The first Ironman Wales!
Arrived Thursday afternoon, went straight to registration above the South Beach where the swim was to start from and noticed the wind immediately! The marquees they had up were flapping around quite a bit and were held down with huge tanks of water on each corner - a sign of things to come!
Went for a practice swim on Friday morning - 1k took me 34 minutes (ouch!) in a choppy sea with bit of a current, still at least the rain had stopped for a while.
No let up in the wind on Saturday, but it was actually sunny - wooo! Good to bump into Matt at bike racking / bag drop off. Covers were provided for our bikes which was a nice (and very necessary) touch. My bike was blown over though and bent my rear mech which I didn’t notice until out on the course, but more of that in a bit!
The race briefing was all about safety due to the conditions - especially as the bike has a lot of technical descents. Oh, and the swim was moved to the North beach as the weather was just too bad for the South Beach, which meant it was now a 1k run to transition either wearing or carrying a wetsuit - plus we needed another pair of shoes to run in - I didn’t take another pair of decent-ish running shoes but managed to find a pair of scrambling-sandal things in Mountain Warehouse which actually worked well.
Sooo, race morning - up at 4:45, a bit of breakfast and a walk down to T1 to put on my wetsuit, check my bike hadn’t blown away and then make the trek down to the beach in my lovely new sandals (met a Lanza buddy as he was racked next to me - oh the small World of Ironman!)
The North beach was getting busy - I saw Matt again and we wished each other luck. Down on to the sand - the wind was up and the sea looked rough with 5-6 ft breakers to get past. The sun was trying to make an appearance over the clouds on the horizon and did come out for about half of the swim which I think made everyone feel better.
Lap one seemed OK, the swell was big and the wind was blowing water off the wave crests which made breathing interesting! Then out and a quick run around the rocks and back in for lap two - harder this one, the swell was bigger and the current seemed to be pulling me back more. Sighting was a challenge to as you had to time it when you could feel you were on top of the swell to see anything other than a wall of water. Then on the last turn to head back in with about 300m to go I was sick - I know some people had taken motion sickness pills and was now wishing I had too! Apologies to anyone behind me!
Out of swim at 1:22 - OK I thought, considering the conditions, then a run up the zig-zag path picking up my lovely sandals on the way, wetsuit half down (I decided I didn’t want to carry it) and then a 1k jog to T1. 17 (!) minutes later I was out on the bike - hmmm, windy!
The first loop takes you to the West coast so it’s straight in to the wind - which was the tail end of Hurricane Katia so it was a bit of a stiff breeze! First hill and a bit of pressure on the pedals and ‘clunk’ - chain jumped off the rear cassette. Jammed in quite tight and had to pull it hard to free it up, worrying that I might break the chain. Back on, ‘clunk’ again. F***!
I could see the rear mech was out of line and tried to bend it back but could only get it over enough to use some of the cogs - 1st and 2nd gears were out which made the hills a real slow grind, still at least I was moving again - I did lose 30 minutes though and was now slow up the hills. Fortunately I spotted a mechanic at 45k who managed to straighten the mech up enough to get 1st and 2nd working again - yay!
Towards the end of the first longer lap is where the real climbs start - not as long as Lanzarote but steeper - on two of the steepest there were lots of racers walking their bikes up - hey, it’s hard but don’t ever get off unless you fall off! And the descents! Extreme bravery required! The roads were narrow, steep, twisty, many with shocking surfaces and blind turn after blind turn. I saw a guy wiped out and being put in to an ambulance on a stretcher - hope he was OK (in fact, I recall seeing a lot of ambulances both on the bike and run, but then it wasn’t a day for the faint hearted).
On lap two all I could think of was those two big climbs again - but once you get to the top of the last climb it’s only about 20k into transition again.
Off the bike and I took some time to sort myself out then off out. Down out of town then - oooh - that’s a long hill - and we have to do it four times! I As I got out on to the main road I could see bikes coming in that were almost certainly going to miss the cut-off. I met Matt again at the end of loop one on his last lap! Top effort. And a top effort was required by all as the climbs on the run were even steeper than the bike up Castle Hill (the locals told me they don’t even like walking up there!)
The the run went through pretty much every street in Tenby - and the support was fantastic - everyone seemed to be out, the sun was shining and all was right with the World (apart from the extreme fatigue of course!) Then on the start of lap 3 the rain came in - and the wind picked up. I’ve see horizontal rain before but not rain that seems to come up at you from the ground! It was like that for the rest of my race - I’ve never run in anything like that. I was now so tired I was having to walk up most of the hills so was getting cold as I was completely soaked and the wind was gusting up to 60 mph - if I’d been as fast as Matt I would have stayed (mostly) dry!
What helped me as much as anything else was my girlfriend, Clair, running & walking with me for a good part of the last two laps - I would have taken even longer had it not been for her (although apparently I’m not allowed to do any more Ironman races in the UK or any that aren’t flat!)
Heading back into town and there were 10 minutes left to get a 15 in my time but I had nothing left to go any faster and crossed the line drenched, cold and shattered in 16:01 - the longest I’ve ever been in an Ironman and this was definitely the toughest. The course was hard but the conditions made it a beast of a race.
Fish and chips and a cup of tea in the finishers tent was very welcome - I was shivering and not feeling great with a tin foil blanket wrapped around me thinking. ‘why do I do this again?!’
We then had a 20 minute walk back to the hotel in the storm with a bike and 4 bags, nice! Shower. Drink. Bed!
For me, this wasn’t a race about times but here they are anyway:
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