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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ironman Maastrict - Race Report

This year I decided to do the inaugural Ironman Maastrict in the Netherlands and thought how tough could that be in the Netherlands. Then I found out it had not sold out as a lot of the local tri clubs thought it would be a tough course, I think it was about 60% of the normal amount of Ironman entrants.

Any photos are by me (pre and post race) and my relatives during the race unless otherwise mentioned.

To add a bit extra I decided to drive their which increased my continual driving from a few miles to a few hundred miles, although I have still cycled more miles abroad than driven.

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This was a good idea as I could pack my car out with more stuff than I could possible need at the Ironman.

The day before the race I went to the registration and expo in glorious warm sunshine and looking at the forecast it will be even warmer on race day :-)

As part of this I walked the area of the finish and the swim start and transition area. My major concern was how big the concrete steps were, I was struggling in my jeans let along a wetsuit!! The transition run was quite long as well with a hair pin bend at the far end which I thought might get wet and slippery during the race.
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We also walked around part of the city centre which I noticed that most of this area was cobbled and I could see the Ironman route arrows!!

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After registering and getting the massive Ironman Maastrict ruck sack (I can fit a laptop bag in it) plus all the race numbers and stickers we headed of to the race briefing

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Race briefing in sunshine, I was tempted to get a beer from the bar but thought I better concentrate on the briefing as there was some parts I was unsure of from the course details.

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The swim was a 2.4 miles (3.8km) effectively an out and back swim with getting out half way to cross some land near the council offices which are some are built over the river. The bike course was described as a 2 laps 182km (113 miles) which is 2km longer than the standard distance (there is a tolerance on the course distances). Then the run was a marathon 26.2 miles (42.2km) which was made up of 3 laps.

The main differences I had noticed from other races I had previously done, was the swim start was effectively staggered by reducing how many people could get in the river at the start but had a timing mat immediately before so you time would be based on when you started.

The other different course option was a bridge they had made near the end of the lap to go under in one direction and over on the way back, how big could that be I thought?

At the bicycle check in they were giving plastic covers out despite it being 25c+ and the lowest was going to be 12c overnight. I decided to use it as everybody else had and thought there must be a strange cool mist near the river.

I also deflate my tyres as it was warm and sunny plus clipped on my cycling shoes. So the next morning I would just need to add my food and drink.

I also familiarised my bike position in transition and transaction bags, to hopefully make it easier to find during the race .

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It was a more relaxed atmosphere staying 5km away from centre of town staying with relatives I was seeing a lot cycling in general going up the hill. I was also watching a lot of Peppa Big (Peppa Pig in Dutch) and playing with toys, so I was nice and relaxed.

Race day

It was strange finding way around somebody else's kitchen in the dark at 3:30am for breakfast, luckily I didn't wake anybody. Breakfast Cereal, sports drink and beetroot gels to start the morning, mmm.

Then it was an early drive in the morning (5:30am ish) no other cars on the road, which they had never seen. I handed my bags in for special needs cycle and run hopefully I put the right things in each bag. I had learnt from other races not to put in anything that could melt like ride shots. I then added my drinks and food for to my bike so they would be cool as long as possible before the heat started. I then borrowed a track pump and inflate both my tyres.

Then it was the compulsory three trips to the portable toilets which were not in a good state this early in to day.

I then got the final part of my wetsuit zipped up with some help from person next to me, who turned out was another English person who now lives in the netherlands.

The start of this race we were standing in swim time order and there was a narrow entrance to the river to control swim start that they said should make it safer. They had added extra steps on the concrete steps added along with carpet to make it easier to get in and out of the river area.

The race started with a canon, we thought we were under attack as wasn't expecting that.


Not sure if this person started the race or was just out for a sunday morning stroll along the river?

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After a bout 5 minutes of organised swim start I finally got in to the river for the first time. I decided against going in the practice time as you had to come out and wait for 30 minutes getting cold.

