Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

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Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

Postby birdyman » 03 Aug 2016 11:02

Where: Maastricht, The Netherlands
When: Sunday 31st July 2016
Organiser: Ironman
Course details: River swim with Australian exit halfway, bike: 2 laps crossing into Belgium, run: 4 laps of downtown Maastricht
Distance(s): 3.9 swim (apparently), 182.2km bike (according to Garmin), 42.2 km run
Marshalling: Lots
Facilities: Portaloos, feed stations, Expo, big event area, parking directly beneath transition, massage, showers etc
Technical: Chip timing, live tracker
Freebies: Bag, medal, finishers t shirt, massage, food

Short version is that I finished in 13:46. Apologies for the long and rambling brain dump below.....

Based on just two LD races I would recommend this as it has been fully embraced by the local area. Good swim course, surprisingly challenging and technical bike and a tough run. 3 ½ hours drive from Calais so doable if you are London / South East fairly easily. Lots of places to stay and a compact enough place to get around easily.

Hard to know where to start really. As soon as I finished Challenge Henley in 2013 I had a niggling thought that I wanted to do another one. As I have written before I have always felt a bit of an imposter in triathlon; despite the many events that I have participated in. I wanted to prove to myself that Henley wasn't a fluke. So after a year or two of resting and doing other things I decided that I would probably do The Bastion, the LD event run from Hever Castle which is very close to home. I thought that I could train on the course and that it would minimise the inevitable disruption to family life. I was chatting to a guy who lives on the same road as me about it (owns the LBS and has nine iron distance races under his belt) and he pulled a face and suggested Maastricht might be better. The Bastion (admittedly a fairly recent event with lower levels of brand awareness than Ironman) had something like 75 entrants with 50 or so finishers. So I begged and pleaded with Mrs Birdy and eventually was granted permission to enter Maastricht-Limburg. The plan initially was that we would go en famille and make a weekend of it. However a friend was also persuaded to enter so the two of us sorted an Airbnb apartment and drove over on Friday. It is about 3 ½ hours from Calais and motorways all the way so no big drama (but then I wasn't driving)!

Easy journey via the Channel Tunnel. We were a bit tight for time so headed straight to the event area for the briefing. There is an underground car park right under the transition area; immaculate and open 24/7 and staffed; all rather handy. There is another similar place about half a mile south too. Anyway; pretty convenient so we parked there and went straight to the briefing. Which was brilliant. Big stage, loads of branding and the race director pumping is all up. There are three briefings in German, Dutch and English during the afternoon. The branding is everywhere and loads of gazelle like people with muscles like rope and shaved heads and sunglasses, channelling the whole IM vibe. We met up with Mike Taylor (whose wife was racing) and a couple of their chums and I sat there trying to listen to the instructions and glancing around nervously and realising that this was really real.

They made it very clear that the drafting zone on the bike (changed to 12 metres this year) would be enforced and that we would sin binned for it etc.

We registered and all that, got our Ironman bags (which I make no bones about being quite pleased to have earned to right to own!) and then mooched about the Expo. I got a lightweight gilet as the weather looked changeable and I had learned my lesson at L'Etape in 2014. And an Ironman mug. Seriously, the Ironman shop is insane. You could buy everything from the expected (t shirts and hoodies) to the unexpected (Ironman shot glasses and Ironman pants). Tempting. And because you are there, part of the brand experience, there is a bit of a feeding frenzy as everyone decks themselves out in branded kit. I felt that I had to buy something but escaped with my wallet intact. Apart from the mug, obviously. Nothing screams 'serious triathlete' like an Ironman branded mug, right?

Anyway, laden with our kit, registration packs etc we went to find the apartment. I think that the Airbnb thing is great. It might not be as convenient as a hotel, especially for food, but you get your own space and it tends to be a lot cheaper and you can stay in some beautiful places. We had a little place in the suburbs about a mile east of the event space. We got ourselves squared away and cycled on the Bromptons to the supermarket to get some odds and ends. We didn't use the Bromptons much but again they were ideal for getting around.

Maastricht itself is a beautiful tranquil little place. The whole place is very peaceful with people of all ages cycling around. The centre has some lovely architecture and the waterfront area some nice little side streets and squares with restaurants and cafe culture going on. On Saturday we walked on the river to watch some of the early swims and Ironkids event. It is really inspiring- everyone getting involved and we just wanted to soak up the vibe. I think it is a really important part of the experience. We planned to drive a bit of the bike course but fairly soon after the start there was a no entry to cars bit, so we were stymied and navigated cross country a bit to pick it up. We ended up at a place called Sofa Maastricht where Mike and the others were staying and sat outside having lunch and exchanging stories. It is a little bit to the south, maybe 2km down the river and is really very peaceful. Mike was on top form as always and offered to give our bikes a once over. I talked to him about a nasty loud creaking that (I thought) had been coming from the bottom bracket and that I had supposedly had fixed by the LBS, but it had returned. Turned out that it can be solved simply by really tightening the skewer on the rear wheel and is a common issue with the Domane. Back to rack the bikes and drop off the bike and run bags in transition. Very easy.

