Almost 2 years after Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See, I was more than ready for my next half distance triathlon. Training was going well but race after race was postponed. After the postponement of Ironman Hamburg in June this year, I was very disappointed. I wanted to race my first full distance triathlon so bad. Ironman Hamburg was postponed until 29 August. Which would be in conflict with the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in St. George which was going to take place on 17 September. Therefore, I decided to postpone Ironman Hamburg to 2022. If my first full distance triathlon will happen this year, still remains a question mark. But who knows, for now I am super happy with my result in Ironman 70.3 Maastricht. Let’s start with a special thanks to the coach (Ferrum Endurance) for bringing me to this level.
Now it's time for a race recap! After some knee issues and therefore ups and downs in training the past couple of weeks, I was still a bit afraid that I wouldn't be able to run all out. Together with the rumors that the swim was probably going to be cancelled, I felt quite stressed the days before the race. The taper 'feeling', which also hits hard on me, increased that feeling even more. I was trying to focus on the things which were in my hands. Sleep, rest, eat and repeat. That was all I could do the days before the big race day. And I did, successfully turns out after the race. Every taper training felt bad, which is always a good sign for me. Everything went exactly as expected.
On Thursday I drove to my parents fully packed, with all my race gear with me. My parents are living close to Maastricht which was definitely a pro for me. Staying at home instead of sleeping in a hotel is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to prepare for a race. It really felt like a home race as well. I knew all the roads we had to cycle and I exactly knew were my support would be. I also visualized the whole race beforehand. When I would eat and drink and which corners were dangerous. That made me relief stress. Ironman informed us as well on Thursday that the swim might be cancelled due to the speed of the Maas. However, the decision would be made on Saturday 5:00 PM. As expected, and completely understandable, the swim was cancelled and the race was changed into a run-bike-run (5.3 km - 90 km - 21.1 km). This was definitely in my advantage, as running is my strongest disciplin. Despite that, I really wanted to practice open water swimming in a race and I therefore was disappointed. Anyway, I think we all had to learn how to adapt fast to new situations during the pandemic. I adapted fast and made a new race plan in my head. My tactic was to run the first run quite fast, to have a less crowded cycling course.
On Saturday it was also time to check in the bike, to walk around the race venue and to buy Ironman merchandise. Walking around Maastricht made me realise how much I missed the whole Ironman atmosphere. Despite the additional COVID measures, it felt as pre-COVID times. Registration, checking in my bike and preparing the race bags went together with some nerves. Luckily I was able to control them, as far as possible.
After checking in and a drink with a few other participants, I went back home to my parents. Had a nice dinner and went to bed pretty early since the alarm was set on 6AM. One of the things I don't like about triathlon are the early start times. But I guess I will have to accept that, especially when going for the full distance.
Sunday morning, 6:00 AM, finally race day! I was super excited and I drove to Maastricht at 7:00 AM. I always strive to have enough time in the transition time to check the bike and do some final checks on the race bags. Putting the shoes on the bike as a final thing before leaving the transition zone. After leaving the transition zone, the nerves became real. I was running a bit to warm up while I was checking the other women that looked quite strong.
The first run, just pushing as a tactic to have space on the small roads of Maastricht
At 9:00AM it was finally GO time! While Ironman was using the countdown of Mario Kart, every few seconds 4 athletes were able to start their race. My tactic was to run fast during the first run, to make sure that I had some space during the first part of the bike course which was rather small. I started with a 3:55 min/km pace and was able to hold it till the end of the first part of the day. I felt my heart rate being rather high but not too high. I still felt really good and it didn't take me long to complete the first transition and to hop on my pretty time trial bike.
The bike, enjoying the roads of Limburg
The first that pops up in my mind while writing this blog is the fact that cycling is so much more fun without traffic! I really enjoyed riding my time trial bike across Limburg without having to worry about all the small streets and the lots of traffic especially during the weekend. I already knew all the roads of the bike course since I grew up close to Maastricht. This was definitely an advantage because I knew the small hills and the descents and where to pay special attention for a few dangerous parts. I enjoyed every second of the ride and all my friends and family along the course made it even more special to me. They gave me even more power! With an average speed of about 36 km/h I made it back to the transition zone in Maastricht.
The final half marathon, running into the first place
In T2 I had some struggles with my running bag which took a few minutes more than expected. Luckily a volunteer helped me out and fixed the bag for me so that my bike gear would be safely stored in it as well. After leaving T2, I knew I was second female. I also knew that the number 1 was a good runner. In my head I wouldn't be able to run faster than her, even not on my best day. Therefore, I focused on my own performance. I also knew that number 1 started a few minutes before me. But I just focused on running my own pace. My coach gave me the plan to run 4:11 min/km and that was my goal. I started off with running between 4:05 and 4:08. My legs felt really fresh, which I did not expect at all. They felt as if they just started the day. Super strange, but I guess that happens when you follow your race plan perfectly (credits to the coach for making the plan as well). I was really happy with the feeling. I also felt quite confident that I would be able to hold my pace for the rest of the half marathon. Again I saw so many familiar people on course and along the course. This made me enjoy it to the fullest. The final 5KM I increased my pace, because I still felt really strong. I knew that I was still second and I thought that second was the best I could get. Despite that feeling, I just kept running the 4:05 min/km pace till the last KM. One of my clubmates yelled at me: 'you are 10 seconds behind number 1, go for it'. And my first reaction was: 'No, I can't anymore'. However, I activated some superpowers for a final sprint. I really went for it. Finishing the half marathon in 1h 26min with the last KM in 3:55 min/km was something I would have never expected to run. It also felt like the whole world was spinning after crossing the finish line. Then the surprising news got to me; I was the overall female winner of Ironman 70.3 Maastricht. I was still in the believe that I became second and I could not believe that I won. It took a few final checks to convince me. But yes, I won!!! And I could not be happier at that moment. It was a great day, with my first champagne shower. Hopefully many more to follow. And yes, I have to admit, I still have to practice spraying the champagne. But hey, nobody is perfect right ;) I had a great day and special thanks to my friends, family and coach for supporting me. I never thought I would be able to race this fast and I could not without having the best support I can.
The weeks after my first win
The day and let's call it the 2 weeks after Maastricht, were less exciting for me. I got my second shot of Pfizer the day after the race which made me feel really bad. An awful headache made me sleep a lot and made me skip training for a while. Also, my breast was feeling terrible. I went for some checks to make sure it was nothing dangerous. Fortunately, it was nothing with my lungs or my heart. Just my chest muscles which are probably just strained. It still hurts while I am writing this blog. But on Sunday it is race day again and I will be at the start line of Ironman 70.3 Duisburg. Hopefully my chest will feel good enough to own the swim, kill the bike and die during the run ;). At this moment I don't feel as fit and ready as in Maastricht. But maybe additional rest did me well, who knows. I will let you know after the race. Anyway, this time I will hopefully enjoy the moment of crossing the finish line instead of having those black spots in front of my eyes.