Ironman Maastricht-Limburg 2016 Ironman – 31st July 2016
By Luis Rojas
The day started at 3 am when my alarm went off after a short sleepless night. A quick shower followed by a good breakfast, and off to Maastricht. I arrived at transition promptly at 5 am, giving me plenty of time for final preparations. Bike and Run bags ready, shoes attached to the pedals, helmet and bib positioned for a quick transition, wet suit on, and then a short walk to the swim start area. The swim start format was a rolling start, but unlike other Ironman events, here it was 1 person at a time every second. My self-seeded estimated swim time was 1 h 8 min, so I lined up accordingly.
Boom! The cannon went off at precisely 7:15 am. 1 person every second entered the water until my turn, which happened about 16 minutes after the cannon. Most athletes swimming in my proximity were similar in speed, which made it much more pleasant than a mass swim start experience. I passed a few people, some passed me, and that was it for the next 3.8 km. It was an out and back swim in the river Maas, with a 50 m Australian exit at the far end. I completed my swim in 1 h 07 min 40 s, averaging 1:46/100 m, which I was very pleased with.
I did my usual quick transition and on to the bike leg. I was hoping for a sub 5 h 30 min bike split but I had no idea what lied ahead. Getting out of the city involved multiple speed bumps, cobblestones, blind 90 degree turns, rough roads, roundabouts, and bike paths. All of these obstacles were detrimental for my average speed but at least it kept things “entertaining”.
Once out of the city there were combinations of private roads, farm roads, beautiful scenery through forests and constant rolling hills. There were also long stretches of smooth flat roads making the ride a lot more pleasant for a change. After some more climbing there was a long fast winding downhill section, one of my favorite things in cycling. I started flying down the hill in my 53 x 11 gear and passed multiple people.
I was about to pass another rider on a sharp right hand turn as he suddenly veered out wide almost crashing off the side of the road, narrowly missing my front wheel. Right at that same spot there was another rider who had crashed and was lying on the ground. Luckily nothing happened to me and I continued. Then it started to rain.
What followed was 3 hours of constant rain. I thought about Nick saying “welcome to Northern Europe” and just kept on pedaling. One of the hardest parts of this bike ride besides the rain was one of the steep climbs at km 40, and again at km 130 (2 loop course). It is known as the Côte de Hallembaye. It is 800 m long with an average gradient of 8.6 % and a maximum of 12.8 %. There were a lot of spectators on this hill, so despite the brutality of the climb it was actually a really cool experience. 5 h 41 min 51 s later, (32km/h avg. speed) I arrived at transition. Considering the difficulty of the bike course, I was pleased with my time and felt I had paced myself well.
At this point the rain stopped, the sun started shinning, and the marathon began.
I had another fast transition and immediately started running. The run consisted of 4 x 10.5 km loops in the heart of Maastricht, which meant a lot of spectators throughout the run course to witness the massive suffer fest. I felt good and ran the first loop at an avg. pace of 5:11 min/km. I was on track to a 10 h 35 min overall finishing time, so everything was going very well. About 14 km into the marathon my quadriceps started hurting, my right hip started aching, the souls of my feet, my right knee, everything hurt. My day had gone exactly to plan up to this point, I was properly prepared, I was on pace, I had been fueling all day, but now I had to deal with the hardest part of the Ironman, the physical, mental and emotional suffering. I slowed down to 6:34 min/km hoping to recover, but it just kept getting more and more painful. By the time I reached km 22, my legs couldn’t take it anymore. I had no choice but to walk. The thought of having 20+ more km to go was overwhelming. The important thing was to keep moving forward. My time goals were out the window and I started wondering if I’d even make it to the finish line.
The next 16 km became the longest, most brutal part of the whole experience, full of moments of self-doubt and disappointment. Hundreds of athletes passed by me, even spectators were walking faster as they yelled words of encouragement. The frustrating part was that I still had the energy to run, but the leg pain wouldn’t allow it. I don’t know how, but eventually I made it to the 38 km mark and decided I was going to run to the finish. I needed some kind of goal to finish strong, so I set a new finishing target time of 12 h 30 min. Regardless of the pain I picked up my pace and ran the last 20 – 30 minutes. I even managed a 5:39 min final km knowing that it was almost over.
The finish line was incredible, and with all the adrenaline I had left there was no more pain. Just the wonderful experience of crossing the Ironman finish line 🙂