We head to Belgium for the first time to catch up with Maarten Seghers who reveals the two things that got him to Kona, consistency and discipline. This is his Ironman story.
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BRAD BROWN: We head to Belgium now, close to Antwerp, here on The Kona Edge. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Maarten Seghers onto the podcast.
Maarten, first Belgium. Welcome onto the show. Thanks for joining us.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Thanks very much. Glad to be here.
BRAD BROWN: Maarten, let’s start where triathlon started for you. What sort of background do you come from? Where did your love for the sport of triathlon start?
Is one Ironman enough?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: When I was about 18 years old, I started riding bike with a friend of mine. We started riding a lot of kilometres. We did the Tour de France quite quickly. It’s an epic bike ride here back home. After a few years he moved to another country and I started running a little bit. Got into the swimming as well and then after a while I decided to try triathlon back home. It was only a recreational triathlon but it went well and I just rolled into it. Then after a few years, I wanted to do a once in a lifetime full distance and started doing Ironman. It got better and better, and that’s the situation I’m in now.
BRAD BROWN: Isn’t that always the case, that I’m only ever going to do one? One is it and then I’m not going to do anymore. How many have you done now?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: On a quick count, between 10 to 15. I normally do 2 full distance races in a year.
BRAD BROWN: Out of the 3 triathlon disciplines, what do you think you’re best at?
Giving up your drinks night for a life in triathlon
MAARTEN SEGHERS: It depends on the day. My weakest part is the swim. The other 2 are more or less the same. But if I go too fast on the bike, my run won’t be that good. To be honest, I think my bike and my run are equal. Just depends on how much effort I put into the bike leg, how good the run is going to be.
BRAD BROWN: Growing up, as a child, were you active? What sports did you play as a kid, Maarten?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Nothing competitive. I played some football. Only 2 years in a club. One year I was in a swimming club but I went to boy scouts every weekend. Just played around with the other children. I wasn’t much into sport. Even when I was studying, I would go out with friends and drink beer and that kind of thing.
BRAD BROWN: How things have changed now that you’re training for Ironman and racing Ironman World Championships. If I’d said to Maarten Seghers as the student who was going out and having a few beers, sitting here today in 2017, we’d be talking about the World Championships, what would you have said to me?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I wouldn’t quite believe it, I think. It’s like I said earlier in the interview. Kind of roll into it. Start having fun with the sport and you do more with it and you start to live for it. Then it’s no effort to leave those things behind because you have a passion for the sport, so it’s no problem.
BRAD BROWN: When did you start to realise you were good at it, Maarten?
A coach can improve your Ironman performance
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Back in 2011 I did my first full distance in Belgium. It wasn’t an Ironman but it was the full distance. It wasn’t that bad but I knew at that point that I liked it and I wanted to do it again. Then I had to work with a coach. At that point I started working with a coach and in one year I took an hour off my total time, and it went better and better. When I started working with a coach it went up. Up to this point I think I have continually made progress. Even now after Kona, I feel better now than before racing in October.
BRAD BROWN: It’s so interesting you say that because that’s one of the things that comes up over and over here on The Kona Edge. That consistency of training. Particularly when you’re doing the long ones.
Train smart with consistency for better Ironman results
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I read it in your email before this interview. If I have to give one tip, it’s the consistency. You just have to keep on training consistently. Training smart. Not going all the way one week and then not doing anything the next. If you’re consistent, you keep on making progress.
BRAD BROWN: Maarten, growing up were you competitive? You mentioned being part of the scouts but did you hate losing as a youngster or is it something that didn’t bother you?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I think when I played football, even with friends, I hate losing.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that’s an important quality to have if you want to succeed at Ironman?
