*** many thanks to Nic “Chops” Potter for this race report ***
‘Pain is temporary, race results stay on the internet forever’
My favourite sign from the race and now the fitting title of my report.
Bye – I have left the sunny climes of Dubai so this will be my last race report for Tri Dubai
Hi – I’ve relocated back to the inclement climate of leafy Surrey and joined a new club TriSurrey, where I hope to start a similar tradition of sharing the wealth of knowledge that exists within our communities.
With TriDubai being such an awesome family during my entry into all things Tri, I wanted to ‘give back’ one last time and throw in my two pennies worth and report on my experience of Ironman Wales.
First port of call – the ‘why’.
Firstly at a 4 hour drive, Wales is closer (for me) than half of the beautiful destinations the TD crowd frequent, and there for easy logistically, which leads it to working out very well financially. I booked this whilst unemployed, so associated cost was a major issue. She who controls the purse strings would not be happy about me squandering our hard earned tax avoidance on triathlon (again, he says, riding a new bike).
Secondly two good friends had signed up also, so it was a great chance to compete with mates.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a tough course. After crossing the finish line in Barcelona last year with a faster than expected time, I took some stick for picking an "easy" course (is there such a thing) and it was suggested that the challenge wasn’t on par with other courses that said friends had completed themselves, and I therefore hadn’t ‘manned up’ enough. More manning up was needed. I am not one to back down from a challenge, I threw my hat in the ring.
The two I had signed up with were vets of IM Nice and Zurich and were out to prove some seniority over the new (to the sport) boy.
So fast forward to last week.
I was lucky to even get to Wales, as we speak Mrs P is 40 weeks pregnant, and ready to drop any day, this being the reason we departed the desert. Many a budding ironman wouldn’t have even seen the start line. But I was focused on the goal, so I had plans and contingencies.
I recruited a reliable mate with a heavy driving foot to come with me to Tenby and be prepared to speed me home at a moment’s notice. A "Code red" meant dropping everything and getting in the car immediately, with or without the bike.
We drove down at the very last minute, and I was literally the very last person to rack, maybe a minute before transition closed. Just in case you wonder, this is bloody stressful, I would really advise against it.
The ‘where’. Wales IM is in the town of Tenby, now for its 5th year. It’s now a stronghold of welsh triathlon as it’s also home to the infamous Tenby long weekend, where the same course I divided into its three parts, and one is tackled per day. You can join in just one discipline, or do all three to achieve three interlinking medals. Tenby is a lovely town, quaint cobbled streets, fresh sea air and a close community full of colourful locals that create a friendly yet energetic vibe,– all heighted tenfold by the fever of IM coming to town. In my opinion the locals really make the race, the atmosphere on race day is electric, even the noise created for the ‘Ironkids race’ the day before was amazing. Crowds litter every available spot in the town, pavements were 4 deep with supporters and as the day goes on and more beer is consumed they only get louder and louder. Quality restaurants aren’t their strong suit, and should you be so inclined you’d be very hard pushed to find an organic smoothie, or any widely accepted super food - but if your thing is fish & chips and pint, Tenby is the place to go.
My hotel was excellently placed, about 20m from the finish line and about 750m from the swim start, so a little luxury time was afforded on race morning. At 6.30 I joined 500 or 600 other penguins shuffling down the seafront, wrapped in neoprene, heading towards the growing black mass on North Beach. No nerves at all this time round, all the time pre swim was spent bantering with my ex-rugby team mates turned triathletes. Ideas were thrown around regarding running immediately to a pub post swim, still soaking wet and top to toe in neoprene, and then delivering a dead pan demand for beer. This idea evolved into sacking off the race altogether and just getting drunk. Even at 6.45am this didn't actually sound like a terrible or even unlikely plan.
As the start time grew closer the commentator organised the singing of the welsh national anthem from the overwhelming majority of local athletes and supporters alike. It was hair up on the back of your neck stuff. Google it, it's well worth a watch.
Thanks to the preoccupation of nonsense joking the start gun took us a bit by surprise, just like that, bang, we are off.
It's a bit of an odd rolling start, everyone was organised (sort of but not really) into a fastest at the front queue that went along the beach, up three flights of stairs/slopes and up to the street. A huge queue of obedient but twitchy penguins as far as you can see. It’s your turn to start when you get to the sea type affair, one wave really.
I let the keeno’s disappear into the salt and went in after a couple of hundred has passed (disobedient penguins don’t queue, they just stand on the beach and joke around) First feeling was delight, it wasn't nearly as cold as I’d imagined. Win!
The next thoughts were predictable:
"I don’t like swimming. I should have swum more, perhaps swimming in the sea might have been good prep"
With all that being mulled, a major positive notion occurred - at least I don’t HATE it anymore, I've put enough wet miles in this year for it to be something I am now comfortable and relaxed about.
