 30 without wetsuit on this distance. From the moment that I jumped into the water I found a lot of clean water to swim. I looked for some fast feet to chase and it took a while before I finally found them around the first buoy at about 400m. From there on I really needed to push. It didn’t feel very comfortable (especially swimming through some sea lice and jelly fish) at all, but I knew that as long as I could stick with the faster swimmer in front of me I would have a decent split.
The moment you get out of the water it is always exciting to watch at your Garmin. By feel it could have been a sub 30 minutes swim, but it might as well be several minutes slower. I’m very happy it was the first and I got out of the water and over the first timing point in 29:11.
Transition was smooth, on to the bike!
This was it, I was on the bike. The part of the race that I was most confident in and for which my expectations were very high. My recent training numbers showed progress and I really thought I could go fast and bike myself into a good position. Together with my coach Chris Brands I had set target watts to hit. This is the power you put on the pedals so to speak. Chris told me to shoot for 260 watts average in the first hour and try to hold on to at least 250 average over the whole bike split.
The bike course started with some parts with bad road surface, traffic on the road (while roads should have been closed) and dogs that were present, as always around Phuket. The roads were quite slippery as well in some technical corners, which was made unpleasantly clear to me when my rear wheel slipped away in a corner after 11km. I was shocked for a couple of seconds and decided to minimize risk from then on. If you want to qualify for the Worlds then it is a good start to finish the race in one piece.
The more I got into the bike leg the more I felt like this was not my best day on the bike ever. Some days you just don’t feel the pedals and you can keep going. This was not one of them. I really needed to push to keep my 260 watts. After passing a foot bridge where we needed to unclip and walk up and down before continuing, the next 50k of the bike course were on the main highway. This was the fast part! I tried my best to get the speed up and I stuck to my 260 watts. I felt pretty good here, although it wasn’t feeling easy or something. I guess Greg Lemond was right; ‘It never gets easier, you just go faster’.
On my way to the turn around point in the bike leg I saw my buddy Tim standing on the side of the road with a punctured tyre. I cursed out loud. I was looking forward to race Tim and I knew he would swim faster and I would have to pedal hard to chase him, but this was not the way I wanted to pass him at all. Later I found out that he punctured twice. It’s really a shame because I think we might have had an epic battle on the run for, what we now know were, podium spots.
At the turn around point there was an aid station where we could grab bottles with water and electrolytes. Due to the high speeds and the somewhat clumsy (but still highly appreciated!!) volunteers I had to dodge a cyclist who dropped a bottle and missed all the bottles for myself… Shit… This was a problem… No drinks for 20km on the bike in the heat on high intensity. There wasn’t anything I could do but ride on and keep on hammering the pedals and hope the de-hydration would not be too bad. Water or no water, I still needed to get my food in. The gels I take need quite some water to be flushed away but I decided to take one anyway, I really needed the calories and electrolytes. Shortly after the gel I started feeling not so great. I burped hoping it would go away, but it got worse and had me into puking in seconds. I didn’t see this as a big problem, but quite instantly some cramps were coming up in my quads. This was a sign I couldn’t ignore. I really needed to back off if I still wanted to make this race a succes. I decided to go around 240 watts for the remainder of the bike leg, which felt quite ok. I even passed David; a Spanish Xterra triathlon pro and coach at Thanyapura. This made me feel I still rode on a decent pace.
The last part of the bike course was identical to the first part but in reverse. So again the bad road surface and traffic. All I could think here was to stay safe. With every bump I hit I was happy that my tyres held up. I was super glad to enter the transition area again and even more happy when I saw the number of bikes there… There were barely any except for those of the pro’s!
Coming into this race the run was the big unkown. I knew I was in great running shape, but after three weeks of training in the heat I still had no clue how fast I could run in this very hot and humid circumstances after biking hard. The cramps on the bike made me go into the run even more wondering what I was up for. I litterally felt as if the wheels could either come off in km 1, or it could be an awesome run till the finish line.