Do your Ironman race at your own pace
MAARTEN SEGHERS: No. I don’t think so. Because the main thing you need to remember is that you have to do what you are capable of. When I start a race, I know more or less what I can do. If someone overtakes me on the bike I don’t mind. I have to do my thing. Bike my power then run my pace. If I do that, then it’s a good race. Looking at other competitors too much, it’s not going to be at my best effort.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned consistency. That would be discipline. The discipline to hold yourself back when you feel like you should be chasing in a race.Discipline plays a big part in Ironman. Not just in the racing but also in the training. Waking up early in the morning, doing the sessions you need to do. How disciplined would you say you are?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: To use a comparison, I get my coaches schedule every week. I don’t think I’ve missed 10-hours of that training the whole winter. So, I think I’ve got the discipline to do what I have to do but not doing more than that. Because if I do more, it’s not going to get better. Just to do what he tells me to do. It works for me because I keep making progress.
Trust your Ironman training system
BRAD BROWN: That’s such an important point. And again, it comes down to the discipline. You have a coach, he gives you a training program and if you look at it and think this isn’t enough, I need to train harder. It’s easy for you to go and do an extra hour on the bike. Or to run an extra 3 or 4 km. But you need to trust in the system and know that your coach knows what’s good for you.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. Certainly after, and even before an Ironman, your condition is so good you can do everything you want to do. If there is a 25 km run in your training, it’s easy to run 28 km. No problem. But you have to trust the system. Sometimes I think it’s better to rest for an hour longer than to train for an hour longer.
BRAD BROWN: Such an important point. For a living, what do you do workwise?
Work benefits Ironman training
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I work in a sports center in Belgium. It’s a center of my parents and I have been working there for 10-years. Last year I started working in a school as a teacher in physical education. This year, I spent a few months there and will probably work there again next year. I try to combine the two. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to do most of my training sessions during the day. Train and work, it’s a good combination for me. It works for me.
BRAD BROWN: As far as your circle of friends, and your family, does anyone else do Ironman? Or are you alone, do they think you’re crazy?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Most of them think I’m crazy. I think if you do a lot of these interviews, you hear it a lot. But over time, the people you train with become your friends as well. My friends from boy scouts are not that sporty, but the people I meet now, we become friends. But as you mentioned, the people that I work with, they think I’m crazy.
BRAD BROWN: How big is the sport of triathlon in Belgium? The sport itself globally is exploding. Is it the same in Belgium?
Getting involved with triathlon by accident
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. I think so. A lot of people are more or less like me. They like running and they like biking, so why not the swimming? Then they roll into it. It’s a great sport for everyone because everyone has something they can finish. Or you want to go to Kona and you want to do well in Kona. So, it’s great competition for everyone because if you finish an Ironman, or even a smaller distance, it’s a great achievement either way. I think the sport back in Belgium is also exploding.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about people coming to the sport from different aspects. Be it cycling or running or swimming. But cycling is huge in Belgium. I know your neighbors in the Netherlands, cycling is massive. But Belgium is too. There’s a huge cycling culture. Are you finding a lot of cyclists are moving across to the sport of triathlon?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes, there’s a crossover from lots of sports, I think. Cycling is, as you mentioned, very big in Belgium. It’s very sporty but there are also lots of runners and I think it will always keep on growing here in Belgium. It’s not that tough.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the races. There’s also lots of races in Europe. I think being on mainland Europe, you’re blessed. There’s almost an Ironman distance race every 2nd weekend in the summer. From a racing perspective, what are some of your favourites to race in Europe?
Know how to choose your Ironman races
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I did almost all my races in Europe. For me personally, I want to go to a race that’s good for me because I’m rather small but I can ride hard on a bike uphill. A race like Nice or Lanzarote. I did Wales as well, kind of selective on the bike, but it’s the best race for me. I think if you keep to Ironman racing, almost all the races are exceptional bike courses and a nice environment to run as well. I did about 5 different times in Regensburg in Germany. Also, very nice. I did Wales as well, but that’s also selective. I only did Texas in the States but it was also a great ambience, great atmosphere. My brother lives in Texas and I went there in 2015 to visit him and to race.
