I’d wanted to one day compete at a Euro Ironman since I’d seen vision of Challenge Roth (then Ironman Europe) in the mid 90s. A wedding in Ireland a week earlier meant that the new event of Ironman Maastricht lined up well one week later on August 2, 2015.
We arrived via Melbourne, Abu Dhabi, Dublin and Brussels eventually to Maastricht on the Thursday before the Sunday race. I elected not to do the bike course reconnaissance on the Thursday afternoon as a 90km ride less than 3 days pre race seemed too much! In hindsight it would have been good to see a bit more of the course given the technical nature of the bike course.
Notwithstanding I felt I was in good shape after 4 weeks at altitude in May followed by PBs at 5 and 10km (the latter a 50 second PB and the day after a hard 5 hr ride) and two particularly good long rides. Swimming was also going well with a much higher than normal volume in the last three months.
Maastricht is a medieval city of about 120,000 residents, it’s not normally on the commonly travelled tourist road but it was a fantastic place to visit. An endemic cycling culture, shopping district through the old town, lots of parks and gardens, what’s not to like? We stayed in a small studio about 1km from race start and transition. The last few days of taper included a short swim in a side part of the river Maas, and two bike rides, taking in the run course and the first (less technical) part of the ride.
So, eventually, race day dawned clear, and with a promise of a warm, cloudless day of about 26 C. This was the first Ironman I’ve done with a rolling start, so after the giant ‘boom’ of the cannon, there was a very gentle walk towards the start line and over the timing mat to begin the day.
The swim was largely uneventful, some reeds in the water and the novelty of swimming over quite a few rusted up old bicycles. There was a short walk across land at the swim turn (at 1.7km) where I took a small tumble but then back into the water on the homeward stretch. I was a bit tired of swimming in the last 600m or so and a few mild sighting issues but happy to finish the swim. I’d been expecting 1.05-1.10 (freshwater wetsuit swim) and exited right on 1.10.
Swim 1.10.29 (PB by 3 seconds!), 66/116 a/g, 406th overall
T1 had a very long run to enter the compound. Quick change to put on helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes and another long run out of the compound and we were off!
T1 4.55, 37th a/g, 197th overall including teams, 700m long!
Onto the bike! The course follows part of the Amstel Gold cycling race, a Spring Classic starting each spring in Maastricht, and includes the famous Cauberg climb where the Amstel Gold race concludes. There wasn’t a lot of information available about the course beforehand (being a first time race), only that there were three, medium climbs per lap and quite a few turns.
Initially I had some powermeter problems, it was reading about 20% higher than normal. I’ve no idea why, maybe after being left out in the heat on Saturday afternoon at the bike check in? Anyway it’s happened once before so for the first 65km I rode more by feel with the power as a few general guide. I was able to recalibrate the powermeter at around the 65km mark (it’s only a 10 second job and it can be done while coasting) and after that the data was much more accurate. Some of the Belgians, French and Dutch may have thought they were in the Amstel Gold race – given the drafting – haven’t seen anything as blatant as that for a long time. Thankfully the nature of the course would have broken it up a bit.
Things didn’t feel great for the first 60km or so, but I picked up a bit after the climbs and heading back into town for the first time. I started on gels at around 65-70km (using Ensure meal replacement drink for the first two hours or so).
The ride was really something else. Multiple blind, sharp turns, long windy descents with sharp corners at the bottom followed by a climb. Sections of cobbles through town squares, a cattle grid type structure, roads covered in gravel, local cyclists (and cars and horses!) out on the road, made for a challenging cycle. There was about 3-4 km of cobbles per loop. Having the opportunity to ride the course a few times before race day would have been ideal to understand the ‘ins and outs’ of the course, but wasn’t possible with how much time we had available in Europe. The results from the day show how much tougher this course is, I rode mid-5.40s compared to 5.02 (at Ironman Melbourne last year) and 5.15 (Ironman WA 2013) with similar power output. Admittedly the course in Maastricht is longer at around 184km.
