Iron Man - Wales 2013

 

IronMan Wales  -  It’s All About The Bike………!

(IronManWales Long Distance Triathlon – Sunday 08 September 2013)

After 3 weeks of brilliant sunshine Wales will be Wet and Windy all Weekend” – BBC weather forecast on Friday night, 6th Sept.

 

(It’s all about the) Numbers:- 

 

Swim

In the sea

Transition 1

Includes run 1km

Bike

2,600m ascent

Transition 2

Run

700m ascent

Overall

1677 entrants

Distance km (miles)

3.8 (2.4)

 

180.2 (112)

 

42.2 (26.2)

 

Position Overall

1152

 

521

 

422

422

Position Age Category

151

 

67

 

50

50

Time (hr:min:sec)

1:32:29

0:14:20

6:31:31

0:4:22

4:18:48

12:41:30

Individual event rank

1213

 

337

 

417

 

The Race Position numbers above are for the people who finished only (ie those who didn’t finish or were disqualified are not included in the race position).

I studied the official excel spreadsheet, and based on timings for each individual leg I was actually:-

Swim – 1,213th fastest        Bike – 337th fastest       Run -  417th fastest     (I clearly need to work on my swimming!)

 

(It’ not all about the) Preparation……. the truth

To be honest, this year I did train. Lots of cycling (highlight was Oxford to Cornwall in a day), several 20km runs (and one 25km run round and round the accommodation block in Salym, 50 times round a 0.5km loop after a 12 hour shift – yawn) and 3 trips to the Oxford lake for some open water swim practice). A vast improvement from last years Midnight Man triathlon when I bought a wet suit 2 weeks before the event! (I completed that one in 11 hrs 55 mins……. But it was dead flat, and it didn’t rain…..)

 

Race Weekend – Saturday 07 Sept – (It’s all about the) Sunshine ……and rain

Getting up at 4:30am on Saturday morning, felt like the Oman dirt biking days. But this time I had a push bike, some trainers….and my speeeedooooos packed in the van. That and a whole heap of porridge, power bars, gels, and a rather disappointedly distinct lack of beer in the cool box. I only had berry flavoured fructose High-5 power drinks! What’s happened to me??!!

I got to Tenby in South West Wales (Pembrokeshire) around 9:30am, parked in the multi storey car park and wandered up to the IronMan Race village to sign in, collect race number, various coloured bags (more on that later) the race timing chip which went on my ankle, swim cap and race number tattoos!! Oh and I had to buy a triathlon license.

Stickers and tatoos..... and nerves The beach. Swim around that rock tomorrow and then run up the cliff and across town!

I had a walk around the town, visited the beach, and had a general “voyeurs recce”. People were driving the bike course, cycling bits of the run, and swimming in the sea. Not for me….! I’d see it all tomorrow. A road’s a road, right? I just wanted to rest. A motorbike track day 4 days ago at Donnington on my R6 had stretched a few muscles I shouldn’t have! (Got my knee down tho’!)

There were too many skinny blokes in tights….. I felt a bit inadequate, almost heavy. Jeans and a fleece for me…… I met a particularly skinny guy from Birmingham who had done it twice before. He was aiming for 16 hours, slow and steady. He gave me heaps of tips, but I think he was going to wear too much.

 Bike rack. The weather was great ... up till now!

Once all the registration/familiarisation faff was done (or not done!), I had fish and chips (I know…. not many others were but I was at the seaside and it smelt glorious, I couldn’t resist!) and half a roast chicken from Sainsbury’s, cos I’d left my pasties in the microwave at home (grrrrr) and was starving.

Then more walking to and from the “village” to rack my bike, and cover it in the Yellow plastic bike cover we were all given (rain forecast), pump up the tyres to 120psi and deposit two of my race bags in the transition area tent (2,000 sweaty competitors would be changing in here twice on Sunday, so bags had to be clearly labeled!). We could only rack our bike as we handed in our Red and Blue bags (and we wouldn’t be able to touch them again, so it was important to get it right and not forget anything). You also had to have your helmet on and fastened to get into the bike rack area! Very strict! I packed several clothing options due to the very unpredictable weather.

