2016 IM Maastricht Shark Report by Bob Leenders

2016-08-12_15-57-11Race: Ironman Maastricht–Limburg, Maastricht Netherlands (and Belgium as the bike course spans both countries)

Course Summary:

  • Ironman distance, 140.6 miles. Of course over there they call it 226 kilometers. 
  • Entire course is very scenic. Lots of fun just to be in such a cool environment.
  • Great attention to detail and desire to meet all the athlete’s needs.
  • Plenty of officials monitoring the courses as well as volunteer support.
  • Swim Course Quality- Excellent. Well-marked, clean water, lots of safety/support.
  • Bike Course Quality - Tough on a Tri/TT bike. A good portion of the bike is on twisting paths, not actual roads. Rain made the cobblestone sections very slick, in addition to being rough riding. Total elevation is not as much as other IM’s, but the hills are steep grades. Numerous wrecks on race day, mostly due to the rain I suspect.
  • Run Course Quality – Very Good. Well-stocked aid stations (fluids, gels, fresh fruit, crackers, etc.) Well-marked course but mixed pavement and cobblestone (a bit hard to run on)
  • Crowd/Spectator Support – Excellent
  • Athlete support for this race is incredible in all three legs of swim, bike and run. I suspect partly due to it still being new to the locals having a race there, they really got excited and came out in masses to very enthusiastically cheer the athletes on, even in the rain!
  • All 3 courses had been intentionally designed to facilitate spectator interaction and comfort. For example, the run went through the ‘downtown’ area  with lots of outdoor restaurants, so spectators could grab something to eat and a beverage, and still be on the course.
  • Signs promoting the event were seen throughout the city. People seemed genuinely honored to be hosting an Ironman.

Results: I did not turn in a real fast time here, 12hrs 26 min. But considering it was my first 140.6, logistics of the travel, time change, general language/communication challenges, heavy rain on race day, a wipeout on the bike, I am very pleased with finish time. Most importantly, I had GREAT FUN during this race! (well most of it anyway) and I felt great during and after the race 🙂

Other Sharks present: no

Swim: Swim was and out-and-back in the Maas River. Athletes had to ‘self-seed’ themselves in the start lineup according to their expected swim pace. Small hiccup there as there were no signs to help you know where to get in line, but no biggie it seemed to work itself out..First we swam against the current, to and under and around the provincial government building (it is partially built out over the river - http://photos.wikimapia.org/p/00/00/54/58/50_big.jpg). There is an ‘Australian exit’ at the government building where you exit the water and run across 20 or 30 yards of the small island before re-entering the water to swim back with the current. The river Maas water is surprisingly clean and clear, clearest river water I’ve ever seen. You can easily see the bottom near the shoreline. Water temp was cool but not cold. I cant recall the official race water temp, 21.?C I believe?.. It was wetsuit legal for both AG and Pros.

Bike: 

The city of Maastricht is located near the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. The bike course is a two lap 56 mile loop around Maastricht and it spans both countries. They promote this aspect of the race as being ‘multi-country’ and make it pretty neat by having a setup at the border where you cross into Belgium, like a big billboard that says something about multi-country race and you are crossing into Belgium now… (I can’t remember exactly what it said, just that it pointed out you were crossing the border). They had these giant flame thrower things setup on the sides of the road at the border that blew a big arc of flames over the road as you rode underneath. It looked like some kind of professional equipment used for events like you rock concerts or something, and sure made a VERY cool feature during the race! Although northern Netherlands is fairly flat geographically, there are hills in south Netherlands and in Belgium. Total elevation for this race was average but some of the grades are very steep and quite challenging. Descending down after climbs isn’t always something you can take advantage of due to road surface type and/or conditions, narrowness of the path-road, sharp twisty turns, etc..  Regarding the width of the ‘roads’, some of the course traverses very narrow lanes, similar in appearance to our Constitution Trail.2016-08-12_15-48-17

