Ironman Wales 2011
IM Wales was meant to be a nice relax race for me. I did IM Switzerland earlier this year and had planned this as a "fun" race. How wrong was I! It turned out to be the toughest IM I've ever done! I guess JP was right - “Don't tell yourself you will take it easy course there is no such thing in Ironman!”
I arrived in Tenby early on Friday 9th Sep for the inaugural Ironman Wales. It was sunny and the sea looked really welcoming and there were promises of a good weekend ahead. The scheduled practice swim on North Beach went well. The sea was a little choppy but not too daunting. It was calmer than Bournemouth had been the week before.
After a quick swim, I got out feeling calm and confident. After checking in at the hotel and a quick registration, I headed out for a recce of the run route.
It wasn't good..... The run route was very hilly taking the main road out of Tenby before turning around and heading back to the castle and up and down the hilly streets of Tenby. Great! And I'll have to do the hilliest marathon I've ever seen after 7 hours + of racing! That's what happens when you don't research the course route thoroughly! Funnily enough, the races’ run rules stated that "No form of locomotion other than running, walking or crawling is allowed"
Race Briefing that evening was funny in a macabre way, as the announcer told us about a potential change in swim locations due to Hurricane Katia. Due to safety concerns, they were considering moving the swim from the more exposed North Beach to the South Beach but it was 1 km from the T1. I mean why not? We were already doing 140.6 miles, what’s another 1 km in the grand scheme of things right? He was obviously enjoying himself as he then described the extent of climbing on the bike course.
It was raining all Saturday morning. We checked our bikes and BIKE & RUN bags in. We were told of the confirmed change in swim location and given an extra transition bag. This was to hold our 2nd pair of trainers at the swim exit so that we could run the 1 km across Tenby town centre to T1. On the North beach, the kite surfers were having a whale of a time out there with the huge breakers. Thank god we weren't swimming there on Sunday.
At the 2nd race briefing, they confirmed the swim will be at the South Beach but made another change to the swim route. (as if we haven’t got enough to think about) After the briefing, I went off for a quick dinner and then back to bed.
I woke up at 4.30 AM on race morning having had the first full night sleep in my 3 IRONMAN races. This should be good!
I had a good night sleep. The swim on Friday morning went OK. The sportive in Tenby in June went OK - Tough but manageable – about 6hr 40mins. The run was tough but I’ve already done 1 lap. I should be OK...
0640hrs on the beach and we were all corralled into a holding area. Then one guy went over the barrier and started walking along the beach towards the 1st buoy and then another followed. Pretty soon, more than half the field was walking down the beach to the 1st buoy. After walking halfway down, we were told to get back into the holding area which we promptly did.... for a while before it all started again....
And then the horn went!
Instead of swimming straight to the 1st buoy, half the field ran down the beach towards the 1st buoy before jumping in. It shortened the swim considerably but also meant that the field was spread across a bigger area. To me, that meant not being bashed about as much and I was able to swim in clear water. The breakers were only about 2 feet tall but there were times when I couldn't see the huge buoys that they had placed out for us!
On the 2nd lap, there were marshals to ensure that we couldn’t run down the beach. We had to swim the full lap and after the 2nd lap, we had to run up a steep ramp to get off the beach. I got my shoes on, steadied myself and jog to T1. There were people already passing me at this stage and it was going to be the theme of the day. Grab my Bike bag, no problem, helmet on, no problem, got on my bike, no problem, ride out of Tenby, and then I realised that the wind had picked up....
Soon, I was getting overtaken by all.... the pointy hats, the disk wheels, as the minutes rolled by so did everyone else. It was brutal heading out to Angle but it was there that we really experienced the full force of nature. On the beach, white crested waves were just rolling in one after another. You could see riders on disk wheels struggling to maintain control of their bikes.
