The scorching – ironman Wales 2018 race report

Spoiler alert update:

Short Sprint version: ironman Wales is epic in so many ways. I went to slay the dragon and came back with a draw. It wasn’t so much the course beat me but I was beaten by injury.

If, what, maybe ? Just wasn’t my day. I made it to 134 miles, missed last 10k run lap cut off by four minutes.

Medium 70.3 version: The week before the race I slammed into a pot hole cycling on my last training ride, then the next day fell over while walking the dog, of course on the same hand. Thinking it was just a sprained wrist I strapped it up, swallowed a few ibuprofen for the week then headed off to Wales.

Well 112 miles of Welsh hills and tarmac certainly wasn’t what the doctor would have recommended. After 60 miles my right hand was almost numb, a little worrying as this is my rear brake and main gear changing hand, by mile 80 the hand was swelling and trying to burst out my cycling  gloves like the hulk. By mile 100 I was in tears.

I tore off my strapping thinking this was the cause of the swelling as I started the run walking the first hill. As I started running there was immense shooting pain up my arm with every step and the hand continued to swell. I slowed down considerably on lap 3 and as I heard the church bells chime I was about 500m the wrong side of  the cut off line.

I didn’t quit, I didn’t stop, I kept moving forward but instead of a medal I was pulled up 6 miles short ( still longer than Bolton ironman UK this year !)

Long full 140.6 version: I went as a supporter to ironman Wales 2017, the year of the storm and was taken in by the atmosphere, how the locals embrace the event, the iconic course and the sheer challenge and myth around ironman Wales being one of the toughest of all ironman events. Many people withdrew, missed cut off’s or crashed out of the race due to the harsh conditions, one being a friend of mine Belinda. When she was back in dry clothes in the pub she declared she was coming back the following year to finish what she started and somehow in the rum fuelled fog, immersed in the ironman atmosphere I agreed to do it as well, this was 3 weeks after I had a PB at Hamburg and declared I was retiring from long course !

From September to March winter training ticked over nicely and with the addition of Wattbikes at my local gym I was all set for some super sweaty sessions indoors. There was also local mini sportives, running races and masters swimming sessions. I was also looking for work and used the time to add a few more strings to my bow and self development – I completed a PiYo / personal trainer and my BTF level 1 triathlon coaching courses.

End of March I started a new job in Bristol, an app based shared commuting service combining technology and transport. This involves some shift hours – 6am starts 9 pm finishes and messed with my training schedules. I joined a local gym a couple of minutes walk from the office and started to make use of  my lunchtimes with strength and conditioning / circuits / tabata classes or interval sessions on the treadmill & spinbikes with AudioFuel & Chrissie Wellington in my ears “Don’t give up”, ” You can do this”

From March to race day I was in two minds if I should take up my deferral option, I have missed nearly 8 weeks solid training in April and May but had Lakesman half and LCW to assess my fitness, then could make a decision.

Lakesman was a long training day and only my fourth swim of the year !  First year of the half and it was a great event in a stunning location. Being early season the water was still chilly and caught me out, I was hanging onto a kayak at 400m trying to get my breath and my inhaler out of my wetsuit ! Normal breathing resumed and I went onto  the bike which was a bit wet & windy but steady. The run was fun, in between club mates and pirates I stopped and chatted and bounced from one to another but kept running in between supporters (no walking, honest coach Claire ).

LCW is an disassembled triathlon, with a variety of distances you swim bike and run over three days of the weekend and the swim and bike share the same course as ironman distance, so perfect practice as my dress rehearsal for Wales. I was signed up to do the full of each event.
2.4 mile swim Friday evening with a fire works start is very impressive, saw no jellyfish but fed the fish as I always do in a sea swim (x6). This was my first sea swim in over a year and my fifth swim of the year ( swimming was the training I had to sacrifice for cycling for ironman Wale training).

112 miles cycle – A glorious day, one of the hottest of the year, sleeveless tops & sunscreen, my kind of conditions. I started feeling a little sick and assumed this was just the tailend of my seasickness. But then I was sick on the bike ?? Due to the heat and sickness I kept drinking as much as I could and rolled into the half way feed station where I saw a number of club mates, 2 who were pulling out, one being sick and the others not feeling great either. What was going on ? had we poisoned ourselves in the caravan, was it dirty tap water, was it too much sea water, the sports drinks ?? We will never know.  I carried on thinking I must settle down and feel better soon- wrong.

