Two years ago…. Two whole years to the date id started my foray into triathlon to raise money for charity by doing Ironman Weymouth 70.3, now I was waking up to tackle the biggest challenge id set myself to date…. To conquer the Dragon.
Ironman Wales is now well established as having one of the most challenging bike and run courses on the IRONMAN calendar with a swim that’s as unpredictable as Donald Trump’s tweeting.
Race morning found me up and awake at 4am, not the original plan of 5:30am as some muppet (yes that would be me) didn’t check the road closures for ironman and hadn’t realised when booking our caravan that the road outside was closed both ways in the morning meaning I now had to take everyone in with me at in order for them to be able to get to Tenby. Additionally, on speaking to a local taxi driver the day before he noted it was like wacky races in Tenby on race morning and we needed to be parked up by 5am if we wanted a space!
Here was race mistake no 1: Eat breakfast on race morning!
I had done all my training in the mornings without breakfast and had ample carb stores overnight to handle the load but, I normally get straight out and train on those mornings, not hang around on my feet for 3 hours burning fuel stores. With all the last-minute faffing about in the morning I just didn’t click that it would be a good idea to stock up the fuel supplies. A mistake I hopefully won’t make again!
The travel to Tenby and then down to transition was uneventful so ill skip that and head straight to the swim start.
IM Wales starts on Tenby’s North Beach, which provides one of the most spectacular swim starts I’ve seen, one continuous line of soldiers all clad in black ready to do battle with the dragon, some smile some look starry eyed, some (me included) could help but beam with pride when the national anthem is blasted loud and proud around the beach!
The pros set off first and shortly after the masses follow.
It’s a two-lap swim that started off calm, I had placed my self towards the back of the 1hr 15 start pen estimating a 1hr 25/30min swim and hoping to find some fast feet to cling onto. There weren’t any, little did I know most in that pen would take the wide lines around the buoys and find clear water. That wasn’t my plan, the inside line was the quickest route and that was where I was heading!
I passed every buoy on the inside line on the entire swim, something I’m quite proud of, sighting in the open water can be a challenge, and became more so when the swell started to pick up half way through the first lap, but I had practiced sighting and was confident in the landmarks I was spotting and the result was a 1hr 16m swim, I was over the moon running up the beach seeing that on my watch!
Part 1 complete, now a mini 1km run to transition, yep you read that correct a 1km run.
This might sound like torture to some but running that 1km is one of the highlights of the day. The whole route to transition is surrounded by supporters, screaming clapping banging the boards, strangers shouting encouragement and cheering you on!
Transition is like a war site, bags everywhere, not a bench empty in sight, I had to stand to change into the bike gear, shoes on, overcovers pulled up, crap a zip is broke, mechanical 1 for the day, off came both overshoes, helmet on glasses on and we are off.
No major disasters, the bike now loomed!
5 miles…5 bloody miles and I was at the side of the road…. mechanical number 2 for the day.
Something wasn’t right with the chainring, the chain had jumped all over the place for the last 5 miles, the power meter was showing 0, cadence 0, something wasn’t right…it took me a few minutes but eventually I found the issue, a twig had I’m assuming blown in between the small and large chainrings in the howling wind overnight , small enough for me to miss it in transition, large enough to cause major issues.
I stripped it out reset the power meter and off we set again, by this time I had no idea how long the last 5 miles had taken, my computer had been reset several times while riding in a vain attempt to figure out what was going on with the power and cadence readings. I estimated id been at least 30 mins for those 5 miles with the stop, a setback already that ultimately got In my head.
The bike is a beast at times, several times I clocked the slope reading on my Garmin registering over 10% on climbs, several of the big climbs register at 16%, I had however been prepared for that, most of my training rides had been around 30/40 miles (yes I know no where near long enough in hindsight, another mistake I wont make) and all had included the same or more elevation as wales in a shorter mileage, I was confident hills wouldn’t be an issue and they weren’t, while others climbed out of their saddles around me, I stayed routed to the seat, spinning away up the hills. This Fat boy had turned into a wannabe mountain goat!
