Ironman Wales 2014 Race Report (David)

I entered Ironman Wales a year ago – on the 13th September 2013. This was was less than a week away from flying out to Hawaii for the 2013 World Championship. Hawaii…. Wales…. yeah, they’re both by the sea so pretty similar I guess. This past year has felt busy. After the fun and games in October 2013 things calmed down a little over winter. We decided to move house after nearly 20 years or so living in West London so this has kept us busy for a lot of the year (and there’s lots more to be done).

Training coming into Ironman France in June wasn’t ideal but I still surprised myself with a pretty good time (no good in terms of Kona qualification) but I was happy with how things went. Back to the fun and games of house moving and then the next thing that seemed to spring from nowhere was Epic Camp Canada. This was crazy. 12 days of ridiculous amounts of training in beautiful surroundings with a great bunch of folk. It was great fun. Back to England and then 10 days later we’re driving to Tenby in Wales for the Ironman. Much that I do enjoy these races I’m really looking forward to relaxing a little bit (actually, quite a lot) after this race.

Pre-race

I wrote a little about Tenby when we came here in July for the ‘Long Course Weekend‘ – it’s a lovely place, just a shame that it’s 260 miles away from where we live. We arrived Thursday late afternoon and on Friday morning I had a little swim in the sea where the race is held. There’s been quite a breeze blowing the past few days so there was a fair amount of swell and chop on the water. With a bit of luck this will calm down a little on race day. Fingers crossed. I had a good little splash followed by a nice coffee and chat with friends in town.

20140912-4472Friday afternoon I went out on the bike for a little spin and to ride a couple of the hills that feature at the end of each of the two main laps of the bike course. I met up with Nico and Paul and we rode and chatted together for some of the ride. We then all headed off to the race briefing and then back into town for dinner as a larger group of us. Very relaxing.

Our B&B in Tenby is in a perfect location. We’re about 30 seconds walk from transition and less then one minutes walk from the finish line of the race. Saturday involved a little jog around the local streets, a full English breakfast and then a bit of a walk. I got my bike racked in the transition area just before lunch and then did pretty much nothing for the rest of the day.

Many people asked me what my plans are for the race – it’s clear where they’re coming from as the words ‘qualification’ (for the World Championship) often creep in. I told them the truth – that I was going to do the best I could on the day. Not worry about times. Just get on and go as fast as I can. Wales is a tough race – many people come here to try and bag an early qualification slot for the 2015 Championship. My training this year has once again not been ideal – cramming in two ridiculous weeks of training at Epic Camp would make or break me. On Sunday I’d find out.

About to check the bike into transition the day before the race
About to check the bike into transition the day before the race

Race day

An early alarm call and then after my usual tin of rice pudding for breakfast I was down checking my bike just after 5am (race start is 7am). Back to the room to get myself to ‘race weight’ (too much information?) and then stroll down to the beach (5-10 minutes walk away) for about 6:30am.

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This was taken about 30 minutes before the start. The tide was rapidly coming in and the marker buoys you see right by the shore are part of the course we swam round half an hour later.

Swim (2.4 miles)

The weather was looking like it would be pretty good today – about 18 degrees but with a bit of a breeze. It was breezy a couple of days ago and there was quite a swell in the sea for my little practice swim. Today it was just as windy, if not more. We stood on the beach, waited for the time to tick closer to 7am. I had a lovely wee in my wetsuit (again, too much information?) and then the gun/horn went off.

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The sun started to rise and it was absolutely stunning. That is the scenery – not the fact that I was about to subject myself to rather a lot of exercise! I often wonder why I do this (Ironman) stuff. I want to get faster, I want to get better and I want to do some fun and challenging races. That’s pretty much it.

Can you spot me? Yes, it was that easy! Photo: Huw Fairclough
Can you spot me? Yes, it was that easy! Photo: Huw Fairclough

We ran/walked into the sea and through the inshore surf. I hung left (left seems to be my favourite place to start a swim) to find clear water. There was plenty of it. In fact for the entire two laps of the swim I didn’t find myself in any of the typical swim agro. The sea was rough – rougher than I’ve ever swum in before (apart from when I’ve fallen off my windsurfer when I used to sail a lot in storms!) and any sort of technique was hard to get right. I just needed to get into a rhythm – sight when you are at the top of a wave and do whatever you can to swim straight.

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During the first (seemingly never ending) leg out to the first marker buoy when I looked around I didn’t see that many other swimmers. Whether that was because I was swimming well or they were all behind bloody great waves I had no idea. I just got on with it. There was little point trying to draft off of other swimmers as you were being tossed around by the sea and would only smash into them repeatedly when a wave picks you up and tosses you in their direction. I was better off swimming solo.

