September 3rd 2023 – Spoiler alert… I finished!!
I’d always had the dream of one day completing an IRONMAN event, not just any Long Course event but a full on proper branded IRONMAN event. However so often things remain a dream unless you actually do something about them. Watching a fellow TTG member (Chris P) complete IRONMAN Wales in 2022 was a real inspiration and the ultimate catalyst for finally booking IRONMAN Wales 2023 on the 7th of October figuring I had 11 months to work out how to actually do it!
IRONMAN know how to charge, we all know that, but more recently they have introduced a “Flex 90” deal whereby if you enter in the first 90 days of an event opening up you get extra benefits and for a full IRONMAN those are Free Deferral, Free Transfer, Partial Refund and a 0% Payment Plan. All very good reasons to enter early.
With that done I knew I needed to train properly for this so put the feelers out for a coach, someone experienced and who would work with me to fit training around my home life (we’d not long had our little girl Storm). On the recommendation of Gordon S I settled on Andy Gardner, someone who’s been around triathlon for many years, who others had used for coaching and who used to coach swim sessions at Nuffield in Gloucester. He’s no longer local but that didn’t matter, and a call was made to see if we would be a good fit.
We got on great and as it was such a long way out from the race, we agreed to go with the more basic option of sessions in an Excel document which I would load up to Garmin etc. and we’d have a call each week to go over how it went. Here, we were just base training to build a solid foundation.
All was going very well, I was pretty fit during 2022 anyhow so things were looking great until one innocuous 2 hr Sunday morning ride that brought my training to an abrupt halt. I was out on my own around some back roads near Ledbury when for no reason I have ever been able to figure out I was unceremoniously dumped off my bike at around 20mph and landed badly.
It happened in a blink of an eye and the outcome was a broken hand, broken shoulder blade, broken ribs and a punctured lung resulting in a 3-day hospital stay. My first ever fracture, my first ever hospital stay, not too bad for 46 years I figured but somewhat annoying as that was me out of training for pretty much the rest of the year (and it postponed our wedding due 2 weeks later!)
I did manage to walk my way around the Newent Nine a week later though and made every effort to keep my shoulder moving so it wouldn’t cause me hassle later and this was by far the best thing I did. Ditched the sling after a week and did as much as I could and now, I would say shoulder isn’t 100% but it’s 98% and that’s decent enough and it doesn’t affect my training or racing at all.
With training on hold we looked to start again in January, though that was short lived once more due to a massive cold/flu type thing in early February which took a few weeks to work out of the system and forced me again to be patient and stop training for a short while. When all said and done, I managed to get back to training with 24 weeks until the race, plenty of time really but still annoying that about the same amount of time had been somewhat wasted with injury and illness (neither of those are like me at all!). I also upped the coaching package to include Training Peaks which was brilliant as Andy would add the sessions and they’d just be there on Garmin/Zwift automatically, loved the ease of that.
Once back to it though things were going in the right direction and I looked to book in some B races for training, having never even done a 70.3 which was the first target, so I joined ~20 other TTG’ers and entered the Cotswold 113 in early June. That race was brilliant, super-hot day though but with a lovely lake swim, a flat ride and a trail run it was great fun even though I got bad cramp on the run which did take the edge off, but it was a training race, not a ‘race’ race. Some lessons learned and onto the next…
The 113 was flat but Wales is not, so I needed to get some hill training in and another 70.3 under the belt. With a rough date range in mind, I looked about and settled on On The Edge, a 70.3 with a lake swim, a hilly ride and hilly run and only 1.5 hrs from home, perfect.
Race day and I was on my lonesome this time, no TTG support and due to super early start Michelle and Storm stayed in bed (don’t blame them!) but actually being on my own was fine as the whole Triathlon community are always so friendly and helpful it didn’t feel like I was on my own. Race went well enough, though for me I felt it was harder than I had expected, I’d been putting in the training and was expecting it to be a bit easier!
The reality is I’m not ‘gifted’ at any of the disciplines so have to work hard to not be rubbish and just about ‘ok’ and I’ve made my peace with that. The time was more than 113, but I had a flat on the bike and the routes were obviously hillier, not that I’m making excuses, but some rationalising helped to not let the day feel like a complete failure.
I had a low moment towards the end of the run and then again walking back over to transition when I doubted everything I was doing. For one reason or another there was no medal at the end which was something I was looking forward to… instead I was just given a caramel filled Fredo, I suppose it was at least caramel filled. It later transpired the medals had been lost (still waiting for one though!) but I was overall a little disappointed in my race.
Debrief with my coach, mindset put back on track and onwards with training… then I had another wobble when a swim session went pretty rubbish, so I got in a grump and stopped putting my Strava activities visible. This was actually a good thing, it immediately took some pressure off that I hadn’t noticed was there.
Last things to tick off during training were a 100+ mile ride and swimming the full 3.8k non-stop. The ride was sorted by a brilliant route with Gordon S and Mark R down through the Forest of Dean, over the old Severn Bridge and back up through Wooton and Nailsworth. Felt really good and enjoyed that which was a confidence booster.
Swimming has never been my favourite, but I’d grown to enjoy it more and more and with the few trips we’d started to take over to Lake32 and Lake86 it was getting far more enjoyable. So one morning I booked into Lake32 and set about swimming 3.8k non-stop which I managed in just over 1hr 30min and was very happy with. More importantly, I’d enjoyed it and also found a better rhythm for my swim so yet another confidence booster.
Soon enough it was time to taper and start finalising all the bits and pieces I needed to take with me, nutrition, kit etc. pack everything up and make our way down to Tenby.
We’d arrived in Tenby late Thursday evening thanks to a generous host who said we could come a day earlier. I figured that was a great idea to travel down in the evening (so Storm would sleep) and then not feel rushed on Friday. Come the morning and the weather was finally starting to look great after what can only be described as a washout summer for us all.
We got down into Tenby mid-morning and the place was already buzzing, not too much had been setup yet race-wise though you could see things taking shape here and there. Heading down to the Expo there was a throng of people milling about at the various stands. This was the first time I got to see the awesome artwork of the IRONMAN logo with everyone’s names on, quickly locating mine for a photo.
Registration was at the back of the main marquee with all the various branded merch on offer, and the first thing that struck me was just how expensive everything is! I shouldn’t really have been surprised as entry alone is significant (~£600) but if you want the branded gear, you must pay the ££ and of course I couldn’t resist giving them more of my money with a couple of t-shirts, a hoodie, a mug and some bike socks, oh and I threw in medal engraving too… why not.
Onto the actual registration and it was pretty quiet back there, no queue and it was my first interaction with the 100’s of absolutely brilliant volunteers who really do make the whole weekend run so smoothly. Quick zap of my registration QR, check of my ID and Race Licence and I’m soon handed a super cool IRONMAN Wales backpack, swim hat, transition bags (Bike, Run, Street and unique “Pink Bag”), race number (#791) and a sheet of numbers for various places. Finally, what I think is so cool, the wrist band/number/QR code that as I write I’m obviously still wearing (how long is too long to keep it on?!)
