Lieuwe Boonstra interview

Port Elizabeth, September 1997. The location for the first race of the 5FM/Energade Sprint Triathlon Series of the season and all of the top SA triathletes were in town to flex their muscles. The usual suspects like Raynard Tissink, Glen Gore etc had all made the journey to the Friendly City to kick off their seasons and secure some points for the overall series title.

But the talk after the race was of a young Maties student who had decimated most of the field on the cycle leg finishing in a solid second place just behind the seemingly unbeatable Tissink.

Almost thirteen years have since passed and the name Lieuwe Boonstra is now synonymous with triathlon in South Africa. An internationally rated Xterra specialist, we were fortunate enough to speak to the charismatic Boonstra who juggles training and competition with a full-time job and busy life outside of the sport.

CRANK: Lieuwe, you recently won the latest round of the Momentum Health/iFlex Duathlon Series. How did the race pan out for you?

Lieuwe Boonstra: Throughout my entire career, I have always valued the wins and there have been many, including a few SA titles. With my pro career slowly coming a full circle I enjoy them even more now. The whole National Duathlon series (I have done 4 out of 5) I have been playing catch up to the faster runners. The KZN leg was no exception. The 20km of single track in the Giba Gorge MTB park however gave me a chance to put my technical skills to use, close the gap and then open up a big enough lead to win the race by over a minute. Super stoked!

Boonstra Wings: Always a strong cyclist, Lieuwe will be testing his mettle at next years ABSA Cape Epic.
Mr Versatile: Lieuwe showing the duathletes a clean pair of heels at the Momentum Health Duathlon at Zewenwacht Estate, May 2010.

CRANK: What did you make of Kevin Evans crushing the field at the Xterra Knysna in early July?

LB: Kevin is an awesome mountain biker. And it now seems he can run too?! So big up to him! I missed this year’s Knysna Xterra due to Xterra France being the same day, but can’t wait to race him next year.

CRANK: You currently hold down a full-time job while competing at the top level of Xterra – how do you juggle work, training, personal life, social life etc?

LB: With difficulty! I am an Environmental Assessment Practitioner by day, Pro Xterra triathlete by night.

Seriously, it takes a bit of planning and a very patient fiancée. But it is pretty easy to do something you love. Xterra is such a part of my life that I actually find it hard to imagine a day ending or starting without a run, swim or ride. You have to ask yourself if you would still be doing this if nobody paid you. If the answer is no then why are you doing it in the first place?

CRANK: Having been a full-time athlete how has your perspective of training and preparation changed? Take us through a typical “day-the-life” of Lieuwe Boonstra.

LB: I get up anything between 4:45 and 5:45am depending on whether I am riding or running in the morning. I get to work at around 9am. Then I hammer the laptop hard until about 6:00 – 6:30pm before I hit the pool. I get home around 8:00 – 8:30pm, spend time with my fiancée over some dinner and then watch a bit of TV before hitting the sack at around 10:00 – 10:30pm. Weekends are long ride and long run time.

CRANK: You are now known primarily as an XTerra specialist, but a lot of people may not realise that you were part of the SA Olympic Triathlon squad chasing the Olympic dream of representing SA at Sydney 2000. Could you give us an insight of this time and what being part of the Olympic Squad entailed?

LB: I was part of the squad in 2000 and actually qualified for the Olympic Games in Sydney. Conrad Stoltz was the first athlete to qualify, with myself taking the African slot. I was the second South African on the World Rankings, the second South African at African Champs plus South Africa had two slots according to the International Triathlon Union (ITU). Yet the South African Olympic Committee (NOCSA) decided to only send one male and one female to the Games. The African slot went to Mark Marabini from Zimbabwe, who I beat at African Champs by over 5 minutes and whom Conrad lapped at the Games. It was time for a change.

Road to Sydney: The male contingent of the SA Oylmpic Triathlon squad, France 1998. L-R: David Hyam, Greg Von Holdt, Conrad Stoltz, Lieuwe Boonstra. Note the cloth swimming caps predominant in European triathlon.

CRANK: We currently see several of the ITU World Cup races on TV. Explain to us your impressions of these athletes versus XTerra professionals. Do many guys manage to cross-over between these branches of the sport, or are the ITU guys really just swim-run specialists?

LB: The ITU guys are very fast in the water and even faster on foot. The guys in the top 10 are running sub-30 minute 10kms off the bike on a regular basis now and for this I have a lot of respect for them. Mostly, the guys battle to make the transition to Xterra though due to the fact that speed is less important than strength, the swim does not count so much and suddenly skills on the bike come into play. There are the exceptions however, with Hamish Carter winning the Olympics in Greece 2004 and then winning Xterra Worlds!

CRANK: Getting back to your own career, do have any coaches and training partners? After being in the sport for so long, are there any new tricks or do you have a clear idea of what you need to do to stay on top training-wise?

LB: I had a great coach for a few years, Dr Jan Bekker from Stellenbosch. Although we do not work together anymore, I still use a lot of his training principals. We split up more due to the fact that my training is now structured mostly around how I feel. So basically that is my training tip for the day. If you had a pretty hard job at the office, or the kids kept you awake all night, it might be a good idea to skip that 10x1k run set that evening.

The average triathlete is quite strong mentally so would probably be able to do it regardless, but you risk sickness, injury or even over-training in the long run. Does the phrase: “I did all the training but it just did not come together on race day” sound familiar? The under-trained athlete will always outperform the over-trained athlete.

Man van Staal: Lieuwe finishing the inaugural Ironman South Africa, Gordon's Bay, 2000

CRANK: What is going on for you in terms of sponsorship?

LB: Red Bull is my title sponsor and has been with me for 12 years. They have literally given me wings and I have raced all over the planet thanks to them. Over the last few years Momentum Specialised Insurance have come on board through a friend of mine. This relationship has flourished and has included sufficient financial backing for a top 15 in the Cape Epic.

Product sponsors include the likes of Giant (who give me a top end MTB machine every year), Orca (to make sure I am always out the first pack of the swim), Nike (to run real fast), Oakley (to protect the eyes and make me look really cool), Polar (to watch the heart rate) and NSquared (gives me Geax tyres that do not puncture and saddles that let me keep some feeling where it counts).

CRANK: Who would you say have been the greatest influences on you as a sportsman?

LB: People who tell me how lucky I am!

CRANK: With your extensive international travel experience, are the pro guys and girls quite social after races? Do you keep in contact with any of your competitors, both foreign and local?

LB: After the race everyone puts their party hats on in Xterra. The Xterra motto of “Live More” represents a lifestyle of living life to the fullest. Obviously this means race hard and party hard. When I landed in Brazil last year, the race organizer picked me up from the airport and the first thing he said to me was: “Do not race so hard that you can’t party afterwards!” I have had the privilege of meeting some great guys and gals on tour. I just came back from Xterra Japan where after the race I hit downtown Tokyo with a Brit, a Scotsman, a Japanese guys who lives in Singapore and two US marines…what an experience Man!!!

CRANK: What are your plans for the rest of 2010 and beyond?

LB: The 2010 season is pretty much history and it has been great.

After Xterra Japan I am off to an off-road race in Windhoek, Namibia. They put this race on for the first time last year and it was such a success that Dave Nicholas, Xterra World Tour Director, is considering awarding it Xterra status.

September I’m taking a few weeks off, with October, November and December put aside for some training miles for 2011.  The season next year starts in January with Xterra JHB, SA Xterra Champs in February with the Cape Epic in March. In between the cycle base I will also do the Wines to Whales 3day MTB race in November and pretty excited about that!

Swimming technique drills with the dolphins in Ixtapa, Mexico.