Ironman Wales 2019 –John Chambers

Here we go again! Tenby the town where everyone knows your name and you feel like a rock star. So third year in a row I return to Wales, I blame Mal Whitelam who had asked me to go but to be honest, it didn’t take much persuading!

2019 had been a busy year. Barcelona and London Marathons, Steelman, Lakesman Half Ironman and Ironman UK and a few other races all completed with good performances and relatively injury free. Well I say injury free but a deteriorating condition in my shoulder has hampered my swimming over the past few months but I’m surviving!

Training for Bolton had meant that all the hard work was almost complete, just a few more weeks training with two trips to Wales to recce the bike course again and Steelman in-between and it was soon time to travel to Tenby. Race weekend was here and an early start for the long drive meant we arrived in Tenby around lunchtime and headed straight to registration where you could feel the atmosphere in the town was starting to build. Once registered, we disappeared out of Tenby to the seaside – Cafe Mor for lunch at Freshwater West (highly recommended if you are in that part of the world!) to chill out and relax for a while until we met up with Mal and his family in Tenby and headed to the race brief. Astonishingly, 40% of the race entrants were first time ironman competitors, I thought that was a big ask but then I remembered that was me 3 years ago – Brigg sprint to Ironman was a bit of a jump!

I had packed all my race gear in transition bags from Bolton so packing for race day was easy, just transfer from bag to bag, no stress worrying about what I had forgotten! Dropping the bike and bags off in transition came with the realisation of we were a few hours starting one of the most iconic (and one of the hardest) in the world, I was relaxed, nothing to worry about – I had been here before.

BOOM 0330 and the alarm went off on the morning of race day. I always struggle to eat the stodge of porridge at that time of day, so I reverted to eating a full loaf of Soreen (like a mars bar starting at one end!). We drove to Tenby and had a steady walk to transition to finish tinkering with my bike and the toilet (several times) and headed down to the beach. The sun had just broke the horizon over the sea as the Welsh National Anthem was being sung – this always makes the hairs on my neck stand on end, something you have to be there to experience.

I wasn’t looking forward to the swim due to the ongoing issues with my shoulder but as Thunderstruck was started, all this seemed to disappear – no time to think about that now as we were off. 2300 athletes filtered into the sea, my aim was to keep out the way, no dramas required thank you which worked quite well apart from the turn buoys where it felt like all 2300 got to the turn point at the same time until the field stretched out again. Lap one completed incident free until I was passed by one of the pros who was motoring along at the end of his second lap, a steady jog along the beach and back in for round two! Again I tried to stay out of the way which was working well apart from the turn points but this time round the field was stretched more so not so bad this time round. When I finished I looked at my watch and considering my shoulder issues 1:22 I was happy with that and not aching too much, I ascended the zig-zag ramps off the beach, wet suit off, trainers on (don’t forget your pink bag John!) and ran to transition. If you haven’t raced Ironman Wales, this is where you first realise how good the support is as all the way to transition the crowds’ line the streets. Right, the warm up was out of the way; let’s get down to the serious stuff. The weather (for me) was ideal; 17-18 degrees little wind and slightly overcast. I had ridden the bike course before, obviously on 2017 and 2018 Ironman but I had been twice this year – and it never gets any easier. There are very few flat sections to this course, if you aren’t going up, you are going down and the downs can be technical in places so not all out speed as caution is required as one poor chap found out on the decent in Freshwater. The race ground to a halt for around 10-15 minutes as there had been a serious accident on this decent where a rider had hit the wall of a narrow bridge at speed at the bottom of the decent. The road was closed, no way passed as the ambulance and race officials were dealing with the incident – as it turned out luckily it was only a broken collar bone and some loss of skin so could have been much worse.When were allowed to continue, we had to up end our bikes and pass on at a time with this guy still laid on the road – a bit of an eye opener for some i think. Onward – the small loop completed and now on to the big loop, two laps of this and I am back in Tenby. It’s easy if you say it fast! This loop is where it gets interesting – also known as hilly.

I was aiming for around a 6:30 bike split so considering the delays I was reasonably happy with my time of 6:45. As you ride back in to Tenby, you pass those that have already started the run – this is where band envy starts! Back to transition and away we go, it’s only 4 laps – how hard can it be? Well the answer is very. Running off the bike is never the easiest thing to do at pace, especially when each lap is basically uphill for 3 miles then turn round and downhill back into the town centre. As you pass athletes, whether going in the same direction or passing the other way, you start to look to see how many bands they have on their wrists. Green, blue red and yellow.Once you have your yellow band you are on your way to the finish line and it is like you have been running with the brakes on for 23 miles and all of a sudden they have been released. I ran the whole of the first lap and I didn’t feel too bad, but I was tired, I had no energy on the run – not due to the bike but just the fact it had been a long year so knowing this I decided to walk up the two steepest parts of the course then resume my shuffling. I stopped to chat to the guys supporting us on each lap and had a few words with Mal as he had now started the run also. It is at this point you realise that some of those still coming in on the bike were trying so hard but weren’t going to make the cut-off so I was thankful I had nearly finished. 

As usual, the finish line in Tenby was mental – I was glad to get over the line. 13 hours 10 slightly disappointing but couldn’t be helped due to the accident and glad the chap is ok. I changed and dropped my gear off in the car then returned back to the finish line to cheer Mal in. It had been a long day for everyone, supporters included. 

I had already decided I wasn’t going to race Tenby in 2020, I’m tired, need a rest before Lanzarote in May but I nearly had a moment of weakness when the race entry opened this week. I will return to Tenby again, not next year though I managed to resist! 

Thanks as usual to all those supporting on the day or throughout the year and as usual to Coach Clark at OffThatCouchFitness for the guidance and wisdom he provides – see you in Lanzarote 2020!

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