Turn around and over to Athlete Services to pick up my Personal Needs bags and shuttle bus pass for Michelle so she can get back up to Saundersfoot on Sunday once I’m off out on the bike. Again, everyone super friendly, helpful and everything is so calm and chilled there it made the whole registration very quick and easy.
That was Friday done as far as race related, other than Ryan* making it down mid-afternoon and meeting up with us on Castle Beach to enjoy the sun and have a wander along the sea.
*Ryan was due to compete in the 2023 race but sadly had to defer due to injury, a hard but right decision. Was so cool he still came down to support along with several others from TTG, namely Katie K, Adey C, Gordon S, James B and Hannah B.
After a hot day Friday and plenty of walking I was trying to keep off my feet Saturday and relax, well that was the plan, but it didn’t quite feel like that happened!
I had toyed with the idea of doing a very very slow parkrun as I’d not done the closest one before (Colby) but sense took over and figured the race was just a touch more important so took it easy for a bit and then dropped Michelle, Storm and her Mum down into Saundersfoot for the day. On my return the first order of the day was to take the bike out for a quick shakedown ride and then a short run off the back to keep the legs fresh. Whilst I hadn’t dismantled the bike, I think it’s good to get a little ride/run done the day before a race. Just did a ~30min out and back followed by a ~15min run which felt great.
With that sorted the next task of the day was to fill up the 6 bags with various items needed for each element, to clarify there were:
Pink Bag – unique to Wales and for use after the swim, collected from the iconic zigzag and an instant DNF if left behind.
Bike Bag – contains helmet, shoes and any clothing needed for the bike leg.
Bike Personal Needs – used for anything you might need after ~70 miles on the bike.
Run Bag – contains shoes, hat, shades etc. for the run leg.
Run Personal Needs – used for anything you might need on the run, you get to pass this 4 times.
Street Bag – contains street clothes and anything you might need at the end to change into.
It’s a lot of bags and felt like a lot of stuff! Transition was open from 8:30am to 3pm and that’s when the Bike Bag, Run Bag and actual Bike needed to be dropped off. My plan had been to drive down so I could get back, but Ryan has mentioned town was chocka as IRONKIDS was on and I might be best to ride down. It was only just over 2 miles after all so figured I’d do that and get a bus back or something, so loaded up my new IRONMAN backpack, triple checked I had all I needed and headed off down into Tenby.
Turns out Ryan was spot on, town was heaving! Riding down was by far the best idea so I headed straight to transition which was a little hampered by huge crowds supporting the IRONKIDS. There was no other way to get to transition so you had to just push your way through which wasn’t terribly thought out but it’s a small town so very few options really. Everyone was in such a good mood though it really didn’t matter.
Stopped and watched a few of the kids running, was so cute, and met up with Ryan again before the last little walk down to the transition entrance where an official checked your bike was OK (brakes etc.) that the numbers all matched and then scanned my wrist band to confirm I’d racked and in I went…
Given the number of competitors (~2000) it’s very well planned out with the bike racking only for bikes and a huge change tent for your transition bags and then loads of portaloos around the outside. Being a fairly low number, I was in row F and found my spot easily, popping my bike on the rack. As I did so there was a loud “pop” as someone’s tyre exploded off the rim, one of the bike technicians nearby said “oh, it’s started” which I guess was due to the heat and tyre pressures. I then saw lots of people take some air out of their tyres, not wanting a nasty surprise in the morning. Mine were OK though, I run tubes so had a little more wiggle room than tubeless.
Bike sorted so then a good look around to work out the swim in, bike out, bike in and run out which is actually very simple in Wales. Essentially, if you’re running (i.e. in from the swim or out for the run) you use the RUN arch, if you have a bike with you then use the BIKE arch with the mount/dismount about 2m in front of the arch. Simple!
Next task was to find my numbered pegs in the change tent for my transition bags. Walking into that tent was amazing with rows and rows of red and blue bags and benches running down between them. My number was right near the front which was nice as it meant I could step out into some more space if needed, so with one last look in each bag I hung them on #791.
My plan in transition was to go for a full change each time rather than do the whole thing in a Tri suit, and that meant needing to get naked! A big no-no in triathlon obviously so bigger events like this offer extra areas (male/female) where you can fully strip off, and they were just at the front corners so ideal for me as my peg was near the front.
Bags done so last task was timing chip which you get as you leave the tent and transition area. I had seen some people put it on their left ankle immediately which was odd, and not necessary, maybe they were worried about losing it. A final scan of my wristband I was handed my chip and with that I walked back out into the busy street… with a massive feeling of “have I forgotten anything”! Probably just due to the size of the event, and the task ahead, it was odd leaving my stuff there. However, you do get to re-check it in the morning, so I reminded myself of this and joined Ryan again.
Next it was time to get some food and myself back up to Saundersfoot. As it turned out we were quite close to the bus stops and a quick check confirmed I could take an open top bus back to Saundersfoot in about half an hour, sorted.
Once back to our accommodation it was already about 4:30 (where does the time go!) so I drove down to Saundersfoot to join Michelle, Storm and her Mum on the beach for a bit. As I was sporting the IRONMAN T-shirt and wrist band lots of people were friendly and chatty which does wonders to help staying calm and being relaxed.
Thankfully did manage to get some sleep but alarm went off at 4am and it was straight out of bed to get some breakfast on board, toasted bagels with peanut butter and sliced banana along with a coffee. With that down it was scoop up all my bags and into the car to drive down into Tenby. I’d been a bit worried about the plan to drive down and park in town (you can’t leave the bike in transition overnight after the race, it all must go there and then) and driving down there was a lot of traffic, along with many people walking the couple of miles in. Anyhow, I had a plan to try the Multi Story right in the centre first then had 2 backup car parks to try.
The roads were already partially closed, and it took us on a detour to “who knows where” but suddenly we were back at the right car park (just from a different angle), in we went and there were plenty of spaces still up on the top floor. Sorted, and that was the first worry of the day over.
Transition was open for about an hour to check the bike over, load it with bottles and nutrition, check your change bags and make any last-minute tweaks you might need. I made my checks, took a few pictures, dropped off my Street Bag and wandered out of transition.
There was still a good while before I needed to get down to the beach, so we took ourselves away from the crowd and wandered over to the finish line. It was so quiet and walked along the Esplanade taking in the beginning of the sunrise and seeing how calm the sea looked. It was a lovely quiet moment and I felt very relaxed and not remotely nervous.
We eventually started to wander over to the feed into the walk to the beach where we bumped into the TTG support crew, it was awesome seeing them before I set off. We all had a chat and a laugh then time for me to say goodbye and get myself ready on the beach. The crowds were very big now, very little room to move and the feed into the walk down was very tight. I’m not a lover of crowds but just kept my head down, kept quiet and joined the slow walk to find my hook for the pink bag.
