Ironman Wales

First thing, bit of news: since my last blog, I’ve made a bit of a U-turn and I’m going to South Africa after all! More on that to come.

But now, race report from Ironman Wales and the weeks before and since.

After my last blog and very sensible DNF at the Ridgeway 86 miler, I went to Mallorca for a week’s holiday. Having planned to be completely knackered and need a full week’s rest after an 86 mile slog, it was lovely to be able to get in a couple of short snappy runs while I was out there having ‘only’ done 45 miles. I also did a few pool swims and a couple of sea swims, but unfortunately no biking. I also did a little recce of the destination where I’ll be doing my half ironman in 10 days, ie. went to the beach, swam in the sea (wrong bay to where the swim will actually take place), ate a ginormous 3 course lunch, and listened to inspirational podcasts – Tough Girl Challenges – would highly recommend it.

The weekend before Ironman, the plan had been to get in some last minute bike miles. But a friend convinced me to take part in a new local half marathon event. You know it doesn’t take much convincing to sign up for a race! On the saturday, I had planned parkrun + bikeride, but woke up to rain, rolled over, re-cocooned myself and had a lie in, envisaging a day on the turbo trainer. When I did wake up though, I felt quite faint and every time I stood up, had a swarming blackness across my vision. So rest day it was. The next day, I felt a bit better and set off for the race, ran the mile or so to the start and felt good, but was hotter and sweatier than I should have been for the work I’d just done. When the gun fired, I set off at a lick, but early on I was struggling. I was actually willing women to catch me up so that I could be knocked out of podium position and give myself permission to stop pushing. Once that happened, I really slowed up. I felt like I was stumbling and swerving along (not a good idea on a canal towpath race), and stopped for full cups of water, a hang on to a fence post, and even to pick some blackberries as an attempt to boost my energy and spirits. I made it to the end, but felt completely defeated and it took a shade over 2 hours, which for me is not good at all. Although I didn’t feel “ill”, I knew something was wrong. Apart from a tuesday morning swimming session, I took the rest of the week off. This was scary as until racing, I hadn’t known how off I was, and it felt like the Ironman would be going into the unknown – was I recovered? The temptation to test myself on thursday and friday was high, but I resisted.

It was exactly 51 weeks after my first and only Ironman, in Mallorca (26/9/15). I had said to myself during that race “never again”, like actually, NEVER AGAIN. But feeling fit as a fiddle the next day, I knew I had so much more to give. I had looked at Sweden and Denmark. Wales, being home was tempting, but I was scared by the brutal hills. On my drive into work one saturday though, I made up my mind. How could I not? I got in early and put in my entry before starting my cardiology on call. So Ironman Wales, in the land of my fathers, the green green grass of home. I had swum in that sea and cycled those hills enough at the Long Course Weekend to know that I had a tough day ahead. But the thought of that Ironman rockstar feeling and with home crowds as well had me stirring with excitement. I knew the passion of the Welsh supporters would not disappoint.

img_8183                  Looking up at the finish line – demonstrates the hilliness of Tenby!

I drove down to Tenby on Friday evening and made my debuter as a caravaner. It wasn’t exactly as promised by The Inbetweeners, but I was pleasantly surprised (though more by the spaciousness and interior design of the caravan than the location of my knees). Saturday I headed to registration and the expo, picked up my bag, chip, number and kit bags, made a few absolutely essential purchases, and took the obligatory pointing at my name piccie.

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After listening to the race briefing, and feeling butterflies in my stomach and rising up into my chest, I headed back to the caravan to quickly sorted my kit into the bike and run bags, gave my bike one last check over and rushed back to transition before it closed. Bike racked, it was time to relax. A late lunch of pasta, an early dinner of sausage and mash, and I was stuffed. Early night for me, with a very early start the next day.

On the way to the swim start, I had one last look at my bike and a very kind man loaned me his track pump to sort out my rather soft tyres – triathletes are generally so generous, I was really pushing it for time and so grateful for his help. The swim is self seeded, with all the athletes lining up according to their estimated swim time in Tenby town centre before a procession down to the beach. I put myself just behind the 1:15 marker, having swum around that in Mallorca last year and times ranging from around 1:08-1:28 on this course over the years.

