07: Ironman Wales 2016!!  From hero to zero in seconds, a cocktail of emotions, and a celebration – Part 1.

So here it is. The biggest challenge and event of my life! 

The combination of a year and half worth of training, all gearing up for this one day! Wow. 

I wanted to make this experience as meaningful as possible and decided to raise money for LATCH – the Children’s Cancer Charity. I think so far I have raised over £1300. So thank-you for everyone who has supported/ sponsored me, you have all been part of this amazing journey. 

Here we go!!

A 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle and a 26.2 mile run! All within 17 hours! 

As you have probably come to know, if you have read my other blogs, there have been ups and there have been downs. As always with my ‘biggest’ event to date, there is always doubt. There is always that little niggle in the back of my head ‘have I got it in me, to combine all these distances’. This doubt was as promminent as it had ever been! I did NOT want to end up in A&E having passed out… again!!

I had swam 2.4 miles, so I was fairly comfortable with that. I had also ridden the 112 mile bike course, and I was NOT comfortable with this, in fact when I got off the bike I could barely make it to my car let alone run a marathon!! And then the run, the furthest I had ever run was 18 miles, and that was a training run by itself. This is where my doubt lay. Could I get off that bike after 112 miles of Welsh hills, and run a marathon. Hmm….

So just to add in some figures here. During all my training up to this event, here are the total distances that I covered in the three disciplines. 

Swimming: 182,315 yards (that’s 6,668 lengths in a 25m pool)

Cycling: 3,228 miles (that’s the equivalent of cycling from my house in swansea all the way to New York, if the water wasn’t there obviously)

Running: 1028 miles (that’s the equivalent of running from my house in swansea all the way to Portugal)

Not too bad distances when you look at it like that hey!! Makes this Ironman sound short. It’s not.

So this wasn’t just a big day, this had become a huge day! My mum decided to surprise me and booked a flight back to the UK to watch me race!! My mum lives in Australia so she was coming a fair distance!! I was so happy!! But the more people that were due to be there, the more I could feel the pressure in finishing this thing!! 

In the end there were a whole load of us!! My friends and family pulled out all stops!! They went out of their way and booked to stay down in Tenby for the weekend so that they could support me on the day! I’m used to just my ‘number 1 top supporter’ Katie and maybe my brother if he turns up, but this time it seemed everyone was there! I will save all my thank-you’s for later. 

So again, as with all races, I was watching the weather forecast from weeks (months) out!! Derek Brockway was forecasting good weather, something I am not used to, but was definitely welcoming of. Being on the south west coast of Wales the area is quite exposed to the elements, and should the weather present itself, the swim, bike and run all become that more difficult. As it was we were looking okay!! 

The preparation 

So all my training was done, I was on taper (less intense training) in readiness for the day. I had finished work for 10 days, and it was time to pack up all my kit, I went over and over my packing to make sure I had everything. To be fair I think I packed everything I owned related to triathlon into the car!! Friday morning came and it was time to head to Tenby!! 

We stayed in the Clarence House Hotel in Tenby, which is right on the finish line!! We stayed from Friday to Monday, so plenty of time to settle in and absorb the atmosphere! The hotel was great, nice central location in Tenby, beachfront views, minutes away from transition, so no stress on arriving there on time the morning of the race. It was great. 

This is a view from our balcony, they have a terrace that you can sit on and enjoy drinks from their bar. The scenery is fantastic, and we had beautiful weather to go with it!!

On the Friday I went to the registration. Bought some bits and bobs, got my bag, which I didn’t take off until the night! And walked through the town, showing my family some good places to watch the race from. We didn’t have a late night, Saturday was going to be a busy day for me, so we sloped off for an early one and left my family at the bar. 

Saturday morning started with a very light 2 mile run, it was a beautiful morning and a few people were out to be fair, doing pretty much similar to me I think. There were a few out on their bikes too, I’m guessing some may have been testing to make sure they made it through transit okay.  Back to the hotel for a big breakfast, cereal, cooked breakfast and a pot of tea. I had to attend the mandatory race brief at mid-day, so we got a quick walk to north beach in before having to head there. North beach is where the swim takes place, it is surrounded by cliffs, where all the spectators watch from, kind of creating an amphitheatre!! It’s incredible.  