I am rambling now. Sorry. Supper in a little pasta place (poor service, long wait, but probably a good way to kill a couple of hours) and then bed by about 10:30 after final packing and panicking. I hardly slept at all and before I knew it the alarm was going off at 4:50. Breakfast and tea and we drove to the start (once again parking directly below transition) and went out into the dawn light to get involved.

I posted a pic of transition on Instagram- it was huge. 2000 bikes and athletes all getting sorted out. I was in a bit of a daze as I got my wetsuit on and tried to manage my fear. Almost a year of thinking and training and emotional investment and here you are, shuffling towards the swim start with 2000 other people. Luckily I met up with Mike and Kate Taylor by chance and their chum Jenny and we whiled away the time chatting and flapping. The event was using the new swim smart thing where you start on the bank and go into the water one at a time (one a second in theory) and immediately start swimming. The idea is that you queue on the bank next to signs with your anticipated swim time and it avoids the mêlée in the water. Seems to work pretty well. Good crowds, big music and the seemingly indefatigable MC cheering us on. Wonderful atmosphere and it calmed my nerves to finally be getting under way.

The swim is an out and back affair. It is about 1500 m south with an "Australian exit" (you get out of the water briefly and run across a small island and get back in the water) and then back up, loop around a buoy and back to the start/exit. The water was 21.5 degrees so quite pleasant. I have invested a lot of time in my swimming this last year, mainly with the intention of become relaxed and efficient rather than fast. And it really paid off. I have not done any open water swimming in so was a bit worried about sighting and swimming straight but on the out leg I mainly just breathed on the left and so could keep the wall a steady distance from me. It sort of worked but I was a bit slowed by weeds at times but I had my own space. Steady pace, unilateral breathing and occasional glancing forward. There were a few bumps with others but no drama. The exit comes around very quickly and as exited I could hear Mike up on the bridge calling my name so I managed a wave and smile (it might have been a grimace), jog over the island and gingerly down the slippery slope and back in. The back leg was splendid. It is a wide river and I found a good bit of clear water in the middle and was able to get into a bilateral breathing pattern, relaxed arms and pushed on. It just went by so quickly and before I knew it I was rounding the buoy and struggling the 400 m back towards the exit.

Swim: 1:26:23 (about 20 mins faster than Henley in 2013)

I was helped out by the staff and jogged back to T1, cheered on by the crowds. Amazing. I have always been such a poor swimmer that getting out the water on any tri of any distance is always a big deal for me so I was a happy man. Full kit change into bibs etc and out to the bikes. As I was one of the last into and out of the water was one of the last out so the bike was one of the last left so easy to find. And off I went.

T1: 9:39

I had a bento box and a pocket full of various bars. A mix of PowerBar, Bonk Breaker, Torq and High Five (which was the brand doing the event nutrition). Two reasons - one to avoid boredom and make the bars vaguely palatable and two because the High Five bars are awful. I know that they are all pretty unpleasant but the High Five ones are so dry and so flavourless that they are quite hard to get down. The Bonk Breakers have some good flavours (peanut butter and jelly actually tastes faintly of those things) and the Torq bars are excellent. Very soft and have a high moisture content so easier to swallow. Unfortunately after taking a bite of what seemed to be a delicious apple and cinnamon one I hit a bump and the bar flew out of my hand! There was another super cool moment as we came round a corner and I had a bottle in one hand and hit a section of cobbles. I was desperately trying to hang on, get the bottle back in the cage and manage the frantic vibration while acknowledging the crowds cheering me on. Not a good look I suspect - panic!