 

So, the details of depositing the bags….. love it!

Red for Run.  Trainers, shorts, and a couple of T-shirts cos I couldn’t decide which to wear due to changeable weather, oh, and some clean socks for the run!

Blue for Bike. Helmet, glasses, gloves, shoes, clean socks. Race belt with number attached. Race shirt, arm warmers, waterproof yellow jacket……. Gels in race shirt, and spare shorts in case I lose my swim/run bag (the purple one). Spare gels, and a bottle of sports drink.

Purple bag.  This was for the transitional run of 1km from swim to cycle…. Not normal for triathlon but a tradition in Wales ….. you need to run up a cliff, and then through town to get to the bikes transition. So you leave an old pair of trainers in here at the start of the race to wear after the swim. I also put a pair of cycle shorts in here as I couldn’t face running through Tenby town centre at 8:30am in nothing more than Speedos! Yes, even I am a little bit fashion conscious.

White bag is for your clothes after the race. Change out of these on Sunday morning, put on the wet suit and leave clothes, keys, wallet and phone in a plastic bag and hand it over for safe keeping.

All bags had race number on, and it worked brilliantly, thankfully.

At 5pm after what felt like a very long day so far, we all sat down to hear the race briefing. Warnings of “4 seasons in one day”, the importance of managing your nutrition, pacing yourself, very strict rules about littering, nudity (!), drafting (tucking in behind fellow cyclists to make it easier) and not accepting any food, drink or other assistance from anyone during the race. Oh and warning of bike accidents in the wet, drowning, and keeling over on the run through dehydration…. All happy stuff!

Coming out of the briefing and the heavens had opened. Here we go, welcome to Wales…. :-)

Then to my B&B…… In Penally 5km down the road. I arrived at 7pm. I paid up and gave the people some porridge sachets cos, although tempting, a fully fried breaky didn’t seem the right thing to eat, and they didn’t have any porridge themselves. We arranged a 4:30 breaky. The room was tiny so I tucked myself into bed, and then tucked into cold chilli con carne, tuna pasta and managed to resist a pot noodle I had brought from home! Fig biscuits, dried fruit and a Snickers bar. I had the serious munchies. I did worry about eating too much, but I was starving. Nervous energy?  It was a staggeringly early 9:30pm and X-factor was on the tiny TV above my bed….. Hmmm, well it was better than Strictly Come Dancing!

I put my race number tattoos on my arms, and was asleep by 11pm no problem.

 

Race Day – Sunday 08 Sept 2013.   (It’s all about the) Puddles  -  It’s been raining!

At 4:00am my alarm woke me. Wow! I’d slept! 3 hours till race start. I popped a few pills (vitamins, cod liver oil….and drank a rehydration sachet, although looking outside this wasn’t really necessary!)

It was Pitch Black outside, and there had been heaps of rain overnight. I actually had a pot of porridge in my room before going down to breaky….starving, nerves again I am sure.

All the usual morning formalities were performed, so feeling happy I loaded up my van (stepping straight into a huge puddle) and wobbled down to proper breaky at 4:30am. Porridge and marmalade on toast. Call me Graeme Obree!

At 5am I set off to Tenby, and parked the van about 1km from the transition village. Paid for parking for the day and slowly meandered up to the village chatting nervously with everyone else who thankfully was feeling exactly the same as me! “When does it actually get light?” was a favourite topic of conversation, as it was still pitch black. 

I queued up for toilets 3 or 4 times (just like everyone else!) wishing I was in the dunes of Oman, and not the smelly public loos of a wet and flooded Wales……

Wetsuits started going on around 6:00am. White bags handed in with our clothes in, and at 6:15 we walked as a group through the town (crowds already forming) discussing previous ironman events, triathlons and how little we had all prepared…. Hilarious conversations all the way to the beach.

One guy told me to put a gel in my inside sleeve of the wetsuit and eat it at half way…. Bit late for that advice! I only had 1 and that was for after the swim as I ran to transition.

At the top of the cliff we took off our trainers and left them in the purple bags on the numbered hooks provided (my race number 1359 – thankfully on a wristband too so just in case you forget which is your bag you can check your number…. Trust me, this was actually quite important!)

