Event Report : Ironman Triathlon Maastrict-Limburg
Last month, myself, Emma and Rich accompanied Frank and Matt to Maastricht, situated in the province of Limburg, Southern Holland. The purpose of our trip was to watch, shout, clap and do anything else mildly helpful for Frank and Matt as they swum, cycled and ran for a combined distance of 226 km – the distance required to complete an official Ironman Triathlon. We left late on Thursday night having crammed 4 bikes and luggage for 5 people into the van. It was a potential eventful journey what with Operation Stack in full swing on the M20 and economic immigrants waiting on the other side of the channel. Despite all this we were only delayed around an hour and we were soon hurtling towards on Dunkirk on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately it was the correct side for everyone else in continental Europe. Arriving in Dunkirk at half one in the morning we were then subjected to the vagaries of an electronic check-in resulting in only 1 room key of 2 being issued. Tiredness soon lead to the over-used (but nonetheless reliable) solution of ‘throwing money at the problem’ and another booking was made with key cards that promptly worked. Room 50 looked like a rubbish room anyway…..
After what the lads described as an ‘adequate’ sleep we were back on the road by 10.00 having already managed to claim back the money to the failed room booking. This was then evidenced as one of the reasons France can claim to be more efficient in productivity terms than the UK. We would still be standing in reception waiting for a refund if that had happened at home…..We drove the van at ‘Rabbit’ speed (which I’m not sure how fast that is, worryingly, since I was the driver) through most of Belgium, into Holland and onto the outskirts of Maastrict. Using the wonder of guess-work (enter ‘Jonny Roulette’, a man known for his estimated sense of road directions), we found our Air BNB residence about 2 KM from the centre of town. We had specifically arrived by lunchtime because the international event briefing began at 14.30 and unsurprisingly the guys wanted to be present. After a small matter of location acclimation we arrived at the briefing, the transition point, in bright sunshine ready to receive the basics about competing in an Ironman event.
There are a lot of rules and it was a lot to take in. Frank and Matt had already competed in a number of similar events so they had a broad idea about what was expected of them. With their Ironman rucksacks and race packets collected, we sauntered back to our home for the next 3 days. There was an air of anticipation and anxiety in the group. We were heading towards the sharp end…..
On Saturday morning Frank and I went for a brief ride to Valkenburg, the home of the Cauberg. This is the infamous hill featured in the Amstel Gold Cup bike race and would appear twice on the Ironman cycle route. Straight off the bat it, it didn’t seem too bad. It was about 500 meters long and peaked at around 12%. Quite how that would feel after a 3.8 km swim and about 160 km cycling was another matter. Meantime, whilst Frank was providing hill reconnaissance, Matt was at in the garden taking in the sunshine. Frank appeared to be pretty calm – Matt was a bag of energy. Standing up, sitting down, standing up again. I am sure I would be more ‘Matt’ than ‘Frank’. We rode about 36 km and returned home. The plan was then to drop the bikes off and their associated running gear off at transition, ready for the following morning. The guys went off and did their thing and Em and I went shopping, reconvening a couple of hours later. With the bikes in place, the next time they would visit transition they would be changing into their wet suits…..Soon afterwards they went home, leaving the three of us to discuss how they would perform the following day. That took several hours and a considerable amount of Heineken, Leffe and white wine.
I felt quite hungover when I got up to wish the guys well at 05.30 on Sunday August 2nd 2015. Fortunately, Matt and Frank seemed ok. Matt had not gotten much sleep but Frank said he felt ok. They left with ‘Good Luck’ being shouted down the street. Bet the neighbours loved that. Em and I got up an hour or so later, although we still had to jog to the start line. We stood at a bridge over the River Maas so we could see the athletes swim past. We could just about make out a line of penguins lined up on a pontoon beside the river. Bang! Elite Men began. 2 minutes later, Bang! Elite women began. 8 minutes after that another Bang! This indicated the rolling start for ‘normal’ people. It was quite a sight to see about 1000 people all swimming past. Arms and legs were splashing in strange synchronicity. The athletes were required to swim down river to an island, run across and begin swimming upstream. We now positioned ourselves at the transition so we could see Matt and Frank as they ran past to their bike.