The bike route is very interesting. It is half in the Netherlands and half in Belgium - the only Ironman to cross borders apparently. Woo hoo. It is much like Kent or the Cotswolds to start with. Rolling with small ascents and descents but nothing to speak of. It overlaps part of a famous race (Amstel Gold) and the roads are generally good surfaces. After about 40 km you cross the river and into Belgium. Two significant things change. Firstly there is a hill. It is not a massive hill and the gradient is (I am guessing) probably about 10-12 % so not a killer but because it comes out of nowhere and is out of kilter with the rest of the course up to that point it was a real shock. You could see how much it stunned everyone – some people got off and pushed their bikes up the hill. Massive relief at the top of that, and then the road is whizzing across farmland along concrete roads with seams every ten metres or so. In the rain it was like a Spring Classic, covered with mud and water and something joyful about the tyres hissing on the wet roads and taking the corners as fast as you dare (really not very fast in my case). The rhythm iof the wheels across the seams in the road is just thump thump thump. You go through some lovely residential areas and lots of families were out cheering us on. I made sure that I waved and smiled and thanked them all. They had made the effort to come out for us so it was the least I could do to say thank you and acknowledge them. It seemed many of my fellow competitors did not, sadly.

Finally you come round a bend, there is a sharp turn to the right and then a good long stretch on a smooth and flat towpath along the river. It is almost straight and so you can just find a good gear and get on it. I was passing a lot of people on TT bikes with the whole aero disc wheel thing going on. I must have been on of a small handful on road bikes without TT bars even and I think it was a good thing. Anyway, about halfway along that section was a guy shouting for help, he had a flat and no air (not sure why) so I stopped and lent him my pump. He was swearing in English as only the Germans can and after some fumbling around got the pump on the valve and sorted the tyre. Unfortunately as soon as he took the pump off and stood the bike up it popped. Pinched inner tube I suspect. Which rather rendered my stopping a waste of time.

I left him swearing and got back on the bike and cracked on. I confess that as I rode away I felt guilty because I had a spare inner tube and so I could have stayed with him and given him that and the pump, but I would have lost even more time. Bad karma though.

By this time it was raining quite heavily but I was approaching the end of the first loop so feeling ok. I saw Mike once again cheering me on and then there is a straight avenue of trees and back into Maastricht. That was a surprise - some more pavé and big crowds. Awesome. All good at this stage. I had been eating and drinking steadily, a mix of bars and bananas and a bottle of drink per hour, mixture of water and iso. The second loop started to get challenging. I do not know if it was psychological. With a long loop, passing half way is not such a big deal – you still have 90 km to go (as opposed to say 3 x 60km loops for example). I was talking to myself (for example “just get to 110km, just 10 more km”, and then “120km, it’s all about 120km” etc) playing mind games with myself to keep going. I was going through periods of pain and then periods of feeling ok and tried to keep chugging the food down but it was becoming harder. The big climb was a bitch but over quickly. As we went into the farm section I paused to use a portaloo quickly (they made it clear that even having a pee on the course could result in a DQ) and took off my gilet and popped my sunglasses on (I had clear lenses up to that point because it was so grey but the sun was coming out). Obviously nothing will make it rain faster than taking a jacket off and putting sunglasses on and sure enough a squall came in hard and fast and I found myself cycling in a group of four being battered by the wind and rain for a while. I was riding along with a lad from Sheffield, and we were having to shout to one another to make ourselves heard over the wind. He had been sin binned for 5 minutes for riding beside someone so we were all glancing nervously at one another as we tried to get along this very exposed section in horrid weather.

Anyway, the rest of the ride was ok. Just a question of getting through it. It is a good challenging bike course. I appreciate that there are many much stronger riders than me, but I still think that an endurance bike (like the Domane) was more appropriate than a TT bike. I can only imagine how tough it would have been with a disc wheel in the wind or on the cobbles. Lots of crashes I think, but there are always some.

Bike: 06:50:18 (about 8 mins faster than Henley but I think that Henley was a shorter bike)

So I finally made it back to transition, dismount, racking and into the tent for a full kit change. Like the other people in there, all modesty had gone out of the window and I just stripped for a full kit change. Couldn’t have cared less. I just wanted to be up and running.

T2: 7:12

Now the run course at Maastricht should not be underestimated. The profile looks pretty flat apart form a small incline at St Peter’s hill, but no massive issues. The challenge for me was more mental. It is a twisty turny course that wiggles around the town, making it difficult (for me) to find waypoints to hook on to as you progress. I think that my nutrition strategy fell to pieces here too. I was ok for the first 10 km or so but I slowed to speak to someone and just couldn’t get going. The aid stations had water, iso drink, gels, energy bars (make of sawdust and wallpaper paste) Tuc biscuits and flat coke. I just could stomach any of it by then. It retrospect it is very easy to reflect that I should have just taken on a gel every 20-30 mins (as I had practiced in training) but I just felt so rotten that I didn’t. And of course the longer I didn’t eat for, the worse I felt and the slower I went. I was walking more than running, The boards indicate how far you have gone (so for example the first board might saw 1km, 11km, 18.5km, 25.5km) and on the first lap you look at the board and it just seemed an unimaginable distance. I walked and jogged as best I could. My hips were screaming and if only I had remembered what I had trained to do I would have shovelled food down, dealt with the nausea and would have been better off! I was in a world of pain and just struggling on and on, one foot step after another. Looking at the time I logged I can't believe that I was out there for over 5 hours.

