March 25, 2012

Gosselink Aims for Sub-3 in Utrecht

By Margreet Dietz

           (March 25) -- When the alarm sounds on April 9, hours before Vanessa Gosselink plans to run her first Sub-3 marathon in Utrecht, the Netherlands, her three horses will be the top priority. With her husband helping, Gosselink will take the horses out of the stables and muck the latter. And then, it will be time for breakfast.
            Utrecht will be Gosselink's 7th marathon and the Dutch masters marathon champion, a title she earned with her 3:02:42 performance in Amsterdam in October 2011, is ready to speed up again. She's aiming for 2:59 now.
            Her horses are part of the program.  
            Gosselink, 40, typically gets up between 6am and 6:30am on week days. After a quick mug of tea, she feeds the horses, a five-minute task, before heading out for her run. After her training, she quickly changes into a dry set of clothes before taking the horses outside and cleaning the stables, a job of about 45 minutes. Then she has breakfast in the car as she drives the 35K to her office. She aims to work from home one or two days a week, allowing her to sleep about an hour longer.
            "The same routine—of feeding horses, then taking them outside, mucking the stables—also takes place on weekends and race days. The only difference is that then my husband is home to help, read: half the work, so it only takes half an hour," Gosselink says. "I always think that I have had a warm-up before I get to the race."
            Gosselink rides on average three times a week for about an hour on her retired race horse, varying outings between the arena at home, the forest and the beach. She particularly enjoys galloping across the sand around the Veluwemeer, a long narrow lake at about 1.5K from her home in Biddinghuizen.
            She sustains her riding routine during marathon preparations and believes it's beneficial to her run training. "It's a great way to relax and to keep my hips loose and supple because I have to move along with the movements of my horse," she says. 
            While Gosselink has only been running marathons for four years, she has always been involved in sports. As a teen, she rode horses competitively and, in true Dutch fashion, was a speed skater. In her late teens, she switched to road cycling and it didn't take long before she made the national team in 1988.
            Strange perhaps for someone born in the Netherlands, where every child learns in school that the highest peak in the country is the Vaalseberg at 321 metres, but climbing hills was her forte. That strength came in handy during, for example, the Tour de France Feminin where she secured two stage wins.
            After missing out on a spot for the 1992 Olympic team, she accepted a scholarship to study in the US at Utah State University. Once there, Gosselink swapped her road bike for a mountain one and excelled once again; she earned three Dutch national titles, two Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) championships, and was ranked in the world's Top-10 for three years, from 1993 until 1996. Her dream came true when she was selected for the Dutch mountain bike team heading for the 1996 Olympic Games.
            It wasn't meant to be. A broken leg three weeks before the Games shattered that dream. Gosselink suffered another leg fracture a couple of years later. Running—short distances at an easy pace to start— was part of the recovery from those devastating injuries. Slowly but surely the distance she ran increased as her body healed.
            Gosselink immediately felt a connection with running; a decade later she decided to try her first marathon and hasn't looked back. In her most recent marathon, in Amsterdam, Gosselink set a personal record by three minutes, a rate of improvement that has marked her career as a marathoner which began in 2009 with a 3:47 debut.
            She respected the challenge, believing that simply completing the distance would be a fantastic experience. "And I thought it would be great accomplishment if I could run the entire 42.2K. I had, and still have, enormous respect for everyone who is able to do that," she says.
            The training and race plan for her debut were aimed at finishing. "In my first marathon I started very easy. I ran the first half in 2 hours and then I was far from tired so I sped up," says Gosselink, who ran the second half in 1:47.
            Six weeks later, she decided to run her second marathon, this time feeling confident she could last the distance. She began—and finished—a little faster, in 3:31. "I was more tired after that one but I also felt that I could speed up a little more. That's how my passion for the marathon was born."
            In 2010, she ran a 3:08, followed by a 3:06. Fired up from those big personal records, she started 2011 with a 3:05, before taking the national title with yet another PB. Now she has her sights firmly set on a Sub-3 performance.
            Gosselink loves to run, and loves to train.
            "I enjoy each training session; the result on race day in terms of time is for me always less important than the fantastic feeling I have now. The sense that I can train my body slowly but surely into shape, as muscles strengthen and fitness increases and a 3-1/2-hour run feels comfortable; that I am still somewhat fatigued, but feel on the right side of the danger zone and still can keep pushing, without going too far over that line," Gosselink says.  
            "That fun and that enjoyment in the months ahead, that's already been mine. Now I just hope that on race day everything is going to fall into place."
            In the past three months, she has been running on average between 75K and 90K a week; her biggest week has been 100K. Gosselink, who trains by herself, has done six long runs in excess of 30K. The longest was 3-1/2 hours in which she ran 43K.
            For her Sub-3 effort, she has added more speed to her training and also increased the number of weekly sessions from five to six.  
            Her eight years as an elite cyclist influence how she trains today as a distance runner; she aims for time, rather than distance. She does, however, make sure she only increases one factor at a time: either distance or intensity.
            Even as a pro cyclist, she worked hard outside the sport too, earning degrees from universities in the Netherlands and the US. These days she has a hectic fulltime job as Innovation Manager at Kadaster, a Dutch government agency for the registration of land titles. She also owns a consultancy company.
            Running helps her to maintain this busy lifestyle and enhances her quality of life; she loves the marathon. "For me, as an endurance athlete, it is the distance that allows me to get the best out of myself," says Gosselink.
            Then again, she's considering other challenges. "I don't want to exclude participating in events of a longer distance and/or different terrain ... once I have broken that 3-hour barrier."

Tomorrow: Q&A with Vanessa Gosselink about her Sub-3 preparations.

- Margreet Dietz is the author of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, From my Mother (a novel), Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon.

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