The race starts to the left of that rock (Goskar Rock), you head out left, then swim parallel to the beach toward the lifeboat ramp that you can just see and then back to the right of the rock, before running around it and head back out for a second loop!! 

This is the swim exit!! You come out of the water dizzy and disorientated, you then have to find your bag hanging off the railing with a spare set of trainers in, before running a kilometre through town to transistion!! And they don’t even knock that 1km off the run!! The cheek of it!!

So anyway, I’m getting carried away and excited here. Back to Saturday. So we went to north beach, took some pictures, and then I headed off for my briefing!! 

This is where it all started to get very real!! I met some nice guys there and shared stories of precious races etc. That helped a bit with a fair few whose ‘first’ it was also. 

The briefing is good. It gets you excited, nervous, pumped and shitting it all at the same time. The guy talks you through the course and rules and tells you some stories. Some scare you and some give you goosebumps. Once finished up there it was back to the hotel for final preparations of my kit.

On registration they give you a load of different bags. Not sure if I can remember them all correctly, but I had one for when I got out of the swim for my spare trainers to run through town, one for my swim-bike transistion, one for my bike-run transition and one ‘special needs’ bag that would be at mile 70 in the bike course. So I headed back to the hotel to sort all of this out. The bikes had to be racked that afternoon so I wanted to get this done sharpish so that I could relax a little.

This was the biggest transistion I had ever seen!! Whoa!! Out of all the things that should have been going through my head, I was there calculating roughly how much money all these bikes and the equipment accumulate to!! I calculated it to be an amazing amount!! They’d better have good security overnight!! 

So it was done. I was registered, my bike was racked, my bags were in. Now I just had to get a good sleep and be up at 4am for breakfast!! Another early night for me. A big day in the morning!!

Race day!!

Now unbelievably, and I still don’t know how this happened, I slept like a dream!! Out like a light at 10pm, and I slept solid through to 4am. I felt amazing. I felt rested and I actually felt ready for what’s to come!! I got up and did my final checks of the stuff I had to put on that morning. We were able to load our drinks onto our bikes and hand our special needs bag in ready for mile 70 on the bike. I put some spares in there (tubes and CO2) and a load of food, just in case I felt like I needed it. When I say food, it was; cinnamon buns, orange club bars, Cadbury fudge, mars bars, galaxy mini rolls and energy gels. Sounds delightful eh. 

I managed to get some decent breakfast down me. I had 3 weetabix, a cinnamon bun and some energy drink to sip on. I gathered my things and headed to transistion. 

I met with my family to say my final farewells before I had to get into my pen (based on swim time) and walk through the town to the beach. This was a strange time for me, all the hype, all the training, all the hours and hours of the past year talking and dreaming about this day, and now it’s was just me and my thoughts. No one to share them with any longer. It all becomes a bit of a blur. You walk through the town with everyone cheering already. The streets were absolutely packed!! I couldn’t believe it. Shops were even open, it was 6am!! Anyway, we made our way to north beach, I put myself into the 1 hour 15 min swim pen, I was being conservative. Slow and steady was theme of the day. 

Now I need to do a shout out here to my number 1 top supporter again. Katie did an amazing job of organising things. She surprised me by getting a load of t-shirts printed for my family to wear, but the best thing she did, was get a load of helium ballons of a giant gold ‘S’ for Simon. This was an incredible idea, I could spot all the clusters of my family a mile off!! No word of a lie, I could actually see one whilst I was swimming in the sea, and they were at the top of the cliff!! Brilliant idea!! I’m sure there are going to be heaps of people stealing that idea next year!! 

So as I was walking to north beach, there in the distance I could see two of the giant gold balloons. They were in a brilliant position to watch the swim, right above the zig zag path that leads down to the beach. One was Katie with my mates and one was my mum and ady. A quick wave to them and down to the beach I went.

This photo is quite good for explaining things. So we start the swim by that yellow buoy to the left of Goskar Rock, we then head out to that little orange buoy above the rock, we then turn back and swim parallel to the beach toward the lifeboat ramp and then come back in to that yellow bouy below the rock. We then exit the water, run through that yellow tunnel, and then go around again. Once I’ve done that I come to the ramp and find my bag, luckily mine was quite low down, so I could grab my trainers early on and run to transistion. A great tip I picked up here was to have two bottles of water in the bag, one to spray your feet with to get all the sand off before sticking them into your trainers and the other to have a drink of, rinse all that salt water out!! Sounds straight forward enough hey. 