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At the end of the first lap you come onto the beach and have an ‘Australian Exit’ – meaning you run onto the sand, across a timing mat and then back into the sea for the second lap. The thing was, you had to run about 200 meters up the beach on soft sand to get to the mat, and then back again. It was torture! It was lovely to break the swim up though. I looked at my watch when I got out of the water and it was just over 30 minutes. It took me well over a minute to run up the beach, and then the same again to get back to the water for the second lap.

As the tide was coming in the water seemed to get considerably rougher. You were bouncing around in the swell, struggling to sight the (huge) marker buoys and other swimmers. Apart from drinking the odd mouthful of salty water I didn’t mind it too much. It made things interesting and different for a change.

Many people had a much tougher time of the swim than I did. People were being sick from swallowing water or getting sea-sick. About 40 people were rescued from the water by the RNLI (who were providing on water safety support). Many others did not complete the swim within the enforced cut-off of two hours twenty minutes. Of the approximately 2,100 people who entered the race, 1,850 started and I believe just over 1,750 managed to make it out of the swim and onto the bike. I saw a post on a forum that someone who gave up during the swim counted 88 bikes left in the transition area after the swim cut-off.

Eventually I made it round the second loop of the swim. I didn’t see too many people during the second loop. I had a strangely enjoyable swim. Whilst many people around me were having a nightmare with the swell and lumpy sea it didn’t seem to affect me much. I found myself in clear water for the entire swim and it was probably one of the most enjoyable swims I’d had in a race. Mainly because it was just different to a normal punch-up at sea!

My swim (including a fair bit of beach running) took me 1 hour 6 minutes and 16 seconds. All things considering I’m pretty happy with that. I would have been happy with a time a little quicker for a calm swim so to do that in those conditions was good (at least in my opinion).  I was 102nd out of the water and 17th in my age group. I didn’t know this at the time but that’s how I was doing.

Once I made it to the shore it was an even longer run to the (even longer still) zig-zag ramp up from the beach to the town. Half way up I stopped to take my wetsuit off and then grab the swim-to-transition-one bag that you were allowed to have. Mine had a pair of running shoes in it and an energy gel.

On the first lap you run all the way up the beach, over a timing mat and back to the sea. On the second lap when you get to the far left of the picture you turn left and start running up the ramps to town.
On the first lap you run all the way up the beach, over a timing mat and back to the sea. On the second lap when you get to the far left of the picture you turn left and start running up the ramps to town.
This is the post-swim run up to town. Then you run through town to transition.
This is the post-swim run up to town. Then you run through town to transition.

I then ran up through town to the transition are trying to carry a wetsuit that felt more like an octopus in my hands and at the same time trying to have an energy gel. It was not elegant. They make this race tough. Big time. The run from the water to transition one was about 1km (0.65 miles).

As I ran through town the crowds were amazing. I think I heard Sharon and I got a big shout from Paul D. (a friend who we spent time with in Hawaii last year) who was here to support. I eventually got to the transition changing tent – collected my bike bag (which contained my helmet, bike shoes, sunglasses and race number) and after a quick ‘fumble’ I was off to collect my bike from the racks.

What surprised me was the number of bikes in transition. I’d obviously had a pretty reasonable swim (at least compared to everyone else). Well, there were only around 100 people ahead of me at this point. In comparison at Ironman France in June of this year I was 442nd after the swim.

Bike (112 miles)

20140919-006125I headed off onto the bike course for 112 miles of fun! At this point I had to decide how hard I wanted to push the bike part of the race. Now from experience it seems that I can push fairly hard on the bike and still run well – this is a good thing. I didn’t know how my bike fitness would adapt so soon after the craziness of Epic Camp. I knew I could ride at an easy(ish) pace for hours, but could I push hard – and for how long? Well, the best way to find out would be to try it and see.

A few weeks ago I did the ‘Wales Sportive’ event which is practically the exact same course. The weather was dire and my ride time (excluding stops) for 112 miles was just over 6 hours and 7 minutes. The weather today was partly sunny, although a little breezy, I wasn’t allowed to draft off of any other riders but I did have my fancy race wheels on my bike. So, I guessed to Sharon that I’d probably ride about 5 hours 45 minutes if all went well.

I knew the first hour or so heading west towards Angle would be fast – the roads are good, no big hills and we had a tailwind. I settled into a good pace. There was no mass packs of bikes compared with any other long distance race that I’ve done – the swim put paid to that! This was a welcome change. An Ironman bike ride is a non-drafting event. Just you against the elements. Not having packs of riders all around you made things much fairer and honest.

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At about 40 minutes into the ride someone overtook me (an Irish chap if I’m not mistaken) and said “Are you David Rowe? I read your blog.” Oh dear, there really is no hiding is there! Hi!

