The lead up to Race week
Ironman Wales has been on my hit list of races to do for quite a while and after an winter of knee and shoulder injuries I decided to swap my planned June race of Ironman Nice for the later race of IM Wales in September. This would give me 3 extra months training to get back to full fitness and build the distances slowly. That was the plan anyway, but as always, even the best laid plans don’t always work out. This year saw me working longer hours than ever before and also going through a very big life style change transitioning from living alone in a 3 bed house all kitted out for training with no one to answer to other than the dog, to a life living with my boyfriend in a house the same size where both of his girls have a bedroom, so goodbye turbo in the front room with the huge flat screen TV and hello cold, dark garage. That being said, I am very happy that my life has taken this turn, but it did mean training took a back seat for most of the year, and hence, I have never felt so under prepared for a race as I did Ironman Wales. Six weeks before the race saw me change jobs too with a fairly substantial career change which was an awesome opportunity but obviously meant that last six weeks training never really happened!
In August I had a weeks annual leave and was in Tenby to practice the race course. This has to have been the most emotional training week of my life, I spent several of the long rides and run sessions questioning what I was doing and in tears at how unfit I felt compared to training camps the previous year. The emotions and self-doubt all came to a final peak on a 4hr ride with boyfriend when I wasn’t hitting the targets that had been set. Just as I was crossing the road over the reservoir on the IM Wales bike course I pulled to one side and broke down in floods of tears telling Mark that I was going to withdraw from the race. He was fully supportive as always and told me he would be behind me whatever I decided to do.
That night I felt like a huge weight have been lifted from my shoulders and I drafted an email to my coach to tell him I was withdrawing. As always with big decisions I decided to sleep on it. The next morning, my feelings had not changed so that was that, the email was sent. Decision now made, I waited anxiously for a reply from my coach, and I also informed a good friend of mine that I was withdrawing. However, it seems my coach believes in me more than I do and when he received the email after ‘that’ bike ride to tell him I was withdrawing I was quite surprised when he said I should reconsider and make sure I was making the right choice for me. I genuinely expected him to simply agree with me that I was under prepared and say withdrawing was a good plan. At this point I decided withdrawing was still the best plan so changed my training camp into a lazing around the campervan camp. Being as I didn’t have proper wifi to get online other that the occasional bit of phone signal, I didn’t get around to withdrawing officially.
Two days later I had been thinking about the race a lot and thinking what a failure I would feel not to complete an Ironman this year after having a DNF at the end of last year from medical issues. Just as I was starting to have second thoughts, I got an email on my phone – the Ironman wales start list and athlete info. That was it! If the names had been published and were finalised there was no way I was going to get a DNS the year after my first DNF. I would have to complete this race no matter what! Time to change my goals from getting a respectable time to simply just turning up and crossing the finish before cut offs.
We went to Tenby on the Thursday before race weekend to give us a day or two to chill out before the race. By now I had enough time to get used to the idea of not ‘racing’ the event but simply going to Tenby to complete the Epic Ironman course and ‘enjoy’ the experience. The forecast leading up to the event was terrible, high winds and torrential rain, however as the days ticked by the forecast slightly improved and I think we had the worst rain on the day before when I went for my final short swim/bike/run session and got absolutely soaked through for an hour.
Being as Tenby is literally taken over by athletes and spectators for the week or Ironman the only taxi we could to the race venue from the campsite was at 4:40 in the morning, so this meant a 3:30 alarm to get up and prepared for the big day.
Heading into Tenby I felt relaxed but excited, I’m lucky not to suffer race nerves until the last 2 minutes waiting for the gun. We got to transition 15mins before it even opened, not a bad thing being as that with bike issues at Austria last year I needed every minute possible in transition to fix the bike before running to the start line with only minutes to spare.
All racked up and ready we walked over the beach where the start is and decided to stop in a café for a coffee whilst the sun started to slowly rise and light up Tenby. At around 6:30 we walked down to the beach and got set for the rolling swim start. I put myself in the 1:15 time slot as having previously done 1:07 but having the best year I thought this was optimistic.
The Swim (1:21 – 10th in AG)
The swim was amazing. I have fallen in love with sea swimming. The course is 2 laps with an Australian exit on the beach where you get out, run along the beach for around 100m then jump back in for lap 2. The first lap was fairly flat until the first turn buoy then it got a bit bouncy. The swell on the water meant more often than not when you sighted all you could see was the water in front of you, every so often I would sight on the crest of the swell and get an amazing view of everything around me. All in all thought this made sighting difficult but looking at my gps I think I did ok.