I completed the course in 8:20 riding time, longer with sick stops, but I knew I could do the distance, the course and those famous hills.

LCW Run – didn’t happen for me, chose to not start after being sick since Friday in the sea then on the bike my body needed to refuel and rest.

In my 50 days to Wales I covered the extra cycling I have done in Wales as preparation.
I also had a bad road rage incident which shook my confidence when riding solo.
Cotswold Classic was a good fast middle distance local event, although I over cooked it on the bike and melted on the run it was a perfect training event for me.

I was committed now to ironman Wales, no deferral or going back I was off to face the dragon, ready or not…….

ironman Wales race day:

Hoping the pain in my wrist would distract me from the pain of doing an ironman I was as ready as I could be and excited to make the start. From arrival in Tenby, registration, racking and pulling on the wetsuit this race, place, people and fellow athletes are absolutely awesome. This really is simply the best ironman.

Weather wise it was good conditions, dry, occasional gusts and not too cold.

Swim: Standing on the damp sandy beach as the Welsh National anthem was sung by an opera singer who went on to complete his first ironman, in-fact 40% of the 2,400 field were first timers identified by their red race numbers the excitement level was stratospheric.

A mix of nerves and excitement the atmosphere was electric as athletes did last minute preparations and wished each other well. Stood by Belinda we were ready to go after many hours and miles of training together over the summer. The water crews in place, thousands of spectators 10 deep in places lined the cliff tops and treated us as gladiators as we walked through town and down the zigzag path dropping off our pink bag on numbered hooks.

Pro’s off at 7am as the sun was breaking through the clouds out to sea, then the masses streamed into the water, catching a hug off Sarah a friend marshalling as I splashed into the sea. What looked calm from the beach was an illusion, there was a good swell growing, losing sight of the lifeboat, houses and the buoys, plus some comedy air grabs as the wave disappeared.

About 200 meters in I fed the fish for the first time of six. The usual thrash around the turn buoy and my goggles were knocked. Stopping to readjust and feed the fish, l felt like I was in a sea of cranberries been thrown in a blender as red caps bobbed all around, up and down.

Aussie exit then round two which was less congested but the swell had grown. I was consistent in my lap times and my feed stops and glad to reach solid land in 1:28

Run up the zigzag path to get pink bag (unique to Wales) and shoes then 1km up hill run to transition through thousands of spectators. Still feeling queasy I was trying not to be sick on anyone, holding it in until I got to changing room – sorry ladies for the mango yogurt & porridge deposit !

Bike: still a little queasy I tried to settle into the bike the first 25 miles, shaking water out of my ears and getting replacement fuel onboard. Glad I chose my long sleeve top as chilly & breezy. The undulating roads were familiar and it was head down, arse up aero time.

The roads in general aren’t too bad but there were some rough sections more suited to a mountain bike or fat tyres. My wrist was starting to take the strain. Picked up energy drink bananas and bars in Angle and a huge hug from my gin drinking triathlon friend Penny. This was the one and only stop I had on the bike. The miles ticket along, I took the four main climbs in my stride, soaked up the atmosphere on Saundersfoot where you are surrounded on heartbreak hill with a wall of noise, colour, cheers and deafened with encouragement.

The big loop done and by now a fat hand swelling in size every mile.

Extreme caution braking downhill as effectively only had my left hand and front brake – not ideal. Also for the last 40 miles I was jumping gears to reduce the number of changes – my levers on end of aerobars. Tears of pain flowed and I was conscious of the cut off time 10:30 from the gun. Just need to get off the bike in time as  I was now flirting with fine margins as I’d dropped off my pace.

Made it with 8 minutes to spare. Not so quick a kit change as hampered with one handed and I was out of T2 with another marshal hug from Lean asking if I was OK ?

Run: ouch ! Now I know you don’t run with your hands but they still need to be willing limbs in the proceedings. I ran / walked the first lap seeing friends and coach Claire. The pain was immense and my hand was continuing to swell. I ripped the strapping off, tried pouring cold water on my wrist and kept hydrated. First lap was bang on plan of 1:30 – walked the hill up to 3 mile turn around and band collection, then ran downhill for a couple of miles into town and the beer mile maze ! The supporters spilled onto the course narrowing the already small streets, getting louder and drunker each lap but what an experience.

