10 Questions with Philipp Kloeber, a 100% Plant-based Triathlete

10 Questions with Philipp Kloeber, a 100% Plant-based Triathlete

Another athlete who swears by PURPOSE, Philipp only started triathlon less than 5 years ago. A pure vegan, Philipp chose a plant-based lifestyle because of environmental, health and ethical reasons.

Although he is aware that he is fighting a daily uphill battle, he hopes his plant-based lifestyle can inspire others to adopt the same for the health of our planet and oceans.

For Ironman 70.3 Da Nang, Philipp wore his specially designed CUSTOM by PURPOSE Sea Shepherd tri-suit which he got made before the pandemic and to show the world only now.

Philipp went with the Sea Shepherd design because of what the organisation is doing to save all marine wildlife, as well as enforce the conservation of law surrounding its marine environments.

Sea Shepherd’s sole mission is to protect and conserve the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. We work to defend all marine wildlife, from whales and dolphins, to sharks and rays, to fish and krill, without exception.

Sea Shepherd

PURPOSE:  How are you feeling after the race?

Philipp: I’ve had a few days to reflect on Ironman 70.3 Da Nang. Overall, I am very happy with how much I have improved in all three disciplines over the last 2.5 years and since starting working together with my coach Jürgen Zaeck. He is really helping me to patiently and persistently build a solid foundation that is sustainable over time.

Reflecting on the race itself, Da Nang was an extraordinary experience. The torrential rains on the bike and run in scorching heat and humidity paired with the expectations I had in myself amounted to probably the most demanding (but also rewarding) race I have done to date – both physically and mentally. It really took me some days to process and it still gives me goosebumps visualising passing the finish line.

PURPOSE: How was the result? How did you do?

Philipp: I gave it my all on that day and executed many parts to the absolute best of my current ability level, despite many mistakes I made and which I want to improve on.

I finished 6h in my age group, 25th overall (top 3% of the field) and qualified for the St George World Championships, my overall time was 4:53:58.

But I think this is just a snapshot in time and part of a much longer journey. I have a long list of points I want to work on over the next few weeks and months.

I probably had the best swim under race conditions to date. All the techniques, intervals and open water sessions are slowly paying off. I felt confident navigating myself around the course at race speed although I couldn’t find any pack to cling on. 

Coming into T1, I initially ran into the wrong aisle but was quickly able to rectify the mistake without losing much time. I did notice, however, that I had forgotten to fill my bike’s front drinking system with water (an unbelievable mistake, but also easy to fix). So it took me two aid stations to make up for this but at least I had my nutrition bottle to cover until then.

Just a few minutes into the ride, the sky broke and it started raining, torrentially through most of the bike course. I could barely see through my visor and hence moved it up so I could at least contextually see what was in front of me.

I pushed the watts I had planned with Juergen and could maintain a speed close to 40km/h despite the heavy rain and gusty headwinds on the way back to T2. The reward was the second strongest bike split in my age group and the 12th overall spot off the bike.

Coming into T2, everything went according to plan, however, the rain had stopped and it immediately heated up fast. 

I started with what I had planned to be a conservative pace and held it for 5km to decide whether I should slow down or speed up. I felt great but after 5km, the sun started blasting and hot wet air evaporated from the road beneath me.

So I decided to hold pace. After 10km, I could already tell that my body was working harder than it should be at this mileage. A mistake, I think I made, was to start with gels too late into the run and solely rely on my Tailwind nutrition bottle and water for the first 5km running off the bike. I underestimated how fast the rain would disappear and make room for a merciless sun.

By km 13, the heat and humidity became very taxing and my energy levels started dropping too fast and I slowed. It dawned on me that I was in for a rough last 9km.

By km 14, I felt I wasn’t getting enough energy from just sipping on my Tailwind bottle and taking gels; so I made a call to grab Cola from the next aid station – something I had never done in training but I was willing to take a risk, possibly at the expense of upsetting my stomach and walking the rest of the race.