Cobblestone roads look cool visually, but oh my,, WOW do they beat you up. Several sections were cobbles. Also lots of cattle grates/grids crossings in the rural areas (https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8316/8015149162_9ddc8073cb_b.jpg), red triangle shaped warning signs that say “! wildrooster” on them (http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6157/6187993753_2fe9d1205b_m.jpg). When I first saw these signs during the race I was looking for some wild poultry to come running across the road LOL. Later I learned wildrooster means cattle grid in Dutch. Funny stuff. They constructed temporary bridge things in some locations on the bike, I think to allow us to cross a highway or something (I didn’t really look down while traversing to see what was down there lol). Anyway, I was glad the bridges were there so we didn’t have to stop for whatever they crossed, but they were a bit sketchy riding over them due to the rain/wet. Riders would get pretty clustered up on them it seemed (https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13895285_903800803079503_475611107596921627_n.jpg?oh=d93e6ab778df81091997091586588672&oe=585AFD36).

Some other aspects made my personal bike split extra challenging and slow, it rained heavily a lot of the time on the bike. Early on I was caught up in an accident with some other riders which not only wasted time but left my bike with marginal shifting ability, an unusable bottle cage and no spare tire kit for the remaining 100+ miles. Obviously my personal negative experiences on race day weren’t directly caused by the course itself, although the narrowness and winding turns of that part of the course combined with the slick wet surface definitely factored in (caused riders to brake check a lot and it would get pretty congested with bikes at times). But as we all know crappy weather and navigating people with marginal bike handling competencies happens in any tri.

The countryside there is beautiful is as the little towns you pass through along the way. And as mentioned earlier the crowd support was AWESOME, crowds of people out cheering in every town despite the rain wind crappy weather!! (https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/t31.0-8/13909418_904836219642628_7456614726239890098_o.jpg ) They didn’t care, they had their raincoats and umbrellas and awnings and their beers and they were all wound up!!

Run:

The run course was four 10.5K-ish loops through the city of Maastricht. Only a few hills, mostly flat. But since it was a 4 loop course, we did have to run up their “St Pietersburg hill” (their biggest hill of the run course) four times. And more cobble surfaces. Again those cobbles look really cool, but I found them to be surprisingly challenging to run on. Especially the older larger stone type cobble, I felt like I needed to really keep aware of foot placement and such to avoid risk of turning an ankle on some of those (https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/t31.0-8/13653170_904837102975873_368002741078118452_o.jpg) (https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/l/t31.0-8/13667878_904836439642606_1366767693553748137_o.jpg).

Crowd support again was huge, especially on the run. The majority of the run routes through the heart of the city, which had thousands of people spectating, cheering and enjoying their beverages. Actually only a few miles of the route was in less populated park type areas or in subdivision type neighborhoods. Even in those areas were the occasional bands playing or groups of people who had set up block-party type gatherings and playing music and cheering etc. and many were out there till the end! (https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13903404_903880213071562_1780277441242371578_n.jpg?oh=2c757a0cb5bcf63506402b708590a1ed&oe=5858000D)

Weird Trivia and Facts:

  • I chose this location because my Dad was born in Echt, Netherlands, which is only 15 km from Maastricht. The bike course passed through an adjacent town and areas where my Dad used to traverse when he was a kid! I had always wanted to visit my Dad’s birthplace, so upon seeing the IM offering there, I knew I HAD to do this race!
  • 2nd year for this Ironman location, inaugural IM there was in 2015.
  • Only Ironman in the world where the course spans multiple countries (Netherlands & Belgium)
  • Athletes from 58 different countries participated. 1850 athletes started the day, 1550 finished, only approx 11% were female (which seemed low to me??)
  • 1300 volunteers, who were well compensated for their time, including ‘consumption’ tickets that also worked for beer.
  • Announcements were made in (3) languages: Dutch, French and English
  • Porta-potties included outdoor urinals for the guys.
  • We stayed in one of the host hotels (Hotel Emperor, recommend.) They put out a huge spread starting at 3:00 a.m. on race day, that included pasta. And yes, there were actually people scarfing down giant plates of pasta as their pre-race breakfast! (no, not me lol)

Photos: Robin’s pics of the event and town can be found here.

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