Lap 2 as on the bike the tears flowed, the pace dropped and the pain increased in my hand, every step was like a bolt of lightening going from my little finger to my armpit. The hand now the size of an inflated Marigold rubber glove.

Lap 3 – athletes talk about dark places, I was in a black hole. Perked up briefly by a fellow pirate who was on his last lap, then alone in my world of pain again. I knew I was losing precious time and felt I was moving in slow motion but just couldn’t get running down the hill back into town. After 15 hours of racing you lose the ability to do simple maths, I couldn’t workout if I was within or just outside last lap cut off.

Shouting to clubmates it’ll be a medal or they stop me. Then  I heard the church bells chime I was about 500m the wrong side of  the cut off line. Coming up to the start of the laps or the end in my case I saw the race ref and my friend and official Melissa, my race was stopped, my number taken from me and the chaplain escorted myself and another athlete who was distraught to the finishers tent.

Talk about emotions – it was huge disappointment, guilty feeling I’d let people down, initial relief assuming the pain would stop when I stopped (reality  it didn’t), pleased it was a friendly face that stopped me, anxiety in explaining what happened, confusion in what to do next.

Chicken soup, pizza and coffee were given to me after the chaplain had called the paramedics to check me and the fat hand over, initial diagnosis was possible fracture or ligament damage – a bit more that just a sprained wrist ! Told to visit my GP when home (deja vue from Bolton).

I managed to get myself together and get out to see Belinda ( who talked me into this race) finish after her disappointment the previous year.

Post race reflection: So near completing 134 miles and 20 miles into the marathon, but so far and no red carpet, medal or finishers tshirt for me.

But I am proud I didn’t quit or give up, I was stopped by the clock & injury.
A lot of thinking – what, if, maybe but accept it just wasn’t my day.

There are four things  which we cant necessarily control that can be the difference between a finish or DNF – injury, sickness, mechanical and weather.

I have been overwhelmed by the support, messages and comments I received after the race, especially people I didn’t know but saw me on course as an athlete, marshal or supporter or saw my post race post.

Many had read my honest and raw Facebook post, it would have been easy to hide and wallow in self pity but this is life, this is ironman if it was easy everyone would have a medal.

Especially touching was Tenby Aces who offered for me to go back to Tenby and finish off the last 6 mile lap with their club running with me to get that last band and do the distance !

Other positives started to emerge from the raw emotions – I totally managed my asthma, hitting my pink 6 hour inhalers and then as the sun dropped and the cool air kicked in the blue was called to action.
I was the fittest I have been in 12 months, thanks to Claire for planning my catch up on lost training and peaking at the right time.
Preparation went well as I knew the bike and run course having done recci rides and LCW  and that it was well within my ability to ride a good time.
The kindness and support of others that pulled me out of the DNF black hole.
My love of triathlon and ironman is back and I have already booked my races for 2019 – it will be middle distances and half marathon runs for me.
Great memories of the race itself and the smiles and miles in training.

The hand: currently in a brace, so taking a little longer to type this blog than usual. I’ve seen the doctor twice, first time to get some Naproxen to reduce the swelling and pain, then for x-ray and scan a week later when swelling started to reduce.  Diagnosis small hairline inline fracture but the main issue is a badly torn ligament. Wrist brace for 4-6 weeks ( as I am old it takes longer to heal !) and hopefully I will escape the need for surgery.  Yes self inflicted and made worse by racing, but feel better that it was a serious injury that took me out and I wasn’t just being a whimp !

Whilst I and not an official finisher of IM Wales, now in my mind I feel like one. I have adapted my named shirt adding a black dot 95% along a line on the front !

Wales was an epic adventure and apart from the hand pain I absolutely loved it. The race experience lived up to its hype, myths and the finishers are all legends.
Would I go back – possible maybe. Would I recommend it to others – hell yes.

Running away with my pink bag – fastest all day !

Can I have a new hand please

Head down ass up aero time

Accessory necessary for 4/6 weeks

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