The ride out west to Angle was lovely. The first hour or so I averaged just under 22 miles per hour and my power was high. For the techie people, this was just over 3 watts per kilo (3.04). Similar effort to Ironman UK last year. That bike ride did me proud. Would I be able to repeat it? There’s only one way to find out…

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The crowds out on the course were incredible. You were never more than about a minute or two away from someone stood beside the road, at the end of their driveway/farm-track cheering you on. Most of the children I saw supporting us were wearing ‘IronKids’ t-shirts from the children’s racing held the day before in Tenby. I’d read that the local support is good on this course but it exceeded my expectations big time.

20140919-017017Just after 35 miles you join a loop that you kind of do twice. This is where the main hills are. We had a mixture of country lanes, main(ish) roads, and little villages to race through. The roads were a bit bumpy at times but generally they were good. The hills were just as lumpy as when I road here a few weeks back. They’re not long by any stretch of the imagination (I now compare rides to the hills of the Rocky Mountains in Canada!) – there’s just a few of them and they’re energy sapping. This course is very rarely flat.

The descent into Wisemans Bridge was fast, the ascent out of it and up through Saundersfoot not so! Saundersfoot is the main climb for supporters – they filled the road and it was nuts. Similar to the Solarer Berg climb at Challenge Roth – you can’t help but grin and smile as you go up the little climb – no matter how hard it is. The crowds just drag you up the climb.

You then head back to Tenby before starting this loop again. The crowds on the edge of town were huge and I got a great shout from Sharon, Paul D. and the rest of the Black Line London triathlon team supporters (they had two of their chaps racing today – Nico and Paul B.).

My average power was starting to flag and at this point I knew for sure that I’d overestimated my ability on the early part of the course. Some people come into the race with the plan to ‘ride easy’ and then run hard (as the run is pretty brutal) but I was doing something completely different. I’d gone off a little too hard and this final 40-50 miles was going to be tough. When I didn’t want to pedal I had to fight the demons and push on. These demons made many an appearance during the day.

I did very nearly almost come a cropper at the aid station that was at around 78 miles. As I headed towards the station to get a couple of bottles of drink there were two volunteer helpers running along the middle of the road towards me holding water bottles up and trying to squirt each other with them. I couldn’t swerve out of the way because of fear of hitting other cyclists (I’d caught up with a number of riders on their first lap at this point) so I just slowed down and hoped they’d see me! I jammed on the breaks (I wasn’t going particularly fast in the first place) at the last moment as one of the chaps almost took me off of my bike. I was livid. This could have put a stop to my race. I shouted at the top of my voice something along the lines of ‘You *&^%$* idiot!’ I was fuming. I got my drinks refills and headed off.

I calmed down and continued. I enjoyed having more riders on the course at this point. It just seemed a bit busier, but never too busy. And I was overtaking many of them (as the ones on their first lap were about 40 miles ‘behind’ me at this point). This was a good confidence boost.

Just after the little bridge by Carew Castle (around 87 miles) Nico came past me. He’d had a good first half of the swim and then it all went downhill from there. He’d been sick and was now trying to get back in contention. He asked how I was feeling. I said ‘tired.’ He replied ‘Ironman isn’t meant to be easy!’ Fair point.

A few miles later as we got closer to Narbeth I found myself catching up with Paul B. He wasn’t having the day he wanted to have today – just a lack of strength on the bike. Dammit. We rode (legally) close together for a good few miles. On the uphills he’d normally get ahead and then on a descent (as I’m a bit heavier) I’d bridge back up to him.

20140919-025543This continued all the way back to Tenby. At one point he asked if I fancied a ‘four hour marathon with company’ – I said I didn’t know what my run was going to be but although I didn’t have much strength on my legs and felt weak I said that if it turned out that we were running together then fine, but I was going to do whatever I could on the run as I had no idea how I was doing in my age group.

This is the problem I have now in these races – there’s new pressure that I’ve not had before. Ironman UK last year the pressure was really just during the latter parts of the run when I got information that I was doing well in my age group. In Hawaii I just wanted to get a finishers medal. In France earlier this year I knew I wasn’t fit so the pressure was off. Today I had no idea how I was doing. Was I 5th in my age group, or was I 20th? I just didn’t know. Did I want to know…

Heading down into Tenby I was knackered. I felt like I could barely turn the pedals. This is far from ideal when you’ve got a hilly marathon to run. Far from ideal is quite an understatement!

As I headed into transition two (bike to run) I had to have two goes at getting my leg over the back of the bike whilst on the move. I almost pulled a muscle doing it! Good job there were only a couple of hundred people watching me! Including Sharon. My less than elegant dismount was noted!

Feet out of the cycling shoes and ready to dismount.
Feet out of the cycling shoes and ready to dismount.

I got off of the bike and ran with it into transition. This time most of the bike racks were empty – just a few bikes here and there. I’d clearly done alright after all on the bike. Nice.