I knew that the Welsh National Anthem would be played before the race start, and I’d steeled myself for tears. I welled up before the start of Ironman Mallorca without the added emotion of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Just before the start, I also noticed a nice nice split down the side seam of my wetsuit – the trusty Foor I’ve had for my whole tri career, bought in 2009 and kind of pride myself on not having updated. But when the klaxon went, I was head down, race mode on! I completed the first lap in around 35 minutes, and it went smoothly apart from a kick to the nose and elbow directly into the goggle. There was also a small scuffle around the first turn buoy where I may have got a little stroppy. Out onto the second lap, I felt great. I saw my first jellyfish at my second time at the first buoy and only then wondered where they all were hiding, having see hundreds at previous times out there. I came in from the second lap of the swim in just under 1:08, way ahead of schedule.I hear it was a good year for the swim, with lots of PBs out there due to a flat sea and overall excellent conditions.

I dashed up the beach to T1a. Ironman Wales breaks tradition by having a Swim, Run, Bike, Run format, the transition being a 1km uphill run from the beach, and so pink bags are provided on hooks to leave your running shoes to get up to the main transition. Some people strip off their wetsuits there for a speedier run, but I chose to pull mine half way down and run with the arms flapping. I also didn’t put trainers in the bag, but some slip on rubber shoes. This wouldn’t make for the fastest run, but I felt that pushing the heart rate for that bit wasn’t worth it. I struggled a bit to pull my bike jersey down, skin still damp from the swim but made it out of T1 and onto the bike in good time.

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And here is where I was scared. My bike is and always has been my weakest discipline. And this is one hell of a bike. I had worried in the past about doing an ironman whether I could complete the swim and bike in the 10:30 cut off, but obviously in Mallorca surprised myself with a 1:15 swim and 7:20 bike. I knew that 7:20 on this course wasn’t going to happen, my best having been around 8:20 in 2015, and that’s without it following a swim and transition right before. My 2016 long course times for both swim and bike had been slower than 2015, and with those times and allowing for fatigue following one after another plus transition times, I was worried I’d be cutting it fine. So I had to give it my all.

I actually started well, and I was enjoying myself. I stopped at the aid stations, made sure I was taking on fluids, calories and salt. But as the miles ticked by, the pain in my shoulders, neck and upper back began to rear it’s head, just as it had at Mallorca. I cursed myself for not sticking to my plan of training shoulders and back. It wasn’t the legs or cardio-respiratory system letting me down, but my upper body. I had to keep sitting up straight and stretching my arms and back out. At one point I lay down on the floor for a good stretchout, much to the amusement of the volunteers, police and general public looking on. But I got back into T2 in a course best time of only just over 8 hours. I was absolutely delighted.

A note here about sportsmanship. As I said earlier, triathletes are a generous, supportive, kind bunch….usually. At one point on the bike, with my back in tatters, I decided to walk up a short steep hill, push my bike, have a stretch and take on some nutrition, weighing up whether it was worth pushing it up there versus the benefits of doing those other things. A girl rode past me saying “I’ve been overtaking all these people on their fancy TT bikes all day, while I stuff my face and sit bolt upright”. As the slope plateaued, I got back on and soon drew level with her. I was amiable, saying “Oh I know, I’m at the bolt upright stage too, my back is killing me!” But then as a man passed us and gave some words of encouragement she yelled something I didn’t exactly catch, but didn’t sound all too polite back along the lines of “I can guarantee I’m feeling 100% better than you.” He turned back confused and said pardon, not catching her. She shouted “All the gear, no idea!” Completely confused he said that’s not very polite and her final remarks were “Well, it’s just a waste of a nice bike, that’s all I’m saying.” Friendly banter? I think she probably considered it humour, but I’m not sure. Either way, I thought it came across extremely rude and not-sportsmanly behaviour in a sport which is otherwise so inclusive. For anyone considering taking the plunge into triathlon, please know, this is NOT the norm.

img_8201              On a lighter note, some big fluffy dogs in Tshirts.