So I don’t really know what to write about the run. Wiggly course, massive support, parties on the route, beautiful town. The town square is just lovely, cobbled with a spectacular cathedral (or big church) and what I assume is the town hall. There were four mini chutes depending on which lap you were on to get the wrist band. I saw one guy on his first lap while I was on my fourth. Total hero. I hope he made it to the end. When I went through the 4th chute to get the last wrist band the IM team people were cheering and shouting “you’ve done it, you’re an Ironman, just 400 metres to go”. I couldn’t believe it. I ran down the slope on the cobbles and round the corner into the wall of noise. I can’t describe what it felt like to go from almost 14 hours of no input to the cheering and people and lights and music and cheerleaders. I was baffled, perplexed, stunned and didn’t even hear my name being called!
There were a few times on the ride when I thought about the family, and how it would feel to finish an Ironman, and was almost overcome with emotion briefly but got a grip and ploughed on. People have said that “everyone cries at the end of Ironman”. But I was so stunned to have finished to be honest that I felt almost nothing other than relief I suppose.

What a day.

Run: 05:12 (22 mins slower than Henley)

[I tried to paste a photo here but it says that the 'board attachment quota is full']

So; lessons learned? Stick to the nutrition plan! There are three disciplines in Ironman I think (beyond the obvious ones); the physical activity, the psychological, and the nutrition. I think I was fit enough (obviously could have done more - especially brick sessions would have been beneficial), I think that I kept my head together, but if I had stuck to my nutrition plan I would have done much better on the run. Could I have gone faster – yes. But thinking about it now is very different to out on the road. My blood sugar was too low and my decision-making totally shot.

It was a great day out and a wonderful weekend. Worth the money? Yes. Would I recommend Maastricht-Limburg as an Ironman event? Definitely. Be prepared for a technical bike course with changing surfaces and a challenging run. The Ironman experience was top notch and I am so pleased that I have done it.

Two more things:

A couple of years ago an Ironman legend (Dave Scott it might have been) wrote something along the lines of ‘anyone with a reasonable level of fitness could get round an Ironman’. It caused lots of heated debate amongst the tri community. I believe that he was right. I still feel a bit of fraud, because like most of us I do not have the time or money to commit to the tri thing as much as I might so I felt like a bit of a chancer while out on the course - everyone else seemed to have proper (TT) bikes and tri suits and looked the part. If you are reading this you probably have done Iron distance or it has at least crossed your mind. Do it. If I can, anyone can. It is such an uplifting experience and will cast many other perceived challenges in a different light for you. It is simply a question of will.

And lastly……I called my wife from the recovery area and said “you don’t have to worry any more, I have definitely got Ironman out of my system". However, this morning while I was shaving, my inner voice asked me “would you do another Ironman?” and without hesitation I said “yes”.
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Re: Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

Postby Seasider71 » 04 Aug 2016 09:25

Great report Birdy, welcome to the IM club - time for the tattoo ???

You just need to get over the IM blues that generally kick in after the race, as you have gone from training for something to no plans, but if you just keep looking at your mug, you will always have that little smile knowing what you have just acomplished.
Striving for glory.....and failing magnificently.
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Re: Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

Postby andyb99 » 05 Aug 2016 10:12

great report mate...i'm torn between this, kalmar or Vichy next year....Kalmar was my fist choice because friends said they would have a weekend away there....but its a pain to get to now the ferrys dont run to it means flying then train and i cant be bothered with that...i'd rather drive......Vichy is a good option cause its lovely and flat and i want a faster one next year.
But i fancied this last year....and with cat now signed up to IMUK.....i have this in mind even more after your report....think my friends will come too.

for you...well done on a great race....and obviously never ever say out loud that its out of your system....your only gonna regret saying that.
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Re: Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

Postby Jack Hughes » 06 Aug 2016 09:23

Great race, great report well done!

Can't you get the missus to have a go?
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Re: Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

Postby andyb99 » 07 Aug 2016 13:46

aaaannnndddd I've entered for 2017!!!
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Re: Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016

Postby King Sad » 10 Aug 2016 11:16

Excellent report, don't worry about rambling cos it's all part of how you experienced the race and I enjoy reading about that. Well done Ironman

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It seemed like a good idea at the time :? .

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