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Kona Still #1 Goal for Raelert-Brothers

In March 2011, K-Swiss announced that they would pay 1 million $ to the German brothers Andreas and Michael Raelert if they finish 1-2 in Kona later that year. Both were considered strong contenders for the October race: Michael hat recently become the first 70.3 champ to defend his world title (winning both the 2009 and 2010 titles in Clearwater), and Andreas had two great Kona results in 2009 (3rd) and 2010 (2nd, only beaten by Chris McCormack after running with him until the last aid station).

Since then, the brothers struggled a bit to put together solid seasons. In 2011, Michael was slated to give his IM debut in Frankfurt but had to cancel because of hip issues and decided to wait another year for his Kona debut. Andreas posted a fantastic world best time of 7:41:33 in Roth, but still had to validate his Kona slot by „walking“ IM Regensburg in order not to aggravate a slight injury. He posted another podium result in Kona (3rd behind Craig Alexander and Pete Jacobs). In 2012 they both qualified for Kona, but only Andreas had a good race (2nd behind Pete Jacobs) while Michael finished 31st.

Michael Raelert at the front of a bike pack in Kona 2012 (Photo: Jay Prasuhn).

2013 saw them both struggle with injuries: Michael hurt his knee when he crashed with his mountain bike. He still managed to finish 7th in IM Germany, but then had to undergo a procedure to remove inflamed tissue. Andreas won IM Austria in a fast 7:59, but tore some muscle fibers in his glute. For the first time, he DNF’d in Kona. 2014 didn’t start much better: Andreas still wasn’t completely healed from his injury, had a DNF in Frankfurt and barely managed to get a last minute Kona slot after racing in Mont Tremblant. In Kona, he was in a good position until the middle of the run when he had severe stomach problems and had to walk home. (He still finished in 10:49 with a run time 45 minutes slower than his bike.)

Michael crashed again on his mountain bike in the spring, but even though he hurt his face the injuries healed quickly. He was on fire in the second half of the year, winning a number of 70.3s in Australia and also the inaugural Challenge Bahrain.

Andreas Raelert getting ready for the 2015 season in Mallorca (Photo: Raelert-Brothers).

I’ve had the chance to discuss their 2015 plans with them.

Thorsten: What’s your focus for the 2015 season?

Michael: We are still working on some of the details, but Kona will be the main focus for both of us. I have already started my season, my next race will be 70.3 Mallorca (early May).  I’m not sure where I’ll do my Ironman race, but it’s great to already have enough points.

Andreas: I will start my season at 70.3 St. George and will race at Ironman Texas.

T: Andreas, what’s your view on having a good summer IM and performing well in Kona? Other than in 2014, the winner rarely had a big result in the summer.

A: That is very hard to tell. Sebastian showed that he can perform well in Frankfurt and in Kona. But you can only do that with a strong base and smart periodization.

T: It seemed that you really wanted to perform well in Kona 2014 even after qualifying very late. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to collect some solid points and take your chances in 2015?

A: It’s next to impossible to race Kona „going easy“. It is a special race, and I always want to race my best there. Racing well in Kona is why I’m in the sport, it’s what I love. I still want to see the name „Raelert“ among the Kona champions. Having a 1 million $ prize on winning there was a great sign of respect, but it doesn’t influence how I race.

T: You’d be the oldest first time winner (currently Craig Alexander with 35 years) …

A: I don’t think winning Kona is a question of age, but how well you feel. Crowie has shown that you can still perform well if you manage to focus on your training. I’ll be doing Triathlon as long as I believe I still have a chance to win – at least for another two or three years. It would be great to stay injury-free and know in May where I stand and then be able to focus on preparing for Kona.

T: Michael, when you won your two 70.3 Championships you were dominating that distance. Was moving up to the full distance too early?

M: With Regensburg, Kona and Frankfurt I have only done three IMs so far, so I haven’t really moved up yet. The training volume is pretty much the same, regardless of whether you are training for Olympic Distance, 70.3s or Ironman races, the difference is more on the mental side of racing, of being patient for a long time.

