Ironman Maastricht – Race Report
I’m a relative newbie in triathalon terms before doing Brigg Sprint a couple of years ago I had to pop to the Pods prior to entering to see if I could manage 16 lengths of the pool… at the time I considered myself a non-swimmer. As an adult my sporting background comprised of lots of mid tale result running and enjoying a bit of cycling.
Having joined Lincsquad because my children attended the cycling sessions on a Saturday morning I started to get more involved. I ended up becoming one of the cycling coaches and mixing more with the members of the club, attending the training sessions and then taking part in the Paul Kirk sportive and some of the other Matt Porter organised ones. Following the completion of Brigg Sprint in 2016 I’d lost the plot over Christmas 2016 and appeared to have entered both Vitruvian (a half Iron Distance Triathlon) and the Coast to Coast in a day bike ride for 2017. Over the following months I managed to get my swimming to a point where I could do something that looked like front crawl, I could breathe nearly properly and had some swim endurance. I spent plenty of time on the bike and did as much running as possible when I was away with work. Focussing on completing Vitruvian saw me defer my place for C2C until 2018 as the longer distance bike training would take too much time that I needed to spend on getting my swim where it needed to be.
Everything went horribly wrong at Team Relays 2017 at Holme Pierpoint on several points. The first point was when after a few drinks on the Friday evening when Dave Gibbs asked my wife, Janine why I wasn’t allowed to do Ironman, Maastricht. Dave had previously mentioned a few club members were going to do it and would I be interested ? I’d discussed briefly with Steve Cannings my problem that with working away regularly, having a young family and also recently started a major house renovation I was already time poor. He’d pulled off his training stats for his first Ironman and had given me the impression the training load was manageable if I wanted to complete an Ironman and wasn’t too bothered about not getting a Kona place !
Janine’s answer to Dave’s question was along the lines of “If he’s training for C2C in 2018 and is keeping up his swimming then I guess he’ll be doing a lot of the required training – I suppose if he does an Ironman it won’t make much difference in terms of the training time commitment”. Despite the fact all concerned had drunk too much I took this as permission. I entered Ironman Maastricht on the Saturday morning from my smartphone before the boss changed her mind!
Saturday afternoon I then had my first major confidence issue. I’d got to the point where I was enjoying open water swimming but on the relays you get straight in the water with no acclimatisation and off for the swim. Once my teammate Roo handed over the band to me I rushed into the water and it took my breath away. I was gasping for breath and wasn’t able to swim properly. I ended up swimming to the first buoy (over a 3rd of the course) doing breast stroke being overtaken by 100’s of other swimmers. I finally pulled myself together, calmed down and got into a nice front crawl, breathing properly and gained back a few of the many places I’d lost. The bike leg and run leg went OK but I was questioning how I would complete the Vitruvian given my poor swim performance and to think I was going to complete an Ironman seemed even more fanciful.
After the Team Relays I realised I needed to get back into the water as soon as possible before my swimming problem blew up in my mind to a huge issue. This saw me at Hatfield on the Tuesday night, wet–suited up and rushing straight into the water. I proved to myself that I could get straight into the water and swim without panicking – brain sorted out.
The big event of 2017 the Vitruvian came around and was completed relatively slowly but was uneventful. I enjoyed the fact they let you acclimatise in the water before getting you out for the start and I also found that mentally I found the half-marathon easier than doing a standalone half marathon. As everyone comes out of T2 at different points you don’t get sucked into running at the pace of others, and therefore run your own race and don’t crash and burn from setting off too fast. It was also nice to see that my family had been roped in to help on a feed station on the run route this meant I got to see them several times and they weren’t too bored waiting for me to complete.
Following Vitruvian the Ironman seemed somehow achievable (convenient as I’d already purchased the entry !) Over Christmas 2017 I managed to get a pain in my heel running that was to haunt me over the following months.
