Rio 2016 – Irvette van Zyl’s journey to the Olympics
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. An absolute pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast today. She’s absolutely dominating middle distances in South Africa at the moment. She’s qualified for the Rio Olympic Games as well, in the marathon, after a fantastic run in London not too long ago. It’s a pleasure to welcome onto the show, Irvette van Zyl. Irvette, welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Irvette van Zyl: Thank you for having me.
BB: Irvette, great to catch up again. I was just thinking before I made the call to you, when last I saw you and I’ve got a funny feeling it was at the 2015 Cape Town 12. You had a slight bump, you were pregnant at the time, so your life has changed in the last year.
IVZ: I’ve now got a flat stomach again and last year I was almost six months pregnant, running that race. So this year running the race, it was quite lighter and faster. It was just a great day for me, not being pregnant, it’s tough running pregnant, let me just tell you.
Finding some fine form at the right time
BB: I’m sure, you also had a fantastic run at the Cape Town 12 in 2016, although you are battling a bit of the flu or you were battling with flu at the time. You must be pretty happy with your form at the moment?
IVZ: Yes, I’m quite happy. Every time I win a race I have to remind myself, I won the race. Cause everything is happening according to my plan. Well according to me and Lindsey’s plan. I’m just feeling blessed right now to be running, winning the races and hopefully the times will follow.
BB: Let’s talk about the times. I mean your performance in London 2:32:20 was your time there. That race, conditions-wise, it was a fairly chilly day in London. We were following you online, but it’s obviously difficult to know how you were feeling. The times great, but were you pretty comfortable and happy with that?
IVZ: I’m happy with the Olympic qualifier, but I wanted to go a 2:28. I was under-paced until just at 38km, I was still on the 2:28 pace. But unfortunately I missed the bottle at 25km. I think with the cold conditions and just on the day, it just didn’t work with my body.
I started cramping from just before 30km and struggled through the cramps until I finished the race. So it was quite tough on me, just to hang in there and to try and finish the race. At least I got the fastest qualifier. But on the day I really actually wanted to run faster. But if it doesn’t happen in the marathon you must just take it as it comes.
How does one get their Olympic preparations right?
BB: Absolutely. Irvette, let’s talk about the build-up to Rio 2016. Olympic Games for any athlete, I think, is probably the pinnacle of their career. An opportunity that doesn’t come around often. What’s your plan in the build-up to Rio? From an elite athlete point of view, what does it take to get there? Obviously the qualifying time has been done, but from a training perspective and racing perspective. What does it look like over the next while?
IVZ: We’re going to take it easy this month, just building up the mileage. Then from June/July we’re going to build up more mileage and get a good base back. I think maybe my fault was in 2012, I didn’t do enough long runs before the London Marathon. So we’ll make up for that and do enough long runs to the build-up. Especially being pregnant the whole of last year, I missed a lot of longer runs.
That will be a critical point for me to basically catch up with that and make my legs just ready for the distance. Because the marathon is quite an odd distance on itself, cause anything can happen. It doesn’t matter what training you do for it. Just get your body mentally prepared. The better you are mentally prepared, the better the distance will go down.
BB: Irvette, do you think having a baby and being pregnant for a large part of last year, in a way, has benefitted you, that you haven’t over-trained? Often you can, particularly leading up to an Olympic Games or a big competition or a big race like that, almost overdo it. You were forced to back off, do you think that could be a plus in your favour?
IVZ: Yes, I think my body feels rested because of last year and I think just your focus changes when you become a mom. You’re much more focused than you were before. Because you’ve got only that space of time to train in. So you use it best you can. Then when you come home, you’re a mom. It definitely benefits me.
I think most moms will agree, you can cope with more. It’s just, overall, just a happy place. I was joking today actually and saying, usually when I have a bad session on the track or on the road, I used to stop at KFC to make me feel better. But now I don’t stop at KFC anymore, I just go home and my son makes me feel better. So it’s a plus for all of us.
Being a professional athlete and a mom
BB: I love that. Irvette, let’s talk about being a mom and juggling motherhood and racing at the highest level. It can’t be easy. Yes, it’s rewarding and such, but it’s a tough job. Being a mom is difficult and you seem to be handling it with aplomb. Just keeping all the balls in the air and juggling as you need to.