T: Are you back to 100% now?

M: I think I was doing pretty well over the middle distance lately :-). I still have some catching up to do on the run, after all I missed thousands of kilometers when being injured. I’m working hard to improve some more.

T: Did you or your coach Wolfram Bott make any changes to your training because of the injury?

M: I think it’s important to take your time and not make the second step before the first one. When we started to work with Wolfram in 2012, it was to add some new stimuli to our training. Now he also takes extra care to make sure we’re doing the right things. There are situations where I need someone else to tell me when to back down a bit.

T: If you qualify for Kona, how will you approach the race? Just as a learning experience?

M: I’m similar to Andi – just participating is not enough for me. When I start, I want to compete for the top spots.

T: You are marketing yourself as a single brand „Raelert-Brothers“. How is that working out?

A: We love it that we have our little family business – in addition to Micha and me there is also my girlfriend Julia and our middle brother Sven. Together, we have found a lot of loyal partners. Most recently we have added Swiss Side with their fantastic aero wheels.

T: Thank you for your time. It would be great to see both of you have a successful 2015 season!

Interview with Filip Ospaly for Kona 2014

Filip Haugesund

Filip has had a great career racing Olympic distance (participating three times in the Olypmics and winning a number of World Cup races) and had also great results in 70.3s (2nd place in the 2010 World Championships) . He finished his first IM, Florida 2013, with a time of 7:58 in third place. He had some more good results in European of 70.3s, then secured his Kona slot by finishing fourth in Switzerland. As is typical for athletes coming up from the shorter distances, his swim in great and should easily place him in the front pack. Evidenced by his fast time in Florida, he has the engine for fast bike and run times over the longer distance, but it is a bit doubtful what he will be able to do in the tough condition and deep field in Kona. He certainly has a potential similar to Ivan Rana (who finished 6th in hist first appearance in Kona), but it remains to be seen if he will be able to perform in a hot race such as Kona.

Thorsten: How was your season so far?

Filip: Up and down. The first half I didn’t race because of two meniscus arthroscopies (left in mid April, right at the end of May).Then it went up with victories in Haugesund (Ironman 70.3),  Opava (Czech Cup race) and 4th place in Zurich (Ironman) – all races in July. And then down again at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant.

T: What makes Kona special for you?

F: Kona is just another course. I don’t think it’s particularly beautiful, there are nicer ones. But with the climate and the strength of the field, it is certainly the hardest race. It is the World Championships. All the athletes will have prepared for this race very well and want to deliver their best performances. The 55 best athletes will be on the start line … 10 can win and another 20 can be on the podium …

T: Are you doing anything special in your Kona prep?

F: This will be my first time to race in Kona. The one big change is that I will be on the Big Island from early September. There are no changes to the  training compared to what I’ve done in the past.

T: What are your goals for the race?

F: One of my sponsors (Mr. Zdenek Kepak) has given me my goals for this race – to improve the Czech records on this course (Pete Vabrousek holds it for the best place with a 19th in 2002 and Martin Matula for the fastest time with a 8:48:50 from 2006). So this is my goal and I think it is realistic.

T: Any sponsor mentions you’d like to get in?

F: I want to thank all my sponsor for their support: EKOL, Equinox, eMMe, Cannondale, Czech Tri Series, FORD and others. For this race special thanks to Mr. Zdenek Kepak, who made it possible for me to stay on the Big Island for more than a month with my wife and our children!

Interview with Paul Matthews on Kona 2014

Paul has finished three IMs so far – and his slowest was an 8:05 in his first race in Melbourne 2012. He also DNF’d in Kona that year. He had another great race in Melbourne 2014 where he finished second which gave him enough points to qualify. Will he be able to deliver a Kona performance on the same level as his previous results? It’s impossible to tell from the data – so it was great to have a long chat with Paul about his development and his perspective on this year’s race.

Thorsten: Looking at your results, the first Ironman race that I see for you was 2012. What was your background coming into the sport?