So we all get down onto the beach. We huddle in. They play the Welsh national anthem, which is a great experience, as the cliffs are about 5 people deep, and it makes it feel like a stadium. Not quite like an international rugby day, but close!!

They give you a countdown. 3 minutes before we start! The longest three minutes of my life. I’m stood there, feeling the sand on my feet, watching the sunrise up over the rock, surrounded by 2000 other athletes, all there for different reasons, but all here together sharing this amazing moment. I will never ever forget that moment down there on that beach before we set off. Man I needed a wee……….. so I went. 

Beautiful sunrise just before we set off!! 

The Swim

10,9,8,7,6,5……4……3……2……1…… and we’re off!!  

It was a rolling start, so your time starts as you go over the mat, a brilliant way to do it as it is more spread out and not so much of a punch up. 

Into the water and it felt fresh. I stay left knowing if it gets a little hectic I can always go wider. It means I swim further but I’m more comfortable. I get into a rhythm and things are feeling good. I keep it steady and paddle on. The first bouy comes up and the rolling start really does help, congestion wasn’t too bad. 

Now it is worth mentioning something else here. Jellyfish. You hear all sorts of horror stories about the Jellyfish down in Tenby, and to be fair, I would probably say most of them are true. The one I heard was that there was a Jelly fish by the first bouy the size of a Fiat 500, I’m not sure I saw one quite that big, but there were definitely some nice sized ones down there. Luckily I’m not bothered in the slightest of them, but there were quite a lot of them. Sometimes slapping you in your face. It’s better once the crowd of swimmers have started to make their way around, as they seem to go down deep then. So my tip would be let the first 500 athletes head off to clear the path as it were. 

If you’re comfortable with this. Then you’ll be fine. It’s not quite as bad as this. However, some athletes did actually take an antihistamine (non-drowsy) in case they got stung and had a reaction. Anyway enough scaremongering. 

So the swim went well. I took it steady, I actually watched the sunrise whilst I was taking breaths. And I really enjoyed it. I was a little unfortunate this time as I was unable to get ‘onto’ someone’s feet and get a tow around. But that was ok. This was going to be a long day, so I kept it comfortable.

So out of the water, get my bearings, and up the beach I go. I find my bag. Quickly squirt my feet. Trainers on. And off I go. Up the steep ramp and running my way to transition 1!! 

My swim time was 01:07:33. Awesome!! I was a little ahead of what I expected. Into transistion. Change of clothing, get all my stuff for the bike and off I go. Heading off on the 112 mile cycle!!

The cycle

Now this cycle is not for the faint-hearted. It’s long, and it’s hilly. And it’s not the ‘good’ hilly. It’s up, down, up, down which zaps your legs. The first 40 miles is okay. You head out of Tenby, through some lovely little villages, all absolutely crowded with people cheering and shouting. It really is unbelievable how the people down there embrace this event. You head toward the sea, and go through fresh water west, a beautiful beach. There is a short climb here which keeps you warm. There is a photographer at the top, so make sure you keep some energy for a smile. 

Then you head to angle, before coming back to Pembrokeshire and toward the hills. I was feeling good on the bike. Fueling was going to plan. I was taking on food and drink. I replenished my drinks at angle and my speed was slightly above what I expected. Awesome. 
You then head back towards Pembroke, and then onto Carew Castle. I use this as a mark for when the hills really start to come, and what also stays in the back of your mind is that from here you have to repeat for a second lap. The first lap is 70 miles and the second 42. The second 42 mile lap is pretty much a repeat of all the tough hills. Anyway. Carew castle is beautiful. But get ready for the hill coming. Again, photographer alert!!

So I spin away at the hills. Tackling them one by one. I try and keep things as steady as possible, so I don’t spike my heart rate and burn out. Still things are okay. I plough on.

I make my way through mile 50, onto mile 60. Feeling alright. Looking forward to seeing my family and supporters who I knew were going to be at wisemans bridge and Saundersfoot. These are the two most challenging hills on the course. One is short but bloody steep and one is a trio of fairly steep hills straight after wisemans. Lovely. 

