On Sunday 11th September at around 10.15pm I crossed the line at Ironman Wales. I still can’t
quite believe it’s true. It has taken me a month to remove the race band. If you’re interested I’d
love to tell you a bit about it…
Ironman Wales is one of two full Ironman events in the UK, Bolton is the other. Wales is a sea swim,
hilly bike (although Bolton’s bike is as hilly now I gather…) and undulating run. It has been in my
sights for years, ever since I stood on the front in Tenby peering at the beach and realising that ‘this
is where they do that Ironman thing’. It has been cancelled due to the pandemic for a few years so it
feels like it has been a long time coming. We even had a wobble right before the event following the
sad death of the Queen – many sporting events were cancelled – but thankfully everything went
ahead as planned.
A sea swim means often challenging conditions and this year didn’t disappoint. T1 is famous because
you make your way from the beach up zig-zag steps and through the town to get your bike. The bike
route is one big lap of 70miles then a smaller 40mile lap. The course is mostly undulating with some
decent hills and a few short and sharp climbs. Roads are closed to traffic and in great condition
compared to home. The run is four laps, each taking you on a long uphill slog out of town, turning
back and then snaking through the narrow streets of Tenby.
To sum up, here are five things I’ve learnt from my IM Wales experience:
- Wales is beautiful, and brutal
I have always been drawn to racing in stunning places. The Roc earlier this year (swim in the
sea at Abersoch, ride to Snowdon, hike to the top and back, ride back and finish with a run
on the beach) was exactly my cup of tea. And Tenby didn’t disappoint. The town itself is
picture perfect, the sea is beautiful and the ride takes you along stunning stretches of
coastline. But beauty comes at a cost. The sea swim was ‘choppy’ to say the least which
resulted in many failing to make it to the bike. The hills on the bike including the famous
Wiseman’s Bridge (not as bad as Portway btw) are a real test. If you’re after a super quick
time I would avoid Tenby (my first IM was Outlaw which is an entirely different prospect),
but if you want to ‘conquer the dragon’, i.e. tackle a race which is going to be an experience
and inevitably throw some challenges at you, then this is the race for you.
- Support is everything
I was told that crowd support at Tenby is unrivalled and now I can understand why. I
challenge anyone not to feel a bit emotional crowded on the beach, full of apprehension,
surrounded by passionate Welsh people belting out the national anthem. T1 is famous
because you zig-zag up from the beach, change into shoes from a pre-racked pink bag and
run 1k through the town to your bike. Crowds are ten deep every inch of the way and
constantly scream support. Several sections of the bike are epic namely St Jude’s hill which is
like a mountain section of the Tour de France. You can hardly see the tarmac in front of you.
Supporters in fancy dress sloshing beer everywhere scream at you. And then there is Tenby
town. Four laps on the run take you winding through the narrow streets past well-wishers
spilling out of pubs. For those of us finishing later in the day the support gets more and more
raucous. A pig-tailed young lady in an Oktoberfest outfit jogged up the road with me at one
I’ve also got to give a shout out to everyone I knew at the race. Sadly it was a bit of a stretch
to get my family there, but I had an extended family there instead. Many of you might
remember Sara ‘Ironmummy’ Carter. She was there with her kids and husband supporting
her brother. I followed her journey to Ironman Austria a few years back and she is the
loveliest person in the world. I lit up every time I saw her. I also stayed with an amazing mate
Adam from Worcester who I did the Roc with. I saw fellow TTG team-mates Antony and
Mark. Plus so many other people I’ve met at previous races (even Triathlon Dan!).
- Love or hate it, nothing beats an Ironman
A lot of people you speak to say Ironman is too big, too corporate and too expensive.
However, most people who say this have also done an Ironman event. So I agree with all of
the above. 2,000+ people in a race is huge. Everything is branded, including flesh. And my
higher tier entry fee ended up being £600+ I think, even the photo package is £65. Outlaw is
half the cost, photos are free, your kids can run up the finishing carpet. Everything is a bit
friendlier, more relaxed and athlete-focused. However, there is just something about
Ironman. They boil down and intensify the experience. It was the same at Swansea and
Weymouth. You can’t beat it. So I won’t be only doing Ironman events, but I also recognise
they deliver a very unique race experience and if you haven’t done one yet I’d recommend
you experience it for yourself.