Paul: I came through the Australian junior ranks. I raced Luke McKenzie at the Junior Olympics in Australia in Penrith back in 2001. Luke won and I came 3rd. I think Emma Snowsill won the Girls’. Annabel Luxford was there. So I’ve been around the sport a long time. I did a few World Cups when I was younger. Then I went to Brett Sutton for three years. Sutto actually wanted me to do an Ironman back in 2005, and he pushed me to do the UK 70.3 in 2005. Three or four weeks before that, we’re driving home from a little race in Switzerland that I had won. He just said to me, “I’ve got a race for you that I think you’d do well at, it’s a Half Ironman over in the UK. You’re going to do it. I think you’ll go well. Just eat Mars bars on the bike and it will be sweet.” I was living with Reinaldo Colucci at that time. Reinaldo was going to do the race as well and he’d already done an Ironman and few Halfs. So every day for three weeks it was Ronaldo versus Barney, every single session. I ended up beating Ronaldo in the race and I ended up winning it.

Sutto thought I’d be good at Ironman. At that time, I was just, “No, I’m not going to ride and run that long.” But looking back and seeing what I’ve been doing now, I think it probably was the right distance. It just took me a few extra years to sort it out and finally do one.

T: If Sutto wanted you to do an Ironman in 2005, why did it take you until 2012?

P: I don’t know. In 2007 I started coming to Boulder because I just needed a change. In 2007-2008 I trained with Crowie and he said, “Once you start to go long, you’ll loose your speed and you can’t really go back.” I was very cognitive over that. I’ve been doing 2-hour runs and 2-and-a-half-hour runs with Sutto since 2003. Crowie said, “Your body will be fine. It’s in the head that Ironman is hard.” So it took me a while but eventually I decided it was time to have a crack.

T: You had a great start to your IM career in 2012 with Melbourne, you qualified for Kona, but then Kona didn’t go too well.

P: Melbourne was a cool race and everything just went so easy. Then I turned up to Kona a little naïve and I little wet behind the ears. I trained really hard for that race. I was super fit. But when you’ve got 50 of the fittest guys in the world, everyone is just going hammer and I just wasn’t ready. In Melbourne, there were maybe 10 guys that were fit. In Kona, there are 50 guys that are fit. I missed my bottle at Hawi, the heat, a lot of little things just added up. I’ve got out onto the Queen K on the run and I said to myself if I keep going and I finish, then my season is over. Or I could pull out, go to Arizona and make some money. I sat on the side of the road for about 15 minutes contemplating what I was going to do. I talked to Crowie the day after the race, he said, “No, that was a smart decision you made. You’ve got to make money. This is your job.” At that time, it was a hard decision but, in retrospect, it was the right one.


T: You recovered well and finished second in Arizona, but still didn’t race any more Ironman races in 2013.

P: Because I already made  good points in Arizona, I wasn’t going to fly halfway around the world to go to Melbourne 2013. So I was planning to do Coeur d’Alene. I got married at the end of April, so I had all the family over here. At that time, I didn’t think it was stressful but, looking back, it was a lot more stress than I thought. It just took me months to get the body and the mind going again. I rang Crowie 6 weeks from Coeur d’Alene. I said, “I can’t go do the long 6-hour ride by myself and the long runs by myself. Mentally I just can’t do it,” and he said, “Fine. Don’t do it. Concentrate on Des Moines. Just go do some speed.” I ended up coming 4th in Des Moines. He said, “There’s no point just grinding away for nothing. Your heart has to be in Ironman.“ I could’ve turned up and, and if I got Top 8, I still would’ve qualified for Kona. But if I turn up, I’m going to have a go at winning. So I gave Kona a miss, but then we went to Kona and watched the race. I was out in the boat with Matt Lieto. Just watching it, I said to Matt last year, “If I’m here on the boat, spotting for you next year, you have permission to kick my ass.” Then I had breakfast with Crowie two days later and I said, “You’ve got to coach me because this is the race I want to win,” and he said, “Well, let’s get to work.”

