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Eerstejaars triathlonpro Marlene de Boer’s leerzame ervaringen, ambities en lessen

First-year triathlon pro Marlene de Boer's educational experiences, ambitions and lessons

, by Johan Boef, 10 min reading time


Discover the inspiring story of Marlene de Boer: her path from amateur to professional triathlete, training tips, tactics, and her goals for the future.

It is such a sharp descent with confusing, almost right-angle bends with an unforgiving rock wall here and there. Difficult when it is dry, but now that it is raining it is downright risky and a single mistake can have unpleasant consequences. When Marlene de Boer slips away for the second time, it is enough for a while. “I was done with it then,” she says honestly. It is one of those moments when the first-year pro realizes that there is still a lot to learn. She would then like to share those new experiences and insights.

“You really have to grow into it,” says Marlene after her third race as a triathlon professional in Aix en Provence, southern France. With a first full Ironman in Durban, South Africa, where she finished fifth far out of the spotlight, a second race, a half Ironman in Marbella, Spain, which she finished in seventeenth place and now an eighth place in the half ironman of Aix en Provence, she can now make a careful first assessment. “The racing dynamics are very different, I agree with that,” she analyzes. “It goes really hard into that water. Pushing and pulling, as an age grouper, I had much less of that. Everyone dives into the water there and it is much more 'quiet'. Now you're completely out of breath at the first buoy and you think: 'Gosh, we still have all day to go'. And it involves completely different tactical choices. That makes it intense, but also very fun and challenging.” 

From amateur champion to professional triathlete 

It has all happened quickly since she uninhibitedly won her debut triathlon in 2019. “I started my first triathlon like so many others do. I had ordered some elastics for my shoes on a triathlon website, bought a trysuit, but had no wetsuit and no time trial bike. I rode with a normal helmet, normal goggles, had running shoes and socks and that was it. That's how I started my first race.” She was immediately sold, then had to be patient for a year due to corona, but then won competition after competition. In St. George in the American state of Utah they won a world title among the age groupers, so to speak, the amateurs, three years later they crowned their work with a mighty crown. And if she had not had bad luck during her World Cup race in Hawaii in October 2022, she might have extended that title.

“Being that strong is fun for fifteen races, but after that I think the challenge is over,” she now looks back on that period. Being dominant is one thing, seeking a real challenge is something completely different. And she started looking for that challenge this year in the professional circuit. “I think it's really cool that I get this opportunity and this experience at all,” she says enthusiastically. “Now it is 2023 and I am among the pro ladies. I believe that it is possible, although there is also a bit of talent and luck involved.” 

“It's great fun to do two races that are outside your comfort zone,” she continues, referring to the race in Durban where the conditions were tough and the asphalt was bad, but in this context she is mainly referring to the last race in France. “I think I learned a lot from it. That's also nice about Ironman, triathlon, that there are so many different races. At amateur level I had gotten away reasonably well, because on average I was better than the rest. But when you race pro, the level is so much higher. Then there is less room for mistakes and weaknesses. That is also a lesson, a process that I am in now. Then it is easy to choose races where your talent lies 100 percent and where you feel good, but that is not always possible in terms of planning. It was my coach Yvonne van Vlerken's consideration to throw me in at the deep end when I was introduced to pro level. Well, that turned out pretty well,” she laughs with some self-mockery. 

Cycling computers, stiff shoes and too much electrolytes 

There in the deep, at the highest level, you quickly find out what works well and what works less well. For example, her Wahoo bicycle computer was very useful to her in Aix en Provence. “Otherwise I would have lost at least another 5 minutes,” she grins. “A good bicycle computer is really an added value on such a technical course . I now had my power at the top left of my screen and the kilometer where I was at the top right and the route on the rest of the screen. Then you know what comes with approaching a bend. If you do so many races, it is no longer possible to explore all the courses multiple times. Dan can really help on all levels, not just for me. It is also of added value if you race as an age grouper.”

It is good equipment such as a top wetsuit, stiff cycling shoes that make walking further easier and a practical aero helmet from Cadomotus, which prevents her from being unnecessarily distracted from her performance. “It is very nice that you can turn that light visor when you get out of the water in bad weather during transition. I turned the visor, otherwise it just fogs up, you can't see anything for the first 400 meters and it's like going through a hole. And in Marbella my experience was that you can cool your head well because your neck is free.” 