2018 started on the right footing… before dawn had broken on the first working day of the year I was in Steve Clarks pool for a video analysis followed by 4 individual lessons over the coming few months just to get my swimming style more efficient so in theory it didn’t take too much out of me on race day and would hopefully make me a little quicker too. I was also getting out on the bike as and when I could. The running was sporadic though – I was resting the heel, once it felt nearly all right I’d run again and then the pain would come back. Jo Findley relieved it through massage and suggested exercises to relieve the tightness but I was still struggling. I then went to see Ian who did a gait analysis and suggested that my running style was to blame and a higher cadence, shorter stride length would allow me to run more efficiently without aggravating the issue. Unfortunately due to my rest, wait and see approach it took months from the original injury to get to this conclusion resulting in me having nowhere near enough running fitness for the race.
My training had to fit in around being away every other week in Holland Monday through to Thursday. Fortunately the SwimYourSwim guys at Hatfield started opening early on a Friday morning. This was really good for me as from April onwards I was getting up at 6AM every Friday and getting an hours swimming in and still managing to get into work on time.
As there were a number of Lincsquadders doing Maastricht we set up a messenger group. This was good from a social point of view and organising some occasional shared training sessions and a few ‘social’ (drinking) sessions. My cycling training consisted of entering a few sportives, doing the TT’s and then lots of early morning bike rides to minimise the impact on family life.
The nail in the coffin for my running was 8 weeks from the big event I got fitted for some new trainers.They were great on the treadmill but that week I did three runs in them whilst away with work and blistered very badly and ended up with an open wound on the instep of my left foot. Fortunately I got the trainers sorted out (change of insoles, different shoe lacing pattern and different socks) however my feet were super sensitive where they blistered.
My last race prior to the Ironman was the Legermantriathlon at Hatfield. It’s an under rated event as for a Lincsquadder it’s on your door step, well organised with a lovely swim (‘cos it’s Hatfield), a very flat ‘bike course and the worst bit was the run that has little interest to it. I completed the swim strongly and was pleased with the time. I completed the bike leg with perfect pacing. In the run I then buggered up my feet by overtightening my shoe laces and continuing to run even though it hurt. By the time I stopped and slackened my laces of the damage was done and I’d significantly bruised the top of one of my feet (leading to even less run training going forward). I’m sure during the Legerman run section the other competitors I knew thought I was doing a sponsored walk !
In the last few weeks leading up to the race, life was hectic. Work was really busy, I spent more time away than usual and to cap it all the house flooded with the entire downstairs. On the plus side there was little time for pre-race nerves.
The majority of the Lincsquad participants were staying in a large house on the outskirts of Maastricht that the Gibbs family had co-ordinated.On Thursday and Friday we had a Lincsquadversion of wacky races culminating in us all arriving in Maastricht by lunchtime Friday despite our different ferries and driving routes.
Friday PM thing started getting real with us all walking down to registration (and the support crew taking the kids on the bus). Registration was quick and easy and I got my Ironman bag. Not a flicker from the volunteer handing it to me when I commented it was the most expensive bag I’d ever bought – at least I amused myself!
From registration it was straight into the English race briefing where we had Paul Kaye take us through everything and also mention what we’d known for several weeks – it could be a non-wetsuit swim. Because of the heatwave the river Maas had warmed up despite Dave Gibbs having guaranteed me months earlier that as it was a river swim it would definitely be wetsuit legal temperatures !
Whilst the Ironmen were registering and attending the briefing the supporters and the children were registering for their respective events : the Friday 5km Night run and the Ironkids on Saturday.
The Night Run attendees enjoyed their event running thru Maastricht at 9:30 PM those of us left behind doing the childcare knew we’d got an easier shift than the support crew would have on the Sunday.
Saturday was an early start as we had to get the Ironkids down to trasition prior to their events. I’m sure this will be the subject of another (shorter!) race report. All I’ll say is it was a brilliant effort by all and it was great to see road closures and an open water river swim for the children.