It was a decision in the moment and it paid off. I wasn’t able to hold anywhere near my target speed anymore for the last 6km but I knew if I could just hold my current pace, I wouldn’t be passed by many other athletes – far away from a perfect execution, but it got the job done.

Km 17 to 21 are just a blur and I was in survival mode. I felt I had no power left physically on the last 2km but my mind was stronger.

When I reached the finish stretch, I saw the clock approaching 4:58. My brain didn’t process anymore properly that this was the time since the gun went off and didn’t reflect my own race time.

But since my minimum goal was to go sub 5 in a hot and humid ASEAN race, I took energy from somewhere and started accelerating and shot through the finish line grabbing the ribbon band and throwing it onto the ground.

I had absolutely nothing left in me and stumbled straight into the ice bath not even grabbing my finisher medal or taking off the race timer.

PURPOSE: Did you expect the outcome?

Philipp: Yes, I was very confident in my abilities to finish somewhere between 4:43 to 4:53 hours given the consistent and high-quality training I had completed with Juergen and also Colin O’Shea’s Swimsmooth Singapore.

However, I feel if I had executed the run better in accordance with my current ability level, I could have even finished stronger. Nutrition strategy on the run is one of the aspects I need to revisit.

That said, it was a very tough day out there and given the circumstances I am happy with the result. Especially mentally, I was able to dig very deep that day.

PURPOSE: How was your preparation? How long? Any setback?

Philipp: The pandemic worked in my favour in the sense that I didn’t have to travel internationally for work which meant that I was able to train more consistently in my used environment here at home in Singapore.

I didn’t prepare only for Da Nang but am overall training to improve in all triathlon disciplines. I usually train 6-7 days a week with structured sessions from Juergen which he shares and updates through TrainingPeaks and other frequent communications.

I did experience one significant setback when I injured my left hip flexor in May last year. It took me over 6 months to recover from this and also address some hip mobility weaknesses which I had neglected for too long.

Over that period, I worked with Ivy Yeung of Heartland Physio and she taught me a lot about mobility. This was a whole new world for me.

The result was that this period not only helped me to recover from this injury but also become a better swimmer, cyclist and runner in the process.

I would say, mobility is one of the most underappreciated aspects every triathlete needs to be aware of when it comes to athletic performance and recovery.

PURPOSE: What can or will you improve on?

Philipp: I feel after every race, i.e. reality check, that the list of items I need to improve on becomes longer and longer…

Swimming is still my weakest link relative to the other three sports and I need to continue improving my technique. One important aspect I learned is that exerting muscle strength in the water doesn’t necessarily translate into speed (unlike cycling or running where power translates proportionally into forward propulsion).

It is important to understand the flow of water and how you can most efficiently work together with its dynamics to propel yourself forward. This still poses a challenge to me that I don’t feel I have mastered well… but I am working on it.

My cycling is ok and I have built a lot of power over the last 2 years. However, I feel I need to improve some of my bike handling skills on fast descends and when it comes to cornering. I am working on this. Plus, I still think I can become even faster on flats.

Running, I actually feel is my main strength especially given my recent training results. However, I haven’t found the ideal fueling strategy yet under race conditions in extremely hot and humid weather.

This resulted in my power loss after 13km in Da Nang which still bugs me a lot. I am currently working on different fuelling timing and trying a few new products.

Transitioning is ok, however, I feel I should become a bit faster in T1.

PURPOSE: It was a long 2-year hiatus from any race. How did you stay mentally ready?

Philipp: I don’t primarily train for racing. I love training day-in and day-out, every day, no matter what, and for however long it takes.

Racing is just the icing on the cake for me. Satisfaction comes from training consistently, feeling exercised induced pain and seeing growth and improvement over time.

I don’t need any external motivation to train, it’s an internal fire I have that drives me every single day. 

