Two weeks before his first full Ironman competition—after five straight months of training—Olivier Hubrecht felt the passenger-side mirror of a passing car nudge him and his bicycle off the road. Sprawled with his bike on the side of a Miami road, Hubrecht anxiously checked his knee. “There was a lot of damage, but no blood inside my knee,” he recalls.
One more week of training in the pool with the buoy between his legs and Hubrecht was on vacation from his day job as vice president of sales—Latin America for Alliance Tire Americas, Inc., heading to Cozumel, Mexico to compete in his first full Ironman competition.
Grueling Race, Grueling Training
The Ironman is hard for most of us to even imagine. It starts with a 2.4-mile ocean swim. Racers clamber out of the water, get on their bicycles, and race 112 miles across the landscape. Then they start running a full marathon—26.2 miles of road running.
Hubrecht was a distance runner in high school in his native Belgium, but in college he turned his focus to business, launching a career that has stationed him in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Mexico, China, and the U.S. He picked up running again three years ago, at age 47, as a way to lose weight. He took a friend’s challenge to compete in a sprint triathlon—a one-hour swim/bike/run race—and got hooked, working his way up to a couple of Olympic and half Ironman competitions and finally to his full Ironman debut in Cozumel last autumn.
Hubrecht works with two coaches, planning physical workouts with one and mapping out his nutrition program with the other. He’s quick to point out that Ironman comes after family and his job with Alliance Tire, so his schedule can’t handle the usual hours-per-day training regimen of a normal athlete. Instead, he runs, bikes or swims one hour a day from Tuesday through Friday, and takes on a grueling four-to-six-hour workout on Saturdays and another three or four hours of training on Sundays.
“A normal athlete would spend it more equally,” he notes. “But I want to keep my balance with my work responsibility and family.”
Hubrecht brings many of the lessons from training to the office, or on his many business trips across Latin America on behalf of Alliance Tire.
The first is nutrition—not just the weight loss, but also a deep appreciation of the importance of eating well during the period of preparation and the race.
“If the body starts breaking down, it’s hard mentally,” Hubrecht notes.
Then there’s planning. One of the tricks Hubrecht learned in racing the Ironman is that it’s best to swim mostly with your arms, saving your legs for the biking and running. Business is a lot like that, he notes—you need to look at the big picture and map out the resources you’ll need to get all the way to your goal.
Hubrecht explains. “You make a plan, put in milestones. Then you do it—you don’t discuss it anymore. Failing is not an option. In a race, as long as your body works, you have to finish.”
That last part—the refusal to quit—is unbending discipline, the kind of discipline that has Hubrecht working out late at night after entertaining clients over dinner or early in the morning before visiting equipment manufacturers and tire dealerships.
The Big Race
After months of hard training in the blistering Miami heat and on business trips all over Latin America, Olivier Hubrecht joined the crowd at the starting line for his first full Ironman.
His wife, Carla—an ultramarathoner and two-time cancer survivor that Hubrecht credits as his number-one motivator—was in the crowd to cheer him on.
“I was very happy with [the thought of completing the competition in] 14 or 15 hours, or even 16,” he says. But when he ran across the finish line, the clock read 12 hours and 31 minutes, putting him in the top one-third of all finishers.
“It’s amazing,” Hubrecht reflects. “When you cross that line and they tell you, ‘you’re an Ironman,’ all these emotions go through you.”
Though heat, pain, and a crash couldn’t slow Hubrecht down, it turns out the restrictions caused by COVID-19 have interfered with his workouts. With Florida’s swimming pools closed and the postponement of the June race in southern France, where he planned to compete in his second full Ironman, Hubrecht is running or biking every other day to stay in shape. His hope is that he’ll pick up the pace to start training soon to be able to compete again at the end of 2020.
Hubrecht’s story, and his will, are remarkable. But he insists that he isn’t unique at all.
“I was one of those guys with a lot of friends who are triathletes, and I said, ‘oh, God, they’re crazy,'” he admits. “But with discipline, focus and the right training, it’s really possible. Anybody can do it!”
This has been commentary from Alliance Tire Americas submitted to Tire Review.