- Set your own race goals
I have always had eyes on crossing that finishing line, not fighting for an age group position
or pushing myself to the limit to achieve a fastest possible time (note I haven’t talked about
my finish time yet – 15 hours 12 mins – because for me it was honestly about making it
round, not taking any risks and enjoying every moment). For one I’m just not that kind of
athlete (i.e. I’m average at everything) but it’s not why I do it and I never wanted the training
to consume me. I love the process. I love what an ambitious challenge drives you to do. And
hopefully I’ve proven that you can confidently complete an Ironman peaking on c11hours a
week whilst also fitting in a busy job and stacks of kids activities too. I didn’t miss out on
anything. But I did have to get up early, be flexible with training and accept I wasn’t going to
be able to train as much as I would like.
So my advice would be to be very clear with yourself early on what a realistic and great race
looks like for you and stick to it. Be really honest. You might say just completing it is your
ambition, but if you’re really gunning for a time you need to accept that and train
accordingly. And it sounds silly but make sure you really, and I mean really, want to do it.
Half the battle is mental. Nothing other than a cancelled race, shortened course, jellyfish
sting or bike mechanical were going to stop me finishing.
- Ironman is a long and rewarding road
It sounds a bit cliché but for me this has been the final chapter of an amazing novel. I’ve
loved every word. I’ve loved long rides with the TTG gang, timed swims out at Lake 86 and
solo runs up and around Painswick to name but a few. I’ve had to keep it interesting, but I
can honestly say training has almost always been great fun. I remember a 5-hour ride one
Sunday morning at 5am in the rain (Gordon kindly joined me at 7ish) which was less fun, but
it’s not worth doing if it’s not hard right?
I’ve particularly loved the amazing races I’ve done in the run-up. Long Course. The Roc. Titan
Brecon. IM Weymouth. Outlaw Nottingham Half, Full and Bowood. IM Swansea. 113 and the
Classic. And those are just the biggies. Tewkesbury Sprint, Mayhill Massacre (the long
one…)… there are so many more. And I’ve taken something from every single experience.
I’ve learnt how to cope in rough sea swims. I’ve made it up and over the iron mountain at
Titan. I’ve learnt what I’m capable of after a long, tough ride (not a lot, but jogging and
drinking coke but I get there in the end). They have all been achievements in their own right,
always alongside some amazing people and always a learning experience.
At risk of sounding like a wedding speech I do want to thank a few people. Everyone at TriTeam Glos
have been amazing. It really is a great community to be part of and I’ve learnt so much from so many
people. There is no way I could have completed an Ironman without being a TTG member. I’ve got to
single out Gordon and Rob for riding advice and support. It’s all about the bike. Matt Simkins has
been a huge support, is possibly one of the nicest people I know, and his Tenby finish in 2018 has
been inspiring me for years. Wayne is a machine and I’ll never be a smidge of the athlete he is but he
is so generous with his advice and time. Kim Boon (Owensis Sports Massage) has been amazing. I’ve
never had so much as a twinge but she has ironed me out and given me confidence that my body
has been doing okay.
I hope this has been an interesting and useful read. If you’re an IM pro you won’t have learnt much,
but if you’re interested in starting this journey hopefully this has given you some idea of what the
experience might entail.
I’m writing this some six weeks after the race and I must admit that I feel lost. An ironman is a big
deal. However confident or relaxed you are, it’s a big hairy goal which is always looming. It has left a
big hole. I’m reluctant to fill it straight away with another ironman. Part of me feels like it can’t get
better than Tenby. And I love new and exciting challenges. I’ll keep thinking. Rest assured I’ll have
my sights set on a new goal soon but it is going to have to go some to rival my Ironman Tenby