T: How did your relationship with Crowie start? 

P: I’ve known Crowie since 2001. That was the first year I went to World Champs in Edmonton as a Junior and he was in the Senior team at that time. That was the first time I met him and then I raced him in Australia. Then in 2007-2008 when I came to Boulder, I was with Stephen Hackett. We did a lot of training with Crowie. The place I was staying at didn’t have any TV or internet. So every second day, I was at Crowie’s place, watching ESPN and stealing his internet. Neri [Crowie’s wife] would cook me dinner every second night. They’d go out for dinner and I’d babysit Lucy [Crowie’s oldest daughter]. Ever since then, we’ve been pretty tight. He’s won Kona three times, he’s got the course record. There’s no better guy that I would want to work with. He’s very old school and I’m still very old school with the way Sutto taught me. So it works pretty well.

T: What does being coached by Crowie mean exactly? Does he write your training plans?

P: He writes my programs, he does everything. So November, December, January, leading up to Melbourne, with him being in Australia and me being over here, he wrote a program for three to four weeks. I just do it, just did it every day. I’d send him an email once every two or three days, telling him how it’s going, and we’d Skype once a week, once a fortnight. This summer, it’s been quite cool because he was in Boulder as well. Every night the last 2 months, we’ve talked. Hillary [Paul’s wife] works for NormaTec, and she’s away a lot. So I’d always be over at Crowie, and Neri still cooks dinner for me. Neri went home a few weeks ago so Crowie has been over to our place to return the favor. The last eight weeks, we talked every night. We’ve done a lot of riding together. We meant to do a long ride tomorrow. “How are you feeling?” I said I’m tired. He said, “Okay, easy day tomorrow. We’ll go on a long ride the next day.” We’ve just changed. Leading into Kona has been very specific in terms of what we do, when we do it. He’s just tapping away in my head, telling me what I need to do in Kona to do well. Every day, he’s just drilling it into me, so I know it by heart now. I’ve certainly learned a lot. It’s not every day you have your coach actually doing the 6-hour ride with you.

T: But then he’s not just your coach. He wants to go for Kona this year too, right?

P: I’d love to win and I’d love Crowie to come 2nd. In an ideal world, that would be perfect. In Melbourne, we got to the 45k turnaround bike and someone asked, “What was it like seeing Crowie, good friend, your coach, in the second group?” I said, “It was awesome. When the gong goes, I hate the guy. I want to beat him. Seeing 3-time World Champion in the second group was awesome. I still want to beat him.“ I can tell he gets fitter every week. To be honest, we’ve done a lot of rides together but I think I’ve run with him maybe twice in the last two months. He doesn’t like doing the speed stuff anymore.

T: Based on your previous results (all of them really fast, 8:05, 8:04, 8:02), I have no idea how you’re going to do in Kona. What are your own expectations for the race?

P: I’ve done a lot of riding with Chris Leigh and we’ve joked that if I’m not going to go under 8:05, I was going to pull out. We’ve prepared my body. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be windy. But I’m obviously not going to do 8:05.

T: Compared to Kona, Melbourne is maybe 20 minutes slower. Even an 8:25 would be very close to the front.

P: Exactly. So we’ve prepared to go the distance, whatever time it takes. That’s what you’ve got to do. We’ve done the training. If I’m smart, I think I can get a Top 5. If things go my way then, who knows? This is the fittest I’ve ever been. I’m confident, old Crowie just chirping at the back of my head. But the race plan said we know what to do. We’ve got Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Nutrition’s dialled in, the bike’s dialled in. Everything’s good to go. So I’ve planned as best as I can. We just have to wait and see on the day now.

T: Any picture how the race is going to develop?

