I won’t bore you with a long protracted preamble about why I was standing in a long line of rubber clad folk on a chilly beach in south wales on Sunday – most people know what happened last year and how it has messed with my brain for the majority of the intervening 365 days.
We travelled down early on Friday and endured the typically stressful journey down with a car sick child refusing to sleep much and me willing for my bike to not fall off the bike rack. We made reasonable time (over 4 hours) and managed to get registered early doors and settled into Tenby life. Watching some folk running about in full kit and seeing a few out on the bikes, made me feel a little bit silly for sitting and having a Guinness and watching the world go buy.
Early to bed on the Friday night and early to rise on Saturday to swim a couple of the shorten laps and felt comfortable as the water was brilliantly calm and hardly anyone turned up at the start, due to the Ironman last minute changes in swim timeslots.
Dropped the bike off and messed around with my kit a bit more before leaving them on the pegs to the day after, hoping that I would get to use my run kit this year. After that it was the main event – Zoe doing Ironkids.
She loved it and didn’t stop smiling all down the red carpet with Sue following behind. She has clearly been learning from me, as she had an excuse all lined up at the end as to why she didn’t win – with a stitch which only seemed to go away after a massive ice cream and equally big chocolate milkshake.
I attended the briefing and the rolling swim start rumours from the night before was confirmed, which I think will benefit the slower swimmers in the pack in the long term and quite a few people were relieved in the room near me. Must be an element of health and safety involved as well. But I guess really if the pro’s get ample room – then why shouldn’t everyone else?
Suitably full of pasta, bread, beer and pizza I slept quiet well on the Saturday, although found myself checking the time every hour or so from 1 and was up before the alarm. I set off on the walk through town listening to some motivational music and got soaked whilst waiting for transition to open to load the bottles onto the bike. The marshals were already in the swing of things heckling the early birds like me for wetting the bed etc. Did what I had to do and got back to the dry and warmth of the hotel to force down some drugs, porridge and a 9bar. Wetsuit clad I was out of the hotel by 6 for the short walk to the beach – quick kiss and cuddle for Sue and Zoe and left the purple bag on its peg and headed for a swim warm up. During which I swam straight into a jelly fish (the only one I saw on the actual day) and couldn’t stop peeing in my suit – something which I usually struggle to do. However for some reason – probably nerves – I couldn’t stop, it was like a leaking tap down there. Least it kept me warm whilst I stood around in the queue.
Overall it was much better prep than last year – I was relaxed, I was fully warmed up and I had spent 15 minutes in the water before the start. I was at ease with what was to come.
The music was hyped up till the Welsh national anthem came on – I’m not Welsh (I’m really really not) but there is something strangely emotional about hearing that anthem being pounded out of the speakers, whilst surrounded by people singing along to it. The pro’s went off and seemed to immediately split up with some looking like they were really struggling to get going. The rolling swim start seemed to work well and my plan of doing anything between a comfortable 1:10 – 1:15 meant I started towards the back of that pen. Aiming for nothing more than a comfortable pace, hoping to get on someone else’s heels and not to drink a stupid amount of water like last year. I think it took me 3 minutes to get across the line from the AG starters, but it was still quiet bumpy getting into the actual water. Although the start places you, in theory, with others of similar ability it doesn’t mean you actually get much space. Especially if people have over egged the fish like ability they think they have.
It was choppy out to the first buoy and I went pretty wide to try and avoid most of the fight – again thinking it was better to swim further without the salt water intake. It was rough going across back to the lifeboat station due to the high rolling nature of the waves and I saw plenty holding on to the safety support. As it has every time I have swam in Tenby it was better going back to beach with the waves at your back and I had a sneaky look at my Garmin to see a 36:XX, whilst I did the small run and messed with my goggles some more, which I was happy with as I didn’t feel like I was trying hard at any stage, had avoided being punched, kicked or drinking much. Similar story on the second lap – definitely not as rough as last year but still very tough conditions to get any sort of rhythm and sight with any real consistency. Looking at my strava afterwards I swam pretty straight (for me) but think this was more luck than judgement, as I am usually especially poor at swimming straight.
Didn’t check my watch as I got out as was trying to get the top half of my wetsuit off and then remember where my peg was before starting the run up to town. Again learning from last year, I rinsed my mouth and the drank some of the bottle of water I had left in the bag.