It was exciting. The elite swimmers finished 3.8 km in less than 50 minutes. Astounding. We were able to get right to the front without any bother. Everyone was clapping and cheering. It seemed most people spectating were there because they were supporting someone. At about 1 hour 14 minutes Matt came into view. A slap on the back and some brief well-wishing and he was gone. About 10 minutes later Frank did the same. The boys had made it through the first part of the race. Both were smiling. Now for the bike! Due to logistics we missed Matt exit on the bike but we did manage to catch Frank. I say catch Frank. I was so intent on looking for him I didn’t see him until the last moment! I had just one job……..luckily Emma got a few photos of him mounting up. We would see them again about 6 hours later. They now had 2 90 km laps on the bike to complete. We returned to the house where Rich and I monitored their progress via the live tracker. As the morning progressed it got hotter and hotter. This would make the cycle even harder going. They went through 80 km in just under 3 hours, both making decent progress. Later we walked back into town to catch them on the cycle/run transition.
Emma and I found a spot about 300 meters from the end of the cycle where the pave ended and the tarmac began. I stood on a traffic island clapping everyone that went past, eagerly trying to spot Matt and Frank. Matt came into view first. Cheering and screaming he went by; it felt like a blur. He looked ok but hot. We guessed that he was about 10-12 minutes ahead of Frank so we ran over to where the athletes started their run and waited. Sure enough Matt soon reappeared, looking a little trance-like. He came by, we cheered, took photos and clapped like people possessed. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had so much energy I wanted to gift some to him. Jesus, this event was so hard. We ran back to our previous point and continued clapping. Frank came into view, same drill; we went crazy. For the second time we crossed back to the start of the run and waited. 10 minutes or so later Frank passed by. We cheered, clapped, shouted and then cheered some more. And then he was off. Amazingly, he was still smiling.
Our ‘spectator plan’ was to find a place where they would come by at least 3 times and then we would head to the finish. The first part worked well but we had a 50% fail on the finish line part. Em and I had found a square in the middle of Maastrict so we suggested having lunch there to Rich and watch from there. The runners went right by us. We sat (and drank) there for the next 4 hours or so cheering many people on, including a number of men that looked like Matt, but in fact were not. We were continuing to track them around the course spending much of the time theorizing when we might see them next. How this worked was that if we ‘thought’ they were within eyeshot, I would run through the rest of the people who were eating and start cheering like the local nutter. Initially a few of the locals looked quite worried at the sight of a fairly ungainly man launching himself towards the railings in a red T shirt. They quickly became used to it. After we saw Matt for the third time we decided to make our way to the finish. Both of them looked incredibly fatigued. Hardly a surprise. Que, more cheering. Unfortunately we misjudged the amount of time we needed to get to the finish and inbetween time we missed Matt cross the line. We checked the tracker. We could not believe it. We were all completely gutted. He’d gone all that way and we missed the finish! I was really angry with myself. We all went quiet. Now we were searching for Matt and tracking Frank. We must not miss Frank.
After half an hour or so, we found Matt waiting in a clearing, looking for Frank to appear. We ran over. Cheering Matt and the other athlete who was about to finish. Matt was ok but he was pale and gaunt. Incredible. Lots of photos and back slapping ensued. It was incredible. One of our friends was an Ironman. Frank turned the corner into the square about 5 minutes later. We all went crazy. I ran over to the finish line filming, oblivious that Em was doing the same. Camera in one hand, video camera in the other I filmed Frank complete his final few steps and become an Ironman. This was awe-inspiring stuff. I felt proud to be associated with these two men. It was amazing. They were amazing. It was also relief to see them both finish.
We walked home with 2 Ironmen.
The event was incredibly well organised. Maastrict was a great choice of location and the people of Maastrict and the province of Limburg did a terrific effort making everyone feel welcome. I think over 1000 people volunteered to help the race organisers. I challenge anyone to watch an Ironman race and not come away inspired. I cannot claim to be even remotely fit enough to compete in an Ironman. But, I have 2 friends that are.
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