So, Long Course Weekend done, training in Lanzarote done, now time for Ironman Wales to finish off the season. Although training didn’t go quite according to plan in CLS (look at my last blog), I was ready to do my first Ironman. The years of waiting and being inspired by so many, it was now my time to do one finally.
Arriving in the picturesque town of Tenby on the Thursday afternoon meant that I had time to sort out a few things before the big day, along with enjoying the atmosphere that was building up. The small town of Tenby had literally been taken over by athletes from all over the world. With people out on tapered runs and athletes testing and checking their bikes over, people in wetsuits swimming in the sea and Ironmen all around, I loved it and it was so exciting. The atmosphere was incredible. The restaurants and hotels had Ironman and Welsh flags and wished athletes luck as you walked by, along with having Ironman specials on their menu’s.
Going into the EXPO to register on the Friday, I received all my stickers, an Ironman transition bag along with a few other goodies and the 4 different coloured bags for transition…seemed quite confusing but understood it in the end, especially as the blue (for bike gear) and red bags (for run gear) had to be handed in on the Saturday morning between 9-10am, the day before the race after which you wouldn’t have access to them again until you were actually in the race. This meant that I had to prepare everything on the Friday night.
Thankfully, some of my supporters came down on the Friday, so after a lovely dinner, I had some help from my cousin Charlie, an Ironman himself, and did some late night packing. Trying to ensure I had everything I needed, the right amount of gels and nutrition for each of the disciplines etc. and eventually finishing close to 2am I think, I was ready to hand them in.
After a great night sleep, I went to buy some last minute things and put everything into transition, the bags, bike and all. It felt quite odd, all my triathlon gear had practically been handed in, it was a whole day with no gear…no trainers to do a quick run or bike for a nice ride or wetsuit, even small things like my number belt, body glide, elastic bands, sunglasses (which would’ve been useful as it was so sunny) etc. were in transition. It felt a bit odd. I was just hoping I hadn’t forgotten anything.
A quick full English breakfast with Charlie in town proved to be very helpful. Receiving very useful tips that I took full advantage of, along with questioning him and walking through the race and transitions meant that I knew what I was going to do come race day. Thank you very much for all your help Charlie.
Finally, the day has come…14th September 2014….my first official Ironman and in Wales, one of the toughest places in the Ironman world. So excited. My alarm went off at 4am and after a quick shower, change and food, we got to transition at 5:30. Still very dark, all the athletes were doing their final checks and preparations. At 6:30am we were all called to the entrance of transition for the Athletes Parade down to the sea, the same 1km route we’d have to do in T1. Turning the last street corner, we overlooked the bay and saw the most amazing sunrise with an orange-lit sky, with Tenby lifeboat in the corner. It was so picturesque.
Hanging up the purple bags on the zig-zag path to the beach, we were all slightly worried by the announcement just made, saying “may all athletes please exit the sea, your warm-up period is now officially over”, with only 100 or so of the 2000+ athletes even on the beach, people ran down past the official blocking off the sea, to dive into the water just to make sure they got their chance to get in beforehand. (Don’t know why they hadn’t planned for that since they knew everyone would/should’ve been in the ‘official’ parade.)
After that slight panic, I waited at the mass start to be set off. Looking around I could see people all around cheering and the massive amounts of crowds lining the roads at the top with music playing and the announcer talking but my cap was on and it all sounded quite faint. I think I was just too focussed on what I was going to do and the race itself.
What seemed to only be a few minutes later, 7am, we were off, we all headed for the sea and I found myself constantly being hit by the crashing waves. It was so rough!!! Couldn’t even compare it to the Long Course Weekend. I found the breathing going out to the first buoy quite hard. Breathing every three I soon realised that the right was a definite no go. The left wasn’t any better. I looked around and saw a lot of people struggling. I kept on trying and trying, experimenting with breathing patterns and when to take them. Every time I thought I got the hang of the waves, feeling the peak and then the trough, breathing in between, the wave pattern seemed to have changed and I found myself taking on more and more water and sometimes choking. It wasn’t just the breathing, I found that some of my strokes were literally eaten up by the waves, when my arm came out the water it just seemed to be hit back and sometimes my hand would just stop by my head as it was hit by a wave, losing any rhythm I had.