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The water was clear and as only a few around  you it was a nice swim for about 1 mile in clear water. The swim was on the left of the yellow buoys and underneath the 3 or so bridges. There was support along the river bank and across the bridges which you could hear when you turned your head during the swim stroke. I only had a few hits in the first mile compared to the 100s normally.

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As we got near the turn point the water became murky (sand in the water) enough so you could see the weeds that you were swimming in to. Then was starting to get hit by other swimmers more due to narrower and a few smaller bridges to go through.

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At the council offices we got out cross the land and back into the river, there was a bit of a step to get out. Think this due to safety reasons of the water/river bed in that area. The land was a bit steep and uneven which couldn’t be seen under the carpet which made it a bit interesting to walk over.

The next 100m were murky and weedy but then in the cleaner river water on the way back. Then headed on the other side of the buoys (still on the left side) returning along the same route, still with plenty of support.
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I was then starting to get a bit of a head cold after 1 hour of swimming, so I stopped and treaded water while adjust swim caps and goggles and a mental refocus as was thinking of stopping. Then I remembered the training with 3 year playing with minions which looked like the yellow buoys they had marking the swim route which made my smile and thought I better carry on.

You then swam  past the exit for a 200m to a turnaround point which looked like a PG tips prymaid bag (I was mentally gone at this point). You then swam back to the swim exit ramp where you got helped/pulled out of the water.
Then was a few meters up the steps followed by a 300m carpeted section to transition. I got the top half of the wetsuit down and some how found the energy to run in to the transition area.

I finished the swim in 1:27:40 which was about the same time as the previous weekends 3.8km swim in a rowing lake as part of a relay team with my brothers.


I took my time as usual about 10+ minutes!! It was a long transition of over 1/2 km in total from swim exit to mount line.
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I had dried off (had packed a towel) a bit and got cycle kit on including some arm warmers and sweatbands as was a chilly start to the day but forecast for warm weather. Taking the extra time also allows me to mentally refocus for the next stage.


I ran out with my bike to the mount line (shoes clipped in) and then moved off with feet on top of shoes and gradually put them in once got some momentum.
The roads are closed so not a big issue if I forget which side of the road I am meant to be on.
This is a 2 lap course so first lap is to find out the route then the next lap you know what is next.

The first part of the cycle round some industrial estates which was fast but with a few 90 degree turns, it then went out in to the countryside next to some rivers, fast section on aerobars. I was regularly going over 20mph and thinking that's going to hurt at some point. Plus the temperature was also starting to warm up.

Then on some sections you where back on the wrong side of a main road (left) which took you to a football stadium which had another aid station and a lot of supporters. The road was closed and marshalled but the big difference the people in the cars were giving you encouragement not shouting at you.

The course then was an out and back to Sittard town centre past a number of cafes where people were cheering you from. However there was a few hundred meters of a coble section including a 90 degree turn for a bit of fun.

Then the course went through some residential areas with a few more short inclines not that steep but was still well supported. There was also some traffic traffic calming sections even on some bends I soon realised the triangle markings on the road meant there was speed bumps even thought it didn't look like there was due to the very smooth road surface.

Once heading back on the loop it was more in the countryside, with some more undulations not sure were they found these in the Netherlands.

Then on one the far corners of the course there was a nice down hill with a 90 right turn straight on to a cattle grid followed by an incline. So was a bit of risk of damaging your bike particularly on the first lap the second I was more prepared and going slower. Then you generally had not momentum up the hill, there was some people cheering you on as they had a picnic.

This was a nice undulating section with trees keeping it cool but also dark so had to concentrate on the road surface in the shaded areas.

You then get to more of a farming area of the country side which was more open space apart from the big climbs on the course. You could see Maastrict only a few km away but they turned you around and made you go out in the countryside again.

This next section is where some of the more famous cycling races use such as the Amstel Gold race and some of the big cycling tours.

The first was after a 90 degree right turn and then a 1km decent hill with about 2 or 3 bars on it!! Once you recovered from that you then had about 10km until you got to the hill at Bemelen which is a few km long plus I was staying half way up it so I had already seen the base of it.