IVZ: I think to have a supporting husband helps as well. but it makes it a bit tricky if you’re doing the same sport. So him being an athlete as well makes the juggling act even more difficult. Especially now he’s two weeks away overseas and I’m alone at home with the little one. So it just makes it a bit tough training-wise.
But I think to just be at your best with the routine the little one has. Just accommodating whatever, we adapt with the little one. Basically because he’s got a good routine and we just go according to his routine. I think as athletes, we’re used to being in a routine, so it just helps us a little bit more with having him. It doesn’t get much easier, but I think the big thing is just to cope with it.
BB: I’ve seen pictures of your little one, he is gorgeous, absolutely cute. Still early days, but do you want him to turn into a long distance specialist like you, or more of a hurdler like his dad?
IVZ: I think if he can start talking and doing stuff, I think he’ll tell us he’s done with running. Because on weekends he’s on the track and in the week he’s sometimes with Elsa on the track as well. So I think he’s going to be tired of running when he can start running himself, he’s not going to run anymore.
How are LJ’s Olympic prospects looking?
BB: That’s fantastic. Irvette, let’s talk about LJ and his progress towards Rio 2016 as well. Like you say, obviously being married to an athlete, it has its advantages. But it also has its disadvantages. How’s he looking ahead of the games?
IVZ: He’s very positive and he’s just complaining he’s getting too old now for this game. So ja, it’s a really special moment for him because this will be his last Olympics. He’ll not try another Olympics after this one. It’s really a special time for him and he’s really trying everything he can and putting everything into it. So that he can be the best that he can be.
Hopefully he can still break his own SA record. Otherwise we joke, then little Louis must try and break his SA record, so that we keep it in the family. His preparation is going well and he’s positive and it’s just, he’s enjoying being a dad as well. It’s just bringing another part of our life which is just fantastic right now.
BB: Irvette, it must be pretty special to be able to share an Olympics with a spouse. It’s one thing going on your own and experiencing that. I think for average athletes like myself, I can’t even comprehend what it must be like to go to Olympics. But for someone like you to share it with your husband, it must be incredible.
IVZ: It’s a special moment. In 2012 we were still engaged. So then after that we just got married. But it was really special being there at the opening ceremony with LJ, experiencing all the stuff. Because explaining to everyone how it feels and what you experience is one thing. But experiencing it together, it’s a whole different story because you don’t get to explain how it really is. It’s a really special moment for us to hopefully get a second chance around and spending another Olympics together. It’s just, it’s an awesome experience to be there and be part of each other’s success and just celebrate it together.
What makes Lindsey Parry so special?
BB: Finally, Irvette, you mentioned Lindsey earlier on in our chat. You’ve been working with him for a couple of seasons now. Talk to me a little bit about your relationship with Lindsey Parry. He’s obviously doing some amazing things with yourself and other runners like Caroline Wostmann and Charne Bosman. Talk to me a little bit about Lindsey and why you reckon he’s such a great coach?
IVZ: I think it’s his laid back approach to everything. It really makes me more at ease and not that stressed out as I used to be. He believes in me, that sometimes I don’t believe in myself, so that helps as well. Especially the times he sets out for me to train with. I always tell him he’s crazy, and I can’t reach those times. He’s like wait, you will reach the times. Then always I reach the times and then I go back and then say, ‘thanks Coach for believing in me.’
So, he’s really, he’s the one that motivates me and just makes me positive about running faster. Although his times, he’s crazy with sometimes. He always has a plan with what he’s doing with you right now in training. If you have a bad race or a bad training session, he always has a positive way of looking at it. You are so hard on yourself and breaking yourself down. He’s picking up the pieces and rebuilding you and your self-esteem.
He can be your friend and your coach, but he can be strict at times, but he has to be. But he’s also there when you’re really down and he comforts you, telling you you’re okay still, you’re not going to fall apart. That helps a lot.
He’s just a great coach and a great person to know. He’s not over-training me, that’s the main part that I think helped a lot. I don’t know, I don’t have anything bad – yet – to say about Lindsey. Hopefully it will stay that way. He’s just a great coach and you can have fun at training because he’s a really funny guy as well.
BB: Irvette van Zyl, you are an absolute machine, we can’t wait to see and follow your progress in the build-up to Rio 2016; and watch you run and represent every single one of us who dream of going to Olympics but it’s never going to happen. We’re going to live vicariously through you. Thanks for your time today, much appreciated and best of luck in the build-up and at the Games itself.
IVZ: Thank you, I appreciate it.