A quick thought of not being able to complete the swim came into my mind, not because of my ability or determination to continue but due to waves meaning that I would get cut-off and not be able to continue. Especially as Wales Ironman hasn’t had the best track record, it’s only been running for 4 years and 1st year there was a rip tide, 2nd and 3rd there was a hurricane and now I could imagine 4th year disruption due to the ridiculously abnormal waves. However, the nice thing was that it seemed like people spread out a bit more than usual so you had a bit more space.
Turning round the 1st buoy was tough, as the wave was now head on, meaning not only was it hard to breath but it was hard to even move anywhere as it seemed to be pushing you back. Now swimming between the two red buoys, breathing to the right was the answer and fairly easy. I got hit quite a few times and people even came from above me as they were riding on the waves, something I haven’t experienced before. All good practice though.
Reaching the second buoy I was feeling really quite sick and my stomach was turning and the taste of the sea water was so salty and didn’t help at all, I even put my hand up for a canoe, however I changed my mind and thanked them but I wanted to do it without any help. Heading back for the beach before the second lap was very nice, we had the waves behind us and it meant that we had 300m of some quick and not so tough swimming, or should I say surfing.
Running out of the sea towards the timing mat before getting back in, gave us a bit of a break and allowed me to collect my thoughts on how to tackle the next lap, I wasn’t looking forward to getting back in I must say. I thought to myself “ok, you’ve done this once, you know what to expect, you know its tough but it is an Ironman, just go for it, one lap to go, you’ll soon be on the bike soon”.
Going to that first buoy again was one of the best feelings I’ve had whilst swimming, I found myself literally battling against the waves, head on, it was tough but just kept going, not sure how to explain it quite right, but I felt like a jet boat (not as fast) but powering through the water, hitting the waters edge every time, fighting to bring my arm over without being hit back by the water. I experimented and breathed every four, so that I was less likely to take on the water as I was breathing less often. Seemed to be working and I got into a bit of a rhythm momentarily before having to turn that corner again. The last two straights, I just kept going, I knew that I’d be out soon and it’d be one discipline done.
(I’m behind him)
Taking over 35% longer in the swim than the same swim in the Long Course Weekend, finishing at least, I ran out of the water and up to the zig-zag part, I was so glad to take my hats and goggles off and I started thinking through what I needed to do. I took off my wetsuit, grabbed my purple bag, putting on my socks, shoes and watch on, whilst trying to take in a gel and putting the wetsuit back in to the purple bag and made my way to the main transition, running 1km through town.
Entering the bag area, I grabbed the blue bag, put my cycling shorts and top on over the top, along with getting my helmet, shoes, number belt etc. Putting the purple bag into the blue, I hung it back up and made a run for my bike. Trying not to fall over anyone in the busy marquee I ran into the bike transition…wish they put matting down, quite painful on my feet and grabbing my bike, putting isotonic in the drink which I forgot to do, must remember that for next time…can’t get everything right first time. I ran out of the long transition and I was eventually on the bike…180km to go!!!
The course was brilliant, amazing views all around, people lining either side of the streets. The support was fantastic. Having been round on the Long Course the route felt quite familiar, and it meant I knew roughly what I had coming up, which was really helpful as I knew what the main hills were like etc.
Making sure I ate the right amount of bars and gels etc. proved to be tough towards the last couple of hours but I knew I had to take in more to stock up slightly for the run, as I find them a lot harder to take whilst running.
The bike ride was such fun, the kilometres flew by and without realising I’d already done 80km, nearly half way, I was passing so many people, 551 in all, it felt so good. After all, I knew I had to make up somehow, as I knew the run would be tough and that my knee injury may become a massive problem and therefore very slow (see last report). I did have to make sure that I paced it though as I did have a marathon to do after, however slow, and so many people had told me that people go off way too fast.
Passing so many people, I wondered whether I might’ve been going too fast especially on such a hilly course known to be tough, but I knew I could hold an average speed of 30kph quite easily and so I did. Coming off the bike in 6hrs meant pacing was perfect. I think the amount of cycling in Lanzarote really helped as I flew up the hills.