The first km of the run was horrible. My legs where nowhere to be found. My quads kept cramping and I felt dizzy and tired. David was closing into me very quick and at that moment I was 100% sure he would outrun me easily. Passing the 1km point my garmin beeped and showed me a 4:22 km split. I must admit that starting of with 4:00 per km was in the back of my head, but looking at how I felt this was actually a very positive surprise. I was sure I was running closer to 5:00 per km, so this gave me a boost somehow. I tried to get into a flow and keep the thoughts as positive as possible. ‘ Only two laps man. You got this. You did this so many times. If you can hold up for 10k you’ve got a realistic shot at a world championship slot, just keep going’ I remember thinking.
Some kms ticked away and after the first aid station I found an amazing flow. I grabbed two cups of water, two of electrolytes and as many cold sponges as I could and I started to feel so much better. Since there were a number of u-turns on the course I could see where the other guys were running and I got the impression that I was both running faster and suffering less then they were. This gave an enormous boost. Every lap I passed the cheering zone twice. This is where Marloes was supporting very hard and had teamed up with some of the new friends we’ve made. Since I have been training at Thanyapura for three weeks I knew a lot of people who were either racing or cheering. More and more they shouted to me that I ‘was flying’, ‘looking awesome’ and ‘killing it’. So motivating.
I kept the great flow until km 16. This is where I really needed to push hard to sustain the pace. By this time I still did not have too much information on my position in the race, but my indication was that there were max 5 amateurs running in front of me, a couple of which looked older. By then I started realizing that if I didn’t go into a total melt down (remember Ironman Frankfurt 2014…) I was going to do it. I was going to get on the podium in an Ironman 70.3 race and most probably qualify for the World Championships!!! I felt a shiver go through my body. I Composed myself and concentrated on the final kms.
Based on the u-turns I knew there was still one guy (Alan from Australia) that was relatively close. I just had to give it all and not let him get close in the final kms. By now everything in my body was screaming to slow down. I was hurting bad, but felt euphoric at the same time. I didn’t care about the pain. I was thinking of an inspirational quote by Sebastien Kienle; ‘ If it’s hurting me, it’s killing them’.
Reaching km 20 felt great. At this point I was pretty sure that nothing could go wrong any more. I turned left and entered the final 500m stretch onto the beach and the finish line. I heard the speaker shouting my name. ‘ From the Netherlands, in the top of the age group race, Kelvin van der Doeeee’. These are those moments that you visualize when you are riding your bike all alone in the pouring rain. When you’re running on sore legs and every fiber in your body tells you that you can take a shortcut back home and hang on the couch. When you’re walking into the swimming pool at 6:30am feeling tired, hesitant to jump in the water and swim your arms off for 3000meters.
Entering the final stretch to the finish line I saw that a finish ribbon was there. This was strange. Did I win my agegroup? I couldn’t believe it, but for a moment I did. Passing the finish was awesome! Pretty quick after the finish I heard that the finish ribbon is apparently an Asian thing and that they had it for the top 3. My overall time was 4:31. Pretty good looking at the hot and humid weather and the challenges on the bike.
After the finish I crashed pretty hard. I was back to being dizzy and feeling sick, but none of that mattered. I just wanted to be sure of my rank. Jumping into the icebath and having a chat with Michael Relaert (2nd pro) was nice. I slowly started to feel ‘ok-ish’. After some time the final call was there. The Ironman website showed that I was ranked 2nd in my age group and 21st overall. I was over the moon. I took the time to phone with friends and family. So awesome that a lot of people followed this race while it was a very inconvenient time when not in Asia!
We went back to the hotel, showered and went to the award ceremony. It’s so cool to be called on stage and receive a big and pretty ugly award! After the awards I claimed my slot for the World Championships, the reward medal for that is actually quite pretty and awesome!
After some beers, gin tonics and even an espresso martini (apparently a cool drink amongst triathletes?) It was time to go to bed. What a day it had been.