I saw Zoe and Sue and they made me smile as I trotted off down the road. Grabbed my bag and went into the small naked tent (no idea why they don’t make this bigger considering the size of the marque – it was already laughably full by the time I got there and came face to arse cheek as I started to empty my bag) and battled to get dry and changed and out ok onto the bike. Not expecting to see Sue or Zoe till after the bike, they surprised me having dashed down the road and it picked my spirits up for what I knew awaited on the bike course.
First 25 miles were ok, I ate early and stuck to the mantra of little and often to the reminder on the watch – at times forcing food down me when I didn’t want it. I saw a few accidents, including a couple of folks decking it by the cattle grid and thought to myself that people are stupid risking finishing by riding recklessly. Plodded on in and out of Angle and then coming down a steep hill, the part of the course you do once, I overtook someone but didn’t give myself enough room before a tight right hand turn, hit a bump and then gripped brakes for dear life hoping I wouldn’t end up head first into what looked like the back of the public toilets. Hit another bump and then decked it with me and the bike sliding to a stop half on the road and half on the kerb.
What a tit. My first ever bike crash; in a race I was doing to redeem myself for not finishing last year.
I picked myself up, having typically landed on the bad side of my body – knee and calf took most of it, along with my shoulder, ribs and a nice cut to my hand / wrist. Quick laugh and a joke with the marshals, who were on the corner telling people to slow down, about Tenby always trying to kill me and I replaced the chain and gingery pedalled away. Instant but manageable pain to the knee, but my ego and confidence probably took more of a bashing. I stopped at next feed station to properly assess the physical damage and have some drugs. Luckily the calf guards took most of the impact to my leg and prevented to much blood loss.
My bashed hand meant it was painful to hold the bars, my bashed elbow meant it was painful to get down on the TT bars, so I seemed to rotate between the two for a while, shifting positions until the ache dulled and I could start to get any sort of comfort again. Wouldn’t be me in Tenby without a disaster, or two as it turns out. Despite new tyres and tubes I got a puncture on the climb before Narberth so had to do it with my weight over the front, figuring if I stopped on the hill I wouldn’t get going again and I didn’t want to set a precedent for walking at mile 50 ish. I changed it, got covered in oil some more and then I was off – smiling and determined that that was my bad luck over with and that I just had to get through it all. Wisemans wasn’t too bad the first time and I even overtook a few and then experienced the crazy scenes at Saundersfoot.
Best 200 metres I have experienced, seemed even busier than last year – mostly by the crap Tri loons going mental. It was deafening and brilliant at the same time. Up over the top and I was actually enjoying it, mini fist pump when I went past where I pulled out last year and away down to Tenby. Noticed the gears had started messing around, changing both cogs by themselves, which was more annoying than anything. Figured it might be crash related as never had any issues at all with that previously. Settled in for the smaller but hillier loop and had a few chats along the way – one with captain Cymru (dude with a cape) and one with a fellow Fuji lover – he had complete matching kit with his blue bike. I need to acquire some red calf guards! The wind had picked up by now and all the little rises that I didn’t notice the first time seemed like massive hills this time around. Wisemans this time was brutal and I was very close to getting off and walking. The only thing stopping me was not knowing if I could unclip whilst going so slowly at that angle without falling off.
At the top I stopped and stretched my shoulder but I knew I just had saundersfoot to go again and then it wouldn’t be long till the finish. Not sure of time at that point as auto pause on Garmin kicked in on the issues, but knew I must be well within the cut off and stopped being a pussy and got on with it. Less crowds second time around but still a great experience to go up it for the last time in my life. Down into Tenby and one last final climb which was horrible then time to get naked again. I got off the bike and very slowly walked through transition to find my bag. Lubed up everywhere twice and I was on my way. The Plan was to leave my ego in T2 and just do enough to get home, sticking to the plan to do a 6 hour ish marathon. Within which was to run the flats and downs and walk the ups for as long as possible. Saw Zoë and sue outside the hotel and they both looked on good form and I think I told them I was ok at that point – probably more of relief at actually getting off my bike.
It lasted a lap.