T2 went smoothly, I deposited my sunglasses into my bag, not risking losing another pair like last year. Mother is almost forgiven… The run is very different from the Mallorcan one, and from the Long Course Weekend Marathon. Ironman Mallorca is completely flat, 4 laps along the beach promenade and through the town of Alcudia. I struggled with it, fatigued from the bike, hot, thirsty, but stomach sloshing and unhappy with the volume of liquids and lack of salt I was providing it. The Long Course Weekend marathon is an undulating to say the least out and back run to Pembroke Castle. I knew that the Ironman route was different, incorporating 4 loops around the town, keeping it compact for maximum spectator support. For some reason, I thought it would be flat. But where I’d got that made thought from, I have no idea. Anyone who’s ever been to Tenby, as I have many times, would point out that there isn’t really any flat around!

img_8204            Hill profile – I had my GPS on low accuracy, hence the mileage not adding up.

Actually though, I think this was a good thing. Where in Mallorca, I started to run-walk and once walking found it a struggle to run again; the hills here broke the run up a bit, allowing me to have a bit of a break and walk the ups, but always be able to run the downs. Also, salted nacho chips and plenty of Coca-Cola were provided, which is exactly what I needed having suffered and craving salt in Mallorca with no hope of stomaching the isotonic drink, gels or Red Bull on offer there. At the start of my second lap, I joined forces with Cristian, the target of criticism from little-miss-mean I mentioned above. And we whiled away the next three laps sharing life and race stories. He certainly could have pushed on and finished ahead of me, but he wouldn’t listen and stuck by me the whole way. We finished the marathon in just under 5 hours.

I was overjoyed to finish in 14:28, 20 mins slower than Mallorca over a much much more difficult course. That is one T-shirt, medal, and set of memories I will treasure and be proud of for years to come.

Times and Stats:
Swim 1:07:45, 11/20 Age Group, 73/173 Gender, 778/1677 OverallT1 13:21
Bike 8:02:42, 14/19 AG, 117/164 Gen, 1379/1618 Overall
T2 7:35
Run 4:56:39 14/19 AG, 99/158 Gen, 1208/1575 Overall
Finish 14:28:02
(Note the denominators change as people drop out at various stages, or fail to make cut offs).

I’d like to share something my mum made me, which I absolutely love. I’d seen them for sale in Tenby, and my mum secretly napped a photo when I said I liked it. I went back to buy one but they were sold out. She then went out collecting pebbles and made me my very own personalised version which is taking pride of place on my bedroom windowsill. Get your orders in ladies and gents!

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The week after Ironman, again I just went for a two swims, and an annoying run which I really didn’t want to do but had to fetch my car from work with my spare key having locked my car keys inside work when I left and slammed the door behind me! A week later, I got back into twice a day sessions Monday-Wednesday then had an easy Thursday-Saturday before the Cardiff Half Marathon on Sunday. It was my 6th running of a Cardiff Half Marathon having done it as my first ever in 2008, then completing it in 2009, 2010, 2011 and as part of the World Half Marathon Championships in March this year. I knew I was off my best, and even off where I’d been in March, so considered running it with my mum, but we were in separate pens, or as a steady marathon pace training run. I set off fairly steadily, but the recent exertions caught up with me, and again I struggled. It wasn’t as bad as the Two Arms on Two Legs Half  I’d done the week prior to Ironman, but I finished up with a time slower than I’d run in 2009 at my second ever half. Of course, I was disappointed, but I have to remind myself that my time from 2009 (1:40:53) did stand as my half marathon PB until Watford in 2015 when I ran 1:35:37, and then obliterating it in Newport March 2015 with a 1:28:32. I find 10km and half marathon races tricky to master, preferring “fast” 5kms, and “slow” marathons, and struggling to pace that tricky in between, so don’t do many. I also have to remember, most people don’t race so frequently and rest is vital for recovery, with Ironman mileage almost certainly still in my legs and hampering my performance. I know that I need a break and some recovery time, but I’m booked up until mid November, after which I’m planning a super-low mileage 6 weeks, with base-building weights/strength and conditioning focus.

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More of my upcoming plans in my next post, coming soon…

 

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