My bike split time was 5 hours 47 minutes and 20 seconds. Not too bad considering the difficulty of the Wales course and how I was feeling. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I’d moved up from 17th in my age group to 10th at this point. After the swim I was 102nd overall. After the bike I was 46th. Clearly I did more than hold my own during the bike ride! For the data people reading this my watts per kilo for the bike was 2.87. VI was 1.05. IF was 0.75 but I think my FTP needs adjusting as it had me down for a TSS of 322 – which would normally mean a long long walk. My heart rate averaged 152 (it was 145 at Ironman UK).

Run (26.2 miles)

I jogged into the transition tent, grabbed my run bag and sat down a couple of seats away from Paul B. Socks on, shoes on, visor on, stick my bike helmet in the bag to get stored away and I was off. I also had a little bag with some vaseline in it and a couple of energy gels. I always want to have a gel (or two) on me at all times so that I can take an energy gel when I want one, normally just before an aid station. I can then get a replacement gel (which goes straight in the shorts pocket) and then wash the one I’ve had with some water/energy drink.

At the start of the run - sorting my little bag of 'goodies' out! Photo: Paul Deen.
At the start of the run – sorting my little bag of ‘goodies’ out! Photo: Paul Deen.

In Ironman the race is never won in transition two. There’s no point putting together a superb bike split to then fall apart during the run. The only clock that matters is above the finish line – and there’s 26.2 miles between where I was and that clock. Here we go…

My run training has been poor. I wrote about it in my Ironman France blog. Since Ironman France it hasn’t got much better. In the previous eight weeks I’ve run 176.5 miles. This averages just over 22 miles per week. I did one 15 mile run, an 11 miler, a 9 miler and then a few much much shorter runs. I knew I wasn’t run fit (although I did get two 40 mile weeks in during Epic Camp – which without those my average would be even more shocking!) but I had crawled up some tough old trails in Canada so I quietly hoped that those trail runs would help me today.

Heading out into town the crowds were immense. I saw Sharon and I saw Liz from the B&B we’d were staying at – both were crazily cheering me – it was ace. And a few hundred other people. I know I set off fast at the beginning of the run and I really did try and slow down but it was difficult.

After only a couple of minutes you’d heading out of town onto the main long climb of the run laps. Which is about 2 miles uphill. It’s quite a nice course. Well, it would be if it was flatter!

2014-09-14-ironman_wales_run_elevationRunning up out of town there was a fairly steady stream of cyclists coming down the hill either finishing their first big lap of the bike course or about to head to transition to start their marathon. There weren’t many runners on the course at this time and it was good to see a few familiar faces. Duncan SS. was looking good and a few minutes up the road from me. Nico was looking strong and Charlie P. was right up there at the sharp end of the race.

6.3 miles in and I'm smiling
6.3 miles in and I’m smiling

I’ve probably said the same thing in all my race reports but why on earth would anyone want to run a marathon after the stupidity of the swim and bike distances as a warm-up! It’s ridiculous. During the swim/bike I’d not thought about the run at all. It’s wasn’t even in my mind. You get off the bike, run into the transition tent and then reality hits – you’re now going to be spending a few hours on your feet pounding the pavement. Remember, this is all for fun!

Photo: Huw Fairclough
Photo: Huw Fairclough

The run consists of four laps. Each is about 6.5 miles long. At the end of each lap there’s about 1.5 miles where you run through the streets of Tenby. They’re all pretty much cobbled streets (not great) but the atmosphere is crazy. Narrow little roads you run up and down as you snake your way through the town. It was amazing. Wearing the pirate kit made it even more special – I heard countless shouts of ‘Go Pirate’ from adults and children. It was fantastic.

Although the crowds were amazing – I was hurting. A lot. My legs were hurting and (I think because of the downhills) I had blisters forming on the balls of both my feet. Today I kept my sunglasses on throughout the entire run. I have taken them off in the past during the run for a ‘change of scenery’ – I didn’t do it all today because it would show how much I was hurting. I had some confidence that my pain wasn’t showing.

By all accounts it was. Sharon said (after the race) that I looked terrible!

I saw Paul B. (who I was close to at the end of the bike) a few times at the turnaround points of the run. We encouraged each other and I recall at least one high (well, not more like a ‘low’) five. I also remember seeing Charlie from Team Freespeed who was having a fantastic day and mixing it up right near the front of the race. I recall shouting his name a couple of times and getting a wave of two in return.