Before doing my wetsuit up fully I had a sip of water, took off my t-shirt and shoes shoving them into the pink bag, grabbed my hat, goggles and ear plugs and finally set foot on the North Beach sand, making my way to the ~1:30 area for self-seeding.
The sun was just beginning to peak above the horizon now and it was absolutely stunning, couldn’t have asked for a better morning and then with all the traditional and iconic IRONMAN razzmatazz we were treated to a parachute display by the Red Devils, the spine tingling Welsh National Anthem and finally AC/DC Thunderstruck blaring out… and we were under starters orders!
Swim – Chip Time of 1:34:3
The swim was my biggest worry, I’d long felt in the lead up that if I can get the swim done, I’ll finish the race. Once the fireworks and flames were finished, we were off and walking through the start towards the sea. There was a table on the side with some (presumably sea) water that people were dunking their goggles in, but I had my plan and gently jogged down into the sea wading to around thigh height before splashing my face with the water to help acclimatise.
It’s a gentle sloping beach here so some people were swimming already and some were wading out further, I just got to a point and started swimming… eww salty BUT actually not as salty as my previous sea swims so perhaps I was getting used to it. The first buoy was just before the Lifeboat building so easy to aim for, but it was busy, 100’s of people around me with arms and legs everywhere. Although it wasn’t a mass start or a staggered start, they had thinned us through a narrow funnel before the last jog to the water which had helped a little.
I’m not an aggressive swimmer, I’m always the one to ease off and change direction if I catch someone in front or they come across me which happened a lot on both laps of the 1.2 mile loop. I did get clouted a couple of times, not on purpose but it’s always a surprise although you do get used to it. I’ve since heard a few people even lost their watches during the rowdy swim.
The first buoy came up pretty quick and my watch beeped the first 500yd split and it was quick, way quick, which was encouraging. With a left turn it was onto the long push across and into the incoming tide. This is what everyone was talking about before the race, the change in swim direction making us swim the longest section into the tide/current. I couldn’t see the next big orange turn buoy so just kept pushing on and keeping the yellow buoys to my left. I managed to find clear water most of the time with it getting busier near the buoys as always in a race.
Everything was feeling good on this lap, though at the orange turn buoy I followed those in front and turned almost 180 degrees left but we were shortly being directed by a boat to turn 90 degrees right again and head down to the next turn buoy before heading back towards the start/finish. Partly my fault for following others and not doing my own thing but it’s hard to swim across the front of those going the wrong way, although it worked itself out in the end.
Getting back on course and to the next turn buoy was the first time I really felt some resistance in the water, had to make a good effort and overcompensate to make it back up and around the buoy before turning 90 degrees left. Didn’t think much of it, but it turns out to be a sign of things to come… Now I was on the shorter straight back down to the shore and this felt great as we were being pushed along by the tide/current, not massively fast but noticeably quicker than the last section.
The water was pretty clear so it wasn’t long before I could see the bottom and start keeping an eye out on others around to see when they started to stand up and jogging out of the water. That said, I did try putting my legs down a bit too early and was met with nothing other than a bit of ham string twinge from trying, not ideal! Bit more swimming, then I was good to plant the feet down and start jogging out the water, through the arches and get stuck into the second lap of the swim.
That first lap felt good, I was happy and there was never a moment I’d considered not going out for the second lap. Wading back in and off I went heading out to the first turn buoy which took a little longer than the first lap, but I expected this as my pace slows and settles to a reasonable ‘plod’.
Turning left into the long back straight was where things seemed to get interesting. It felt I was going well with a decent rhythm, bit of traffic to deal with but as I was spotting the big orange turn buoy over and over it felt like it wasn’t getting any closer! I just figured that’s what it feels like at times on long swims so kept pushing on but again it just felt it wasn’t getting much closer. Whilst this was going on my biggest fear in OWS happened, I started to feel cramp coming in my left calf. It’s happened on and off to me over the past few years but in recent training it hadn’t happened at all on my longer swims so was hoping it wouldn’t happen in the race.
I’ve learnt it’s best to stay calm, keep swimming (I really don’t kick at all) and try not to get too worried about it. Some cramps seem to start in the mind I reckon, worrying and thinking about it happening. This time though, it was bad, a real ball of pain right in the centre of my calf. Proper agony to the point I thought “I need to stop and sort this” so that’s what I tried. Coming to a stop and treading water I gave it a go but immediately felt my legs didn’t like that one bit (hammys complaining) and I couldn’t actually do much about the calf, so I gave up and got back to swimming.
As my mind wondered if this was the start of a DNF, if I needed to wave over a safety person to lean on and sort the cramp out it thankfully finally started to subside, and the feeling was absolute bliss as the pain was replaced by a warm sensation. Checking around me and spotting the orange buoy again it still didn’t seem all that closer and my watch kicked up a 15 minute 500yd split! This took me by surprise and dented my confidence, I know I’d stopped for about 10/15 seconds for the cramp but still that was almost double the time of my first split.
It was about now when I spotted someone being dragged out the water and laid across a paddle board. They looked done, eyes shut (I didn’t let my mind think the worst) and their race was over. You can’t help but let that play on your mind and it’s a reminder that even with what looked like a calm sea people can still have issues, it’s by far the most dangerous part of an open water triathlon.
Trying to put that out of my mind I just kept pushing towards the turn buoy and after what felt like an eternity, I’d finally made it and joined the bundle of people trying to turn in the same spot of sea, always fun. I’d given up on trying to keep wide and just kept tight and was polite as usual letting those more bullish than I push through as I carefully made it around the turn, this time the correct direction, and was then met with the same struggle of trying to make it to the next turn buoy without being pushed into shore.
More noticeable this time and I pretty much ended up swimming the wrong direction to the buoy and having to make a 180 degree turn such was my angle, but this was the last turn, and I knew this last bit would (should?) be easier. Feeling the fatigue by now it wasn’t as quick as the last lap going in, but good progress was made, however it was along here that I started to feel a bit nauseous. I’d not taken on much, if any, sea water but my stomach was a bit blurgh and I was keen to get out.
Last push to the shore, this time making sure I was in shallow enough water to stand and… boom I was wading again and leaving the sea for the last time. The feeling of getting that done was immense, knowing I’d survived the swim and clocking that my time was just over 1:30 (my rough target time) it was job done, happy with that.
Trotting up the beach, pulling my hat, googles and ear plugs out I was beaming and thinking about the next task… the iconic zigzag, pink bag and run up through the crowded streets of Tenby to transition.
T1 – Chip Time of 20:30
Running off the beach and onto the path I located my pink bag and took a swig of water and a handful of sweets I’d popped in there to help get rid of the salty taste, totally did the trick. I’d already decided that I’d take my wetsuit off fully on the zigzag rather than what most did which was pull it down to the waist. My coach had recommended removing it and that’s the plan I stuck with, so off the wetsuit came and into the bag along with goggles, hat and ear plugs.
I’d had an idea a week or so before the race that could be quite fun, knowing that the run up through town was one of the unique highlights of Wales. I’d thought about it and didn’t want it to affect the race so left the decision until now to see how I felt… which was actually pretty good and happy, really enjoying the race so far (probably just the euphoria of getting the swim done!).
