Wow. What an amazing experience and one of the longest days I have had in a very long time! My tagline for the weekend: ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’
Having got to Tenby on Friday, we had plenty of time to register, browse the expo, and pack the bags but weren’t here too long to get too nervous before the big day. That being said, huge amounts of doubt began to creep in on the Saturday about whether I would finish this beast of a race. Absolute kudos to Toby who probably listened to me say, ‘I won’t finish this’ about 538 times and each time filled me with confidence and belief that I would.
On the Saturday, I had a solid chat with my coach about what could go wrong and what to do about it. After this chat I had opted to use one bottle for water and one for gels, in which I put 15 citrus gels. I can tell you pouring all of those in was a sight to behold but was a very fresh and tasty mix on the bike!
After racking the bike, making final checks for the next day, Mum and dad both arrived which was very special for me as they don’t normally come to my races. After a lovely dinner, it was time for bed and I got a solid 6 hours sleep before waking up at 3:30, 30 minutes before my alarm.
Now the morning experience was a little more stressful than I would have liked. I like to get everywhere early but somehow, we ended up leaving home after 5 and not getting on the park and ride until 5:20. To make the situation worse, my athlete wristband had somehow managed to fall off in the shower, and I wasn’t sure what the implications of this were.
Everything did turn out to be ok, I got the bottles on bike and arrived at the start line (with very little time to spare mind). It was a bit of a challenge getting to the swim time that I wanted, but eventually I did manage to start the swim with the 1:10 seed, and this turned out to be a good decision. While waiting for the swim to start I had a wonderful chat with another lady which really helped to kill both of our nerves a bit.
The first lap of the swim was quite uneventful, and I focused on getting into a good rhythm while staying out the way of flailing arms and legs as much as possible. There were so many jellyfish, and it was quite surreal as I continued to swim over them. The first lap went quite quickly and before I knew it I was out of the water, round the rock and back into the sea. The second lap was slightly more challenging, and I couldn’t wait to get out. The sun was also starting to peak from behind the clouds, and I prayed this was a good indicator for what the rest of the day was to hold. The sea was choppier than it looked, and I had swallowed a little bit more water than I hoped for.
My sighting leaves lots to be desired, as I think I ended up swimming 500 meters more than I needed to. Either way I was out of the water in 1:12:28 hours and considering I only started swimming again about 3 months ago I am over the moon with this. It turns out I was also first out of the water in my age group. RESULT!
The run to transition was nothing less than a spectacle. While it was mostly uphill, the support and roar of the crowds through Tenby was unreal. Running in a wetsuit was actually a rather pleasant experience, and it was here that I met/ saw my coach for the first time as he shouted my name. I somehow managed to miss my mum, dad and Toby on the run, but have been assured that while they didn’t see me, they do have 30 minutes of Go Pro footage which I might appear in…
*** Having spent 30 minutes watching this Go Pro footage I can confirm I am not in it, but have seen about 1000 other competitors running to transition ***
Transition went well, and I stuffed a bar down while running a long way to the bike in my cycling shoes. Upon leaving transition the support was again ecstatic and almost made you forget about the big day that remained ahead.
I can’t explain the joy that overcame me once I was on my bike. The closed roads were amazing, the scenery epic, and by some fluke, the mental wind that had been forecast hadn’t come through. For the first 60 miles none of the climbs really phased me and after the headwind for the first miles to Angle, we were treated with the most enjoyable tailwind on the downhill return.
I was ticking over in my comfortable pace, eating regularly and grabbing a new bottle at every feed. Climbing up through Narberth was amazing, as the crowds lines the streets and screamed your name. This was the same on the climb up Wisemans hill and then through Saundersfoot, as people lined the streets in Tour de France style. The energy almost pulled you up the hill, so much so you had to be careful not to hit it out too hard. It was here that someone yelled go Pocket Rocket, which really made me smile!
There were motivational signs scattered around the whole route, with funny quotes and slogans which really helped to lighten the mood. I also had a chat with a few fellow riders on the way round and ended up playing leap frog with many of them; me taking the lead up the hill, them regaining on the decline.
The descent into Tenby was fab, and again the crowds lining the roads made the experience something extra ordinary. Somehow, I managed to miss my family AGAIN, but I did see Steve again and can confirm they have caught me on the Go Pro.
