Jolien, GRAM’s Iron WoMan

Thursday, October 6th; D-day for Jolien. The Iron Man of Hawaii. Several hours of toil, sweat and suffering.
What goes through the mind of someone capable of such tour de force?
A brief interview with our very own nutritionist, Jolien.


How did you get into the triathlon world?

Well, actually through my older sister. She started triathlon after seeing Luc Van Lierde win the 1996 Iron Man of Hawaii live on TV. She immediately got the Iron Man taste and started competing. As a little sister, you regularly go to watch the races of your older sister and of course you want to start doing the same. Unfortunately, at that time I was too young to start triathlon effectively.

But the urge and the desire was already there.

Absolutely. I then started participating in Iron Kids, triathlons tailor-made for children so to speak. These involve swimming a short distance in the pool, cycling a few kilometres and running a few laps on a local track. A real group event as you stay together with your group the whole time. Only in the last hundred metres do you get to show how fast you are (laughs). But actually, those Iron Kids are the ideal way to get a taste of triathlon.

From Iron Kids to the actual triathlon races then to eventually end up at the Iron Man races. When was your first Iron Man?

In 2017, truly a magnificent experience. Especially since I was able to experience that race together with some friends.

And apparently you hit the mark right away?

You could say that. However, we, me and my friends, started that Iron Man with only one goal in mind, which was to finish together. So I had absolutely no idea who all would be competing, let alone where I wanted to finish. No, completing the race was my only concern.

Starting with little to no ambition and still winning, quite an achievement!

Goosebumps, especially because one of my friends came third. Standing on the podium with her was simply amazing. I was living on cloud nine for the next few days, even though I couldn’t physically go up or down the stairs (laughs).

You also managed to qualify for the Iron Man of Hawaii, congratulations on that. How did the preparations go?

Not so well actually. I did run an Iron Man in Copenhagen last year, at the end of 2021, where I obtained my ticket for Hawaii. This year’s Iron Man of Hawaii was normally supposed to take place in February, but due to known reasons it was postponed to October. Everything was arranged to perfection to shine in February. So it will be pure survival in Hawaii.

Survival was also your goal at your first Iron Man, with a win as a result.

Unfortunately, that will not be the case this time. Hawaii is really next level, without ideal preparation the chance that I won’t be able to finish the race is not even that small. Normally, these would now be my toughest training weeks (at the time of the interview), but because of the Red Devils’ Nations League games (Jolien is the Red Devils’ nutritionist) my own training is on a very low ebb.

Isn’t it difficult on a mental level? Knowing that you could have peaked in February …

I can put that into perspective pretty well. Also, I’m not a professional athlete, I take part out of love for the sport. It was a dream to compete in Hawaii one day, so in a way I have already managed to fulfill my dream.

It would normally be your second time Hawaii, right?

Indeed. I managed to qualify for Hawaii once a few years ago, but circumstances prevented me from going. In hindsight, I greatly regretted that, so I am very happy to have another chance now.

As GRAM’s experience expert on Iron Man races, what is actually the most difficult aspect of completing such races; the physical or the mental aspect?

Well, twice I have been lucky enough not to experience any physical problems during the race. To be honest, I know my limits very well which makes it very easy for me to just not go over my physical limit for long periods of time. In long-distance races like an Iron Man, this gives me a huge advantage. But also on a mental level I consider myself lucky; in my head I organise my race which makes it mentally smoother. Tell me; running nine times five kilometres is much easier mentally than running 42 kilometres once, isn’t it? It also makes it easier to maintain your pace.

Do these experiences also come in handy in your professional career?

Absolutely. It is much easier to understand what someone feels during tougher periods, e.g. injuries or disappointing race or training results. I’ve experienced all that too.

I can also imagine that, as an ‘Iron Man-survivor’, you get some esteem and respect from the athletes you give advice to?

That shouldn’t really be the case, but it’s true. Don’t misunderstand me, through my sport achievements I did earn some respect and esteem, but I don’t want to be known professionally just because of those achievements. I want to earn similar respect and prestige through my professional achievements.

Besides Hawaii, do you have any other sport challenges planned?

After Hawaii, I am going into sports retirement (laughs). So in triathlon, I’m not going to set myself any big goals, such as an Iron Man, anymore. But I can definitely see myself doing marathons or obstacle runs. I once participated in the Transalpine Run a while back and I must say that a week in the mountains really made my heart sing.

To finish, do you have any tips for people who are also crazy about running a triathlon?

Building up is crucial, give your body the time it needs to adjust. Swimming is usually the hardest part, so make sure your technique is really on point. Your equipment is not unimportant either; a good wetsuit or running shoes can be the difference between finishing or not finishing, between injury or no injury. Also be sure to have your cycling position checked by a professional to avoid injuries. Finally, the more experience you gain, the better it gets. So be sure to take part in fun, short races.

Thanks for the interview and good luck in Hawaii!