With the decision made I dug out my gold ‘Rocky Horror Show’ hot pants and pulled them over my swim shorts then slipped my shoes on. It was warm and I felt confident so decided to not bother with the t-shirt also in the bag and set about making my way up the zigzag and out onto the road.
What an amazing atmosphere I was met with. As soon as you get out onto the road, 100’s of people everywhere screaming, shouting, cheering and laughing as I made my way through town towards transition. I saw Michelle and the TTG gang and gave them a big smile and wave, only Michelle knew about the hot pants so I hope it gave everyone a chuckle as I jogged past.
Round the corner and into transition where it was much quieter but a steady throng of people milling about getting changed. With my bag right by the entrance it was easy to grab and I trotted over to the full change tent which was surprisingly small. I found a little spot and pulled out bib shorts as that’s all I need to get on in here. Keeping my eyes down (no one needs to look about do they!) I do my thing and get out of that bit quickly, finishing off the rest of my change in the main area.
In my bike bag were loads of clothing options as even though good weather was predicted you just can’t be sure in the UK, however it was sunny with clear skies so just went with the jersey and no more layers. Filling my pockets with nutrition I also made sure to apply sun cream which I don’t usually bother with but it’s a long day in the sun and I was being sensible, so slapped on some Factor 50 courtesy of Storm (it was her little roll on, very handy and easy to apply!).
All sorted I waddled out of the tent and towards my bike, but seeing a load of the loos were free I detoured figuring now would be a good time to just “make sure” all was good and that was a worthwhile visit. Eventually grabbing my bike I headed out of transition and mounted just a few meters from the arch and was on my way.
Ride – Chip Time of 7:34:57
It felt great getting on the bike, the road was lovely and smooth and lined with crowds still cheering others coming in from the swim and those going out on the bike. Passing the TTG gang I gave them another wave and headed out of Tenby.
The first 30 miles is a loop down to Pembroke, over to Castlemartin, through Angle and back towards Tenby. It’s a very picturesque loop, rolling terrain with one notable climb out of Pembroke then a few shorter sharp climbs here and there. I was making good time on this section knowing that the next loop was basically up or down. Think my average was up at 18mph but I knew that would drop off rapidly and certainly on the second bigger loop, but I figured push when I could (within reason).
This section brings you out along Freshwater which is a gentle descent with the most stunning views of the crashing shoreline and rolling hills beyond, however it can also be the most dangerous area as the road then winds through the ever moving sand dunes. When I did my recce ride back in July there were piles of sand across the road, huge danger for bikes! Thankfully this had been cleared away and due to low winds, the road was still clear, though they didn’t manage to flatten out the punchy climb leaving the dunes.
Coming into Angle was my first experience of a proper bike aid station (they had one on the 113 but I didn’t use it). Wasn’t quite prepared for it but it was very well organised and took me a few seconds to figure out no need to stop, throw empty bottles here, collect full water bottles there, Gatorade if you want it (I didn’t) and other nutrition if you needed it with a final ‘drop zone’ at the end. Was super easy, no drama and got what I needed.
After a fairly long stretch of wide open undulating road, you’re rewarded with a lovely fast decent back into Pembroke, a little out and back along the high street then you re-join the bigger loop and straight into another aid station. As it was so hot, I’d made a real point of drinking plenty of water, loaded with electrolytes, so drained a bottle and swapped it for another fresh one and passed on all the other options once again.
My nutrition was going well, I’d set a 20min alert on my Garmin Edge and religiously ate a gel or chew when it dinged (unless climbing when I’d do it at the top) and kept sipping the water in between. I’d got a little sick of the electrolyte in the water so dug out some salt tabs I’d brought along and very glad I did as that fresh water was just what I needed.
Onwards and into the hillier sections now taking in short sharp climbs and descents here, there and everywhere. Again, having ridden this route once before it really came to my advantage as I knew in my head what was coming up and was able to be prepared. What I do recall is that none of the climbs were ‘that’ bad and it was a case of sitting in a high gear and spinning up.
It was around this time that I did start to get some cramping in my quads, something I’d not expected at all. It’s not happened before on a ride (usually happens to me on the run off a bike, as in the 113) and whilst I was nursing my left calf still it wasn’t great that both quads started giving me some grief too. I kept spinning though but it was quite apparent that standing up for the climbs was possibly going to be off the table as that caused them to moan instantly. Not ideal, I still had about 1.5 laps of the bigger hillier loop to go (approx. 65 miles!)
Pressing on and not getting bogged down with concern I just focused on getting through the longer climbs which were helped by the massive crowds and huge party atmosphere through places like Carew, Templeton and Narberth. Everyone was so supportive, happy, shouting, clapping, singing, dancing and making merriment as all the athletes struggled on in the increasingly hot day.
After Narberth there’s another aid station and again swapped out for another fresh bottle. Overall still feeling good but conscious that was about half way so ‘only’ another 56 miles to go. People talk about Narberth a lot but it’s after the initial climb it actually continues essentially upwards for another 4 miles before you’re finally treated to long fast roads descending down towards the next notable climb, Wisemans Bridge.
Remember what I said about none of the climbs being ‘that’ bad… well it’s certainly different under race conditions because Wisemans surprised me in being by far the toughest climb of the day, only 600m long but average of 9.4% and a peak of 16.4% it’s a good one. Thankfully in full shade and well supported from bottom to top, my legs were not happy about it at all (quads and calf now) and the prospect of having to come back around in about 40 miles didn’t fill me with confidence, but figured I’d worry about that in a few hours’ time.
After Wisemans I rolled down into Saundersfoot, loving the closed roads here and the crowds lining the seafront. Then I heard someone shouting their lungs off, it was Michelle with Storm and her Mum on the side… it was SO good to see them. I couldn’t stop as needed to keep the momentum up for what was around the corner but gave them a huge smile and a big wave, it was such a big lift to have seen them.
With that it was onto the last climb, the infamous Heartbreak Hill. An almost 1 mile climb starting off with the steepest section into some easier climbing but ending up with a sting in the tail and the most incredible crowds of all. This was proper Tour de France stuff with a single line of bikes pushing up the climb surrounded with screaming crowds inches from your face. Utterly incredible and unforgettable.
You can’t really overtake here, you just have to sit at the pace of the slowest person in front, which is what happened the first time up. That was OK though, but nearing the top the crowds thinned out a bit and we could get past, I put my hand on my bars ready to go but slipped and for a few seconds I was wobbling, and it took all I could not to bump into the rider to my left and dump us both onto the ground. Thankfully I saved it but that was the sketchiest moment on the ride, my error but happily nothing came of it.
Top of the hill is the last aid station and where you can get your personal needs bag. I rode over and stopped, for the first time since leaving transition. It was nice to get the feet planted down to be honest, I was expecting the legs to cramp or something, but they held off OK (I had been doing a decent job of managing the cramp and taking it easier wherever possible). Throwing out all my old wrappers and re-filling my top tube bag and jersey pockets I fuelled up for the next 40 miles, said my thanks to the wonderfully helpful volunteers and made my way back down the hill to Tenby.