By 6:50 most were on the beach, and “warming up in the sea”. Call me naïve but I really didn’t know why anyone would want to warm-up before 12 hours of torture, but it was so cold, and I had clearly drunk too much liquid, so I also went in for a last minute “warm-up” in the sea……!! So now I know (and so do you!). Heaven. 

The Welsh National anthem was played at 6:55am……… everybody fiddled with their stopwatches, heavy duty white IronMan swim caps, and swimming goggles. I had pink goggles on, they are the only ones that fit my proboscis!

 

The Swim: 3.8km (2.4 miles). My time: 1hour 32 mins. Race position 1152nd overall, 151st in class.

I have to admit, the sea was like a millpond. Fantastic. I was very nervous as the videos from2011 showed people getting washed up on the beach by the waves…..as they tried to start! Nerves calmed….. a bit.

The pros were allowed to line up in the water, knee deep. The other 1,650 of us fought for position on the beach. The hooter went and……… TOTAL CHAOS !

There were 2 laps of 1.9km with a 750metre leg out to sea, 750m leg across the bay and a 400m leg back to the beach. A short 20 metre run over a timing mat and repeat the loop.

Swim1

The first buoy was 20 metres out to sea and you had to swim to the right of it (to stop people running down the beach and short cutting to the 2nd buoy). A fine idea but it meant nearly 2,000 people were fighting to get around it all at once! It created a vortex (or vacuum) effect and it sucked you in, but it also made it incredibly difficult to swim away from it….. even the canoeists (to save those drowning!) were back paddling just to stay in one place. It was scary.

The wetsuit in the sea gave incredible buoyancy (my first time swimming in a wet suit in the sea!) but decided to stick to my plan of breaststroke all the way. Freestyle tires me out cos I still can’t get my breathing right.

I didn’t see anyone else doing breaststroke, so I reckon I was the fastest breaststroker!! …. Although overall I was 1152 which really wasn’t very good. But I wasn’t last by a long way…..  which was good!

After 4 or 5 minutes I had calmed down, got into a rhythm, and felt OK. It felt like everyone was passing me (I had intended to enter the water last to avoid the madness, but I am afraid the competitiveness in me didn’t allow this when the hooter went, red mist took over and although I didn’t jostle to get in the sea first I was probably about half way). The sea was calm, no apparent current, no mist, visibility was good. “Oh yeah – I can do this!”  Bring it on!!! It did rain a bit, but only for a short time…. And I was wet anyway, ha ha.

The first major buoy at 750m was a nightmare. It was still very busy and although everyone had spread out a bit for the swim to the buoy, we were all converging at the buoy and it was a real fight to get round it. People stopped swimming and sort of doggie paddled / trod water / fought their way round. Some people were literally pulling or pushing others underwater to make headway. Not for the faint hearted or timid / polite! I didn’t push anyone, but I did hold my own if I got pushed!

After the first buoy everyone spread out much better and there were no more buoy hassles! Only at one point just before the end of lap 1 did I get tangled with someone catching me up. He kept bashing my feet, and then scraping his arms down my side, and finally looking at me, gave me a good punch to the head. I wasn’t a happy chicken, but decided this was neither the time nor the place for a fist fight, so I simply put a bit of a sprint on and cleared off. Never saw him again. It took my mind off things for a while although the old heart did start racing with anger for a short while. Then I got on with the job in hand which was hitting the beach, running over the timing mat (43 minutes) and going back in. Hang on…43 minutes…. Awesome! I might make it in 1.5 hours!! I was expecting 1:45. I am ahead of schedule!! My target of 13 hours might be on the cards !!!

As I started my 2nd lap I could hear the commentator saying the first of the pros was expected to finish his total swim soon (he did it in 47 mins). So I just avoided being lapped – a personal target achieved!