13 miles in - not quite so happy
13 miles in – not quite so happy

Towards the end of the second lap (around 12.5 miles) as I ran past Sharon I asked her ‘do you know how I’m doing’ – at this point I had absolutely no idea. She replied that she thought I was 9th or 10th in my age group. This is the first indication I got that I was in the mix. Meaning – in the mix for an Ironman World Championship slot. There are 50 ‘slots’ distributed across the age groups in the race and it was predicted that my age group (M40-44) would have seven slots. If I’m 9th or 10th and there’s a half marathon left to run then anything can happen. I can blow up, the chaps in front of me can blow up. Someone from behind me can have a flyer and run better than me. It’s all to play for and a big unknown. The way I was feeling I would have much preferred to have been told that I was 30th or something in my age group. Then I could have ‘relaxed’ a bit more. I was hurting. It was unpleasant. A little later on I saw Mel and some of the ‘Black Line London’ girls at a far end of the run course. She said I was 9th (in my age group). Thanks. Gotta love a bit of pressure eh!

I looked at my watch and I’d been running for about 1 hour 45 minutes. I then had to give myself a bloody good talking to. If I could put up with this pain for (only) two more hours then I would have done everything I could. If I want to go to Hawaii (and who doesn’t!) I’d have to go through the whole process of entering another race and destroying myself again on the race-course. Two more hours of running and I may get lucky. You just never know.

This was a discussion I had with myself many times during the marathon.

Funnily after I did my first ever Ironman (Switzerland in 2009) the person (Stuart Lodge) who got me into this triathlon nonsense in the first place bought me a little silicon wristband that says on it ‘Harden The Fuck Up’. I’ve worn this during every race since and it’s there to remind me that when the going gets tough, I need be tougher.

New pains started to appear. My right quad started hurting – as if I’d slightly pulled a muscle. I remember one of my legs giving me trouble on the last day of Epic Camp. I couldn’t remember which leg it was. To be fair it didn’t matter. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. I just had to deal with it. Round the side of my right knee was hurting a bit as well – Sharon said post race that she saw me rubbing it at one point during the run.

One thing I learnt at Ironman UK was to try and run my own race and try my best not to worry about the people around me. At least early on in the run. At Ironman UK a number of people in my age group overtook me in the first few miles of the run. I ran steady(ish) and they got slower. In an Ironman marathon you don’t need to run fast to win, you just need to slow down less than everyone else! That was once again my strategy – to try and run a pace that I genuinely believed I could maintain (I knew it would hurt later on) and hope that others up ahead of me run (or walk) into trouble.

Anything can go wrong in Ironman. It’s a long day. Nutritional mistakes from hours ago can catch up with you halfway through the marathon. Blisters, pulled muscles – you name it, it can happen to you. You just have to hope that it doesn’t. That’s the beauty of this sport. At one point on the run I saw a chap lying in the middle of the road being attended to by an ambulance crew. Anything can go wrong. It’s a ridiculous and crazy sport. Fact.

Getting to the start line fit and heal healthy is only part of the battle.

The pirate support I got on the course was amazing. I’ve said it before but when you’re wearing an outfit that makes you stick out like a bit of a sore thumb and makes you look ridiculous, people seem to love it! (there was a chap in a court jester outfit on the run!) I got so many shouts of ‘Go Pirate’ – it was lovely. I responded as best I could to them – normally with a bit of a thumbs up or a smile. I wasn’t really in much of a fit state to say thanks in return. I’m sure they understood. There were a few other pirates out on the run course and I did my best to acknowledge/cheer them on when we passed.

When I did Ironman France in June I remember the third lap (of four) being incredibly tough. You’ve run 13.1 miles, then need to do another lap, and then you’ll have another lap after that before you finish. The third one is the tough one for me. Today wasn’t any different. You’re putting yourself through pain running up and down hills and in the back of your mind you know you’ve got to run the same stretch of road all again in just under an hours time. It’s not a good feeling. You need to get these thoughts out of you mind and just get on with what’s immediately ahead of you.

The aid stations were great. Once you’ve run a lap you understand where they are and how far they are apart. This can help with planning nutrition etc. I always had one or two energy gels on me at all times and if the timing was right I’d have a gel just before an aid station – wash it down with water/sports drink/coke (or all three) get a replacement gel for my pocket and then run on. I didn’t stop at all. I was on a mission.

The loudest man on the course for me has to be Steven Lord. No matter how focussed you are on moving forwards his shouts of encouragement as we passed one another in different directions was great. It took me about an hour to remember his bloody name after I saw him on the run the first time! His mum and aunt were on the course as well and they were cheering me on by name just as loudly! Where they were stood meant I’d see them three times each lap. Thank you.

During the third lap Paul B. overtook me. We were in transition two (bike to run) at the same time and I headed out onto the run a few seconds before him. He was getting stronger by the minute and when he came past he said something along those lines to me. I remember a little banter between us in transition (I basically admired that he had matching orange shoes and socks) and during parts of the run close to some of the 180 degree turns where we could high five or just acknowledge each other. We were both hurting (it’s never easy) and just knowing that a friend is suffering like yourself is strangely comforting!