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Next was a loop section to get the distance up to the required level and also to get in the famous of the hills in the area, the Cauberg in Valkenburg.

Plus you went under the wooden bridge they had made.

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There was some nice gentle country lanes and farm land and was getting some speed and even a downhill until a sharp 90 degree left turn on to the Cauberg. As they had to keep one lane open to traffic you could not take it as wide as they do in the Amstel gold race so lost some momentum at the foot of the climb and had to power up the hill. There was plenty of support all the way up even from those in the café’s plus numerous along the paths.

When you got to the top you were glad to see an aid station to top up food and drinks.

This was starting to warm up so I took of my arm warmers and was making sure I added a salt tablet to each of my water bottles.

You then continued around the next few km and over the fairly large wooden bridge they had made, it was quite steep going up and down. A photographer on a motorbike even got me eating one of my ham rolls at that point, glad they didn't get my race number.

Then you head back towards the city along some country lanes, cycle path and then on to a main city centre road. It was at this point I got lapped by the leader who was over 10 minutes between the next person overtaking me.

Then turning off the city road and along the cobbles on the riverside path.

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There was plenty of support along this section but also people walking along not fully aware of what was going on, there was a couple of close calls in between the marshalled sections.

You then completed the lap going past the transition area, now you knew what was coming up and still 56 miles (90km) to go on the bicycle.

About 10km in to the loop was the special needs bags which I had previously packed, but since that morning had forgotten what was in there so it was a nice surprise. It was starting to really heat up at about 30C and lets of people were struggling, so I was sure to get each drinks bottle topped up and salt tablet added to stay hydrated. As I could literally see the sweat fall off me when I had stopped moving.

I then carried on I could feel my legs starting to feel fatigued due to the faster cycle section, there was getting less supporters as it was starting to get really warm or they had headed out on the run course.

Each aid station I got to about 15 to 20 miles apart was getting more important for the drinks in the heat. I was even starting to have some caffeinated drinks to help me on prepare for the second part of the course which had more technical sections along with the hills.

I was really starting to struggle when I got to the hill where I was staying and seeing my relatives gave me a bit extra boost to carry on. At the top of the hill hearing people enjoying a swimming pool in the heat was mental torture. It was then the loop to get to the hills and their made up bridge.

By the time I got to the Cauberg again at 101 miles there was not many other triathletes around me and the support was less up the hill. Others had got of their bike and were pushing it up the hill I was still powering up the hill and then to the aid station.

Going over the bridge they had made I had to concentrate to power up it and control the way down as was step and starting to physically and mentally fatigue due to the heat. Once I was on the city road heading back to the transition I felt a lot better until the last mile and a bit which was on cobbles with people crossing in front of you, luckily I wasn't going that fast but my reaction time would have been longer than normal.

As I got to T2 I got my feet out of the pedals and rested them on top of the shoes and stretched my legs muscles a bit. The turn left of the main road in transition felt so good as last time I had to carry on past it. When I got to the dismount line I got of the bike and was able to run in to transition with my bike.

I finished the 182km (113.5 miles) official distance, in 7:54, at an average speed of 14.3mph for nearly 8 hours.
I had a few extra miles on my GPS and otherw had 6km further than normal but it's the same distance for everybody.


Nearly all the bikes were back by know but at least I had my reference point where my bike had to be racked.

I got my run bag and headed to transition tent. There was a couple of people just lying on the benches in there as the heat had affected them too much and they decided not to continue. I kept to my usual 10+ minutes in transition (it was a long run transition) which helped me cool down a bit before starting the run.

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I changed my tri kit to make me feel more fresh. I decided to take some arm warmers and sweat bands with me, as in the previous couple of days the temperature did drop quickly once the sun went down which I estimated I would still be out on the run even though it was 30c when I left.
After a quick toilet stop (mainly due to the heat and smell) I headed out on the run.


The run started following the route from the transition area next to river before crossing a bridge and heading on the loop section. It was 3 laps starting from here.