I then ran into transition dropping off my bike before heading for the marquee with the red bag. After taking off my cycling bib I stuffed my gels in my pocket and ran out of T2, ready for the marathon. Two disciplines done, one to go.
Having decided that I’m not going to go all out and risk my knee, I decided I was going to do it gently and go for a 4-4.5 hour marathon, an hour a lap and a bit extra in case of my knee. I knew it was going to be slower than I originally wanted. However, sense (I think) came in and I thought I’d rather finish the whole thing running/jogging the marathon then having to walk after going off at a faster pace and damaging my knee even more, remembering how painful/slow it was just to walk after an 8km run, not even being able to walk was worrying and I didn’t want a repeat.
So keeping to my pace and doing each lap in roughly an hour, I ran round the course. Collecting a band each time I reached the furthest point on the course. However, at the beginning of lap two after the feed station, I started limping, I could feel the pain coming back and it felt like my right knee had locked a bit, just didn’t want to bend that much. I pushed myself to just keep moving, hoping my leg would start working again and tried to run a bit more normally, I knew a limp would only make it worse and I wanted to end it strong.
I found myself still going up and down the course, distracting my mind and telling myself that I’m not going to walk, which so many people had taken to, as I knew once I started, it’d be easier to repeat and walk up another hill. I just kept going it was now just pure determination and mental strength and ability. I played mental games with myself, trying to distract myself from the pain in my knee.
Collecting the 3rd band, I knew I only had one more lap to go and then I’d be on the final 5km straight back into Tenby to become an Ironman. I kept pushing myself, not walking at all. The support was just incredible and the crowds were so amazing pushing me through.
4th band collected, last 5km to go I pushed a bit more and ran back into Tenby past the cheering crowed and the BBQ’s, now no longer jealous by their amazing food as I knew I’d be eating free food very soon, given out just past the finish line (pizza had never tasted so good…and good portions too). Running around the final streets of Tenby I knew I’d made it and out of nowhere, I found myself sprinting down the carpeted finish line, cheered on by the crowds, ending it strongly, as wanted. Crossing that finish line felt so good, it was all over, I was now officially an Ironman, receiving my medal and seeing my sister, Anastasia, Charlie, Tess, Susannah and my mum was so relieving. Although I’m not sure if a sprint was the right thing to do as I soon after ended up in the medical tent being carried in by Charlie and my mum, not being able to move, before getting in a wheelchair, as my left knee had completely gone. Yes, that’s the opposite one to the one that went beforehand and during the race, probably overcompensation.
Although done in a respectable time of 12hr05, at one of the toughest Ironman events, and being my first one, I was happy and coming off that bike it’d be a time I honestly didn’t know I could even achieve. I really was preparing myself for the worst and told myself it could be an 8-hour marathon, walking and hobbling. I thought my knee wouldn’t hold up as well as it did. Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed with myself for pacing it a bit too much, especially on the run, and taking the easy and safe option. I know they’ll be another time, hopefully soon, but as a first attempt and under the circumstances it’s a good time to now beat. There’ll be plenty more Ironman races in the future.
I’d really like to thank Jon and Cindy for picking us up from the airport before the race and letting us stay with you and again for after the race. It was so nice to know we didn’t have another 3 or so hours on top of our journey, especially without having a working car, the food and hospitality was lovely. I’d like to also say a thank you to my team of supporters, Susannah (personal chef as well), Anastasia (first person seen at the end of the race, an amazing sight as I knew it was over), Tess (drawing in the sand, during the race), Charlie (thanks so much for all of the advice, tips and the talk through before the race) and mum (amazing support as always and for sorting out the accommodation) along with friends and family around the world not able to make it but who were very supportive, and to Luke and Gabriella and to all those that I train with at uni and in CLS that were watching online, encouraging me every time I crossed a mat. Another thank you to my sponsors, Apex and www.daysout.co.uk for all their help, support and amazing bike, Prometheus, and to Warwick Physio + Rehab, definitely be coming to you once I get back. Finally a massive, massive thank you to Oggi and Carsten and Lena for all the support over the years getting me into triathlon, taking me up the hills of Lanzarote again and again, running with me, and introducing me to Ironman, you’re all a massive inspiration.
I’m now officially an Ironman!