Sunday 5 August was the day I had been dreading/looking forward to for a long time: Ironman Maastricht. I had never done an ironman, or a marathon. I've done 2 half distance triathlons, but never more than that.
I trained well this year up to June, but July was a bit of touch and go with some symptoms of slight overtraining, so going into the race I wasn't overly confident on how it would go. But I guess you can never be confident in taking on a race distance like that.
I chose IM Maastricht for various reasons. The first being that in early August I always seem to be at my peak and the second being that I'm Dutch, so some friends and family would be able to come and watch me suffer.
With about 1,200 athletes starting it's not a big ironman, but the atmosphere is just the same. The swim is a one lap course in the river Meuse where you swim underneath a bunch of bridges. They close the sluices for this so the current in the river will never be too strong, however there will always be some current on the way out. This year it turned out to be a pretty tough swim being non-wetsuit, and either swimming against the current or into the wind. I came out of the water in 1:13, about what I had predicted.
T1 was pretty straightforward and after a quick pee I was off on the bike.
They've changed the bike course in the past and made some changes again this year. I don't think it matters that much, there are many many nice cycling roads in the south of The Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium. Contrary to what many believe, the bike course isn't flat with about 1200m of elevation gain. Part of the route is the same as the Amstel Gold Race classic so you could expect a few steepish hills, most notably the Hallembaye with a short stretch of about 13%. The bike route is 2 loops of which the first ~60 kilometre is hilly and then there is a stretch of about 25 kilometres along a canal. Flat, straight perfectly smooth asphalt. I was biking 35/36 kph with a heart rate low in zone 1 there! The last couple of kilometres takes you back into town, and then a stretch of about 1 kilometre over cobblestones (respect to everybody who does Paris-Roubaix!) through a packed center of Maastricht.
The first lap went really well. I had been holding back (and got passed by many athletes!). The second lap I decided to push it a bit more, but just before I got back to the canal to really pick up some speed I got some cramps in my leg and back off. I came in in 6:01 for a distance of 176.5 km, which was towards the faster times I had hoped for. Aid stations were frequent and well laid out, with added sponges as it was about 30C during the second lap of the bike. There were more spectators on the bike then I had expected, especially on several of the climbs. There are 2 temporary bridges to cross busy roads. These are paved with wood (filmfaced plywood) and have steep ramps. They weren't a problem during the race as it was dry, but I would fear them if it's wet, especially coming down the second one as there is a sharp right turn directly after it and you will have to brake coming down.
T2 was uneventful, with a quick pee again.
The run I started too fast. I struggle with reducing my run speed in the half and full distance. It feels easy and I just can't get it down. I did maintain a decent run up to about kilometer 19 but then started feeling my hamstrings really tightening up and I faded into run-walking.
The run is 4 laps through Maastricht and packed with spectators for most of it. Friends and family had positioned themselves on a terrace where they could see me come past twice on each lap. Many people who lived along the course make a party out of it with gazebos, bbq's, sound systems and providing showers and sponges to athletes. The third lap was mentally tough as it was still such a long way to go, but the last lap was one (long and painful) party.
The marathon went in just under 5 hours, which was towards the slower part of what I had hoped for, and I finished in 12:25:10.
It was an awesome day and really happy with how I did.
Ironman will probably move the time of the race next year as it now faces stiff competition from Hamburg and Frankfurt, and it looks like they'll be moving it to September.
In addition they are working on a 70.3 in June just north of Amsterdam and will probably offer it as a package. That 70.3 promises to be very fast as that area is flat, and has lots of really smooth asphalt roads, but it could be windy.
For me, I liked racing a full distance, but the commitment for training is the hardest part so I think I'll focus on races up to half distance the next few years.