Sometimes small things go wrong, such as in Aix en Provence, but that is also educational. “I had added a scoop of electrolytes to my diet, but I didn't need them at all in these cold weather conditions. I use sports nutrition from Nutrid, had now added one and a half scoops of electrolytes and noticed that my calf sleeves were really tight at the finish. Just too much salt, which causes you to retain fluid so that it sinks to your legs. I also found it difficult to urinate during the race because of all that salt.” In short, these are all kinds of details that sooner or later can make a difference, she says and summarizes: “So it's about how well you can descend, how well you sit on the bike? How good is your time trial helmet, your shoes, your bike, your suit, your hydration system?” 

'Stand next to Emma Pallant and look at her'

Her placings in Durban and Aix en Provence show that she has been a good fit in the professional circuit from day 1, although the top athlete in her is never satisfied. “Of course there are learning points and many areas for improvement. And of course this is not what I want to be satisfied with in the long term, but for now it is good enough and I get confidence from it. Especially that running part, that went quite smoothly in Aix. With the fourth term you also show that you belong,” she says confidently and with due pride. She does think that she could be a little less careful in the races. “I can be a bit more aggressive and dare more. The fact that I am a bit more careful on long distances is a good trait. That you can pace yourself and stay calm. But the tactical game involved now is that sometimes you just have to go along and gamble a little more . Yvonne, my coach, then says: Marlene, you're such a diesel, you can't inflate, you can't. That's not in your system. At a certain point it just doesn't go any faster because technically running doesn't go any faster, because my technique is not good enough yet. Or with swimming, that my stroke frequency is not high enough. Yvonne's assignment is also: radiate more self-confidence, be aggressive. Last race too, when she said: 'You stand next to Emma Pallant and just look at her'.” 

Dreaming of the world title 

It's all part of a learning process that she really enjoys, but as far as Marlene is concerned, it can also lead to something great. The brand new pro makes no secret of her ambitions. “Becoming world champion would be the ultimate dream. If that doesn't work, then it doesn't mean that everything has been in vain," she qualifies with a laugh in the same breath. And it doesn't all have to happen immediately, she is that realistic, although her progress in the triathlon remains surprisingly fast and every intended step becomes a step. “I like to set smaller goals, right from the start. I started 2019 with the idea that I wanted to finish a race. Then I did a half ironman. And after that half I thought: well, if I can finish in a full distance, that would be really cool. And then I crossed the finish line first overall with that full distance. Then I thought: if I could go to the World Cup and win there… Then I wanted to defend my world title. And now I thought: if I could race with the pros for a year, then I would be satisfied with a place in the top 10. It is not yet a main goal, I mainly want to gain experience.” 

Championships in Frankfurt and Talinn

With the first three races in the bag and a series of great competitions, that experience will be fine. They are skipping the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii this year for financial reasons, but there are plenty of other great competitions. The National Championships in Nieuwkoop and the European Championships full and half Ironman in Frankfurt and Talinn respectively are emphatically on the wish list. “I really want to be on the podium this season, you will have to beat some big names. I would like to race the European Championships in Talinn on August 6. It is a course that suits me, although it does depend a bit on how I get from Frankfurt. But when I look at that bike course in Talinn, it makes me very happy. Not too technical, just ramming. That's what I want to go for. There is no race where the starting field is really weak. It also means that there are opportunities, because the field spreads naturally,” she laughs optimistically. “I would like to race top 5 in Talinn, if not better.” 

Continue to follow Marlene de Boer on TriathlonWorld.nl 

Marlene will discuss all those experiences, training, tests, preparations and of course the races themselves in the coming months on the TriathlonWorld website. “How can you translate my experiences, what have I learned? It is of course different for everyone, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. In things I do, in rituals I have in a taper week, on competition day and the day before. Or about visualizing. And what do I do with food and drink, with nutrition? What does my packing list look like? My story, my 'why' and my motive behind what I do, I like to pass that on so that others can also benefit from it.” In short, keep a close eye on the site. 

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First-year triathlon pro Marlene de Boer's educational experiences, ambitions and lessons