My second lap was still at a relaxed pace. I didn’t push it at all. The swim is so short compared to the cycle or run, the odd minute saved would be irrelevant overall. So I carried on swimming at a steady pace, and actually….. almost enjoyed it! People were spread out over about 200 metres wide path. It still felt like people everywhere but there was plenty of space. The odd small tangle but nothing major. The goggles kept letting in water though on the first section of the 2nd lap. And I could feel my wet suit rubbing on the inside of both elbows and knees (after the race I noticed I had big cuts at both elbows and knees from rubbing – still very sore now!). Neither were race stoppers though!

The water wasn’t cold but towards the end I could feel my body temperature had dropped, and I was happy to get out. The last 300metres you could hear the commentator shouting and the dance music pumping out over the beach. Such a good atmosphere. And the run up the cliff was lined with people all egging you on and telling you how well you were doing  (yeah right…. Still 10 hours to go!)

 

Transition 1 – Not just a change of clothing!

Out of the water, hat and goggles off and a quick run up the zig/zag path. Half way up the bags were there (I checked my wristband and found my bag). Wetsuit off. Cycle shorts on, socks and old trainers on, wetsuit in bag, and off I set. I ate a gel on the way and had a sip of energy drink. It took me about 7 minutes to get from the sea to the race village transition tent. Running through town in cycle shorts and trainers carrying a purple bag with a wetsuit in was a bizarre feeling! It was only 8:30am! I felt like I was going shopping!! The crowd was great, lining the streets and cheering like crazy!

We ran straight into the big tent. We went to find out Blue Bike (Blue = Bike!) and I simply sat on the floor and started changing. Some people used chairs, but it was chaos, very busy.

Now for the girly “what shall I wear” part! And I wasn’t the only one!! It was a huge topic of conversation at racking time (2pm Saturday), which was the last time we would have access to these bags. Yesterday I’d packed various options…. Was it a long sleeved base layer, no arm warmers and a race jersey, or was it just a race jersey with arm warmers…. I chose the latter, it looked OK as I’d run through town. Some people were even putting on rainproof jackets /gilets though. Long pants/warm knees or just shorts?

My jacket was already stuffed in my race shirt, along with several gels and energy bars. I put the arm warmers on though, and fastened my helmet (not allowed out of the tent unless helmet was on and fastened!). Shoes on (with a nice clean fresh pair of socks - I am a bit obsessive about comfy feet!). Shorts stayed on, no need for longs.

The purple bag with wetsuit etc had to go inside the blue bag…. And then we put the bag in a big pile and if our helmet was done up we were allowed out of the tent!  I’d forgotten the golden rule of “warming up the wetsuit” just before exiting the swim, so I used one of the many porta-loos before grabbing my bike, turning on the GPS and running to transition exit.

7 mins to run through town, and 7 mins to change, pee and get on my bike! Not breaking any records here, but I was comfy and happy! 1hr 45 in total so far, and I’d planned for 2 hours. YEAH ! (and no rain yet either, although the skies were ominously black).

Leaving Transition (most had already gone)

The Bike Ride – A bit more than your Average Sunday Jaunt. 

180km (112 miles) with over 2,600 metres of ascent.

My time: 6 hours 31 mins. Overall position now 521st  (overtook 630 cyclists!), Age classification 67th

I was actually 337th fastest cyclist. I was so chuffed with this result. Nobody overtook me, and I overtook 630 people. But I was also faster than a lot of people ahead of me, hence 337th overall.

Everyone says you should not push it in the first 30km. It’s a long race, blah blah, blah…. And this course to the first 60km is fairly flat (only 600m ascent). So I rode at a steady 30km/hr (19 mph). But I was overtaking EVERYONE! It was a strange feeling. I really was going a LOT faster than most people.

This business of not drafting and giving people 10 metres space was impossible. The whole course was jam packed wheel to wheel almost! And I was passing everyone.

Well, I wasn’t really pushing it so I just carried on, and on, and on. It was effectively like this for the whole ride.

As it happens I made up 630 places on the bike ride from 1152nd to 521st ! So although I didn’t overtake everyone, I did overtake 30% !!! The maths says I overtook nearly 2 people every minute!

Leaving town - great crowds 

The ride was basically one 60km lap to the West (600m ascent)  and then two laps to the North of about 1,000 m ascent per lap).