I weave my way down the tight lanes that lead to wisemans bridge and hit the hill. There was a guy at the bottom with a sign that made me giggle, it read ‘pain is just French for bread’. So that became my mantra for the hills. My friends Owen and Hannah were at this hill, and fair play to Owen he ran up the hill next to me to see how I was etc. He had flip flops on!! Anyone who knows that hill, will know that walking up it is a feat, running up it in flip flops is just stupid. But it was nice to have a brief conversation, and still I was feeling good. Seeing them gave me a boost!! I knew I was only minutes away from seeing the family. 

Down into Saundersfoot and I see the gold balloons!! Those things really were amazing. I wave and smile and take in all the energy you get from people cheering.  

Heartbreak Hill to go and I’m onto my second lap. Pain is just French for bread. I start doing my counting per push of the pedals. Repeating in sets of 10. 

I tell the family everything is good!! And crack on with what’s in front. 

Mile 70. Special needs. I decide to stop for a quick feed. I get some cinnamon buns down me, pick up a few more fudge bars, slurp of my drink. I leave the rest behind. Back on the bike and onto lap two. 

I’m about 7 miles into lap 2, when all of a sudden. BANG!! Someone behind me shouts ‘you got a puncture’. I pull over.

This is where the story changes.

Just to add some perspective to what is to come. Out of all the miles I had done in the lead up to this, in all my training, I didn’t have one single puncture. I used to practice changing my tyres and inner tubes just to keep my skills up. So I guess yeah, this did come as a bit of a shock. But it didn’t matter. I had two inner tubes with me and two CO2 canisters.

I’m on the side of the road and I get my kit out. Wheel off. Tyre off. Inner tube off. I put the new inner tube on, tyre on after that, and screw on my CO2. It’s starts inflating and BANG!! WTF!! The inner tube had pinched between the tyre and wheel. Nightmare. I’d heard of this happening, but I had never experienced it myself. Maybe it was because I was rushing, I needed to focus.

Shite. Now I was beginning to panic. I had another inner tube and one CO2 left. Wheel back off, tyre off, inner tube off. All the while there are people flying past me on their bikes, and I would be lying if I said I was able to ignore that. 

I double check everything this time, I run my fingers along the inside of my tyre to check there is nothing stuck in there, I check my rim. All seems fine. I put my last inner tube on, tyre on. CO2 screwed on. I open the valve. It seems to blow up fine!! Landed. It looks okay. I gather all my stuff back together and jump on. I’m about 300 metres down the road where I notice this rubbing sound. What the hell is that? I look down but I can’t see anything untoward. It must be the brakes where the wheel came off? I realigned them and off I go. The rubbing gets worse. I stop. Get off my bike and have a proper look. The wheel had bulged. The inner tube was protruding out the side. The tyre couldn’t have been sitting correctly before I blew the thing up!! Now I was in proper panic mode. I had no inner tubes left, and no CO2. I didn’t have a pump either. Oh dear. I had to make a decision, and looking back I made the wrong one. I decided to crack on up the road. I knew there was a maintance tent just 7 more miles up the road. If I could get there I can sort this out and crack on. I jumped back on and steadily plodded on. Another 200 meters down the road. BANG!! 

Now this was a different ‘bang’. Hadn’t heard a bang like this. I pull over in melt down mode. Not only had my last inner tube gone. My tyre had ripped to bits!! Completely ruined. 

I can’t repeat the words that came out of my mouth. Now what? I had nothing on me for repairs. I had no phone. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw my bike off the cliff. I sat down. People still flying past on their bikes. Was this it? Was my race over with? What could I do? 

To be continued.

9 thoughts on “07: Ironman Wales 2016!!  From hero to zero in seconds, a cocktail of emotions, and a celebration – Part 1.

  1. OMG cliff hanger… what happened.. Such an amazing way to tell you ironman story breaking it down into bite size pieces brilliant. can’t wait for the next segment.. xxx

    Like

  2. Almost exactly the same thing happend to me in Ironman Bolton last year about 50 miles in! Fortunately a lady who worked with British Cycling and a couple of other cycling spectators saved my day.

    This is a great read. Inspiring me to give Wales a shot!

    Like

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