Ironman Wales 2018 –John Chambers

Here we go again! Tenby the town where everyone knows your name and you feel like a rock star. Following the catastrophe 2 weeks before IM Wales 2017 (going over on my ankle and causing severe ligament and tendon damage), as soon as entry opened I was in again for another go. Following my injury I managed to get a place in 2018 London marathon also but I didn’t think I would be able to do it justice so I deferred until 2019. With a lot going on domestically also it meant training for Wales didn’t really start until June when I asked Steve to throw a plan together for me. My ankle still not 100% but at least I could run this year!

The weekend was shared with fellow athletes Gary Horner, Brad Porter and Dean Atkinson and a top notch support crew which through rivalry, camaraderie and banter made it an awesome weekend, especially as we all completed it.

We met at registration and the competition had already started between us to see who could buy the most IM gear from the Expo, it was a close one and I’m sure Gary wanted a towel but the ‘Boss’ said no! We had a quick walk through the athlete village, checked transition and swim start before checking into our house – what a fab place, so good I have booked it again next year. We returned to North beach for a quick swim in the sea. High tide was 1730 and there were quite a few who had the same idea. Not too far but a good swim to calm the nerves and eliminate the worry of the hoards of jelly fish reported – I think I saw one. Return to the house and a quick spin on the bike where Gary and I got lost. We rode just under 9 miles but did more elevation than the local two bridges ride which is around 48 miles door to door – this would be the theme of the weekend, not many flat roads round here!

Saturday was another chilled and relaxed day. Race brief at 1000 following which bikes and transitions bags were dropped off – it was happening, no turning back now. It had been raining all Friday night and Saturday morning but had stopped by this point, the forecast wasn’t actually too bad for race day for a change as 2017 was brutal (40mph winds and torrential rain), another relaxing evening with a meal in a local pub and early night. 0330 and the alarm was going off, I had actually slept well. The others were up also sharing the delight of forcing breakfast down in an ungodly hour. We travelled to transition together, it was a bit like we started together, and we finished together. Final preparations were made in transition and bikes loaded with food. The call came at 0620 to start making our way on to the high street where the self-seeded queue for the swim start began. We had had discussions on what time we would line up at, much to my discontent, we ended up at the 1 hour 5 marker but we all started together. 0645 and it was time for the Welsh national anthem, following which we decided we were going to become Welsh! It was sung by a male opera singer (who was also racing) and about ten thousand other people – spine tingling is the only way to describe it.

0655 saw the pro’s start and the fastest swimmers of the Age Groupers starting at 0700. I believe we entered the water at 0708. The dash for the first buoy was a bit too hectic for my liking when we made the turn I stayed to the edge trying to keep out of the way. By the time I had reached the next buoy, things had calmed down a bit as everyone had found their rhythm and pace. The swim felt relaxed and comfortable with no further incidents. I remember looking at my watch as I did the Aussie exit after the first lap and it being 41 minutes something, lap two and there was more room as the field had strung out. I had remembered looking at the position of the buoys from the harbour the previous day and thinking they seem a long way – it seems they were. My swim was over 400m longer than it should be and I was tight on the buoys all the way round. I stopped my watch as I stood up at 1:22:45 before running onto the beach where the timing mats were better than I expected especially for 4289meters (My official swim time slightly longer as I came out of the water thinking I should be looking like Daniel Craig!). Transition is 1km away so you have the joys of running up the zigzag path and then through the town. When I got into transition I remember seeing Gary ready to cycle. A quick change and away I went. I decided to take it easy on the bike knowing how hard the marathon is, probably a little too easy to be honest. I passed Brad on the way to Angle a quick chat then onwards expecting him to catch me up on the hills but never saw Gary on the bike course, yet it turns out at some point I must have passed him and not realised. There was the usual head wind for the first 20 miles or so then that is replaced by relentless hills. I was passed by the two male leaders when I was on the first lap of the big loop, they were on their second. This also happened in 2017 but I was happy that I was further on the course this year. The bike was completed without drama, back to transition, quick change and away, 4 laps of Tenby – basically 3 miles uphill and 3 miles downhill, the repeat. The first lap I ran l the way taking just over 62 minutes. The remaining laps saw me slowing to a walk on the steepest parts then run the remainder. I remember seeing Gary on his way out of Tenby as I was on my way back in on my first lap but as I hadn’t seen him on the bike I assumed he was a lap in front of me. Even when I had finished I was convinced he had already completed the course! Brad, Gary and I passed each other in opposite directions numerous times on each lap. A quick check on how we were doing as we passed. The marathon seemed to fly by until about 25.5 miles where my legs just seized up. I had to walk a little through the town to free them off then before the last turn I was determined not to walk across the finish line so managed to run the last few hundred meters – job done! There is no other way of describing this race other than brutal. Around 8000ft of ascent on the bike and almost 2000ft on the run.

I cannot explain in words what the atmosphere was like in Tenby as the whole town just embraces it, 2017 was awesome in terrible conditions, 2018 surpassed this by a mile as with better weather the streets were absolutely rammed like you have never seen – I have experienced nothing like it.

Thanks as usual to Steve Clark at Off That Couch Fitness for expert guidance and coaching, Gary, Brad and Dean and not forgetting our fab support crew who we shared this magic experience with.

Here’s to next year with a third visit to slay the dragon and a warm up in Bolton first!

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