With the wet roads, it was carnage. One guy was fixing a puncture after 1km, I saw quite a few more puncture repairs. It hurts seeing these people desperately trying to fix punctures while you sail by. It’s so unfair.

But there were also some horrible crashes. The wet roads meant lots of corner crashes. One girl was lying motionless in the road just after a cattle grid. There was also a section of steep narrow hill with bikes passing both directions. We heard after the race there had been a head on collision of someone overtaking downhill (40-50 km/hr?) and someone overtaking going uphill (20km/hr?) That’s 60-70kph impact speed – not pretty. On the small country lanes there were people everywhere warning us to slow for the corners.

The roads were great, not very smooth but real back lanes. The consequence of this was farmers' mud, which turned to slime with the rain which started about 10am. Buckets loads of water dropped from the heavens…. We all got absolutely drenched. I took advantage of this by realizing I therefore didn’t need to stop for my “comfort break”!! I hardly saw anyone stopped so I am fairly sure I wasn’t the only one!!

Rain Rain Rain Smiling despite the rain  

Probably the most important part of the cycle is taking on food (you just can’t exercise for 12 hours without eating). I’d packed plenty of energy bars, biltong (dried meat), and gels. There were 7 feed stations along the way (every 25km or so) where you could throw your old water bottle away at the start, take a new one full of water or sports drink, and grab half an energy bar or half a banana. This was great but the drink wasn’t too tasty and the energy bars were just chewy sugar, and there were no gels. It’s recommended to take plenty of caffeine gels too. Thankfully I had these taped to my bikes crossbar, and stuffed in my race shirt so I didn’t go short. I was a bit gutted that I forgot to eat my malt loaf though. Discovered this at the end of the race!! I took on plenty, in fact I worried I’d had too much (and driving home I was buzzing so definitely had too much caffeine!) as I felt a bit sick from all the sugar occasionally.

At 60km (1/3 distance) my average speed was 30.5km/hr (20 mph) and I felt fine. This is 6 hour pace for the 180km, but I knew the next 2 laps were much more challenging). But could I keep it at 28kph and get a 6 hour 15 time….. if so (and my mental arithmetic was going crazy here!) I could just about get away with a 5 hour marathon and still beat 13hours! A bit under 5 hours anyway (including transitions). As it happens it was incredibly steep and I achieved 6hrs 31mins, but my marathon went brilliantly at 4:19, hence 12hrs 41 in total!! YEAH!

Crowds were in every village, sitting outside under umbrellas, with children, old folk. Everyone was out, drinking tea and coffee, eating cakes, waving flags. Apparently IronMan sold out of flags the day they released them. These people really got into the spirit of it.

On hills there were cyclists in groups laughing and cheering. Giving yelps of delight when they spotted someone still on the big ring! The local support was fantastic.

Overtaking up the hills Still smiling

So the second half of the ride started at around 60 km mark. We had been warned it was a lot trickier than the first 60k’s. Oh yes! It was beautiful but with 10km to go suddenly a 16% incline sign appeared. This was tough, but not too bad. About a mile in length. It rose up through the woods, and there was some mega keen cyclist standing there encouraging everyone up the hill. He told me I was smiling so wasn’t trying hard enough. I assured him it was a grimace, and most definitely not a smile. He was still there 2 hours later for my second lap. What a guy. Then it eased and a huge drop to the sea. Then….. “Heartbreak Hill”. I don’t know how long or how steep, but it was steeper than 16% and it’s famous. It leads up from the sea into Saundersfoot. The crowd had clearly been warned. They were out in their thousands! As I made my way up the hill (still overtaking a few) it honestly felt like a Tour de France stage. The crowd were lining the road either side and leaning in cheering, shouting, encouraging, offering their beers (!) and we just cycled up between them, almost touching them. The road opened up in front of us just like you see it on TV. They counted down the last 200 metres, and the people at the top were cheering and clapping like crazy. It was awesome. I have never experienced a feeling of heroism like that before! (But I would in about 2 hours time….cos I had to do it all over again!!!! Aghhhhhh)

We then dropped into the town and it was a fast downhill 4km to Tenby. And the lap restarted. By now my average speed had dropped to 28.5kph but nobody had passed me, and I’d stayed ahead of the pros too. Another target achieved!

