After seeing race pictures and videos from Ironman Wales in the build up to last year’s race in 2017 I was intrigued. I had also seen Triathlon 220’s list of the toughest 11 Ironman’s, with Wales listed at number 9! There was a mix of terror and excitement about it.
I have never, ever, ever, ever imagined that I would even attempt an Ironman. I’ve had issues with my knees due to poor alignment of my knee caps for years, my attempt at running a marathon ended up with me laying in an MRI machine and 4 months off running. But with on-going physio and a carefully structured training plan, this is seemingly under control.
I had not even considered any other races; Ironman Wales, or the Dragon, was somehow calling to me…
When I mentioned it to my coach, Steve he did not even flinch and said, ‘yep you could do Wales’.
So on one dark September Sunday morning in 2017, when most of my friends were awaking to hangovers, I was awaking to the fact I had signed up to Ironman Wales 2018. What on earth had I done!
I was already a triathlete, I had completed a half Ironman distance but on a flat course, and had raced many sprint distances and a couple of standards, but this was going to be a next level challenge.
There was going to be lots of obstacles to overcome, keeping the wonky knee-caps in check, sorting my swim out, getting in some long bike rides and not to mention that I had never even ran a marathon before! But despite all this I was confident that if I just followed the plan, all would be OK.
My biggest obstacle to overcome was cycling. I had not ridden over 60 miles that I had actually enjoyed. My last 100 mile bike ride I wanted to throw my bike in a hedge, walk home and never ride my bike again. So this year I was hoping to just learn to endure it, but I actually learnt to love it! Just on my own terms. I realised I am not a group rider, so I had to just get out there on my own, which meant learning to deal with mechanicals by myself and this year I’ve pretty much learnt how to take my bike apart and put it back together.
It has been a huge commitment and took a lot of organisation to fit all the sessions in but I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I have learnt so much about myself. Mainly that I am completely anti-social and enjoy nothing more than being on my own riding my bike, or running- but that’s OK for a triathlete right!?
So onto the race…
Registration or race briefing had been nothing like I had imagined. I had thought I would casually register and enjoy the whole experience but it was so busy it was actually quite stressful.
I was mega prepared with what I needed in each bag, I had my nutrition plan laminated and stuck on my top tube, I had lists of what to pack in each bag, what I needed for the morning, even down to what I was going to eat the day before!
Checking my bike over on Saturday morning my back brake was sticking, I took it for a check by the bike mechanics and they said a new cable was needed. This was quite stressful as they was really busy and not certain they could fix it in time before transition closed, they would have to rack it for me. This was less than ideal but I had to leave my bike with them and take my bags to transition.
Another layer of stress I had not mentally prepared for! However, not long after I had left transition they called me to say it was done, so back into transition for the second time. Tenby was manic at this point. The Ironkidsrace was on so there were so many people, pushing my bike through the crowd was less than ideal. I was glad to get back to my apartment and chill out for the rest of the day
I had slept really well. My 3:45am get up was easier than I imagined, so I ate my over night oats, put my kit on, collected my check-list and off I went. In transition it was so dark it was difficult to see pumping up my tyres and putting my nutrition on my bike. Checking my bike in the morning I realised I had forgot body balm for my neck, my wetsuit occasional chafes but in sea water I knew it could be much worse, I had a lip balm in my bike bag so put a bit of this on hoping it would do. (After note- it did not do! My neck was actually bleeding by the time I got to T1)
Following some milling about it was time to head to swim start.
On the walk down to the swim I realised I had forgot my earplugs. I hadn’t done a single open water swim without them this year so this was a huge mistake but there was not a thing I could do about it at that point so would just have to pull my swim cap down a little lower. It was on the walk to the swim where I realised how busy it was. It was 6.00am on a Sunday morning and the streets were absolutely packed. The ramp down to swim start was lined with people, children and dogs, it was quite a spectacle. Even a man dressed in a full dragon outfit at that time in a morning was completely surreal.
As I saw the first of the age groupers run into the water, I thought ‘oh crap’ I usually tip-toe in, float on my back a bit, faff with my goggles, then swim, but amazingly I got in there and did it, no faffing, straight in and off.
I managed to find my own space and relax in a bit of a rhythm, getting bunched up to go around the buoys was a bit hectic but fine. I really managed to just find a nice rhythm and just enjoyed catching a glimpse of the sunrise whenever I breathed to that side. I did have Steve’s voice in my head ‘ you swim well when you relax’ so that is exactly what I did and just enjoyed it. About 100m from shore on the first lap it happened, I hit a Jellyfish, I caught sight of it too, it was huge, bigger than a dinner plate! I waited for the pain but there was none and then began to feel bad for the poor thing just floating along and then getting bashed by me.
On to the Aussie exit, I just took my sweet little time had a nice walk in the sand, I couldn’t wait to get back in. Second lap, more jelly fish, I hit another shortly into it, then felt a sting on my wrist. I’m guilty of dropping my elbows and basically having a terrible catch sometimes when I swim, there is nothing like the fear of hitting a jellyfish to correct this! In total I hit four, was stung by one and saw many.