You turned right and headed underneath the bridge you crossed over but heading up the river on the other river bank from transition, I think it was slightly cooler next to the river but was still hot. As there were people on multiple laps there was plenty of runners you could tell by the number of bands they had on the wrist, I was chatting to a number of them either in English or my limited language skills in a few other languages.

The aid stations were about 1.5 miles apart, so you had to be careful not to have to much. So I was limiting myself to water and tuc biscuits to keep my hydrated and get some salt as I my stomach was already feeling dodgy. At this point my legs were already fatigued so I was doing a run/walk all they way, I have done that in a marathon before but I normally like to get 10 miles in to the Ironman run before doing this.

After about 2 miles you came to the steepest hill on the run course, which was a sharp incline that took about 1 minute to get up. At the top was André Rieu's theatre and house, he was even there supporting at some points to the day. A few hundred meters after this was the special needs bags, I decided to leave mine to the next lap or the last. This section of the run was flat but there was plenty of support from the residents who were having a nice picnic, drinks, party with music.

There was a slight downhill to a bar/pub section not sure if there was an Irish bar there but there was plenty of Irish support, that gave me a bit of extra boost thinking about some my Irish relatives. Then another aid station before turning a corner and another short incline around a park area.

You then went on on another residential area that I think it was Champs elyse road, which I had started the Paris marathon earlier in the year on, it made me chuckle each time. There was a slight incline before a 90 degree turn to the left before just following the road to the turn point about 2 miles away. This section had plenty of support and had a couple of camper vans with loud music to give us support I think they were having a BBQ and lots of drinks :-( they were having a great time.

The next section went out of the city limits in to a more agricultural area which didn't look like traditional Netherlands area. Then there was a nice sweeping downhill until the bottom of the hill where the turn point was which they had a timing mat so you had to go over it!! Then you turned and realised you had a long incline to run up but at least you were heading back in to the city.

You then followed the same route back and was glad of the step downhill section as I got some speed up pity the aid station was so close to the bottom of the slope.

You then followed a different section back in to the city along a closed road. At the end you got your wrist token before entering the city gates. This point it was cobble section (which I had seen the days before) but all the cafes were packed. You followed the streets around and between the two squares there was a slight downhill. After the second square with cafes you had a nice downhill section still on cobbles.

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At this point you could hear the loud music and the announcer of the finishers. I however had to run around the town hall in the market place and continue on to another lap. The town square and the buildings around it helped keep the load music in so it was a good atmosphere.

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There was plenty of support in this section and the chip shop I had been to on the previous day was open :-(
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You then headed on to the lap section starting at the underneath of the bridge as per the first lap.
However there was suddenly a lot less other runners and those who were on the course are also starting to struggle.
At this point onwards in the day it didn't matter you spoke you knew how they felt.

I was starting to have longer walk breaks now even on the flat sections. By the time I got the special needs bag I decided to leave it to the last lap to give me something to look forward to, I know how to treat myself :-)

It was getting towards dusk and there was a nice sunset in the distance but there was still support in this section. I decided to have my first gel of the run some 10+ miles in to the run, it gave my stomach aches so I decided to stick my tuc biscuits and water but now having cola or red bull in addition for some caffeine.

I was glad of reaching the music area at the far end of the course it gave me a boost as you could hear it about half a mile away. This section I was high fiving a few other people either English people who I was chatting to in walk breaks or random triathletes. They had put on the generator lights by now on the course which gave it a different atmosphere. At the turn point they were starting to hand out water as well as the days efforts and hot weather was taking its affect. At this point I roughly worked out I was half way on the run :-)

As the sun had gone in during the walk sections I was getting a bit cold so I decided to put the arm warmers on, which was a good option as if I got warm during a run I could just roll them down.

I was starting to look at my watch not GPS watch to see if I would make the final cut off time of midnight (slightly later due to staggered swim start). In my fatigued state I thought I would but it would be close, I think checked this every walk break from then on when I could see the watchface in the dark.

I got to the turn point and headed back, it seems like there was a lot of English people going by the race number struggling as they didn't believe there was this many hills in Netherlands lot alone on the course!!