The hills are just nuts and seemingly never ending at certain points. I don’t think even if I was 100% fit I could ever run a lap of that course without stopping to walk pace. Saw Dave a few times as I was coming back into town and he was flying – surprised he hasn’t come past me on the bike (figured he had when I was either on the ground or having one of my many pee stops on the bike) and he said he would catch up in a bit – which gave me a nice bit of motivation to run a little further to make him work to catch me up. We had a chat about the usual stuff – swim, bike, guts etc. but I wished him well and told him to stop walking with me and crack on and get the beers in at the end.
I saw Sue and Zoe and tried to hide the pain coming out on to the second lap; my guts were churning and all the aches and pains were coming to the surface. Also saw the Team Bear Support and gave Amy a high 5 as I plodded on (turns out that my daughter thinks she is amazing for supporting her dad and also knowing impressive facts about elephants)
From then it was about trying to hold 15 minute miles on the course, up / down or flat to get me through. Original realistic race plan was for a 6:30 marathon and as it goes, although I didn’t know it at the time, I got surprisingly close.
Through town the first 3 times was oppressive – people willing you on to run but every time it lasted about 5 strides before I was back to walking. I was a mixture of being annoyed with them for wanting me to run and happy that I was getting it done, slowly but surely. Left hand side shoulder continued to ache, from the crash I assume which at least made me think of something other than my lower half. Took on a few bananas and tried a gel but it was utterly rank ( banana and strawberry flavour – who the hell came up with that ?!? ) so stuck to flat coke to keep the rumbling stomach at bay. Popped more drugs for pain and to stop a nasty accident happening and plodded on into the dark and a short but torrential downpour. Last lap was tough – I couldn’t even hold 17 min miles and made a deal with myself; finish and then never do another long distance again.
It’s swim, bike, run and both times I have finished an ironman distance it’s been swim, bike, run for 10-15k Max and then walk to the end.
Plus the emotional strain it puts on me and the family I just don’t think it’s worth it in the future. 70.3 yes, 140.6 No thanks. I am booked into Lakesman but I think a rethink is in order.
Maybe it’s because of the last year and being focused on Tenby for so long, maybe at some point in the future if I get fitter and drop a load more chub and things become easier I might reconsider – but for now as semi enjoyable as it is I am done. Maybe that’s why I was so calm in the last week before the race – I had stupidly built it up for months and months and taken some of the fun away from the journey to the start line.
It was somewhere on the last lap in a dark stretch of road, with the rain hammering down I had a little cry to myself. A happy, relived it was almost over cry. A cry for all the stress and all the disappointment of the last year, a cry to finally banish demons and look forward to other events. A cry to say, you know what. Fuck the naysayers in my life and more frequently in my head – it wasn’t pretty it at times wasn’t fun but it was going to get done. Back into the town for the final time and a bloke said I looked like I need some encouragement – so he shouted my name down to his mates and they started to go crazy just outside a pub on the corner; hurling encouragement and patting me on the back. He reached forward and said something to me which I didn’t hear and I joked that I thought he was giving me his pint of Guinness. I had mentioned before the event if u were allowed alcohol on the run I would fancy a Guinness at the special needs section of the run. Well it didn’t do me any harm and I drank a beautiful long sip as he walked 10 metres or so with me. I hugged him and told him he had just ticked the last box on my Tenby adventure. (Technically I know this was outside assistance but by this time I had a hunch that I might not be Kona bound)
In and out of the streets of the town, up the now stupid little hill again and attempted to work out my race time by the church clock – my brain couldn’t compute what 10:15 at night from 7 in the morning equated to in a total time and I thought I would be finishing in heroes hour – but turns out my head couldn’t work out that actually the event didn’t finish till midnight. Finally I could turn left instead of right and head up to the finish. I hoped to see Pip and hear Sue and sure enough there they were on the right hand side – I pointed and waved and high fived her – heard Dave (I think) shout Jude at me and then had my hobbled moment.
I wasn’t walking the red carpet though, so broke into the best I could at the time – a shuffled amble. I got the whole Ironman nine yards – Paul the voice of ironman was on the mike, no one else was around me, I had it to myself, I had just seen my wife and daughter and now I was going to finish and finally tick the Tenby box.
I got a welcome from Paul
I got a high five from Paul and had the carpet to myself. No one to steal my 10 seconds of fame, no one to share the moment.