Saturday afternoon saw the Ironman participants have to go back down to the Centre of Maastricht to rack their bikes and put their bags into transition. I rode the 3 miles to give my bike a shakedown – it was certainly that on the cobbles in the city centre!Returning from transition we walked into the house to see the support crew all in matching T-shirts with the names of all participants on the back. It was a great touch and we knew would make it easier to spot them on race day.
Saturday evening was our own personal pasta (rice, chicken) party. The Lincsquad WAGs had done us proud with a supermarket run and an hour of prep/cooking. We also had Jo Findley in attendance for pre-race massage – she nicely loosened off my left hand glutes and leg that are always tight due to my running injury. We then had an early night setting the alarms for 4 in the morning and booking taxis a little later for the support crew.
Sunday morning was relatively calm in the Lincsquad house. Anna Gibbs was manning the porridge pot and everyone was going through their pre-race preparation before we departed for the startline. In the half light we got our bike tyres up to pressure, fiddled about with our T1 and T2 bags whilst awaiting an announcement if we needed to put our wetsuits on or not. Our fear was confirmed at 6 AM – it was a non-wetsuit swim. A trip to the toilet and then we set-off over the bridge to the swim start on the other side of the river.
The majority of the Lincsquad contingent self-seeded themselves as being 1:30 swimmers which based on wetsuit training performances was about right with Claire Hobley (the fish) going further forward and Dawn Porter going further back. As the rolling start advanced forward we got to the point where we could see our support team at this moment the enormity of what I was about to try and do hit me. The lack of pre-race nerves came out instantly as I started sobbing I looked at Drew Hobley who also had a quick blub as we tried to reassure our respective kids and Janine that we really were OK.
I jumped into the river Maas and immediately had the same feeling of panic I’d had at Holme Pierrepoint a year earlier. Things followed a similar pattern – I breast stroked, I calmed down, I started swimming ‘properly’. I was conscious I was using my legs far more than usual as I’ve let my wetsuit sort out my poor swim position rather than properly address my core strength and sinky legs. The swim was hard work against the current in a wide river. The swim is an out and back course. It originally had an Australian exit at the turn point but this had been changed to a turn buoy due to the lower water levels in the river this year. I was swimming towards the Government building that I knew was level with the turn point but I could swear the building was never getting any nearer. Eventually I got to the turn point, glanced at my garmin (other brands are available – but aren’t as good!) to see I’d hit half way on the hour. Things were not looking good. My original race plan was a 1:30 swim and a sub 7:00 bike to give me the best chance of finishing the run within the overall cut off time. I rationalised that the outward leg against the current would be slower and that on the way back the current would catapult me down stream. I concentrated on my swim technique on the way back and it was bloody hard work with few other swimmers about and little chance of drafting anyone. I finally got out of the water just after 2 hours and my legs felt knackered as I’d used them far too much without my wetsuit on (I did mention it was non-wetsuit – didn’t I ?!?)