In a few minutes I’m rolling past the sign “left to transition / right for 2nd lap” so with a smile I headed right and back out onto the reasonably steady rolling first section of the loop. Just leaving Tenby I saw the TTG gang again and this time they were all shouting “drink, hydrate, stay hydrated” knowing that it was hot and getting hotter out there. Giving them a thumbs up and a wave I felt another boost from seeing friends, it really does make a difference having their support.
Now I’ve had a few issues with my front derailleur of late and managed to get most of the adjustment sorted but knew I still had an issue where it would drop the chain off the small ring if I was too high up the cassette. For the race I’d been carefully managing it making sure I was in the 3rd or 4th gear on the cassette before moving the front derailleur down to the small ring, keeping my eyes on the chain whilst doing so. I’m sure I was in the correct rear gear but suddenly the chain dropped just as I was starting a small climb. I stopped immediately (rather than fall off like I’ve done on occasions).
Someone passing asked immediately if I was OK which was lovely, and a sign of just how awesome, friendly and helpful other athletes are. It was a matter of moments to pop the chain back on and I made sure I was in the right gear to get going again on the incline.
That was the end of any dramas for the ride, though I did feel myself slowing down a fair bit and starting to get tired. I occasionally took a look at my average speed as I had a rough idea of what it should be vs. the elapsed time. I could see how long I’d been riding but didn’t bother to look at time of day or how long was left, I figured that could only serve to worry me unnecessarily.
Up and down, up and down it went and even though I was eating I was finding myself yawning! My mind was starting to give up a little here and as I was peddling along looking at all the shade and cool thick grass on the verges I was just wondering how nice it would be to stop and have a little lie down. My goodness the temptation was massive, just a little rest, a little lie down, maybe a few minutes sleep, I’d set an alarm right… NO, get a grip, that’s ridiculous!!!
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to know this was just a ‘dark moment’ on the ride, pulled myself together and kept peddling. I did stop a couple of times for a comfort break as such but didn’t consider not getting going again. My legs were holding together but a little on the edge and I was all too aware that the last 2 climbs were the worst. What I really wanted though was to see Michelle and Storm, I had a massive yearning to give Storm a huge hug, her bright eyes and beaming smile more than enough to get me going again… but alas they were still miles away.
Continuing to pootle around the lanes there was still heaps of support everywhere. It was amazing that no matter where on the course, you didn’t seem far from some flags, banners, music, cheering, partying and the like. Made the hours go by remarkably quickly, sounds odd but it didn’t overly feel like a ‘long time’ out on the bike, even though it was cracking on for 7 hours!
Dropping down into Wisemans Bridge for the second time I was a little apprehensive about the climb here knowing the fragile state my legs were in. I stuck it immediately into the highest gear and dug in… urgh it was tough this time though and felt about twice as long. Still decent support there and still fully shaded thankfully I eventually rolled over the top with a sigh of relief and you’re then immediately into another descent down which is nice recovery.
There’s a short sharp climb in between Wisemans and Saundersfoot no one seems to mention but soon enough I’m rolling down through Saundersfoot again, wondering if I’ll see my family. They weren’t in the same spot as last lap, so I turned the corner and began the steep start of the last climb, Heartbreak Hill. A few moments later I heard this mad shouting, and just there on the left was Michelle, Storm and her Mum again… I was so happy to see them! Am sure I said something, can’t recall what but apparently Storm said “Daddy bike”. It was just the lift I needed for the last big drive up the mile long climb.
The crowds had thinned a little nearer the top but not by much, it was still full party mode and knowing it was my last time through I revelled in it, giving a few people a high-5 along the way. Not needing anything from the aid station I rolled on past and down the road to Tenby, only this time the road was packed either side with support and 100’s of runners that were now on the run course.
This was cool, but also a sign of my ‘relaxed’ time on the bike. I was OK about it, I’d peaked at the time and knew I had hours and hours left to get the run done so was completely confident I’d finish, but was aware the time would be pretty below average. Still, finishing was the main goal so let’s go get that done.
Getting to the lap turn I was more than happy to be turning left this time, until I quickly saw that it’s a cheeky climb back up into town! Totally forgot that, however who was there shouting for me, the TTG Gang. Felt like they were everywhere, and it was awesome to see them again, and bless Katie K she ran up the climb beside me which was fab.
Finally, it’s a roll back down into the centre of Tenby and to the heart of the race where there are runners one side whilst bikes are heading back into transition. It felt brilliant to be done on the bike and as I rounded the corner to see the arches my mood was really good and, dare I say it, I was keen to get out on the run.
T2 – Chip Time of 14:18
Dismounting my bike with no drama, always a worry you might wobble over or something, I trotted in and racked the bike. I had a quick look to make sure I didn’t need anything from it, stopped off at the portaloo again and made my way into the transition tent.
Again, the plan was a full change, so I grabbed my Run bag and headed into the full change tent which was a lot quieter this time. I’d decided to go with my Tri suit for the run as I find it very comfy and stops any leg chafing, so pulled on the bottom half and made another hasty exit into the main area.
As I was finishing off getting ready there was a woman sat there having some nutrition, so I struck up a conversation along the lines of “It’s daunting knowing you’ve now got to go and run a marathon.” She was lovely but said that she’d just been pulled off the bike course for being 1.5 hours behind the cutoff for the second lap. I felt terrible for her, but she was happy and adamant she’d come back next year, saying she’d not really looked at the course and didn’t realise there was so much elevation. Bit shortsighted to not have checked the details of a race before entering let alone racing, but each to their own I guess.
I was scoffing a pack of Squares during this conversation and with them gone it was time to make my way out to the run.
Run – Chip Time of 5:59:12
In training it’s always been far too easy to set off a bit quick out of transition, I didn’t really think I did that this time but looking at the splits perhaps I did. Regardless, the first mile felt good, crowds were thick and rowdy, and I saw the TTG gang again just near North Beach giving them a big thumbs up as I jogged on past and out to my first lap of 4.
Within half a mile you’re met with the start of essentially a 2 mile uphill slog towards Saundersfoot. There was a mix of people walking and jogging, I felt OK at this point so settled into a gentle jog as I’d trained on lots of hills so was comfy trundling up. My quads had settled down and actually didn’t give me any issues the entire run, in fact I didn’t suffer any cramp at all during the run which is probably the biggest positive.
My calf, however, wasn’t a happy bunny. Whilst it didn’t cramp at all it was tight and angry and meant that my stride was really short. It was better to keep jogging than walking for me, however my walk was very very slow, so overall I did try to jog as often as possible.
Hitting up the first aid station, about 1/3rd up the hill, I was feeling a bit delicate in the stomach department and was trying to figure out what to have. I’d got a few gels in my tri suit but what caught my attention here was a banana. Along with a couple of cups of water (one to drink, one over the head as it was still pretty hot) the banana hit the spot perfectly, it tasted great, sat well and that in turn made me feel that little bit happier. I walked through the aid stations, no need to rush and better to make sure I got what I wanted (they never ran out, the entire race).