I was starting to get to know the people on the aid stations at this point as there was less triathletes than marshals. I was running along the section in to the city centre and a Spanish person asked if I went any of his gels he had as he was on the last lap and didn't need them. I declined as I was no state for any gels. He went ahead and got his last wristband and a few minutes later I got my second.

Through the cobbled street sections I had to concentrate more as it was uneven but lit well, however some sections people were coming out of bars/restaurants straight on to the course. I think I may have high fived some people in the cafe/restaurant section on the way through the city. I then got to the town hall and some the relatives there for the first time on the run, the last time they were having picnic on the grass in the sunshine as cycled up one of the hills but it was about 10c cooler by now.

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As I headed on the last lap there was not that many people left with either 100m gaps between us. as I caught up one person he was running leaning to one side and then being sick, he was with somebody so I carried on but still let the next marshal know.

I got to the final steep incline section and knew that was the hardest part done then I got to my special needs bag. Bonus I had put a different flavour tuc bacon flavour in for a change, mmm. I had some gels that I put in my pocket in case I got to a point I needed them plus a plain roll (cheese topped) but I could only stomach one mouthful of that.

I carried on through the residential areas which they still had support despite it getting late and not many triathletes left on the course. There was some police at certain points on the closed roads to make sure no traffic went through them.

When I got to the music area they had put a disco light in the road and a smoke machine plus plenty of support. This was one of my most enjoyable parts of the course.

I then headed out of the city and down to the turn point for the last time  :-)

I thanked the marshals there I was on the way back with about 4 miles to go, which I started to get more energy back.

As we were so spaced out they had some marshals on bicycles cycling along. I was chatting to the person with me for a while, he was a runner from the area and was telling me some of the routes they do along the course. As I could see they ideal for training either hill reps or longer intervals sets.
At one section in the darker area there was a person cheering the runners on, I later foundf out it was André Rieu.

Those few miles went past quickly chatting to the marshal, however I forget his name. Just before I got to the city he had to turn off to get back to the start of the loop.

I then carried on and got my last wristband and high fived the marshals there given the bands out.
At this point I was in the finish 1 mile with plenty of time but it felt like I was speeding up and taking less walk breaks, I think as I could hear the finish area music from the cobble section of the city it helped me on.

I got to the last cafe square and my relatives were there so I got some photos as ran along.

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I then had to run around the city hall rather than starting a lap it felt so good being on the red carpet and then Ironman carpet running in. Again the high fives started as I ran the last 100m. Still with crowds either side and the grandstands on the last section with Avicii's Wake Me up playing loudly as I crossed the finish line then a few seconds later a Pirates of the caribbean remix.

I was an Ironman again and got the large medal put around my neck :-)


I finished the run in 5:57 (average 13 min/mile pace) which was one of my slowest Ironman marathons.

I finished overall in 15:49 which was longer than expected but I was glad I was able to finish it.

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As my relatives were the other side of the fence I posed for a few more photos.

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Then got a foil blanket so I din't cool down too much. Then got my finishers t-shirt and then some pasta and beer from the post race recovery tent it would have been rude not to as they sponsored the event ;-) All before before putting some warm clothes on, got my priorities.

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Post race

It was a slow walk back to transition to get my bicycle and transition bags. Luckily the walk from their to the pickup point for my relatives car was short. It was hard just to get in the people carrier's seat as was higher than I used to.

It had felt the toughest Ironman I had done which was strange in a traditional thought flat country but was also an enjoyable race. There seemed to be a lot more DNF's at this race than other Ironman's I estimated about 10% based on number of entries and finishers but not seen any offical report.
Although I think I was one of the heaviest times when taking part in an Ironman triathlon.

I was glad to make it back to England and inaugural Ironman Maastrict finisher.

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My race analysis from GPS data will follow later.

Included below are two videos fro Youtube that show some more coverage of the race, mainly focused on the winner.


Phil Branigan said...

Brilliant Mark, well done.

Jaxon Dakin said...

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