I hit the water with little more regard than just getting the job done.
First lap was ok, not massively turbulent, turning buoys were a real scrap but then they always are, one of fellow racers helpfully kicked me in the head causing my hat (this includes goggle straps obviously) to ride up until nearing the point of falling off, but hey ho – not the end of the world, or so I thought.
Out of the water for an Australian exit and onto Lap 2, now the fun starts. Lap 1 had been moderately choppy, but nothing terrible. On the second half of the swim the chop had doubled/tripled, to the point that once Id made the right hook onto the back straight, every stroke was either climbing or falling against oncoming waves, and they were increasing in size. It was actually amusing, every right hand stroke I fell a 1 to 1 ½ foot and slapped hard into the water, the sound of the impact tickled me for some unknown reason. Simple minds. I was now watching people drift and the ‘pack’ was now spread out to the full width of the marked channel, with the current washing quite a few of the unaware past the few channel marking lifeguard/surfer types and directly into the oncoming stream of swimmers to our far right.
Once Id finished that night I learned that both of my friends had vomited during the swim with a mixture of ‘sea sickness’ and swallowing salt water from the unpredictable waves.
300m into lap 2 someone though I was obviously doing far too well, decided he couldn’t possibly have that, and instantly changed from front crawl to breaststroke and kicked my square in the face with his heel. Very very luckily and completely instinctively I caught my airborne goggle/hat combo and managed to get them back on whilst treading water (and passing on my sincere thanks to the gent in question with some suggestions about what he could do with himself later on)
Swim done in 1.25
My ‘usual’ time is about 1.15 on a flat lake, so I was happy with that. Id planned for 1.30
Famously for this course T1 consists of a 1k run to transition, for this you get an extra bag for a second pair of trainers for the extra jog. So off I popped in search of my support crew come driver, he was as planned 750m along the run ready to swap my wetsuit for a phone, which then stayed on me and loud ready for a "code red" phone call and my early departure.
Into transition where I did something stupid. I broke a cardinal rule, I deviated from plan.
When I wrote my first race report I wrote it from the perspective that I’d want to read it, as a beginner that wanted to know the pitfalls and considerations of racing long distance. So, I’ll continue in the same vein. So here is my advice, the same advice I think you’ll find in most reports. Plan well. Don’t deviate from the plan. Don’t change things on race day.
I had worn a tri suit under my wetsuit purely for the run to transition and had planned to change it to some bibs for a comfy ride. Having planned this I opted for a tri suit that I didn't like too much, the logic being it didn't matter! Well it did. As decided in the heat of the moment that I couldn't be arsed to change and kept the tri suit on. Error. It chewed at me for the next seven hours, and cut my arm pits up during the swim, as I had never swum long distance in it before. I am old enough and have now raced enough to know better. Silly mistake.
Onto the bike. The course is divided into one bigger flatter loop out to the west, then two smaller far hillier loops from Tenby and out east.
For the first 70-90k all was very well in the Potter camp. Legs were ticking over nicely, kept to my planned speed/heart rate. I even quickly found one of my friends who was 9mins quicker out of the water than me, and given the course was poorly marshalled, we had an hour long chat whilst cycling side to side. The ride was lovely, the roads were well maintained, tight and winding in places but constantly picturesque.
At about 100k I had noticed the hills had arrived, and things were getting more laboured. My average speed was really taking a hit.
There were many things to be happy about: the scenery is stunning, it wasn't raining (as forecast), the support was literally amazing, every house had a sofa out front with cheering locals and encouraging signs, the aid stations very well manned, even the racers were friendly. All this said I was becoming distinctly aware that I was not happy.
I had a feeling this may happen. I hadn't been sleeping well in the week leading up to the race through a mixture of illness and breaking a rib from crashing my bike during my last and VERY wet training ride. I felt really run down in the days leading up to the race, and the stress of worrying about my heavily pregnant wife wasn’t helping. As is pretty standard I adopted the ‘it’ll be fine attitude’ pre fine and I hoped it wouldn't affect me too greatly. Annoyingly the cracks were starting to show. By 130k I had a complete sense of humour failure. Nothing was being enjoyed, and the effort being put into the now perpetual hills was only getting worse.
The crowd came into their own here and really helped me keep some pep. Dylan, Ceb and mark whoever they are had amazing support and banners bearing their names coated an entire town. Everywhere I looked were flags, banners, words of encouragement and kids looking for drive by high fives.
Soon the k's started to tick off, and then end was near. I concentrated on enjoying the carnival like atmosphere, and enjoying the fact that I was part of it.
'Heartbreak hill" marks the end of the second and third loops, it sounds awful, but in reality is actually a highlight.