Onwards up the hill and there’s a steady stream of runners coming down on your right and bikes still on the course on the left making it pretty busy. Just over halfway up the road flattens out a touch and the crowds get thicker, with marquees, BBQ’s and a real party atmosphere. From here you could see the top turning point, way off in the distance, up near a Red Bull station. What was most noticeable was a real kick of a climb near there, was looking forward to that!
Before you reach the top turn point you pass the road to New Hedges where there is a little out and back and it was super busy here, and narrow. As the bike course was still open both directions of runners were squeezed together on one side and with the crowds and railings it was tight. I was still keeping up a jog at this point, with the intention of jogging the first lap and seeing how that felt.
Up to the turn point and past the Red Bull party it was finally time to enjoy the help of gravity and trundle back down, that was a joy. Sadly short lived as with a turn up to New Hedges another brief climb awaited though eventually the reward is another aid station and collecting your first lap band.
Talking of lap bands, they are great, but I also found it a real challenge spotting how many bands other runners had. I was on my first but when you saw someone on their 3rd or 4th lap, I felt really jealous and disappointed that I still had so far to go. I tried to not let it bother me but couldn’t help ‘band spotting’ the entire run.
Back down I went, enjoying the downhill to Tenby, passing the next aid station and grabbing another half banana along the way. Down the bottom it’s unsurprisingly another climb into town and a sharp left up towards North Beach where the Personal Needs bags were. It was here I saw the TTG gang again. A great spot as they could see me a few times up and down then in and back out of town again. Gordon S was wandering up the road and suggested I might as well walk rather than shuffle up the hill so I did just that and we had a nice natter as I headed up to the turn point and what was a very cool DJ spinning some tunes.
Stopping at the Personal Needs section I grabbed some crisps as kind of fancied them, didn’t bother with anything else I’d put in there (it was only food, none of which I fancied). Had 3 crisps, decided nope didn’t want those either. It’s weird doing an event that is so many hours, I found it hard sometimes to figure out what my body needed, it didn’t really ‘want’ anything, but I knew I needed to keep fuelling with something as I didn’t want to bonk.
Back into the centre of Tenby now and saw the rest of the TTG gang. This was heading into the rowdiest section of the run as it was up, down and around the narrow streets of Tenby centre with all the bars open and everyone having a great party, whilst most of the runners struggled on. Following through the zigzag of town eventually you’re spat out on the Esplanade where the finish line is. Whilst you can’t see it, you can hear it and along the road is a split where it’s left for the finish or right for laps 2, 3, and 4… so right it was.
Another aid station immediately as you turn so grabbed some more water and had a little comfort break too. Shouldn’t have chosen here as only 2 portaloos so had to wait a little but frankly I didn’t care at the time. Confess here I did have a little sit down (not for what you’re thinking) but just to take the weight off… OMG that was SO nice! A little bit of peace, calm and comfort. Nice.
That was my first lap done, only 3 more of those then. The second lap was much of the same though saw someone collapsed at the side of the road probably with heat exhaustion (First Aid were attending pretty quickly) but the absolute highlight of this lap was bumping into Michelle as I turned up towards New Hedges. It was so so so good to see her, big hug and lots of kind words of support and encouragement. She was making her way down into town, so I said to carry on as I went up to get my second lap band and I’d meet her on the way down.
It was very satisfying to pickup a lap band, though the reality of getting this at just over halfway through the lap means there’s a fair old way to go. I headed back down and soon saw Michelle again, stopping to chat. I realised pretty quickly that we should at least be walking whilst we chatted, standing still wasn’t going to get me anywhere was it. We carried on walking and as the road started to descend again, I said I’d best start jogging and headed off again.
It was notable that I was starting to walk (very slowly) a fair bit more now, anything that was a little up I would happily walk. As nice as that was, and it wasn’t ‘that’ nice thanks to my tight painful calf, I also knew that walking anywhere takes a long time, seems I didn’t care though so walk here and there I did. Back into town and turning up to North Beach I was greeted this time by Gordon S and Katie K to accompany me up to the DJ and back. This was lovely, and a real boost, taking my mind off how I was feeling and how the race was going. Gordon wiped out his phone and gave me an impromptu interview with my summation of what I think of doing an IRONMAN being “amazingly difficult”.
Heading into the very crowded and tight centre again it was hard to face having to walk because I felt a bit of a failure. Even a little jog would be better, but I just felt like walking if it was remotely up hill. I made it back to the Esplanade and turned to start my 3rd loop, stopping at the aid station again for some water and yep, another cheeky sit down. Ah man that was good again. I was halfway now, but the prospect of still having to do 2 more loops filled me with nothing remotely positive.
Sitting there I had to have a good word with myself out loud… “Come on Jon, you’re never going to finish this sat here, get your arse out there and get this done.” If there’s one thing that I pride myself on with my racing it’s my 100% determination to never quit, whilst I have the physical wellness to finish something I will get it done. Those who follow my training know that I like to hit all the markers, get all my training done, never miss a day if at all possible and never give up. Today was NOT the day I was going to start giving up.
Stepping out of the portaloo I zipped up my tri suit and jogged off around the corner past transition and out onto the third lap… the ‘dark’ lap as it turns out people call it, and it had nothing to do with the sun setting and darkness creeping in. Past the TTG gang again and Adey shouts over “I’ll have a surprise for you when you come back down later!” I manage a smile and a wave but was already in a little dark place so jogged down the hill to the bottom point again and immediately started to walk slowly up the hill.
It was the hardest lap of the 4, I felt off, I felt tired, I felt done. I did actually feel not all that well, a bit of dizziness had crept in. I was looking down at the road ahead of me, wanting to avoid the crowd who were still yelling their unwavering support to everyone running or walking past. I shut them out, went into myself and just stared a few meters in front of me. I made it to the first aid station and again grabbed some water and a banana, had another quiet word with myself and managed to drag things back to a slow jog up the hill. Turns out that the slow jog made me feel less dizzy and ropey than walking which was a nice relief at a time I was thinking “please don’t have a medical DNF”.
Onwards and upwards and into the darkening evening I went, picking up my 3rd loop band which I felt I’d had to work hard for this time. I did my best to jog all the descent and at as best a pace as possible trying to lengthen my stride. I’d long since felt my body was done with this race but you keep going, you have to keep going if you want to finish and be that IRONMAN. There was no question in my mind that I would finish and now I did start looking at the time to work out how long I had until the 17hr cutoff (would have been 12:09am for me), how far I had left to go and calculating a minimum min/mile pace to get that comfortably done. I was OK, there was still ample time.
Coming back into Tenby I was met with Adey’s surprise… he’d come down the hill to jog with me back up to North Beach and the other TTG gang. That was just what I needed and although I was jogging to start with, I said I’ll be walking from that bollard as it was uphill and he was like “whatever you need bud”, it meant the world to have that support there, especially on that third ‘dark lap’.