If the hills weren’t a problem, the flats were, for the first time in all my riding I was suffering with knee pain, it was killing me, I couldn’t figure it out, on the hills I was fine, the flats were like someone was trying to rip my right knee off, I could turn the pedal anywhere near the power I had planned and we were only 50 miles in…this was going to be a long slow ride.
In hindsight I now realise it was an injury of my own making, my pedals had broken the week before and I had switched to a spare set, but in my stupidity id completely forgot to adjust my fit to the new pedals, another lesson learned!
70 miles came and with it came another mechanical but this time with nutrition, I was using tailwind to fuel on the bike, pre made in 250ml water carriers that I tipped half into on the fly from water bottles I picked up at the feed station, id practiced it a million times training and was confident it was the best option given my chosen set up for the race (road bike, no aero bars or rear mounted bottles) the water carrier at this point had other ideas, while holding it in my mouth to take the lid off a water bottle it imploded in my face, the dragon had lashed out!
2 hours of fuel were scattered over my bike and the road! Luck would have it id packed a spare 1hrs in the fuel bag, but I’d have to decide, grab on course nutrition for the last hour or stick to water? I went with water, my stomach is normally like a steel cauldron but the last few weeks had seen me struggling with my stomach in general so no risks to be taken here, honestly, I don’t know if it was the correct decision on the day or not.
The ride was disappointing time wise on the day but the experience was far from it, the whole route had spectators strewn across it, the major climbs were like a scene from the TDF, honestly Tenby your support for a bike race is like know here I’ve ridden!
I rolled into transition with a 7hr 37 split, a far cry from the 6:30 I wanted at most!
A quick pee break and change into my run gear, note to self if you’re going to wear calf guards, just wear them from the start, it’s a pain pulling them on 9hrs into a race!
Onto the Run
Now most who know me, know I’m an ex prop that tipped the scales at 17 stone just a few years ago, running is not my forte.
I had run my first full marathon at Newport marathon at the start of the year in 4hrs 30, again a few issues with the knee there but for a different reason, so this was the part that secretly I was dreading, I did not want to be the guy that broke down on the run and failed to finish. Id worked hard in training on my run, put the long miles in, spent time in the gym on strength work (not enough in honest reflection, building it in to every week of training going forward will be a priority even if it means dropping another discipline!)
I was feeling surprisingly good, the knee was there niggling away, but my turnover felt good, I was holding a decent pace and moving forward nicely.
Tenby’s run course is another beast, its hilly, as some say you run uphill then run uphill some more.
The support however is another beast, I don’t recall a section of the run where there wasn’t support. in fact, there seemed to be someone strategically placed on the course at any point you started to feel slightly low to scream your name loud and proud and give you an instant lift.
In all honestly the runs a bit of a blur, Id set a target of 14hrs to finish and just plodded along at a pace that was manageable until lap 3 when my stomach decided to shut down and wouldn’t let me take any gels on without feeling bloated and horrible, and the last lap where the knee became a hindrance.
I started to take walking breaks where needed on the steep hills at lap 4, I wasn’t alone, at least a thousand of us were still out on course, the camaraderie is amazing, everyone is encouraging everyone, willing you to keep moving.
I grabbed my last lap band and set off for the finish, id calculated that I needed to be at the finish line for around 9pm if I wanted to make 14hrs, it was going to be tough, I set off down to the finish but a walk run strategy for the knee had me moving at around a 12min mile pace, at the last mat I knew I was going to miss my target but by how much? I pushed as hard as I could for the last 2 miles, no stopping just move forward, doesn’t matter how slow.
The finish line, the cheering crowds, the red carpet, the arch…..I’d done it!
14:06:25 and those immortal words “Shane you are an IRONMAN”
Some would see the run as another disappointment, but I would finish my day with a 4:50:05 marathon after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 (at times agonising) miles on the bike, 20 minutes longer than a standalone marathon in Newport the April before.
A run I’m chuffed at in honesty.
And missing my target by 6 minutes…. well let’s just say that’s a Dragon to slay another day!