Half the town litter the streets leading up a climb in town, probably only a 10% climb and about 60 secs long, but the crowds are akin to the Tour de France. The local tri club "cr@p tri" were out in force screaming support at every visiting cyclist, and going truly mental if it's one of their own. Drummers, men in skin tight onesies, kids, whistlers and highly intoxicated pub goers giving all the support they can, for what must have been hours - as the support hadn't waned by my second visit.
My second climb was great, to see the crowd again and to know the bike was done, now just to descend into town where I passed the 'fast ones', those fit enough to have eaten well into the run course already. In my joy I failed to make a connection. I was going fast, very fast, downhill. They were running very slowly in the opposite direction……..uphill.
6h56m. 90 mins slower than my IM leg last year, and with considerably more energy spent.
In transition again, through the mobbed streets, and the ever increasing noise.
I'm sure I practically threw my bike into racking, by this point we were not friends.
Full change! Clean socks, compression shorts and calf sleeves and back out.
I stopped briefly to check in with my mate, he was staying in Comms with the soon to be mother of my mini triathlete and reassure her that I was ok (she worries) and encouraging her not to have a stress induced labour whilst I laboured round the streets of Tenby.
A relief to hear she was fine.
I set off for part three whilst keeping a very keen eye out for Jon, my IM compadre, whom I hadn't seen since lost (left) him at a feed station hours earlier.
Up the high street I plod, along the huge stone wall that encapsulates the town and up toward the course. This is where it shortly dawns on me. I've been running uphill for about 2k now, properly uphill, everyone is walking, this uphill uphill!! As I turn a corner I can only see further uphill, no one’s turning, it's just more uphill. Whoever designed this course is sick.
The Inner monologue went like this:
This is not motivating. Why? Why would someone put this in a bloody ironman, after a bloody bike ride, after a bloody hilly bloody long bike ride? Why?
Inner response shouts - Shut up whining you little girl. Harden the f up and get on with it. It's not going anywhere
Those two argued for another couple of hours.
The course it seems it a 1k straight out of town to the laps, 4 laps and 1k back to the finish. 1 lap is 5k straight up, then 5k down including a lap of the town.
The 5k up is awful, walkers mostly make up the course. Pain is painted across their faces. Cramped competitors litter the streets. Exhausted bodies are sat, lying and motionless on grass verges and hillside mounds. There are a lot of people digging very deep but not getting very far. This really spurs me on. The inner monologue has now changed, repeat after me: I will not be one of them, I will keep running, I am a good runner, I am not tired. Repeat.
I carried my own gels as I can't stand the power bar ones they provide. Plan is one an hour, two Halves of banana per lap and as much energy drink/water as feels comfortable. I stick rigidly to plan, I was thinking clearly enough to know that I didn't need to add "feeling sick" to the list of complaints.
Soon enough I found a rhythm, a waaaay slower than normal rhythm, very nearly a minute slower per K than my average jogging pace, but the hills were seriously sapping my legs on the way up and then they felt as heavy as hell on the way down.
Before I found out what the run was like id planned for a 4 hour marathon. I soon knew that reality would disappear quicker than free pint in one of the local pubs, but I was adamant that I wanted to stay as close to that as I could and pressed on, fought of the depression of seeing the "finish left, laps right" sign, and then having to turn right for the third time and magically found some spare gas on the fourth lap, I gave it everything. Went up a lot quicker and came down quicker than that. Too quick, I thought I'd go for a showy finish, and nail the last 2k. That idea came back to bite me pretty quickly, it nearly came out over the cobbles too.
By this point there was no more inner monologue, the batteries had run out. There is no gas left. The lights are off, no one is home, and they took all vital functions with them.
4 hours 25mins
Rather than a smiley, all teeth, winners’ photo with arms aloft - a mute zombie with the brain power of an amoeba shuffled over the line, gob wide open, ignored the awaiting mayor and proceeded to stare into space whilst my waiting friend said words I didn't hear.
I wandered in the direction of the recovery tent. They had pizza!! Two slices of that put a smile back on my ugly mug pretty quickly.
All in. 13 hours 14 mins
An hour longer than planned. And considerably deeper depths dug into than expected.
Friend one was sick on the swim and gave up on the bike
Friend two was disqualified on the bike for accepting "outside help" after breaking his wheel and accepting the very kind offer of a passer-by who leant a wheel for him to finish the race. Which was then seen by a passing official. How on earth that is justified is beyond me. The guy isn’t a pro, and hours off the pace for being top age grouper. How does it matter?
But, said friend then used that excuse to say he wouldn't be allowed out of transition to do the run and promptly gave up.
I of course, like any good friend, will hold this over him for the rest of my years.
And thus the prophecy of the sign is true!:
‘Pain is temporary, race results stay on the internet forever’
In summary, a great location, family friendly, a scenic location, epic support and a bloody challenging course.