For context, men's winner Bas Diederen rode 4.43 (the quickest ride) after riding a 4.18 at IM Frankfurt 4 weeks earlier. Yvonne van Vlerken who won the women's race, rode 5.16 at Maastricht and 4.47 at the Ironman distance Challenge Roth 3 weeks earlier
Climbing the Cauberg was pretty cool! Not quite the crowds of the Amstel Gold but certainly a lot of support and a lot of hurting on the steeper pitches.
Back through town and it was great to see Anna and Ange there supporting. Had a great patch from 90-125km, passing lots of people, staying aero and fueling well. There was no aid station between 120 and 160km and once I ran out of water, the wheels fell off a bit, I just felt so thirsty and hot. I looked around everywhere for a tap, even asked riders going passed if they had any spare water, but there was none forthcoming. I eventually pulled into a resident’s driveway and found a tape that I used to fill up my bottles and wet my (long sleeved) top. The ride back into town after the next few climbs was uneventful and I headed back into town and over the final 2km of cobbles into T2. I still felt pretty average and it was warming up, I was quite concerned the run might turn into a slow walk run as I’d never done a marathon in the heat before (of the previous 6 Ironmans the runs were always 14-23 C or so).
Bike 5.46.14, 51st a/g, 294th overall
T2 3.50, 45th a/g, 235th overall
Into T2 and I was relieved to be relieved :) - quick change to swap tops and visor, shoes and socks on. I’d made a decision to go with the DeSoto ‘Skin Cooler’ long sleeved white top as I’d run well with it before and it offers some sun protection. The first 3km out of T2 was tough, no aid station until 3km and things just felt clunky. And hot, really hot and thirsty. I also had a really sore outside of my left foot which was causing me to limp a bit – I’m guessing this was from pressure in the bike shoe. Finally I reached the aid station and was able to soak the top and felt almost instant relief although I was still quite thirsty. Up the only real hill of the course (‘The Hell of St Petersberg”) which was only maybe 100-150m long at 4-6% and headed through another small village to the turn around which was out in the middle of nowhere.
The run never felt great, had a few patches where things flowed well but it was mostly just uncomfortable, which I guess is the way things should feel after 7 hours of exercise. I headed back into town to finish the first of 3 loops, grateful for the locals who had their hoses out to spray on passing runners (seemingly no water restrictions in Netherlands!) There was a 1km section through town along cobbles as you ran under an old arch and through the old town centre, and (frustratingly!) passed the finish arch to begin the second lap. The cobbles were a bit of a challenge to run on, you just had to pay more attention to where your feet landed. I went through the first lap in around 4.28 pace (about a 3.08 marathon). Everything still felt just hot, and thirsty and clunky – the aid stations were a huge relief, I walked through every one (not normally a habit), dumped 4-5 cups of water on my head, had a gel and water chaser. This was enough to keep me cool for the next 3km or so.
Lap two came and went, followed by that countdown you always have in your head in an Ironman (only 11, 10, 9km to go… I’ve run 8km so many times, 4km left which is just our Thursday night warmup etc). There was a few slower kilometers in the last lap but was able to bring it home strongly. I had to average about 4.20/km pace for the last 2km to break 3.10 (on my watch at least), so I aimed for that and finished up 2 seconds over (the official timing had me about another 20-30 seconds slower). So not quite a run PB (I ran 3.08.45 in Busselton two years ago) but probably a better overall run in the heat.
Run 3.10.26 (4th in a/g, 4th overall amateur, 13th overall including professional athletes)
So overall I ended up 23rd in my (very strong!) age group and about 84th overall. For the first time I didn’t get beaten by any amateur females which was a good result I guess. There was just too much time lost on the bike to get anywhere near the front of the age group. More course reconnaissance and better bike handling would have helped with this but the auto Hawaii qualification only went to about 9.39 so I wouldn’t have been close to that anyway… it’s strong racing in Europe!
Total time 10.15.54 (23rd in a/g, 81st male, 84th overall)
So some good things to take away, I rate this better in some ways than my previous two Ironman events (9.36 at Melbourne and 9.44 at Busselton) because of the bike course and the heat. Time for some recovery and another week traveling around beautiful Europe!
Thanks of course to Anna, coach Campbell, training buddies Meagan, Neil, Luke, Tori, and everyone else that’s helped along the way!