I am also not a fan of Zwift or virtual racing. For me, triathlon is a sport that comes to life when you connect with the outside world whilst your heart rate is elevated.

Also, I met some of the best people I have ever crossed paths with from swimming, cycling or running together in blasting heat and torrential rains.

This has fostered some very strong friendships over time across nationalities, and ethical and professional backgrounds.

PURPOSE: What’s the next race? Is any major international competition on the horizon?

Philipp: Next for me is Desaru Coast 70.3 in July and after that possible 1-2 more 70.3 races in ASEAN, such as Bintan and Langkawi, before debuting at my first full Ironman 140.6 in Busselton in December.

At this point, I don’t plan to redeem my World Champ qualification slot in St George given the travel distance and time of the year.

PURPOSE: What was your race day arsenal? Shoutouts to your sponsors?

Philipp: I am a plant-based athlete and have been living off a whole-food plant-based diet for over 5 years now. As such, all my nutrition is vegan. I mainly use Tailwind nutrition fuel and Unived Endurance Gels to power me through the swim, bike and run. Post Da Nang, I have also started trialling Secret Training Advanced Isotonic Energy Gels.

On race day, I usually fuel myself with almond milk soaked oats, banana and peanut butter 2 to 3 hours prior to the race start.

For the swim, I wear a Roka Viper Pro Swimskin above my Purpose custom-made Sea Shepherd tri suit and Aqua Sphere Kayenne goggles.

My bike weapon of choice is a Canyon Speedmax CF SLX 8.0 SL with Quarq power meter, Zipp aerobar system, DT Swiss Pro 1400 front- and Zipp Super-9 Carbon disc-wheels (for Da Nang). My helmet is a MET Drone helmet.

For running, I mainly wear Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 and Oakley Radar EVs.

I am also very lucky to have a group of highly talented and inspirational people around me without whom I would not have been able to improve to the level I am today:

  • My spouse, Jane – she has my back
  • My coach, Juergen Zaeck of Z-Coaching Phuket for making me a better athlete and person
  • My swim coach, Colin O’Shea of Swimsmooth Singapore for improving my swim technique every single week
  • My friend Noor Ashikin Aziz, founder of Purpose for providing me with a highest-performing race kit
  • My physio, Ivy Yeung of Heartland Physio for helping me improve my mobility
  • My bike mechanic, Benson Ng of VeloHub, who knows every single screw and bolt of my bike
  • My bike fitter, Tim Lim of Loue Bicycles for fitting my bike for maximum performance
  • My go-to nutrition store Red Dot Running Company and its owner Jeri Chua  

Hands down, the Purpose custom kit is the best triathlon suit I have ever worn. The material is sleek and cools during the heat but also warms in rain.

Philipp Kloeber

PURPOSE: How did PURPOSE racing kit perform? Impressions, opinions?

Philipp: I love my two Purpose custom kits, one in black and one in white for hotter weather.

Hands down, the Purpose custom kit is the best triathlon suit I have ever worn. The material is sleek and cools during the heat but also warms in rain.

The chamois pad is extremely comfortable, protects while on the bike and is barely noticeable during the swim and run.

Also, the zips are made in a way so that they easily zip/unzip and don’t heat up in the sun. The sleeves never become loose and stay in position no matter how bumpy your race.

I also love how tailored the suit fits, almost like a second skin. The material of the suit itself is an absolute premium.

I don’t have to mention the brutal design of the suit which just adds these last 1-2% of confidence in yourself. 

I can tell that Noor and his team have worked on improving every single detail of this suit for many years. It is a tri suit by triathletes for triathletes. 

PURPOSE: What’s next for you as an athlete?

Philipp: I just want to develop as an athlete. My main motivation is to improve no matter how tiny the wins every single day.

Meeting inspiring fellow athletes, coaches, mechanics, physiotherapists, and other like-minded people along the way is another main motivation for me.

If you focus on the journey, the result will take care of itself.

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