The swim seemed to go really quickly and was pretty low stress, I had really enjoyed it, even with the jellyfish.
As it is such a long run into transition from the sea there is a ‘pink bag’ option to have some trainers to put on for the run. This was probably my favourite and most surreal moment of the day. Running through the streets of Tenby half in my wet suit, carrying a little pink carrier bag with thousands of people cheering you on was insane! I’ve never felt so ridiculous in my life but it was brilliant!
As this was my first Ironman I had no expectations on time and just wanted to finish so I had made the decision to fully change in transition so I would be comfortable for the long and hilly bike route. Wobbling about putting my cycling kit on in transition was hilarious and it felt like it took an age but at least I was now sand and salt water free and feeling fresh.
Onto the bike.
The course is beautiful and I love hills! The on course support was absolutely amazing.
Again- not worrying about the time I decided I would just take toilet stops, even though going for a wee in bib shorts is not quick. I had not anticipated I would need to stop 4 times! Well at least I was keeping well hydrated! Each time I stopped there were some lovely children there to hold my bike and it was really nice talking to them about my bike and my kit, the girls I met were particularly impressed with my pink tyres which was really sweet. I stopped at Narbeth twice and the girls remembered my name and wanted to hold my bike again for me
Seeing my mum and husband at mile 40 I really wanted to tell them about the jellyfish I had seen but the cheering was so loud they couldn’t hear me. There is a hilarious picture of me holding up 4 fingers- which was ‘I touched 4 jelly fish’. The final time I saw them I was heading into a head wind and was 75 miles in so was starting to feel it; there were no attempts to explain my adventures this time around.
Hearing James Brown belted out in the middle of nowhere was a particular on course highlight.
It was perfect cycling and closed roads were amazing! Despite all this I did not enjoy the bike as much as I thought I would. I think the anxiety of just finishing it was looming over me so I was just glad to get it done. As I’ve been unlucky with mechanicals recently I was so anxious about a DNF due to one but my bike ran like a dream and I loved the quick downhills with no worry of traffic.
Another full change and out onto the run. The anxiety of a DNF was now under control as I knew I had the time to finish. Despite this the first 2k were hell! My back hurt, my legs hurt, but most of all- I realised I was so hungry! The smell of doughnuts and chips was pure torture. I had enough gel blocks to get me through the run but couldn’t stomach them and needed something savoury. Never in my life have I been so happy to see dry crackers. I stuffed these along with nachos and bananas down at every aid station on the first lap. I managed to run the first 2 laps, by the third the pain was undeniable and I had to walk. I knew I had plenty of time and rationalised that the time saved running would just add to my recovery as I was certain I had re-torn muscles.
On the run the crowd support was unreal! So much cheering and shouting, it was amazing but as it got dark and some of the supporters had left and there was less competitors on course it became a little lonely.
Having drunken men shout about my bum as I complete in one of the toughest Ironman courses in the world was a low-light and completely inappropriate leaving me feeling a little vulnerable on the course in the dark, not what I had expected at such a large event. However, I kept my s**t together, tried not to grind my teeth too loudly and continued on the run, at this point walking, on to the final lap! By this time it was quite dark and I was so glad to get out of the madness of the town and just have a nice quiet walk in the dark. I was enjoying watching a bat and maybe even having a little sing to myself, however, the biggest low of the day was yet to come…
When power walking up hill into New Hedges about 500m before the Red Bull turn around point a very drunk man came out of no where and grabbed me, trying to make me run up the hill. I felt quite on my own at this point and understandably very tired, I was F**king livid! These and a couple of other incidents on the run I am not going to let put a downer on what was an absolutely amazing day.
I did walk with a few other competitors and had a chat, which was really nice and helped to pass the time. I had some absolutely lovely moments on the run too, some really nice words of support.
As I came into the town for the fourth time I was dreading running by the pubs again, but I just blanked it out and got a move on, shuffling along.
The winding course through town felt the longest ever, but when I saw the red carpet it was complete relief! As I stepped on the carpet the crowd went mad. My memory of what happened next completely fails me, I don’t even remember getting my medal but I remember seeing Lucy Gossage who was heading to hand out medals giving me a ‘well done’ pat on the arm as she walked past.
That was it. I had done it! I still can’t quite believe it. It has been such an amazing journey and I have learnt more about myself than I ever imagined I would. I have absolutely loved every bit of training, it was tough and hectic to fit in at times, but I will certainly be doing it again, just when and where is the bit I need to figure out…
I have to say a huge thank-you to my husband who despite thinking I am absolutely insane has been really supportive, from running in the rain with me, to mountain biking out to bring me water and snacks on my long runs, to putting up with the noise of the turbo trainer!
To Steve as without his coaching I would not have even had the confidence to attempt this Ironman malarkey. To all the training buddies I have made along the way, it has been fab having so much support. I am really excited for next year!