Photo: Paul Deen
Photo: Paul Deen

Towards the end of the third lap in the middle of Tenby, about 19.5 miles into the run I was not in a good place. Hmn, pretty much the same place I’d been in for quite a while to be honest but by all accounts it was really showing. I remember Paul D. running beside me for about 2 seconds and saying something like “It’s only 10k left, you can do this. Just hang on.” The words of encouragement I got from Sharon and Paul D. on the day reminded me of the encouragement I got from Tom Williams during Ironman UK last year. Your mind knows they mean well, but your body is fighting the signals. Your head has to win the argument.

10k. That’s less than an hour (hopefully). I can do this.

19.5 miles in
19.5 miles in

[The day after the race I got a text message from Paul D. that said “I truly believed you were in it [the race] until I saw you grimacing as you headed out on lap 4, then I was 50/50! Training is obviously important but those last 10k are what it’s all about in Ironman. Not slowing down or walking in that last hour is ultimately down to mental toughness rather than athleticism.”]

Running up out of town all I wanted to do was walk the aid stations. Just because walking through the aid stations is the perfect opportunity to walk. It’s common for people to walk the aid stations in an Ironman (gives them a chance to take in nutrition in a controlled way without throwing it all over your face if you try whilst running). It’s also a good way of bringing your heart rate down a little bit and can provide a mental break – you can run between aid stations, but walk through them. I did this later on at Ironman France in June of this year and also walked most of the aid stations in Kona last year (partly because my foot was playing up and I was concerned I may not finish).

This was the final 10k. I’d not stopped running since I started the marathon and I wasn’t going to stop now – so I just carried on. I’d grab some water, energy drink, coke, another water and move on. Every 20-25 minutes I’d have an energy gel as well. That’s pretty much the nutrition strategy I used for the whole race. It works for me, and it’s easy.

So… I ran on.

During this final lap I really started to focus on other people around me. The road was busy as most of the people taking part were now on the run course (a few were still cycling back into Tenby at the end of their 112 mile bike ride) so there was lots of running around people and trying not to get blocked at all. The main thing I was focussing on was how many wristbands people had on. I was looking for people on their final lap (i.e., close to me in the race). People with less coloured bands than I didn’t matter – it was only people the same as me I was concerned with. I didn’t notice anyone ahead of me but there was a chap behind me (who I saw after a turnaround point) who was about 2-3 minutes away. Surely I could hold him off. I had no idea if he was in my age group but that didn’t matter – I just didn’t want to get caught.

It was exciting to collect my final wristband (it went yellow, green, blue and then pink on your last lap). Getting my pink band was a big part of the run – from here you really feel that you’re on the home straight. The people handing them out were too (well, they’d probably only handed out about 40 of them so far) and there were a couple of marshals/volunteers at the turnaround there who I gave a high five to. I was on the ‘home straight’ – it’s less than four miles to the finish, much of it downhill – which although unpleasant to run down a steep hill I was happier letting gravity do whatever it could to get me towards the finish as quickly as possible.

Coming into town for the last time the crowds were the biggest they’d been. You run down a steep street close to the harbour and then hang a right to head up towards the main shopping street. The shouts I got from people outside the Hope & Anchor pub was nuts! I smiled (as best I could) and ran on. Occasionally you’d hear people in the background say something like “he’s nearly finished” which was nice to hear. I’d rather be finished but ‘nearly’ would have to do right then!

Coming up the main street I saw a guy up ahead of me with a pink band on his arm. This is just over 3/4 of a mile from the finish. I didn’t know if he was in my age group (and didn’t fancy asking him) but I needed to do whatever I could to get ahead of him. He wasn’t running as fast as me (great) so I sat behind him for about 90 seconds. I calmed down a little, the heart rate went down (well, I hoped it would but it didn’t really as I the adrenaline was pumping). He didn’t look back at all. Great.

I sat behind him for a while and then made a forceful increase of pace to get ahead of him. Well ahead of him. I didn’t want him to even think he had a chance of catching me. I didn’t look back. I just ran. I didn’t know if he was in my age group (it turned out he was) and I just carried on.

26 miles in and in a deep deep place
26 miles in and in a deep deep place

Oh what joy.. I then saw another pink banded runner heading to the finish. So I had to do it all again. I waited for a tight busy corner of one of the streets and did the same again. From here it was only a couple of minutes to the finish so I just ran on as fast as my legs would take me.

You then turn a corner and there’s a sign you’ve seen every lap. It had an arrow pointing to the left (The Esplanade) with the words ‘Finish’ beside it. Oh yeah. I turned left and all of a sudden the people in that part of the road started cheering. I turned the corner onto the final straight (which is still over a tenth of a mile long), after a few seconds I glanced back. There was no-one there. This is good.

