So, Ironman Wales… My main target race this year was Roth in July. At 9.51 the time wasn’t quite as fast as I was hoping, but with a solid performance, a 3.37 run and a sub-10 in the bank, I was happy.
So Wales was just a bit of fun – a bonus race, if you like. A Kona slot was always going to be a stretch given the strong field of European slot chasers at Tenby, and with a tough course and conditions it’s not a race to go chasing a time. I wanted to bank another race… apparently it takes five ironmans until you “get it”, and this was to be number three for me.
Having said that, I was feeling in great form so was hopeful of a race that I could be proud of. After my first Ironman in 2010 I was stuffed for weeks. With that in the back of my mind I was ready to pull the plug if I didn’t recover from Roth. But three weeks later I was back in full training and put in a really good six week block with a couple of good short races including a sub-2 hour Olympic, and some solid run training in an attempt to improve the weakest part of my ironman racing to date. So I was really excited and, unlike Roth, not nervous at all. That’s a helpful place to be, it turns out. My strategy was simple – be sensible but give it a good go and take some risks if feeling good.
A number of the Black Line crew had entered the race, as well as a few others I know like fast runners Richard ‘Spud’ Lewis and Rory Maguire, Ben Unsworth and Pete Stewart from Thames Turbo, plus Jenny Hill who we met out in Roth and I had bullied into doing Tenby claiming she’d have a great shot at Kona. So it was going to be a fun weekend. Unfortunately neither Deenzy nor Troy could make it in the end – a shame as they both had great races in Roth and we were looking forward to duking it out again – so BLL honours were to be contested by Nico, Ian and I. Having trained a lot with Nico in recent weeks I knew he was in great shape. With his bike and, in particular, run strength I would be glancing over my shoulder for most of the race knowing that if he caught me it would be tough to stay with him.
We did a recce a few weeks before… the sea swim was challenging, the bike course was a brute, and the run was up and down a ruddy great big hill. So it needed respect! It also showed how beautiful Pembrokeshire is. The bike course has some wonderful terrain, including the blustery but epic Freshwater West and the gorgeous sea views at Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot. The day before the race we got a stunning sunrise on our early morning jog at Saundersfoot. Ian, Jenny and I used that to do some Olympic style larking around (wouldn’t be the only time that weekend).
Last preamble before getting onto the race… some of my family came down to support, which is a first for a long race. Mum, Dad, sister Carey, her boyfriend Jon and their new puppy Wiggins. I can’t say my parents were that thrilled about the prospect – they watched me at Windsor once but that was about it. Understandably Wales in the wind and rain didn’t thrill them. It turns out they had a ball – spectating at ironman is a long day but with a break for a game at Tenby Golf Club during the bike, they were content and loved the swim and run. Happy days, and I think they now know why I love this sport.
I was delighted with the weather forecast… cool, dry till early afternoon and 20mph gusts. You don’t enter races in Wales in September expecting sunshine. Although having opted for a disc wheel on the bike I was crossing my fingers the gusts wouldn’t propel me over the hedgerows.
First surprise of the day came at the swim start. Last year they didn’t rope it off and when the gun went most of the field ran up the beach rather than swimming. Despite no mention at the briefing, some genius decided to prevent this by putting a new buoy in – perpendicular to the beach at only 150m out. So there were 1500 of us aiming for one small point. Sharpen your elbows, lads. To avoid massive biff my new strategy was 110% for 2 minutes to the buoy, embrace the lactic pain and then start the race properly once round the buoy. The swim was OK for me. At Roth I had a perfect draft the whole way round and swam great for a 57 min split. Whilst the sea was pretty flat, the small chop did make it hard to find any feet to follow, so I had to do all the hard work myself (bit of karma, I guess). Also, having gone out hard I tired in the second lap. So I was delighted to see 56 mins on the watch on the beach – it was either 100-200m short or we had a good current. Game on.
Onwards and upwards (literally) with the real business of the day. The 1k run to transition is actually one of the highlights of this race. The crowds are huge the entire way – what an atmosphere. Combine that with the sun making its only appearance of the day and it was serene. I would have loved to hit the pause button right there. Unfortunately, having come out of the water in 120th there were 1400 people chasing me down, so best crack on.
I whizzed through transition – thanks in part to borrowing Jim Peet’s nifty long sleeved Fusion aero top, worn on top of my tri top under the wetsuit. So whilst others were layering up I went straight out. Ben was grabbing his bike at the same time which perked me up – it meant my swim was solid as he’s faster than me in the drink, and as he’s a strong rider and a fast Ironman (9.30 guy) there was the prospect of riding close to him. It turns out he hasn’t had as much time to train this year, so that wasn’t to be. Probably a good thing as we ruined eachother’s races at Swashbuckler this year smashing it out on the bike!
The bike course is just awesome. The first big loop is rolling rather than hilly, with a headwind out to Angle, via the stunning Freshwater West and then a tailwind back before starting the first of 2 smaller northern loops which had 4 or 5 sharp (10-15%) climbs and very little flat. Rather than set out easy and let the heart rate settle like I did at Roth, I went out steady at 230+ watts and went about chasing folk down. My HR never really settled, but I was happy with that as I now see this as a good sign – I had it at Wimbleball and it tells me I’m fit and fresh enough to push. I was making good progress, barely overtaken and taking loads myself. Then the ‘fun’ started – that being a bunch of Europeans that have a more liberal approach (read blatant) to drafting than the Brits. I’ve had my rant about this. It’s shocking and irritating, but as irritating is the marshals’ failure to penalise anyone. Throughout the first 70 miles I saw 4 distinct pelotons and there was not a single penalty issued. Go figure. My failure was that I let it impact my race – rather than letting the group go and getting on with my race, I shouted some fairly industrial English, went off the front a few times only to get reeled in a few minutes later. So my power was getting erratic, HR climbed and I was getting angry. So I calmed down, let them go and got on with my race. Rant over.