The 2nd time around at Heartbreak Hill there were plenty of folk walking up the hill, and by this time I was in the top 500 or so competitors, so imagine how the lower classed folk were…. A lot of walking for sure!

So cruel to put this hill in after 170km of already tough cycling.

My average speed at the end was down to 27.5 kph. I was still happy though. Legs weren’t burning and I was managing to keep a bit in reserve for the run. I could see the run might be hot. Blue skies were appearing!

If I were given a pound for every gear change I made on this ride, then I’d be a rich man. I have heard of triathlons where you get onto the big cog, and that’s it. Well not in Wales it was big cog little cog every couple of km’s and up and down the rear set continuously. A tough ride. 

I took my arm warmers off after about 140km. The roads started to dry but were never really properly dry, and under the trees remained wet for the whole day.

By the time I got back to Tenby the legs were tired.  That last climb was a killer. Then after a fast descent the last little bit back to transition was also uphill. Grrrrrrr

I cycled through town, and the crowds, back to transition.

6 hours 31 mins. Pretty darn good considering the conditions and steepness. Happy!

I’d be out of transition at around 8 hours 20……. That would give me 4 hours and 40 mins to do the marathon and still get in under 13 hours…… This was looking good! But could I do it? Anything can happen in a marathon.

 

Transition 2 – (It’s all about) Clean socks

We had to dismount before transition, keep our hat on and rack our own bikes. Stop the GPS. Reset and ready for the run.

Then run to the tent and find the Red Bag (Red = Run)

Off came everything. My socks were filthy black now from the road grime, and soaking wet from the rain and puddles.

I put my running shorts over the cycling shorts (as my thighs were aching a little and I reckoned the lycra would help keep the muscles in 1 piece! I’m not into those compression long socks though…..there is a limit!  I am clearly getting vein. I pulled my race number from back to front (strict instructions at the briefing!!)

New clean fresh socks (heaven) and my sleeveless running top. The weather was improving and I reckoned it would be warmer for most of the run, so didn’t need sleeves. The last bit didn’t matter if I was a bit cold.

I started my GPS again for the run, and stuffed it in the number belt pocket……. Just a marathon to go then !!! Easy peasy.

Running a Marathon after over 8 hours of exercise already! Hmmm, the legs felt heavy. I didn’t really want to do this run.

The marathon for me is all about will power. It would be soooo easy to stop and walk. I was however determined to get past the half way point before I walked. So I set off smiling for the crowd but grimacing underneath! The crowd would shout “he’s smiling” and I would shout back…. “no, it’s just wind!”

 

The Run. It’s a marathon. You know those things you train for a year for and rest for a week beforehand. I was cold, wet and exhausted, and I hadn’t even started it yet!

42.2km (26.2 miles). My time: 4 hrs 18 mins and finished 422nd so I overtook another 100 people. Not bad for a lad who doesn’t really like running!

So out of the town we went and basically 3 km climb up the main road out of Tenby which I had just cycled down. It felt great seeing people cycling….. I was beating them all! But there were also people running back down the hill. They were beating me!

You only looked at peoples arms. They gave you a coloured “hair bobble” (yes I’ve got 3 daughters!) every lap you did.

The marathon was basically 4 laps of 10.5km. It was 3km up a hill, 3km down a hill a couple of km on the flat-ish and then 2km up and down every cobbled street in Tenby town centre, which was full of people shouting, cheering, clapping and…… drinking beer and eating fish and chips…. Oh the smell!

But it was great. Kids everywhere demanding “high fives” off all of us competitors. They were loving it too.

Head up....knees up....

At half way on the run you passed through a check-point. And on your first lap they gave you a yellow hair bobble to go round your wrist. Then at the end of the lap in town you had to do another lap, and you collected a green bobble, then a blue one and finally a red one! With a red one you could turn left at the end of the lap and run the final 200metres to the finish.

Oh, it was hard turning right before you got the red one!!