I carried on running hard. I avoided the children with their arms out for high fives. When I got to the red carpet I looked back and the road was still empty. I eased off ever so slightly and then caught sight of Sharon just before the finish line. She was clapping and screaming, everyone else was cheering so I slowed right down, gave a little bow of thanks to the people of Tenby, blew Sharon a kiss and strolled over the line.

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I had no idea what time I’d finished in. I didn’t care. It’s not about times – especially on a hard course as this. I’m never going to get an Ironman distance best time on a course like this.

Two tickets to the gun show please! Photo: Huw Fairclough
Two tickets to the gun show please! Photo: Huw Fairclough

I turned back – Sharon looked delighted and Paul D. was there shouting at me. I gave him a shaka (as I always seem to!), collected my medal and walked towards the finish area exit. Paul took a video of my finish on his phone. Thanks mate.

Sharon was there to greet me. She was over the moon. She’s gets so stressed on race day. So so stressed. She’s written about it before on our blog and has another post to go on rowerunning.co.uk about this day. It must be terrible. I’m all relaxed before the race and when the gun goes I just put my head down and get on with it. She gets to see me not looking my best, struggles with a flaky online tracker and is just generally worried all day. I’m sorry that I put you though all this. I really am.

My marathon time was 3 hours 38 minutes (and 19 seconds) and my overall time was 10 hours 42 minutes and 16 seconds. For a course as tough as Wales (rated as one of the toughest races on the Ironman circuit – http://www.trirating.com/course-ratings/) I’m happy with that. Very happy with that.

I did everything I could during the race and left every bit of energy out there on the course. I honestly believe I couldn’t have tried any harder. I did the best I could. I was 38th overall. 1,850 people started the race and I believe 1,616 finished. I think I did alright.

Post Race

I then sat down beside the road near the finish and asked Sharon how I did. She passed me her phone. I refreshed the tracker and saw my result. I’d finished 7th in my age group.

I said “How many slots?” (for the World Championship in Hawaii).

She replied “Seven” (this was the predicted number).

I then showed her the phone.

We smiled. A lot.

Now over the years I’ve decided not to believe anything until I know for sure. OK, so the result said I was seventh. It could be wrong (say for example someone had a problem with their timing chip), or I could have had a penalty that I didn’t know about. Anything could get in the way. I like to think of the worst case scenario and anything else is a bonus.

I gave it everything during that run. I couldn’t have done any more. If I finish outside of the slots for Kona then so be it. I honestly don’t think I could have done any more. If I have qualified then boy, this is fu**ing amazing.

The excitement was there, we were both in shock but trying not to get *too* excited.

I headed off to the post race food tent to try and warm up. I knew I wouldn’t be hungry so took full advantage of the endless supplies of coffee and coke. I sat down, rested a bit – chatted to a few people (two of which who’ve read the blogs on my website – thank you). After a little while I got myself together, found Sharon and then walked the 30 seconds to the B&B we were staying at to get myself showered and warmed up.

We sat in the B&B with me lying on the bed for about an hour or so. I was hurting. But happy. But not *too* happy! I’d know for sure in the morning when the final results are issued.

I then got myself up, and then went for a walk into town to get a drink and cheer on some runners, and also meet up with Nico and Paul who raced, along with some of the gang who’d been out supporting today. It was great to see them, share a few stories, raise a glass (some were on the beer, I was still on the chocolate milk) and cheer on the runners coming through town.

After a while Sharon and I headed back towards the finish as I wanted to get my bike and wetsuit from the transition area. I got my stuff, got it back to the B&B and then we walked to the finish area to cheer people on. We saw Liz, David and Sam – the people who run the B&B that we’re staying in down at the finish line and they were so excited to hear how I did. Their support was great. I even won their little family bet as to who would be the fastest guest staying with them!

The support I had both on the course and from people following me on the online tracker has been incredible. There was a post on the Epic Camp Facebook page wishing me luck. I always thought it was a bit crazy to do an Ironman two weeks after riding over the Canadian Rockies (with some swimming and running for good measure) and so did many of my friends. I chose to do Ironman Wales as its a tough course and if I could get to the start line fighting fit then I might have a chance of qualifying. With Epic Camp so close it was a gamble. If I hadn’t have done Epic Camp then I can pretty much guarantee than I wouldn’t have been as quick today. Epic Camp gave me some excellent swim and bike endurance and above all mental toughness. That’s what got me through today.

A few times during the race I asked myself “Do I enjoy this (racing)?” There now seems to be a big old pile of pressure coming at me from all angles when its race day. I don’t let it (at least try not to let it) phase me one bit. Racing is tough. I smiled from the support of people on the course and took loads of positive energy from them. The bike course is great (not so much the second lap!) but the descents were lovely and a couple of the busy climbs were awesome. I love the finish line. I love the post race euphoria. It’s just the bit from when you wake up to that point that isn’t always so nice!