I trotted through to transition, got my bike gear on, faffed about with my HR monitor strap a bit, grabbed my bike and off I went. It was great to see and hear the Lincsquad posse as I set off on what would hopefully be my strongest discipline. A couple of miles in it became apparent my legs weren’t coming back to me – I’d goosed them in the swim and was struggling maintaining 15mph. After the first feed station 4 miles in the road started undulating my speed was not getting any better but I was enjoying the ride, picking off a few people and liking the way on the closed roads I could use the full width safely to get the correct lines. As a cycling coach I’m very aware I’m not the best descender but some of the other participants were shocking and on the downhill sections I gained a few more places. Just over half way on the cycle loop (you do two loops) I turned a corner to see a comedy hill. The black tarmac seemed to immediately climb up into the sky. I knocked it down a few gears and remained seated spinning it up to the top with the crowds on the roadside shouting “hup, hup, hup”. It was hard work but a brilliant atmosphere. Not much further on was the first of two temporary bridges that Ironman had erected to cross major roads. These were made of scaffold and board and about two storeys high. Quite good for a temporary speed increase as you launch yourself down the other side. The back third of the course was a flat tarmac path by the side of the river. It should have been perfect for recovery and speed but with the headwind it was just a hard slog and the average speed was still looking pretty poor. As I came in towards the end of the first lap I saw the Lincsquad support crew and it lifted me seeing everyone and getting their encouragement. The second lap on the bike was a more lonely affair. The support reduced as the crowds disappeared. My mind was filled with self-doubt could I finish in 7:30 ? would this give me enough time on the run ? what time on the rolling start did I actually start ?How long was I in T1 ? Could I take the IM Finisher jacket back for a refund…. I dug in. At times I reflected on the Ironkids – they’d had terrible heat but they’d all stuck at it and applied themselves. Come on Mark pull yourself together – you can do it. Finally finished the bike in 7:20. A poor bike ride after a poor swim things weren’t looking good.
Not too much messing about in T2. A handful of McCoy’s finest crisps, stuck some nutrition in my back pocket, running socks in the other pocket and set off in my old (now gardening) trainers as I’d bottled the new trainers. I was wearing my thick merino cycling socks. The initial aim was to run a couple of miles but not to aggravate my left heel. I set off with a smile on my face and was rewarded shortly by seeing the full lincsquad support crew. Hi-fived the kids, reassured Janine I was Ok and onwards I went. Fluids at the first feed station, walk the short hill, started trotting again, looped round back into the centre and before I knew it the first 5 miles had been ticked off within the hour. I completed my first lap and got the first of my precious bands. I was still worried about the time I’d got to complete it in and if I’d make the cut. On the way past the Lincsquad support crew at about 7 miles I asked Janine to find my official start time out for my next run past when I’d be over half way. I continued slogging it out, fluid at every feed station, run, walk, run, walk, collect band number two. I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t elegant but I was ticking the miles off. Coming past the support crew in my 3rd lap Janine ushered me towards Anna. Anna told me I’d got until midnight (not true it was 11:45 I worked out later!) but I’d got loads off time and would do it. At the same point Claire came through on her final lap. Between us we managed to convince each other to keep going and the support from the citizens of Maastricht was superb. I collected my 3rd band and it was getting dark, I ran past where the Lincsquadsupport had been and it was empty as they’d moved to the finish line. I could feel my left heel hurting, my right foot was blistering and it felt like someone had run a cheese grater over my nether regions. My garmin was on low power, I knew how long I’d been running for but didn’t dare press anything to see the real time. I asked several spectators and marshals the time but didn’t seem to be able to retain this information. On the fourth time of asking I finally worked out that I’d got this Ironman cracked. I was going to complete it and the question was what would my finish time be. Should I run with my injuries? Should I walk ? Knowing I’d got it I chatted to other competitors and had my first chance to relax a bit. The final lap took ages but I collected the 4th and final band. As I trotted towards the finish Lincsquad were there in force. Lots of high fiving including some of the guys who’s already finished. George forced a plastic Union Jack in my hand that was better suited to a sandcastle than the finish of an Ironman. Run round the corner to the red carpetcheck no-one else is going to spoil my finisher photo and seconds later everyone’s favourite South African utters the immortal words “ Mark Turner you are an Ironman”.
Things didn’t go to plan : a poor non-wetsuit swim, a poor bike leg and a surprisingly good run. I’m never going to get a Kona place but have proven that with a level of fitness and training and some willpower “Anything is possible.”
As a post note I’d like to thank my wonderful wife Janine, my children, the Gibbs, Cannings, Hobleys, Portes, Ribys and Porters for everything they did prior to, during and post the event to enable me to do my Ironman. Also a thanks to Jo Findley and Lorraine for their brilliant support on the course and the pre and post– race massages. You’re all stars.