So as I was running up the first 3 km hill I was “naked” no hair bobble…… the hill was long and it felt steep. The very first part was steep and loads of people were walking. Most people seemed to be “naked” or have a yellow one on only. I didn’t like seeing people who looked less fit than me wearing a bobble…. How had they done it so much faster than me! (errr… your swim was rubbish mate!) And I saw the race leader with a cyclist following behind “1st male”. Same for the women. They looked tired!

Collecting the first bobble felt great. I’d made it to the top of the hill in 21 mins, and then to the entrance to the cobbled town section by 49 minutes (on my stopwatch). I completed my first lap in 59 mins…. Hang on…….if I keep this up I’m on for a 4 hour marathon! I know I will get slower but we have a real chance of a 4 hr 38min marathon if I only slip 9 mins per lap. And that beats the 13 hours! Come on !!!

At the top of the hill again, this time I was on 23 mins, so I was 2 mins slower. That’s OK, keep it up and my first lap will only be 6 mins slower and on for the 4:38!! I was constantly calculating what I needed to do.

Feed stations were every 3 km or so. I was only taking on water. I had one go at the power drink but it was fizzy and horrible. I was trying to take 3 gels per hour but I was starting to feel a bit sick.

By lap 3 I was in trouble. I was feeling light headed. Something was going wrong. I’d never felt like this before. Was it the famous “bonk” coming on? Was I going to be one of those people who pass out? Would I faint? Hmmm…. What was happening?  I had eaten plenty on the bike ride, but it was all power bars and gels, and not the usual pasty, or cheese sandwich I am used to. Lesson for next time (ha ha, if there is a next time?) is take some real food on the bike. I need real food. Sugary carb loading gels are good but my stomach needs bread and cheese!

I’d made it to lap 3. I really wanted that blue hair bobble. But I was in trouble, so I decided at the start of the hill I would drink some flat coke they were offering, and eat some banana, take 2 gels and wash it down with water and hope I would be OK. I also took a 600 ibrufen and a salt tablet. I’d had a couple on the bike too so I knew I wasn’t dehydrating. Or had I taken too much? Oooops. So this is why you are supposed to practice with gels and stuff!!

The short walk up the hill helped. I power walked and to be honest it was almost as fast as running (as I was running slowly now!) and the rapid intake of coke, gel, banana and water REALLY helped. After only 2 minutes of walking (I gave myself only 2 mins) I set off running again. And to my surprise I felt I was running better. Any my head was clearing. Brilliant.

It’s amazing how focused the brain gets when you need to overcome problems. They say you will have a low point on an Iron Man. Mine was lap 3 of the run, for sure.

But when I got my blue bobble I was feeling good. I also realized I needed a pee, but was scared to actually stop in case I seized up and couldn’t get going again. I’d started thinking like this on lap 1 actually and on lap 2 I noticed a public loo in town. I’d go in there towards the end of lap 3! My confidence was rising.

It felt good!! It was the right decision. I’d  competed lap 2 in 1:04 and lap 3 in 1:08 so I was definitely slowing but I was well on target to beat 13 hours. Having the toilet stop I was refreshed and feeling so much better. I did lap 4 in 1:06 – faster than lap 3. The pressure was off (both time wise and bladder wise!) and so I walked several times for 1 minute up hills and I think that really helped with overall speed. I helped encourage a girl up the hill. She was huffing and puffing and clearly in an awful state. She’d done IronManUK (Bolton) a few weeks earlier and said this was 10 times worse (well it was probably also due to Bolton being only a few weeks before too!). She couldn’t restart her run so I had to leave her after my minute of walking. I saw her later, not looking happy but moving again. She’d make it!

When I collected the red bobble, I waved it at the crowd “I’ve got a red one!” They loved it. I’d seen others doing it on previous laps. Now it was my turn “You’re on the home straight buddy” “ Go for it” “All downhill now”. The cries were brilliant. I waved my red bobble for everyone to see! The interaction was hilarious.

At the bottom of the hill just before Tenby there was a guy playing a trumpet. He’d been there for hours. What a guy, playing silly songs, people joined in to sing along. Practicing his scales and slowly getting higher and higher! The crowd cheering him on to go even higher! A real party atmosphere. I shouted “Legend” at him as I passed him on the final lap, and waved my red bobble. He played a fanfare for me and the crowd went wild!! How many people had he done this for making them all feel so special?