BRAD BROWN: Where did you qualify for Kona?
The plan to qualify for Kona falls in place
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I actually went3 times. I qualified the first time in Wales in 2012 and then to prepare, I did Ironman Lanzarote in 2013 and I also qualified but it was the same year so I had to give that slot to another athlete. Then in 2015 I qualified in Texas and last year at Ironman Nice.
BRAD BROWN: You mention those tough bike courses. Wales is tough. Nice is very hard, lots of climbing in Nice. The first time you qualified Maarten, was that the goal? Did you go there chasing a Kona slot or did it happen by accident?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: It was the goal because that year, 2012, I did my 2nd Ironman in Regensburg, Germany. I was in 5th position in my age group so it was very close. My former coach told me that if I want to go to Wales, it’s a nice course, a nice ambience. You’re very close to your slots. Just try it then maybe you’ve got it for next year. That’s how it happened. I did the race and managed to qualify the first time. So, I was aiming to go for Kona then.
BRAD BROWN: And for you, why Kona? What’s the attraction? What makes it special?
Getting to Kona once is not enough
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I think if you look at the race on television, you see how big it is. It’s the biggest thing in triathlon. The attention it gets and the whole ambience around the competition is crazy. I wanted to do it once of course, but if you go there, the whole show about it is a little bit over the top sometimes. But it’s great to do it.
BRAD BROWN: And to be part of it. And again, it’s one of those. I’m only doing it once and then before you know it you’re there year after year.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. But year after year is a little expensive. I got the feeling last year it was the top I could do but then afterwards I felt maybe I could do better. It’s difficult to tell.
BRAD BROWN: Is the goal to go back this year, or are you going to take some time off and try and get faster? What’s the plan for 2017?
Get to the start line being strong
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I’m not looking that far into the future. I just take it one step at a time. For the moment I just want to race really hard in Ironman Lanzarote on 20 May. I’ll see afterwards because I’ve put a lot of effort into being strong at the starting line and then I’ll see how far I get.
BRAD BROWN: Not long to go now till that one in Lanzarote. How much do you change from a preparation perspective from race to race? Do you tend to do the same sort of things and make small changes or do you try and make major changes between races?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I try to follow the schedule my coach gives me. After Kona and after one Ironman race, for myself and for my body physically, I need a break of 3 or 4 weeks where I don’t train with a schedule but just have fun. And then I start to build up and in the toughest weeks it’s about 38 hours of training in a week.
BRAD BROWN: Wow, that’s a lot.
Taking a break between Ironman races is crucial
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. I start off with about 14 or 15 hours and it builds up like that.
BRAD BROWN: And in the build up to Ironman Kona, do you do anything differently or is it the same sort of build up?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: No, it’s the same build up. I think I’ve got the benefit that I’m naturally resistant to the heat. I don’t have many problems adjusting to it. I don’t need to train on the heat aspect and the training is about the same. But I saw last year, and it surprises me every time I’m there, but a lot of triathletes in Kona, they go really hard the last few days. I don’t know why.
BRAD BROWN: You obviously don’t, you take it easy going into the race?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. The last few days I do the same thing that I do for other races. And I’ve noticed now that the best thing for me to do is keep it calm the last 2 weeks. But a lot of other triathletes go really fast when they’re on the island and I think they lose a lot of their capabilities in those last days.
BRAD BROWN: Is it easy to get sucked into that? There’s obviously so many good athletes and you see what everyone else is doing. Do you almost feel like you need to be doing that?
Keep calm in the build up to Ironman Kona
MAARTEN SEGHERS: If you walk around there the last 2 weeks, it’s like there are 2000 top pro professionals at the starting line. You have to keep it calm.
BRAD BROWN: Everyone says that to me. It doesn’t matter how fit you are. If you look around you think to yourself how did I end up here? You always doubt yourself when you’re on the island. And you shouldn’t. You’ve done the work just like everyone else, to be there.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. That’s true. I think you just have to be confident in your own capabilities. Just trust the process and then go for it.
