Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Ferrous Day Out - Ironman Wales 2015

Last chance for a dip before the big race
6.40am and 20 minutes till the gun goes off for the start of Ironman Wales. All my race day gear and kit bagged and racked, my family watching from best viewpoint imaginable on the terrace of Cafe Vista, my other travelling friends housemates and landlords at large somewhere on the course, everything in place . The last week had been manic. The last 24 hours had been absolutely nuts. But I remain calm. Only now have I had any chance to think about the challenge that lays before me. 6.45am, and the Welsh national anthem plays out over 2100 athletes and 50,000 spectators as the sun rises on Tenby North Beach. A remarkably unfamiliar anthem considering i have lived here nearly 2 years now, but rousing nonetheless. 6.50am and the gun goes off for the pro field. 

No need for calm anymore. Use that nervous energy. Get ready to race.

I had lined up in the <1 hour zone of the starting pen for the rolling swimming start. I was really hoping it would be broken down into further denominations: <55min, <50min - I knew, that despite training for 57 minute pace all year, with the conditions I would not be comfortably under the hour today. But here I was 3rd row of people from the front, with approximately 700 rows of people behind me. 

No pressure. 

2100 competitors line up on North Beach
I met Heather Rees again, who I had recognised the day before from drafting with her on the bike leg of the Long Course Weekend. She told me how nice it was to meet a familiar face here, as she knew no one else and it helped with the nerves. I could appreciate that - it'll be a common thread in all my posts about Wales events, but there was a real sense of community at all the triathlon events here and it was a great feature of each one for me to see so many familiar faces from training. Luckily for me, she shared a bottle of water - nobody wants a dry mouth before a 2.5mile sea swim!

The weather seemed to have worked out for us. All week the forecast had looked horrific (heavy rain, heavy easterly winds - not good for an east facing swim course), but everything seemed quite calm, and no rain forecast till later on the run. That said, the water looked calm from the elevated streets of Tenby, but now standing on the beach at water level, things looked a little 'turbulent' about a half a mile out - a heavy swell flirting with the outermost part of the course. C'est la vie!

2 minutes left. A handy countdown clock right next to the pen told me so. I took off my goggles and hat and put them on again. They just didn't feel right. No surprise there, in hindsight - i had put so much body glide on my arms and legs  (for ease of wetsuit removal) and my neck ( to prevent wetsuit chaffing), i was as slippy as a fish!. I wished Heather good luck, and got ready for the start. All silent for the last 10 seconds ...... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

I don't know what the starting sound was - all I heard was the cheer of 50,000 spectators, and I had to focus on running out of this penned in funnel without falling over and getting trampled. All I could see were the other heads in front of me until the railings were gone, replaced by a line of life guards extending out into the 1st 10 metres of the sea on the left, guiding us in, and all of the sudden the heads in front were disappearing as they dived into breaking  waves. We were into the wild now!

And they're off!
 I was properly shouldered by someone just before I entered  the water. I don't know if I was bumped off my course, too much adrenaline at this point to notice! I dived in and started to swim, being careful as I sighted not to get the customary kick in the face. It was surprising how congested it still felt! I guess everyone coming out of the funnel was holding a narrower line. One thing I noticed immediately when I started swimming was my left arm was completely dead. A dull ache as it entered the water, and a limp feeling as I tried to pull and push back... Shit! How the hell did that happen? Was it the shoulder barge?  Something else? Screw it, had to carry on, I tried to find a rhythm with my one-and-a-bit arms and focused on a slower stronger stroke, my left arm seemingly just flapping about as a formality. I tried latching onto a few swimmers for pace and draft, but there was so many to focus on (and a variety of senses of direction), so it was hard to tell if I was keeping pace or not. At least the the water conditions were manageable.... So far...

I was starting to get some semblance of comfort despite my left shoulder when, about 20m from the first buoy, I was hit side on by what seemed like a rogue wave, as nothing followed after. It was a bit of a shock, and a hint of what was to come. My swim hat was starting to slip up my head, so momentarily stopped to fix it. I rounded the large buoy, trying to keep one person between me and it, trying to avoid the congestion at the pinch of the turn (in vain: still had some hands scraping down my back and full on leg gropage going on. Thank god for my slippiness - their grabbing probably shot me forward!). I was not prepared for what was around the corner.