P: I personally think it’s going to be a lot different than last year. I don’t think Andy Potts and Frodo want to get out with Starky and the uber bikers. So I think they’re going to push the swim. I think the swim is going to be very quick. I want to be somewhere sitting on their feet.  I feel like I’m doing well and hopefully I can tag along the back. In the first 40k, everyone is sorting themselves out, a lot of surges. So even if we can only get 30 seconds on the group, then we can get clear and stay away for first 20k on the bike, that would be awesome, rather than all that to and fro-ing at the start. I’ll have a little bit of time to settle in. Starky, Marino and Sebi, they’re going to do what they’re going to do and go hard on the bike. I just have to stick to my race plan, get off the bike as fresh as I can and just get to work on the run.

I learned a lot from the race in 2012. I thought the race was over, then Andy Raelert rode past me with 30-40k to go and then ran into 2nd. I thought when I start the run so far back, we’re just fighting for 10th or 20th.

T: It sounds as if you’re going into the race with a detailed plan of how things are going to work out. You mentioned you’re hoping for something like a Top 5 or so. What do you think is realistic? What would be an over-the-moon result for you? 

P: If I get a Top 10, I’ll be happy. Top 5, I’ll be extremely happy. Top 3 would be over-the-moon. I think a few things have to go my way and I have to be smart. New guys turn up every year. No one picked Luke to come 2nd last year. Not many people are picking Freddie to win and he just turns up. He’s quiet, turns up, does the job and he came away with the win last year. Frodo could turn up and win. There’s no reason why a new guy can’t turn up and have a real crack. Hopefully it’s me. I feel like I’ve raced it and done Kona like 20 times. With the amount of stories that Crowie has told me over the last 10 months, I feel like a veteran.

T: How long will you be in Kona before the race?

P: Two and a half weeks. Crowie gets there Monday or Tuesday after the ITU long distance race in Beijing. I get there on Wednesday. We just want to get down from altitude. I’ve been up in Boulder for 3 months now. So I’ll get used to the humidity and the heat, do some rides on Queen K and run the Energy Lab. Then rest up and get ready to go.

T: Any picks you’re willing to share?

P: I think Freddie will be there about again. He just does his business quietly and he just gets the job done. I think Faris will be there about and I think Kienle will be there. I think Frodo is a dark horse. He could turn up and run at 2:35 or he could blow to smithereens. Who knows? The guy could turn up and win by 10 minutes.

On the women’s side, it’s hard to go past Rinnie. I just saw Rachel Joyce running on the treadmill, she looks good. Obviously Caroline Steffen, she’s always there. Working with Macca will be a good change from Sutto. When you’re being with the same guy for so long, it’s good to go to someone else. I think she’ll go well.  And Daniela Ryf, the way she’s going, she’s a freak.

T: Any sponsors you’d like to give a mention?

P: I’ve had support from Blue Bicycles, XTerra Wetsuits, Smith Optics, and FuelBelt. They have been good to me this year.

Interview with Luke McKenzie on Kona 2014

Luke McKenzie was one of the big surprises in Kona 2013. Since then, he hasn’t had another really great result: He validated his Kona slot in Melbourne with a 13th place finish after some helmet strap issues, then finished Roth in 10th place. On the personal side, he and his partner Beth Gerdes became parents to their daughter Wynne who will be just over four months old when daddy has to race in Kona. Beth helped me get Luke’s perspective on Kona 2014 for my upcoming Kona Rating Report (pre-order here).

Luke McKenzie

Thorsten: How was your season so far?

Luke: Honestly I had two very disappointing Iron-distance races. I felt really well prepared for both, but neither panned out as I expected. In Roth, I had to make the decision to “shut it down” in the run and saved my legs. I felt as though I recovered really quickly from Roth.
Those are behind me as I head into Kona. I think the proof is there that I’ve been in contention the last three years in Hawaii so it’s definitely a race that suits me and my strengths. I also have the 110% physical and mental focus on Hawaii all year long that I never quite get for other races- which can be both a weakness and an asset.

T: How is your preparation different for Kona? 

L: My preparation for Kona is a bit more consistent each year than my prep is throughout the rest of the year and it’s the one race that I truly get excited to train for each and every day. I base myself in Bend, OR for 6 weeks each summer to really focus in on training and nothing else and I know this sets me up well. I also arrive on the Big Island 3 to 4 weeks ahead of the race, which also seems to be an important key for me.