Running through town was fantastic. The pubs were all bursting. They were killing me with their beers in their hands, but it helped as they cheered and made comments.

The finish The Finish 2 Final straight

So as I reached the final turn, and proudly turned left with my red bobble on display I tried to enjoy the moment. I’d done it. I’d really done it. In 12 hrs and 41 minutes. Only 45 mins more than my one last year. But this had been in the sea, had included a 7 minute run after the swim, and through pouring rain and enormous Welsh hills. Even the run was hilly, and had been really hot and sunny for the first bit. They say Wales is the 3rd hardest (after Kona and Lanzarote). And I’d done it, and done it well.

Punching the air as I crossed over the line I really truly felt happy and proud of myself again.

My self esteem was back. The feeling of completing it is a personal thing. It just felt great.

12 hours 41 minutes and 30 seconds. It was 7:40pm

I’d beaten the rain and the darkness. I was chuffed to bits.

The End Proud (and tired) !

Finished…… and relax (and drive 200 miles home!)

I didn’t collapse in a heap all bandy legged, I just accepted my medal, stood for a photo and walked into the tent for a pizza, whilst very, very conspicuously grinning from ear to ear! People were around checking you were OK. I just smiled and said “Yes, I’m fine”. And I was. I was mighty fine! Someone asked me if I wanted a massage, so I graciously accepted my first ever sports massage…… I was in a long queue though. 20 masseurs for 2000 people! They said it would be about 30 minutes. A slice of pizza and 2 cups of tea later, my 45 minute wait was up and I received a wonderful massage by one of the volunteers. All I can remember is shivering a lot though, it really was getting cold. We were all given one of those tin foil blankets, but it was still very cold. After that I had some more of the pretty lousy pizza. I collected my white bag and found my phone. Asked a guy to take my photo so I had a picture of myself on my phone. I got my IronManWales finishers shirt. Nice.

And that was it really. Just sitting around talking to other finishers (everyone was agreeing that was by far the toughest IronMan they had done) and enjoying a final piece of cake.

It was over.

I walked out of the tent, and it was pouring with rain. REALLY heavy rain. It was so cold. Those poor folk still running.

I walked over to the transition tent, changed into my jeans and fleece, collected my red and blue bags, walked over to my bike and took it all down to the van. They were very security conscious checking helmet, bags numbers, bike numbers. It was very good. So well organized. They’d definitely done this before!

I was tired and weary, but fine. No pain, no illness, I was buzzing. I was wide awake. Too many caffeine enhanced gels!! I’d definitely be OK to drive home!

It was still pouring with rain. They had asked us early finishers to stay till midnight and cheer in the last people, but I am afraid I did like many others did…. I just went home and hoped their families would be enough to cheer them in. I didn’t want to stiffen up or stand around in the rain I am afraid.

I was cold and I had a 4 hour drive to get home. Next time (ha ha), I’ll book a B&B in town, have a quick beer and go cheer the latecomers. I promise.

As I drove out on the road (at around 9:30pm) which was now open after the cyclists had all finished, I saw all the runners “walking” up the other side of the road. Up that 3km hill, in pitch blackness, in pouring rain. Their shoulders hung low and most were in groups of 2 or 3 walking up, exhausted but determined to beat the 17 hour cut off times, probably discussing how Wales was so tough. Some had 2 bobbles, some had 3. They would be collecting their final bobble and finishing in an hour or so……. The ones with only 2 bobbles had another lap and a half which would take them at least 2 hours. Poor things.

The drive home was strange. I was wide awake. I was literally buzzing from adrenalin (and too much caffeine). The insides of my elbows and knees were red raw from the wetsuit rubbing. I felt and looked a bit like a junkie! It absolutely poured with rain, but the van didn’t leak and the heater was great.

The 3.5 hours passed quickly. I got back to Oxford around 1:30am, but really didn’t want to sleep.

 

What a weekend. What an achievement. I felt so unashamedly proud of myself.

 

And now I can honestly say………

 

“I AM AN IRONMAN”

 

 

 

Iron Man Finish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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