We were at the finish line until just after midnight. The race has a 17 hour time limit (it started at 7am and thus finishes at midnight) and once again (after nine of these races) Sharon and I have been at the finish line for the final hours to celebrate and cheer in the final finishers on what was a very tough day. It’s the least I could do. Interestingly I’ve never seen so many people at a finish line party wearing finisher medals as I did for this race. Nice.

After heading to bed sleep really wasn’t on the agenda. I’d finished seventh, it was predicted that there would be seven slots for Kona. I also checked and saw that the sole entrant in the male 70-74 category did not finish the race so the slot in his age group would automatically get allocated to the busiest male age group. That would be age 40-44 – my age group. So, in theory, if there are only six slots allocated then an extra slot would roll into my age group. This was looking very promising. But I couldn’t celebrate yet.

Looking at the results one of the people I overtook in the final mile through the streets of Tenby was indeed in my age group, and I finished 37 seconds ahead of him. This was the difference between seventh and eighth position. It could make a huge difference when the results are posted on Monday morning.

My age group (40-44 years) was pretty competitive this year. The people who finished first and second have both completed the Challenge Roth Ironman distance event in under 8 hours 45 minutes. They finished in 9:53 and 9:59 respectively. Being 50 minutes behind the age group winner wasn’t so bad after all. Duncan (who finished fourth in my age group – 20 minutes ahead of me) is a 2 hour 44 minute marathoner. My best standalone marathon time is 3:09. I was in some pretty impressive company out on the course today so I’m really happy with finishing seventh in my age group. I honestly believe that my swim helped me out big time during the race – the conditions didn’t slow me down anywhere near as much as I suspected they would (and did for many other people) and I followed it up with a pretty reasonable bike and run. That kept me right in the mix. I’d find out in a few hours if I’d done enough.

Sleep time didn’t really happen. I could barely sleep because my legs were hurting so much and I was also thinking (but trying not to think) of Hawaii.

We went for a walk early Monday morning, got the car packed and then had breakfast before heading off to the awards ceremony. When we arrived at the venue the results were being stuck up onto the wall. I strolled over looking for one thing – to see if my name was highlighted in the results for my age group.

This is what I saw…

20140915-5713There my name was, seventh in my age group – and highlighted in yellow.

Kona Baby!

Oh my god, I’ve qualified. You know, that event that I went to in 2013 and treated it as a once in a lifetime experience. Well, I’ve gone and qualified for the 2015 race. Yes, the race that’s being held in 13 months time (October 2015). This is the perfect scenario – rather than have 10 weeks to prepare like last time, I’d have over a year to build up to and get to the start line as fit as possible. This is awesome.

So… once in a lifetime eh. Well, how about twice!

As a brief aside, a number of our friends from Bushy parkrun were taking part in the ‘Challenge Weymouth’ half-iron-distance event a couple of hundred miles away. We were so frustrated when the dates of both races were the same as we couldn’t go and support. Our friends racing there did great and I look forward to congratulating them when I see them next. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Emma and Andy. You see, they came out to Hawaii for a ‘long weekend’ after I qualified for the World Championship last year. They (we all) had an awesome time. They’d love to go back. I’d love to go back.

Andy was taking part in the race and his wife Emma was supporting. She had a text message tracker set up on myself so she could see how I was doing. There’s a photo of her cheering Andy on at the race. Well, there’s more to it than that…

Photo: Stefan Krueger
Photo: Stefan Krueger

After his race Andy said about the photo – “It was hilarious – as I ran past, Emma ran alongside for 30m to shout at me ‘Okay, are you ready? David swam a 1:05 for 17th and then got off the bike in 10th. He’s 11km into the run and closing on the athletes in front!’ At no point did she say ‘Well done. You’re running really well, keep going!’ or any of that malarkey!”

Emma commented on the photo – “You had specifically tasked me to give you updates on David’s performance and the stretch of available pavement wasn’t long enough that I could do that and say words of encouragement – these had to be conveyed through a shake of the cow bell xx”

I love it. It looks like we might all be going on holiday next year 🙂

We sat down, watched the prize giving (saw Charlie, Nico and Claire go up and collect prizes) and then waited for the Kona slot allocation. Before long my name was read out, I jumped up and get up on stage to collect my lei. It’s an amazing feeling.

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When I qualified last time I was so excited to be going to Hawaii. When I got to Hawaii you may have seen that I wrote a daily blog. I thought it would be pretty dull. Somehow it wasn’t. We had an amazing time and I remember the first time I swam in the ocean thinking to myself that I wanted to come back. We loved it.

Well, lo and below we are going back.

And I might write a new set of ‘Kona Diaries’ 🙂

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