T: From your perspective, what makes the Kona race or course special?

L: That’s what excites me personally about Kona. I feel like I thrive in the harsh conditions that the island brings and I actually hope for the toughest, windiest, hottest day possible out there. I train my body and my mind to welcome whatever the day brings and the tougher the better.

T: What would be a good result for you this year?

L: A great result for me would be Top 5, but realistically I think that after having the race I did last year, I see the potential that I can win it. I think Hawaii is its own beast and hard to compare to other races when it comes to ratings and results.

T: Who is the most underrated athlete?

L: I’d go with Jan Frodeno and myself of course. On the women’s side, I think Heather Wuertle will do better than her prediction – she seems in form for at least a top 10.

(Photo Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

Interview with Julia Gajer on Kona 2014

Here is the next Kona interview that will also be part of my upcoming Kona Rating Report (you can already pre-order): This one is with Julia Gajer, another German athlete that might surprise a lot of people with a good Kona result.

Julia Gajer

Thorsten: Can you give some background on how you got started in Triathlons?

Julia: I got late into the sport and did my first triathlon in 2008 (Olympic distance). I grew up being a swimmer but didn’t have the talent to qualify for German or International Championships. During my time at university (I studied Pharmacy) I was really tired of swimming and therefore had about to years of not doing any sports before I started to run by myself just once or twice a week. In 2008 when I started my PhD, I bought a bike and raced my first three triathlons (two olympic, one half), which I all won. From that point on I was infected with the triathlon virus. In 2009/10 I raced Olympic distance races in the Baden-Württemberg Liga, some half distances (IM 70.3 Wiesbaden 2010, 5th place) and Powerman Zofingen 2009 (4th place), while working full time in a lab on my PhD thesis. In 2011 I became part of the Team Erdinger Alkoholfrei Junior team, which helped me quite a lot to develop as an athlete. We got the chance to train with the professional team and pick up a lot of stuff. In 2011 I did my first long distance race in Roth in which I finished 2nd. At the end of 2011 I was able to successfully complete my PhD, turned full-time Pro and became a member of the Team Erdinger Alkoholfrei Professional team.

T: How was your season so far?

J: I’m pretty happy with my season so far as my first goal for this year was to get a Kona slot. Eventhough I didn’t have a dream race (putting together a great bike and run) so far at the long distance events I raced, I really feel that I got stronger in all three disciplines this year. At the half distance race in Kraichgau, you could get a glimpse of what is possible when I perform well during the whole race. Therefore, I’m working quite hard right now to put it all together in Kona.

T: You’ve probably heard a lot of stories about Kona and what makes it special. Have you been able to see the course yourself?

J: I was able to fly over to watch the race and explore the course in 2012. From the first glimpse at the television, it doesn’t look too hard. But if you are on the course yourself it really is tough and honest. A real World Championship course. The heat and the wind make it even more challenging, especially on the run. That’s why I think that you really need to be ready to race Kona. When I flew over in 2012, my plan was to qualify for 2013, but when I watched the race and trained on the course, I felt that my mind and body were not yet ready for the race, that’s why I waited another year.
There are some things that make Kona special: the conditions and the great depth of the field. For me it is really an honor and it gives me a lot of extra motivation to race the best athletes in one race.

T: How do you prepare for Kona and how is that different from a “regular” IM?

J: I prepare at home as I have really good training possibilities here and feel most comfortable sleeping in my own bed. I fly to Kona two weeks before the race to allow enough time to adapt to the time shift and climate.
My coach and I created a special preparation for each of my long distance races. There are some basic sessions that you always do, but apart from that we’ve developed a specific preparation for each race. So I don’t really have a typical preparation that I can compare to my Kona prep.

T: What are your expectations for Kona?

J: If I can put it all together, a Top 10 result is possible, this would be a great result for my first Kona race.

T: Julia, have a great first race in Kona!

(Photo Credit: Privatbrauerei ERDINGER Weißbräu)

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