BRAD BROWN: Maarten, as far as the goals and getting better all the time. You mentioned that you seem to be progressing all along. Your first Ironman distance race, can you remember what your time was and your splits for the different disciplines?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: That was in Neerfeldt in 2009. I think I swam about 1:05, fast bike course with a lot of climbing. I’m not sure about that but my finish time was 10:40. So, it’s come a long way from there.
BRAD BROWN: What are you doing now? What is your personal best for an Ironman now?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: This year in Kona I did 9:00:40.
BRAD BROWN: So close to sub 9.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. Maybe if I knew that I would have gone a little bit faster. But at that moment it was the maximum possible.
BRAD BROWN: Looking back now, you’ve obviously looked at that race and thought where could I have saved 40-seconds. Where do you think you could have made that, thinking about it afterwards?
Racing your best at Kona
MAARTEN SEGHERS: For me it was my best race until now so I don’t have any regrets about it. It was perfect then.
BRAD BROWN: The experience of racing on the Big Island? It’s one thing going to Wales or to Germany or to Texas. But racing in Kona against the best athletes in the world, that must be special.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. It’s the ambience around the race. If you take the race really honestly, I think there are more beautiful races than Kona. The environment of Wales for example, it’s more beautiful than Kona. But you can’t compare the atmosphere. You can’t compare Kona. Everyone wants to be good there. That’s the main difference I think.
BRAD BROWN: And finishing on the podium? You finished 3rd in your age group. You were 41st overall so you are right up in the top end of the field. What’s it like knowing that you’re in the top 3 in the world? That must be incredible.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I have to be honest, that wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to do the best that I can do and I was aiming for top 100. I didn’t know that I could do that but it was a great feeling to do that well but it wasn’t my ambition to do that.
BRAD BROWN: Does it make you think that you can win it? That you can go back and become Ironman Age Group World Champion?
Dealing with the pressures to be World Champions
MAARTEN SEGHERS: If I want to start there again, I don’t want to do worse. When I go to the starting line with the ambition to do better, then I don’t want to have the pressure to become World Champion. It shouldn’t feel like it has to be done, just if I start there I want to do better. There’s 2 sides to this story.
BRAD BROWN: As far as other things that you want to achieve in the sport, you’ve done well and come close to a sub 9-hour Ironman in Kona which is incredible. What are some of the other races or other things you want to still achieve?
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I try not to look far into the future because I just want to have fun in the whole process and take it race by race. Maybe if I look at this year, just after Kona, I will look at what’s possible and then try to do the Belgium Championship in Eupen. I’m not sure about the rest of the season. Normally I race 2 or 3 Ironman distances every year and then I don’t know what the ambition is. If I keep having fun, I can put in the effort of training and racing, it’s no problem.
BRAD BROWN: And your coach? What goes into deciding who is going to coach you? How do you go about selecting a coach?
Why you need to trust your coach
MAARTEN SEGHERS: I think for many athletes, there has to be click. You have to understand where he wants to go and then you have to follow his vision about it. Also, for me personally, I have to accept what he wants to do. If he tells me to do something and I start thinking differently every time, I don’t think you need a coach or you need to change your coach. If he tells you to ride 100 km on the bike and you want to ride 150. The day after you do more or less, then it’s time to change. Either you coach yourself or you change coaches. You have to trust them.
BRAD BROWN: That is such an important point. You might be at a point with your coach where you buy into the philosophy but when you get to that point where you start second guessing and questioning why you’re doing things, in my mind then it’s over. Then it’s time to either coach yourself or move on and find someone else.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: Yes. Absolutely.
BRAD BROWN: Maarten, it’s been great catching up. Thanks for joining us on The Kona Edge. I look forward to chatting a little bit about your swim, your bike and your run, next time out. But we’ll save that for then. Thanks for your time today.
MAARTEN SEGHERS: All right, thank you.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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