I rounded the buoy only to be hit by a full on wall of water, it must have been a 2m swell, maybe even more, every swell seems massive when your eyes are only at water level! We were obviously aiming for a buoy, but the best way to sight for it was to look for the lifeboat house behind it. Whatever about that: I couldn't even see Tenby! I had to time myself to sight right at the top of the wave, and they were so big and spread out, it was hard to match the rhythm, and I missed it a few times, dropping back into a valley of water. I used the lifeguard presence and the surrounding swimmers for more immediate reference for direction. I adjusted the swim hat on my slippy head, again. Sure I could have just let the hat pop off, like I had at the Long Course swim, but it was containing my goggles strap, and my goggles were protecting the contact lens in my eyes, and I didn't want to take any risks!

Luckily the roughness dissipated as we got back into the shelter of the Tenby peninsula, about 3/4 of the way between buoys. I settled back into a comfortable rhythm again, now being able to sight way more easily. I rounded the 2nd buoy cautiously and back towards the beach. This stretch was relatively pool-like and I tried to stretch out the arms and get some pace back, though my shoulder remained a problem. I exited the water to complete lap 1. I took a quick peak at my watch: 32 minutes, about 4 minutes off desired pace. Ah well, today was not going to be a personal best kind of day!

Exiting lap 1
We ran off the beach and through the railed funnel again before starting lap 2. Running on sand when all your circulation is floating around your arms and shoulders is difficult and unsettling. But the crowd was energising, a human corridor formed by rows of people each side of the railing. These two things just about balanced out. I heard a few people shout my name but I couldn't pick out any faces - just keep running. I'm sure one of them was Rhodri from my office who was working as a volunteer on the swims, but couldn't imagine who the other voices were! 

And back in for lap 2 (Image courtesy of Il Mio Photography)
The funnel spat me back out into the sea and I was on lap 2 - it was a relief to be horizontal again! Shoulder was still a problem, but I had accepted that now. The first stretch was as before but less congested. I got the impression I was lapping people as I approached the first buoy... I know the 1st guys in the rolling start entered the water approximately 15 minutes before the last people entered but to be 1 and  1/3 laps in when some people were only 1/3 of a lap in was worrying. I hoped they would make the 2hr 20min swim cut-off, but didn't fancy their chances!

I rounded the 1st buoy, and the big swell was still very much there! It wasn't so bad this time round now that I was expecting it and knew when it would end. I still had to adjust my swimming hat another 2 times here though. The 2nd time, a swimmer bumped into me, and my hands slipped on my goggles - my goggles started leaking when I began swimming again, so I had to stop again and adjust... Aargh! My lower back was also burning in a big way as I arched my back to look over the large waves.... Still a bit of a cycle and a run after this! Yay.

Into the calmer bit and around the 2nd buoy for the final stretch of the swim. Again this was the calmer stretch, but there was a bit of a spanner in the works. A spanner that had no sense of direction, but was going enough of a pace that it was difficult to pass him. It took some manoeuvring to get clear of him, or so I thought.... BANG!! A solid breast stroke kick direct to the side of my head. There was ringing in my ears as my brain rattled in my skull. This guy was a real nuisance. I had to stop myself getting really aggressive with him (had never felt like that in any previous event), and tried to focus on just finishing the swim.

I exited the water, still a bit dazed, and headed for the zig zag ramps that take you from beach level to street level, about 70m up. I heard my name again - definitely Rod that time! I located my transition bag on the 1st ramp, calmly took the wetsuit off and put on my runners for the run across town to the transition area. I saw Paul at his prime photo spot at the top of the 1st ramp. I was tempted to stop and recount that ordeal with him, but luckily momentum took me up and rampward. 

