Claire Hobley's Ironman Maastricht Report

September 17

I’m not sure where it all started but it must have involved too much alcohol (as it always does) when I thought that entering an Ironman would be a good idea. Before I knew it I’d agreed to enter one with several other friends. We had to wait several months for the entries to open after the race in 2017 but, as soon entries opened we’d all signed up to Maastricht. With well over a year to prepare I stupidly thought “I can do this”. 

I don’t enter too many races, I just don’t enjoy the pressure, so I needed the motivation of a coach to make sure I got myself out there to train. Luckily, I had lots of training buddies willing to join to me training but, working, being a full time parent to a 6 year old and with the hubby, Drew, also entering the same Ironman, we had a very tight budget and would be fighting over who would be at home entertaining Freya while the other trained. Seemed sensible to get a part time job to give me more time to spend with Freya (and train on my days off). At first we’d decided to do it without a coach as the £400+ entry fee for each of us was only the start of the spiralling costs. But this is where Oliver Saxon at Animis offered me a package that suited our budget and provided a schedule that would work around Drew and Freya. Having a holiday planned over Xmas and New Year the training began properly in January. 

Being easily led, I’d also agreed to take part in the London Marathon in April, Tour of The Peak in May and the Coast 2 Coast cycle ride in June. All good training I thought. Cycling was definitely my weakest link. But I pushed on all winter on the turbo with high gear low cadence sessions from Oliver and felt better prepared by the time the fine weather finally arrived and I could get real hill practice on the bike. 

London Marathon came around quickly and I concentrated so much on improving on the bike I was feeling a little unprepared for the run. After completing the hottest London Marathon on record I was feeling a little more confident. Then with Tour of The Peak and C2C done shortly after I was beginning to believe I might actually be able to do this. 

The week before Maastricht I’d decided to enter the 5k Big Swim at Nottingham. I’d never swum that far and it was further than I’d need for the Ironman but swimming is by far my best discipline and I was quite looking forward to it. On the day though, 40mph winds meant it was a tough swim and I was thankful that the wind was blowing in the right direction for my breathing as I don’t bilateral breathe. Unbeknown to me at the time it was going to be good preparation for the river swim in Maastricht. 

Fast forward a week, and after trying not to obsess about the water temperature every day in between, we were in a church in Maastericht for the race briefing. We were informed that the current water temperature would mean a no wetsuit swim but a final decision would be made at 6am on race day. I was not unduly worried and it was going to be a “nice calm swim” according to Paul Kay. A none wetsuit swim probably wouldn’t slow me down much I thought. It did however, totally mess up my clothing strategy. What was I going to wear? There was no way I’d get my tri top on me after the swim without dislocating my shoulders in the process and I couldn’t cycle 112 miles in my swimming costume. The following morning it was confirmed there were no wetsuits allowed. 

So on race morning, I wished good luck to my fellow competitors and joined the swim queue as far forward as I could. I stood there nervously waiting to start, surrounded by tall, would-be Ironmen and felt overwhelmingly intimidated by these proper athletes. One of the other competitors next to me sensed my nervousness and reassuringly told me this was his 5th ironman. He’d yet to finish any of them but was confident it was going to be the day he became one (I looked him up at the end and unfortunately for him he didn’t complete the bike leg). 

And off we went… the swim was in the wide River Maas, up to the government buildings, around a bouy and back again. Easy, right? I’m not sure if it was the wind or the current but by the time I’d got to the government buildings I’d long ago realised that the “nice and calm” swim we’d been promised was a big fat lie. I finally got out of the water and looked at my watch which showed 1hr 26 mins. More than 15 mins slower than I’d hoped and my legs were battered. So much for getting out of the water feeling fresh and ready for the bike. 

So, I was out on the bike and was sure the others would not be far behind. I was expecting a hilly first third of the ride and that’s what we got but it was still quite cool at this point which helped. The third hill was a tarmac wall rising off into the distance and I was glad I’d left my climbing gears on. Who said Holland was flat!? But the support was unlike anything I’d experienced before. Spectators lined the entire hill screaming at every rider to get to the top. For the remainder of the first lap I fought the urge to push on. I knew the hot weather was coming and wanted to get as far as I could before it got too hot. I rested while I could and enjoyed the rest of the lap. The odd few short sharp inclines had us working but I was feeling great by the time I got to the end of the first lap until I hit the cobbles in the city. I clung onto the bike as I nervously bounced past the support team again there. 

I started the second lap amazed that the boys had not caught me on the bike yet. I’d been calculating at what point they’d come past taking into account my poor swim not knowing they’d all struggled too. On the second lap the sun really came out and so did the wind. The hills were tougher now and I saw a couple of walkers. The flat section of the course had full on head wind and I was much slower on this section than on the first lap and working much harder than I’d planned. Again, I was slower than I’d intended and was calculating in my head how long I’d have on the run. 

So off I went. I’d already decided to walk the food stations but with drinks in paper cups there was not other way to go through them. I found a comfortable pace until I found the hill within the first couple of miles. Luckily only short and again there were supporters everywhere. It was so hot but lots of locals with hose pipes and sponges, the more you thanked them, the louder they cheered for you. I got my first lap band amongst tables of diners and drinkers in the town centre. I got to the end of the second lap and double checked my calculations. I knew at that point I could walk the rest of the course and still get home before the 16 ¼ time limit. I relaxed a little and began to really take in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience despite the pain in my back. 

The supporters were waiting just around the corner from the finish line and before I knew it I was there. A few quick hugs and I was heading down the finishers chute hearing those famous words “You are an Ironman”. I wandered into the finishers area, got my t shirt, grabbed some food and sat down in a daze. It was all over. I didn’t have to wait long for the hubby to come into the finishers area. As he’d started after me our finish times were incredibly close. We’d both completed the race in 13 hours and 53 minutes. Not a bad days work. 

So now, a few weeks on, the hubby has already signed up for another one next year. Although I loved every minute of the experience I’m still considering what to do next. I have to say a huge thank you to Coach Oliver for his flexible approach to my training schedule and without whose help I really don’t believe I’d have got to the end. Also thanks to all the people who loaned me equipment and kit to use on the day, those that sponsored my fundraising for Children With Cancer helping me and Anna raise over £3000 and a special mention to Freya whose extra big hug for the hubby at the end of his race meant I finished just a few seconds ahead of him 😊