I was starting to feel some fatigue in my legs, and in turn the hills felt just that tiny bit harder the second time round. The relief at hitting the 100-mile mark was unreal and knowing the last 2 miles were downhill really helped mentally. In all honesty though, at this point I couldn’t wait to get off my bike, more for the change than anything else.
As many people will confirm I had a massive smile on my face for 98% of the bike, because at the end of the day what the signs said was true: ‘smile, you paid to do this remember.’
One final thing to note, I managed to perfect the art of peeing on the bike, so I can confirm 7 hours is the longest I have been on a bike without stopping.
Putting on dry socks and shoes was a wonderful moment. I have still yet to decide, after 2 washes, whether I am going to keep my cycling shoes or not as they have definitely seen better days. As I stayed in my trisuit, transition was relatively quick, and before I knew it I was heading back out for the marathon.
The first lap I felt very strong and I heard someone yell, ‘she’s a runner’ which made me smile. Coming back into Tenby was amazing, but the hills were unrelenting, and that’s coming from someone who loves hills. The highlight of the first lap for me, other than seeing all my supporters, was a volunteer running to give me back a gel I had dropped.
As I started back up the 2-mile climb for the second time, it seemed a lot steeper and my legs were certainly starting to tell me that they were tired. My pace had begun to drop, thoughts of stopping to walk began to creep in. Steve had told me that if I needed to walk to work on a 10-minute cycle, walk for 1-minute run for 9. After a while longer I decided to take this approach, and while I didn’t follow it minute for minute, if I did walk, I would only let myself walk for one minute. In addition, walking downhill was not allowed under any circumstance. The ironic thing, I apparently looked strong still while I was running and was still full of energy.
I collected my blue wristband and began the descent back to Tenby. I got talking to a lady here, that told me I looked strong, to which I told her about my walk-run. I am convinced it was probably faster than Ironman shuffling up the long hill. I ran past Steve and with disappointment in my voice told him I had walked for a bit. He replied, ‘well you ain’t walking now’ which picked up my mood. As did running past mum and Toby, and then dad, who told me to dig deep and get it done. Toby later told me that Dad had said he wished he could have run the last 2 laps for me.
Highlight of the lap: It was on lap 2 that I first spotted the jelly beans on the downhill food station.
The Jelly Bean Laps
Lap 3 I will call the jelly bean lap. I am not ashamed to say I used jelly beans as motivation to make it up the long hill. The support from the crowds was still ecstatic, and I was starting to become known as the girl who never stops smiling. As I picked up my 3rd wristband I knew I was way past the halfway point, and on my descent back into Tenby I grabbed the biggest handful of jelly beans I could and stuffed them in my back pocket. I am confident that on the last 2 laps I ate over a 100 of the tasty little beans. This was also the lap I had my final gel, as the Enervit gels were gloopy thick and pretty gross and from this stage I had a coke and water at every food station.
As I came back into Tenby, I saw my parents, coach and Toby, which really pushed me forwards. Especially as dad was running through the streets to try and give me multiple cheers. It was on the final lap that dad tried to give me one of the flapjacks my little sister had made me, as he had forgotten to give them to me before the race. The art of timing eh!
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN
There is something quite special about the final lap of the run and getting that final wrist band. The day drawing to an end and being so close to becoming an IRONMAN. I shall be completely honest here, the 4th lap was still incredibly hard, but I enjoyed it so much. I ran past 2 guys and one of them asked ‘how much for the yellow band.’ I replied ‘invaluable.’ From that point I did not stop running, and as I turned the streets of Tenby a guy yelled at me ‘you’ve been fantastic all day, go and get your medal.’
With a massive smile on my face I moved onto the red carpet and sprinted my way to the finish.
In all honesty I did walk more than I was happy with, but at the same time, I have completed one of the hardest IRONMAN races on the calendar and I am over the moon. I even managed a cheeky 2nd place and considering there were 7 girls in my age group I am over the moon!
I just want to say a massive thank you to my mum, dad, Toby and Steve for being there on the day, I can’t imagine how long a day it must have been for you guys as well! Also, to Ross who lent me his tribars (I should probably invest in some of my own) and gave my bike a clean and look over before the race. Also, an additional thank you to Steve, who without I probably wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near what I did on the day! My approach to sport and my body has changed quite significantly and I feel far stronger and happier because of it!