Swim Course Flyby [click to go to link]

Exiting the swim, a bit dazed after a solid kick to the face
Wetsuit off and ready for a 180km bike
"Oh yeah, my bike is 1.5km away on the other side of town..."
I was actually worried about the prospect of running up this ramp after a 2.5mile swim, but I needn't have been - I seemed to bound effortlessly upwards, passing some guys on the way! Maybe I had no feeling in my legs yet. I got up the street level and the support was unreal. 8am on a Sunday morning and the streets were lined with people, all cheering - amazing!! I heard another few voices shout my name - no race number on display yet, so they must have known me. Sounded like my housemate Flo but hard to be sure. Rounded the corner onto the main street which led to transition. My transition bag, now with my wetsuit in it, had no shoulder straps or cords, so I ran clutching it in one hand down the street like some kind of crazed soaking wet Lycra-clad shopper. Jesus, I was feeling tired now - feeling must be back in legs!! How on earth was I going to run a marathon later today if I can't even run a mile across town?!

Into transition and I got my run kit bag - I sat down and took my sweet time. Peak cap on, helmet on. Race belt on. Calf guards on (no idea if these work or not in preventing cramp in calfs which is never an issue anyway, but I got them free at the Long Course Weekend, and I figured why not? Belt and braces and all that...). Leg warmers, arm warmers? No, warm enough thanks! Socks on, shoes on. Rain jacket? Shit, what was the weather like, I hadn't noticed! I decided no. Transition bag stuffed into bike kit bag, bag thrown into drop off, and off I went.... What the hell was I doing running in cleated shoes?! Clip clop clip clop, I adopted a running style similar to what I'd probably have looked like running in heels for the 1st time. Worryingly, I pulled it off. I located my bike. Garmin removed from watch strap and onto bike, gloves from handlebar bag, right good to go. Clip clop out of transition and mounted bike like an old man. Boom, bike leg started!

The first stretch through Tenby was a bit cagey. The roads looked slick and slippy and I didn't want to snot myself in front of all the onlooking crowds. I saw one of the local lads, Alex W running in from the swim. He'd done a similar overall time to me on the Long Course weekend, but his cycle was about 40 minutes faster than me - I wondered when he would catch me.

On my way out of Tenby, trying to compose myself!
Out of the streets of Tenby, and I could start to compose myself. I scrolled down through the pages of the garmin to get to my standard bike display. I had been training all year towards a heart rate strategy - not going to bore you with theory, basically if I kept my heart rate under 142 I would be in good stead  for running a marathon in 7(!!) hours time. What a ridiculous sentence that was...

I flicked on my standard display. The heartrate flickered on, 90, then went blank. And stayed blank. BALLS. No time to panic. I figured I would cycle by feel (high cadence, avoid burn in legs) and things would sort themselves out. As I cycled out of Tenby, I unzipped my tri-suit and tried licking my fingers and wetting the contacts of my heart monitor. I tried to do this discreetly, in less crowded areas, as this looks pretty weird and disturbing. No result. I cycled out into the country roads, going by feel, but I could tell I was pushing too hard on the hill at Penally - holding a low heartrate on any kind of hill is a real discipline, and I could just about do it when I had a number to look at. This was going to be a very uncertain cycle! 5km out of town just after passing under the railway bridge, and I pulled over to try sort myself out. A support car slowed down beside me to ask if everything was alright. At this specific moment I had my trisuit zip down, chest exposed, two hands rubbing the area of my heart monitor contact points just under my nipples. They didn't hang around for an answer! Still no result. I was going to have to face the music and ride by feel, something I exactly hadn't done in about the last year! Race plan out the window! 

All things considered, I remained fairly calm. Just enjoy the day, see how it pans out, I thought. Not every day you get to cycle on 180km of closed roads with throngs of locals in each town cheering you on! I starting looking at the bike like a touring cycle. 

Just take it all in, just enjoy the day.

Mercifully, the wind seemed to be behind me, and after the initial lumpy stretch past Lydstep, it was a relatively flat and pacey route all the way to Pembroke. The subsequent loop out to Angle and back to Pembroke, despite 1 or 2 notable climbs, was also (relative to the rest of the course) pretty flat, and my local stomping ground. This worked in my favour psychologically with my current predicament and allowed my to try find my natural rhythm, which admittedly I still struggled to do. 