I heard him say the words I was longing for and I think I roared outwards / upwards / internally and sort of raised my hands as I crossed the line – I didn’t care or look what the time was, all that mattered was that it was finally over.
Not just the 140.6 miles on the day – the recovery from knee surgery in February, the struggles to sort my mind out and the grey cloud had finally gone from above me.
It started in Tenby metres from where I now stood at the end whilst self-harming myself by watching others finish in 2014 and it left me when I crossed that imaginary line late on Sunday evening.
I staggered to get my medal, found a spot and sat and unashamedly had another little cry to myself. A medic came and asked if I was ok and I told him I was broken but the tears were of happiness and I wandered through to grab a drink and my t shirt then straight out as the heat was oppressive in the tent and I couldn’t stomach the thought of any food. I hobbled out through transition to the street and found Sue and Zoe straight away and had the biggest family hug of all time.
I promised never again to the two most important people in my life and I meant it. Fearful of sitting down and not being able to get up again I got all my smelly gear and used the bike to support me back to the hotel. On the way I offered Zoe my medal and for only the second time ever (the other being outlaw) she refused and told me I deserve it more. Cue more emotions. Bloody children. Back in the hotel room I drank 1.5 litres of full fat milk and lay on the floor shaking. Where I hoped I conveyed to my daughter why I had put myself through today. Whatever she wants to do in life she can – with hard work, determination and pure bloody stubbornness you can banish demons, you can do things you never thought possible. You can prove people wrong. You can prove yourself wrong.
To be honest she was knackered and probably thought I was nuts, rubbed my shoulder, told me she loved me and went to bed and fell almost straight asleep. I welled up again and checked the small but impressive damage down my left hand side; shoulder, ribs and hand along with the cuts to my knee and chuckled to myself again that I always have a disaster in Tenby. I couldn’t stomach any food and fell asleep almost straight away. I woke myself up at 2:30 with the shakes, drank some more milk and set about answering the fantastic messages of support on Twitter and Facebook. It’s great that so many of us track each other doing events and the support is fantastic it really is. Very humbling and moving to read the comments afterwards and have updates thought out the day from supporters at the race.
I hobbled down to reception to attempt to get pointed in a direction of food establish likely to be open at stupid o’clock in the morning but the lovely staff sat me down and opened up breakfast about 4hrs early. To which I drank two jugs of ice cold water and ate the slowest, smallest, best tasting bowl of cereal ever whilst randomly watching a horror movie with the two night shift workers. Bloody superstars. Although they wouldn’t cook me a fry up the meanies.
And that’s about it – I wrote the majority of this, apart from minor tweaking, at 5:15 unable to sleep, or walk properly on the Monday morning. In the hotel room next to my brilliantly beautiful snoring wife and daughter.
Tenby you have been amazing – the course is tough and the conditions were at times brutal, but it is a course which is doable if you refuse to give in and stick to the plan you set and the circumstances you go into the race.
It’s been a blast – but I sure as hell will not be back to this particular seaside town again.
Somewhat more impressive than me finishing ironman Wales in what turned out to be 15:15, was the amount of food I ate in the following 12 hrs from the 5:15am on Monday morning;
2 litres of full fat milk
1 bowl of cereal
Full fry up x2
Hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream x1
Snack sized sausages x most of one pack
Chicken fingers x most of one pack
Chocolate sweets – jazzies x a large handful
Extra-large Big Mac, chips and chocolate milkshake
Cadbury yogurts x3
Chicken Kiev, wedges and peas
Pint of homebrew.
I didn’t feel even remotely full once.
Think I might become a professional eater instead of this triathlon business.
Upon reflection I don’t know whether I was hasty to say I would never go long again. Do I enjoy it? Really deep down I do, I like proving people wrong.
I did Outlaw in 12:43 on a bad knee on a basic bike having never ridden the distance and I have done one of the tougher Ironman courses in 15:15 – could I do better? I think if I was probably sorted on the right (flatter) course with some decent training behind me I think I could get close to sub 12 hrs.
Do I want to put myself through it again?
Would it be different if it wasn’t Tenby focused?
After all what else would I do with my time?
Suppose I could get fat or catch up with some DIY……