Turning up towards North Beach Adey dropped back but Michelle was right there waiting for me, I didn’t cry as my emotions had turned oddly flat but seeing her again was lush and we walked up the hill to the DJ turning point together and she even jogged back down with me to rejoin the others. It gave me another huge boost chatting to her, also knowing I was nearing the end of that hideous third lap and this was likely the reason I actually jogged the entire way through the centre on this lap. Feeling a high from seeing everyone and that there was just one more to go I pushed on. This, however, probably wasn’t a great idea.
Past the finish turn and right again, next time it would be my turn to finally go down there at last! The aid station is just here, and I did my usual walk through for water and headed on past transition again. I thought I was feeling good, relieved to get onto my last loop but then the reality of it set in… another slog up that hill which felt so far away, just over 6 miles still to go and my spirits evaporated to be replaced with dread, some time checking and calculations to see what I needed to do.
I decided that I had to try and keep no worse than a 15min/mile pace which on any other day of the year would sound ridiculous to me, but right now it seems a fair challenge. It was OK to walk, I knew I had to do that because my body was on its last legs, but I did all I could to jog whenever I could. Halfway up the hill the incline decreases to just a tiny bit and I found myself still walking it, this was a really tough moment for me. Trying my best to talk myself around, it was the last lap for goodness sake, the last time I’d have to do this, the last time I’d be up here.
It had gone fully dark by now and the hill isn’t lit with streetlights, so organisers have several generator powered lights setup along the way but there were still large sections of complete darkness. Worse was the far light at the top of the hill where you turn, this was so bright it was blinding and impossible to actually see the road at your feet. I managed to avoid everything but did see others stumble a kerb or cone here and there.
It did mean I was nearing the top of the climb, I’d walked that bit solidly now and as I turned for the last time there was definitely some relief that it didn’t need to be done again and I could try to jog down towards New Hedges. Turning left here again I walked for the last time past a group who had been there all evening, they were still cheering loudly and being a massive support. Even though it was dark, getting late and the runners thinning out now, there was still a large amount of support all over the course.
Collecting my final band made the biggest difference though, turning back around and past the aid station. My spirits had returned, I was on the way back down and knew I had more than enough time to get it done. I’d long let go of a loose time I’d had in my head of sub 15, I’d not really setup to push for that as such as I was there to just finish the race, but had that idea in my head for a lot of it though sadly the calf issues in the swim affected the rest of the race in a way that meant all I was doing was keeping going for the finish.
Knowing this was the last time I’d see the amazing volunteers at all the aid stations and personal needs station I made a point of thanking them for being so amazing, kind and helpful. They really did make the race as easy as possible for you, being friendly, happy, encouraging and helpful whenever you interacted with them. The volunteers were a big highlight for me, so thank you to one and all for your superb help, it made the race so much more manageable.
Heading down to Tenby and past North Beach I did wonder if I’d see the TTG gang again but also knew that there was only a mile left from there and they’d need to hot foot it over to the finish and possibly need to get their elbows out. It didn’t come as too much of a disappointment to not see them in their usual spot, I was in the last mile after all and this mile I could run… I was there, I was going to do it, I was going to finish… I was going to be an IRONMAN.
Finish – Chip Time of 15:43:28
As I rounded the corner out of the walled section of Tenby centre and onto the Esplanade there was Ryan G kindly sacrificing the finish line scenes to let me know where Michelle had managed to get herself to the front, just before the bell for first time IRONMAN finishers. Not sure I’d have found her otherwise, the sides were packed with crowds all cheering and shouting, such an incredible atmosphere.
This time, finally, this time I could go straight on and spotted Michelle right where Ryan had said. I ran over and gave her the biggest hug ever, my emotions were remarkably stable but know that she blubbed in my ear and shouted how she felt. I was then deafened by a chap to her right yelling my name and cheering me on, turns out Michelle had been there a fair while and got chatting, this guy was rather ‘merry’ and had insisted on joining in her cheering for me.
With a kiss I left Michelle and stepped up to the first timer bell, grabbing the clanger and ringing it loud and proud. As I turned to step onto the carpet another runner was coming down to finish, we clocked each other and they very kindly signalled for me to go on while they held back giving me my very well earned, hard fought for moment of glory as I ran down the carpet and the commentator said those unforgettable words “… congratulations Jon, you are an IRONMAN” as I crossed the line.
Putting a little effort in on the red carpet to the finish line resulted in what I think was a little stumble at the end, felt like the feet I was looking down at weren’t connected to my body! I managed to not fall over so saved embarrassment and had a finishers medal draped around my neck. It’s a small area right after the finish line with multiple photographers rightfully snapping away capturing everyone’s well-earned moment in the spotlight.
A short path led into the back of the recovery tent which I drifted into but felt in somewhat of a haze. Walking through there were other athletes sat around, eating, chatting, being quiet or just having their own little moment. I completely didn’t clock half the things going on in there, like the medal engraving or the finisher t-shirts. All I focused on was a seat for a little sit down… wow that was good.
There was a chap just in front of me wrapped in a foil blanket being tended to by St Johns, he’d obviously finished but sometimes your body hangs on to the very end then crashes as it’s given its all. The St Johns team were brilliant here, just hovering around at the edges keeping an eye on people as they came and went, spotting anyone who may not even realise they were about to crash and need some attention.
It was a surreal scene in that tent, a real mix of emotions. From the euphoric chatty people scoffing slice after slice of pizza to those with their head in their hands in the realisation of what they’ve just achieved. Sat on my own being quiet I was checked on briefly by St Johns, my reply was along the lines that I was fine but just trying to work out what my body wanted. I was hungry, but also didn’t fancy anything as was still feeling a bit nauseous (had been on and off all day really). They suggested I try to eat a little something so went for slices of pineapple which were great as it happens, they tried some pizza, not so great but at least I’d eaten something.
At the end of this tent were the Street Bags so I had a lovely chat with the volunteers there, and a little chuckle with them as they were talking about being on their feet all day but realised that sounded ridiculous as we’d all just completed an IRONMAN! I’d popped my phone in the Street Bag that morning at drop off so was great to have that back and send a quick message to Michelle saying I was just having a little sit down and would be out in a bit.
With my clothes in hand, I headed back to the transition tent and again to the full change area to pull my tri suit off and get into some normal clothes. People were clearly tired (it was gone 11pm now) but cheery as they’d finished. We were nattering about the race, the weather, the swim times when one of them mentioned the finisher’s t-shirt. I’d completely missed that so with my race bib in hand wandered back over and collected the t-shirt, a really nice design and one I’d wear with pride… though even as a small it’s massive, might have to see about getting it taken in.
Time was ticking on, I was feeling good and wanted to get back to everyone, in particular Michelle. Picking up my Bike and Run bags I said thankyou to the volunteers again and headed out to grab my bike. Most of the bikes had gone by now so I took a few pictures, loaded my bike up with the bags (so much stuff to carry out!), walked over to the exit where someone just checked my race number matched on all my bags, bike, wrist etc. and out I went, the race well and truly over.