Wales is famous for the having the longest transition ever, you actually leave trainers at the end of the beach and take your wetsuit off and put trainers on to run into the T1. I took my time to soak up the atmosphere, there are thousands of spectators lining the streets and cheering you along the 1km run to transition.
Bike (7:44 Still 10th in AG)
The bike course in Wales is amazing, one long lap which is fairly fast and rolling with a couple of hills, then 2 laps of a very hilly course. Even at rural isolated stretches of the course there is great support with farmers families sitting outside the gates of fields to cheer and support, there is even one couple sat in sofa held aloft on a forklift tractor. Having done Bolton and Austria races I have say Wales is my favorite for support and scenery on course, I think only a race in Scotland would top it (Celtman already on the race list)!
The bike went fairly smoothly up until around 100km when I experienced ‘the bonk’. Having never suffered with a ‘bonk’ before I can safely say I now know what it’s all about now. I stopped at two feed stations and grabbed some powerbars even though I knew they weren’t gluten free, I didn’t eat them but put them away for reserves just in case! I managed to chuck down even more carbs than the 55g per hour I was having already using gels and RaceRX energy drink and I seemed to come out the other side of it. The last half hour of each of the 2nd and 3rd laps is amazing, you drop down into Wisemans Bridge and then you face the worst hills of the course, a steep climb out towards Saundersfoot and then a long tight drop into the village before another tough climb out of Saundersfoot. The final climb out is a very steep hill which is lined with supporters in a tour de France fashion so even if you want to overtake someone you can’t as the crowds only allow a single rider through at time, I had a man in a pink tutu chasing me up the hill shouting at me – will never forget that one!
I was very pleased to get of the bike as by the end I had gone numb pretty much everywhere and was looking forward to getting of that saddle.
Run (5:52 Dropped to 16th in AG)
The run course at Wales is 4 laps of a 10.2km loop, there is not a single bit of flat, it is all either up or down hill so it’s not a fast course. However, I have run a lap of the course several times so at least I knew what to expect. The first lap went well, took it nice to steady to get my HR down and was sipping a bottle of RaceRX I had in my T2 bag. I got around the first 10km lap at a nice steady run only walking the aid stations. At the 10km point, just after I had seen Mark again (the best supporter in world, he did me proud) I started to flag, my stomach started to cramp so I decided to walk up the long climb to New Hedges until I got the portaloos! I had 4 gels with me for the run in my tri suit pockets but unfortunately they fell out of my trisuit on to the floor of the loo – and there is no way I was picking them up, imagine Glastonbury loos at the end of the week and you’ve got an idea of an ironman loo at 15hrs into the race! I decided to try drinking water and flat coke to see if that would settle my stomach, unfortunately it made matters worse and I was now walking longer sections than I was running. As soon as I would run, my stomach would cramp and I would have to walk to the next aid station where the loos were. By lap 3 I was actually just waking, I was managing about 20seconds of running between aid stations/cramps.
When I saw Mark at the personal needs area before starting lap 4 I got some gluten free oat cakes and my jacket of him from and asked him to join me on my last lap. He walked alongside me for the last lap and I was honestly surprised about how many people were walking. By that point nearly everyone was walking. My walking is actually quite fast and we had a bit of a joke about how I managed to keep up with two people who actually ‘jogging’ albeit mainly on the spot it seemed! Mark was an absolute star and walked at the side of the course for the last lap patiently waiting for me at every aid station loo…. It was a very long last lap. My watch showed I spent 49mins of the marathon stationary, that’s more time In a portaloo than anyone wants to experience.
2km before the end, I threw my jacket back into the personal needs area and thought to myself I am going to run the end of this marathon no matter what. That last 2km was amazing, I am welling up writing about it. The supporters in the streets of Tenby are amazing, they are what make this race so special. Every pub had groups of people outside cheering and hi-fiving you. I had one guy kept coming and walking/running alongside me and each lap he was more and more drunk. A town full of drunk pub goers and every one of them friendly and supportive to the athletes.
I finally saw the magic red carpet and heard Paul Kayes voice on the microhphone. I had my longest ever red carpet moment hi-fiving all the kids (and adults) on the finish line chute, I aero planed my way down that carpet knowing despite all the odds being against me I had a race I will never forget. A final hi-five of the main man himself, the legend that is Paul Kaye. The pain is more than I have endured at any other race, the time is the longest I have been out on a race course, it is 3 hours slower than my IM PB, but it is a race that I did for ME and one which the memories will last forever.
Tenby – I will be back for more in 2017!