On the bike, I kept my cadence high and my heart rate down, I ate and drank as per my training rides and it was fine until about 40 miles and then for some strange reason, I started feeling sleepy.... really sleepy... I could hardly keep my eyes open and I had to talk to myself to keep myself awake.
By the 55 mile mark, I was a goner. I’ve had it with this crap. There were no flat sections on this course. It was either uphill at 5mph or technical downhills at 30+ mph. I was going to quit triathlon and chuck my bloody bike into the bushes. Only problem was that I was in the middle of nowhere so I had no choice but to pedal on.
At about the 56 mile mark, a feed station!!!! I slowed down to grab a drink at a feed station. As I was doing that, the guy ahead of me came to a complete stop. Fricking heck! I couldn’t stop in time! I went into the back of him and hit the ground. When I got up, my shoulder was hurting but I was determined to soldier on. At the point, I realised I had a puncture as well!
A “quick” change and I was out of the feed station, sore shoulder and knee but aching to finish the race. By then, my pace had slowed considerably. I shifted down to my inner chainring and grounded up the hills, out the saddle with the biggest cog I had…I had no more gears. Some of the hills were horrendous, 16% at Wiseman’s Bridge which seems to go on for a while (and we had to do that twice). In and out of Saundersfoot where we had to ride up the Welsh version of “Heartbreak Hill”. Only problem was that our legs were already shot by the time we got here. So it was another long slog to get to the top and then up another hill following that. Wave after wave of hills kept coming. Seeing yet another hill that you may have gone through earlier in the day but not remembering it is not nice. Anyway you get the picture, my back had held out, but I just wanted to get back to T2 and get on with the last leg of the race.
I finally got to T2. Out of T2, I was running at a steady speed until I hit that long hill heading out of Tenby. I pushed on as hard as I could but eventually I slowed to a walk... and then I started walking.... My legs were shot and I had to formulate a new strategy. Walk up that long hill out of Tenby, walk the feed station and jog (no longer running at this point) the rest of the course. The proprietor at the Albany Hotel where I was staying was out cheering us on as well. He was supposed to provide pints of Brains bitter for refreshments but that didn’t materialise. I’m sure I would have run faster if I had some of that liquid nourishment!
The minutes went on, I took on more nutrition and I ran a little faster.
Soon, I was into the last lap, I walked the main hill out of Tenby but I picked up my pace after. When I hit the turnaround point, I up-ed the pace and started running and reeling in the numbers. I was going to finish. Not sure how long I’ve been out here as I no longer bothered to looking at my HR monitor. I was feeling better and this was the last fricking lap. Back down the hill, into Town…. And I collected my last band. Went round the corner to a flat stretch leading to the finish line..... and I felt the strong headwind again!
But it was not going to stop me now as I sprinted towards the finish line. Crowds thickened on the finishing straight, the cheers of the crowd and then I finally crossed the finish line.
I pipped the guy next to me by a second but we were both just happy that we completed it. I congratulated the other competitors than were staggering around the finish line with me and although my time was a personal worst time of 13:21. I was just glad I survived. The splits were: Swim: 1:02:55, T1: 13:57, Bike: 7:29:24, T2: 6:44, Run: 4:28:45.
Kristen Moeller, the female winner wrote the following on her FB page: "After a stormy swim in the atlantic, cycled a very windy bike course, including 2400m of altitude. Took over the lead at the 1st of 4 loops in the Marathon. The hilly run course with it's 800m of altitude, made IM Wales by far the toughest Ironman i done."
On the way back from Wales the next day, I met a guy at a KFC along the M4 who was also heading home from Ironman Wales. He had done 12 Ironmans including 4 in Lanzarote. He said that IM Wales was the toughest he has done and it made Lanzarote look easy. His finish time was about 11 hours. I later found out from Paula that he was Lyle!
As I’m writing this up with my legs propped up of a sofa.... having opted for early retirement from triathlon. I’ve decided that I’m spending the rest of my time eating pies & lifting pints. In fact, lifting pints is all the training I’m gonna do from now on.