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Meet a Pro: Kona Runner-Up Bart Aernouts

Don’t know Bart? You should. True tri fans won't be surprised by the Belgian’s stellar result at the 2018 IM World Championship.

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After Bart Aernouts’ second-place finish at the Ironman World Championship last year, many people wondered: “Where did he come from?” But when you look closely, the 34-year-old Belgian is no rookie to the sport (nor to the Big Island).

“I don’t have a cycling background. There’s a guy with the same name in cyclo-cross in Belgium, but he’s not me. I started to cycle with a road bike when I was 12 years old, but I was not a competitive cyclist when I was young. I also started running when I was 10-11 years old, but nothing really crazy–just for fun and not too ambitious. I remember I watched Luc Van Lierde winning Ironman Hawaii [Van Lierde is now Aernouts’ coach] and at that time triathlon became a bit more popular in Belgium. But I got more serious with sports when I was around 20.”

“At the end of 2008, I finished third at the duathlon world championship. After that result, I got the possibility to transition to triathlon again with a government-funded program, and I focused on the Olympic distance. I started to work with a proper swim coach [Ronald Gaastra; Jan Olbrecht was involved in Aernouts’ testing], and that was not easy. The second year, sometimes I was swimming up to 55 kilometers in one week, so quite full gas. But in two years it’s too hard to learn how to swim at an Olympic level. ”

“Although I was still focusing on Olympic distance, in 2011 I also raced my first half Ironmans and won all of them [Antwerp, Syracuse, and Poconos Mountains]. And then, in 2012, I raced my first full Ironman in Australia— Melbourne, where I finished 10th.”

“For sure it took a while to figure out how to do things in Kona [before 2018, he had already raced six times on the Big Island and had three top-10s to his name]. I always suffered there, especially on the last hour on the bike, while the marathon suited me pretty well. Now I know the race starts only after four hours, on the way back from Hawi. Before it’s of course important, but it’s like a warm up.”

“The biggest difference for me this year was the coach change [he started to work with Van Lierde at the beginning of 2018]. Before, I always struggled in Kona and I struggled to nd the solution for a strong bike in the full IM. Luc is the perfect t because he won the race as an athlete and as a coach. We put all the pieces together and this year worked very well.”

“Of course, in an IM race if somebody is stronger than you, it’s not hard to accept it. But for me, the second place was more important than breaking the eight-hour benchmark. Although yes, that is still very special.”

Bart’s Faves

IM Hawaii and Roth
Place to train
Mallorca and the Pyrenees
Haile Gebrsalassie
Off-season activity
Something active and exploring nautre
Post-race meal
Something savory, not sweet—crisps and beer, or a burger or steak