Michelle and the TTG gang were waiting for me just up the road and they kindly took my bike and bags off me whilst I gave Michelle a massive hug. It was such a relief to be done and I was made up I’d finished but also lingering already in the back of my mind were the hurdles I’d had and how it could have gone better. In turn I gave everyone a hug, thanking them greatly for the incredible support they’d given all day, they had helped far more than they knew, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that.
Last order of business was to grab the car, load up and head back. Ironically the lift was out of order, so Adey kindly stepped in to take the stairs to the top floor and retrieve my car. Kit went straight in the boot, and I slid into the seat which was super comfortable. I was quite surprised my legs felt pretty decent (save for that annoying calf, still tight and angry) so no cramp and the drive back quiet and peaceful. The road out of Tenby was open again by now and we drove past people already cleaning down the aid stations and putting the road barriers and cones to the side.
Naturally I was still quite buzzing and not ready for bed yet, so coffee and toast were scoffed and eventually headed to bed. My incredible, unforgettable, challenging, satisfying and long day was done… I was going to bed an IRONMAN.
Whilst I’d had a loose idea in my head of finishing in sub-15 hrs on the day, I did the best I could with what the race, and my body, threw at me. I was more than happy to just finish, though I never truly doubted that I wouldn’t but until you cross that line you never know what might happen. With the race over I’ve had some time to think back and analyse how it went and where I feel things went well, went badly and how I could improve.
Swim – swimming is my weakest element but getting better all the time. In the race I believe it was the strong currents on the second lap that prevented me getting a massive PB on the distance but am more than happy with my time. The issue that has plagued me forever with swimming though is leg cramps. For some reason or other I seem to be susceptible to them, and it can be debilitating. I feel I dealt with it OK on race day, staying calm and just carrying on as best as possible until it subsided, but am so disappointed it happened at all. It had a significant knock on effect the entire rest of the race but more noticeable on the run and believe that really was the catalyst for such a poor performance there.
Bike – riding is probably my favourite of the three disciplines at the moment, though having what felt like a random crash in November 2022 with a long list of injuries did nothing for my confidence. I’m well past that now but it takes a while to not worry about coming off again. The Wales ride didn’t overly daunt me, especially as I’d ridden the course a couple of months earlier. What got me on race day was cramp in my quads, remarkably early on too. The calf was already giving me hassle but throw in the quads and really it felt like for ~80 miles I was nursing my legs around. The second big loop was slow, I didn’t do it justice but with it being my first long course event I didn’t know what I’d need left for the run.
Run – running used to be my ‘thing’ as it was the first form of exercise I got into and for several years I only did run events. However, this year I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with running. Mostly hating it if I’m honest but occasionally loving it and I still hit all my training regardless. With that said, you’d be hard pushed to say I ‘ran’ the marathon in Wales, the time was slower than slow, and this is where I’m most disappointed. Yes, it’s a proper tough course and at the time I feel I’m doing everything I can to push but on looking back it’s appalling. Heaps of time to save here… next time… next time.
Cramp seems to be the driving factor of how the day went which was frustrating as I made sure to hydrate well (inc. with electrolytes) in the week leading up to the race and keep smashing the salt tabs during the ride and run. OK I didn’t get cramp on the run, but it was so slow I don’t think that was a surprise. It’s something I need to look at for next time that’s for sure.
Overall, however, on this particular day, I couldn’t have done any better. Reading in the chat groups the number of people who DNF’d on the swim thanks to the increased current on the second lap, and those who struggled in the heat on the course and missed cutoffs were remarkably high (1941 started with 1627 finishing = ~16%). So much could have gone wrong and cause me not to finish, which is why at the end of the day I’m more than happy to just get across the line.
Unsurprisingly this writeup has taken some time, I had no idea how long it would become but I’ve poured the entire buildup and race day into this and even if no one reads it, I found it a brilliant way to ‘offload’ everything.
It’s now almost 2 weeks later as I publish this and I’m well into the post-race blues. I’ve had them before on bigger events, but this one is probably the most I’ve felt it, no doubt as it’s the biggest event with the biggest buildup and the day was utterly incredible from start to finish. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hard to equal let alone better that for a race day experience.
The euphoria of the weekend lasted several days, probably almost a week. I was caught up in the excitement for completing an IRONMAN and wanted to do it again! Something I honestly never thought I’d feel, and I now understand why people do Wales over and over again. The 2024 date isn’t good for me so I did start looking around at other full IRONMAN events further afield but the reality of home life and how much training affects everyone close to me helped me put on my Mr Sensible cap and will leave the long stuff for a year or so.
With that though, comes the blues. It hit a couple of days ago and is clinging on pretty tight. Watching as the Wales 2024 entries opened, with everyone talking about it and seeing people enter, has found me many times with the race entry page open… pondering. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, no question. I can do better, I know I can.
For now, though, I’ve got a couple of local sprint Triathlons coming up and am considering a new target for 2024, getting my 70.3 time closer to 5 hrs. I’ve got IRONMAN Nice 70.3 booked for June 2024 and currently looking for another 70.3 that fits with my schedule and will no doubt sprinkle some other interesting events into the mix along the way.
My parting words are this… if you ever want to do an IRONMAN event, go and do Wales because it has to be one of the best events in the world for this crazy sport of Triathlon that we chose to do.
As you can see it’s been somewhat of a mission to get across the finish line from when I booked the event 11 months earlier. So many people have been supportive, encouraging, offering advice and generally ribbing me leading up to the race so some thanks are in order as I wouldn’t have made it alone…
Firstly, everyone at Tri Team Glos, without whom I wouldn’t have even considered entering an IRONMAN event (I blame Chris P!). Everyone at the club is so friendly, helpful and supportive whenever you interact with them. I’ve had many members join me on my training rides/runs etc. and it means the world to me being part of our awesome club and having that support.
Next my coach Andy Gardner, I was super lucky to find a great coach straight off the bat. It’s so important to get on well, understand each other, work together and ultimately ‘trust the process’. Andy’s experience is invaluable, and I’d highly recommend him to anyone wanting some 1-2-1 coaching for whatever race goals you have.
The TTG Tenby Gang need a special mention, Ryan G, Gordon S, Adey C, Katie K, James B and Hannah B. Their presence on race day made all the difference, especially in those darker moments on the never ending run. I know they had an awesome day too, it’s probably one of the best ever IRONMAN Wales events to date I believe (and see IRONMAN say as much themselves) so I’m really happy they got to experience the incredible day, just in a different way.
Finally, there is my amazing wife, Michelle. She’s had to make sacrifices and put our life on hold for a good 6 months whilst giving me the time and space to focus and train. Anyone who’s done a long course event and associated training knows how important it is to have the family on board and Michelle never wavered in her support and belief in me. Thank you for allowing me to fulfil my dream of completing an IRONMAN… when can I book another?!!