I had a couple of bad patches, but sure as eggs are eggs, they passed and overall I felt strong on the bike and my stomach was behaving itself unlike at Roth. I caught Pete and 2nd woman pro Eimear Mullan around halfway on the bike, had a good natter/whinge with them about the cheating, and then pulled away from them on the flatter section. The crowds on the hill coming out of Saundersfoot and then flying down the hill into Tenby were incredible, and it was great to see friendly faces like Laura, John and Leighton cheering us on. The final loop on the bike is tough because there were now so few targets. It had got a bit harder, as you’d expect with the time and hills, but I felt fine and knew I was having a solid race. Finally Nico caught me at somewhere around 150k. He was seriously shifting, and told me that Rory and Spud were not far behind. That helped to sharpen the focus and pick my pace up – it may have been quiet, but there were fast guys just minutes ahead and behind so there was no time for resting up. Nico kicked on and I kept him in sight for a while before letting him go – who knows, he may have been trashing his race and I shouldn’t ruin mine chasing him.
Rolled into transition after a 5.44 ride – pretty happy with that, but now the race really starts. It’s always interesting to find out if you have any running legs off the bike at any distance – with the hills and being half an hour longer it had definitely been a harder ride than Roth, so I was fearful they’d be knackered.
It turns out they weren’t and they felt great in the first few miles – it’s always been a pleasant change to get off the bike in an ironman for me. I was holding back but still running quick up the hill. It’s a 4 lap course that weaves around Tenby then goes up a big hill via a couple of out and backs and then straight back down and some more weaving around Tenby. The support was amazing throughout from both the volunteers and crowds, in particular in town where it was rammed and most had been suitably refreshed all day. Lots of fun. Having my family there was amazing – a huge lift. My mum and sister were jumping up and down like jack in the boxes and my Dad was screaming with his fists clenched! For all supporters out there, you really do make a difference, thank you! I saw them 2 or 3 times on each lap. Great fun.
Nico was a couple of minutes up the road, Rory was a couple of minutes back. But they were both flying and capable of close to 3 hour ironman marathons, so racing them would have been stupid. The first lap was great then just like Roth I started to slow considerably before half way. So lap 2 was a bit rubbish, but it was fuelling rather than fatigue so once again when I got on the coke at halfway I came right back to life. In the future I’m on the coke from the start of the marathon – it’s rescued me twice now, so I need to eliminate the bad patches! Spud flew past me just like in Roth, although this time nearer halfway than the start. Lap 3 was solid and then, recovery complete, lap 4 was my best of the day. I had been chasing Jenny down for about an hour (she was a lap behind and moving really nicely) but when I finally caught her at the start of the final lap my legs were feeling better and better so I kicked on up the hill, shouting at her to go get her Kona slot. I was managing 4.30km pace back down the hill and then also on the flats at the end, and was able to ‘race’ properly, taking a number of places. Bonza. Nico had got 6 or 7 minutes up on me by halfway but in the final lap I saw the gap had shrunk significantly at the final out and back… so the hammer went down, but the sight of me meant the same for him, so I couldn’t close the gap and he got to the line 3 mins before me. A fun race… they breed them strong in South Africa!
Finished with a 3.18 marathon, which sounds terrific, but unfortunately it was only 40k on my Garmin, so more like 3.30 on an accurate course. Next time maybe the WTC can manage to get it right?! I’ll lend them my Garmin if they need? You can only run the course in front of you though and I ran at faster pace than Roth on a much tougher course, so I’m delighted with the progress.
Final scores on the doors were 10.09 for 20th in the M30 AG and 88th overall. 20 mins behind the final Kona spot, but I was delighted to ride steady and run faster than at Roth off that hard bike. A big step in the right direction and loads more learned. My swim was 120th, bike 89th and run also 120th. So the previously weak run now looks a bit more balanced, like my short course results.
Much like Roth it was great to see a load of mates laying it on the line, and almost to a man (and woman) having a great race. Gutted for Rory and Jenny to miss the Kona places by 2 or 3 mins each – although Jen got an impressive 3rd place in her AG and trophy for her efforts. Next time, guys! Combine this with a local community that so passionately embraced the race and it was a wonderful day, despite the drizzle on the run. I would recommend Wales to absolutely anyone, and I hope to go back one day. Hopefully not next year, mind, as inspired by racing with mates that are chasing Kona slots a number of us have all entered Ironman South Africa in April 2013. It’s typically been less competitive than the European Ironman races and it’s just gone up from 30 to 50 slots, so there is no lack of motivation this winter. If I can continue to improve my cycling and get in a good winter of high mileage running then I’m going there with a clear aim – to earn myself the right to throw a lot of good cash at a little race in the Pacific in October 2013. The dream lives on…
2012 has been a terrific season for me and this was a fitting end. I’ve loved every minute, most of all the banter, miles, smiles, hills, sunshine, rain and pain in training and racing with old and new friends. Whilst it’s been a year best described as ‘transitional’ on a personal level, these moments have been the highlight, so thank you all. Now it’s feet up and time to follow the black line to the beach. Mine’s a rum and coke. The best sports fuel in the world. The season’s dead. Long live the off season.