Another bit of a downer on this stretch was the sheer amount of cyclists constantly overtaking me. Due to generally putting in a pretty good split on swim, but being a fairly average cyclist, this is a common theme in triathlons for me, as the stronger cyclists who are average or less than average swimmers quickly chase me down. As this was an event of 2100 people as opposed to the 300 people I'm normally used to, this was happening on an epic scale! It seemed like I was getting passed by 1 or 2 cyclists a minute (maybe not, but that's what it felt like!). I must say, despite being in pretty good spirits, I found that fairly demoralising!

Splits were still looking good though coming through Jameston, Manorbier and Hodgeston, and I tried to focus on what I had trained for, not what everyone else was doing. Saw my sports therapist Vicky while passing through Lamphey and then my work colleague Mark and his family as I came into Pembroke  - both mini boosts! Onto St Daniels hill now - all the way down to the lightest gear trying to pedal with minimal resistance, but I sensed I was still pushing too hard. Saw my landlord Emma, and JJ and his fiancé Maria at the end of our lane - another boost as I got to the top of the hill! I was into very familiar territory now, and very comfortable with the climbs and descents.

A familiar face from the Triathlon club, Jamie, passed me on the bike. We chatted a bit, I told him my about my heart rate monitor woes. He nodded knowingly saying his had only dried off now.... Aaah, so there was still hope! I looked again - it flickered a very unreliable figure at me and went blank again - ah well I was onto a flat section soon anyways. Another local lad, Shaun, passed me shortly afterwards - his gel flask had fallen off his bike - looks like we all had our problems!

I was pretty comfortable from there all the way out to Castlemartin, then the scenic drop into Freshwater West. I was really looking forward to doing this section on closed roads, but strangely I has actually held up by other cyclists as it got slightly more congested there. Up Freshwest Hill, as slow as I possibly could, then out to a mini loop of the town of Angle at the end of the peninsula before heading back on the pretty flat ridge road back to Pembroke. This section was back against the winds that had helped me out to Angle from Tenby, and had to focus on not burning my legs out, feeling entitled to faster speeds on the flat. I seemed to be finding my place in the cycle now, exchanging places with others a bit more (though still getting overtaken a lot). One of the athletes, a lady in full Union Jack kit, complimented me on my bike and kit coordination. Why thank you!

Literally shot back into Pembroke with the St Daniels Hill descent, we now had to go up and back down the Main St before heading out into the hills proper. It was definitely a novelty going up the one way street the wrong way, but I was worried about the tight hairpin bend at the end to turn back on ourselves. 2 years previously a wreckless cyclist crashed into me on a similar hairpin arrangement in another triathlon and my back (and ability to run) was not the same for about 6 months! I took the bend so slowly, and was so focused on looking over my shoulder for any rogue cyclists, that I completely forgot to start pedalling out of the bend, and very nearly came to a complete stop, still clipped into the pedals - Turns out, you can be too careful sometimes!

Coming out of the hairpin in Pembroke town centre, where I nearly forgot to keep pedaling! (Image courtesy of Il Mio Photography)

Onward out of Pembroke and back out towards Lamphey past the Feel Good Inc cafe supporters crowd. Heard a few shouts for my name, was hard to pick faces out. I think I passed Heather Rees at this point, I didn't chat - we were in a populated part of the course and figured I would see her at different points of the course anyhow. Passed a cheering Mark & family again on the edge of Pembroke before getting to Lamphey to start the big loop. The properly hilly loop. The loop we have to do twice!

Maybe it's the fact that I always start my training spins from Pembroke, or that I'm so familiar with the loop out to Angle and back, but I never really feel like I've started the Ironman bike course until I've started the climb out of Lamphey up onto the ridgeway. This is where the hills start to become unrelenting, where you have to be really disciplined on the climbs otherwise you may be pooped before you even start the second lap, let alone finish the bike with a marathon still to do! This is why it was useful to have cycled this course so many times the last year. This is why the bike course is considered to be the most difficult of any of the Ironman events in the world.

The climb was very disciplined for my part, I took it handy knowing there was a pacey stretch back down into the valley to St Florence, and just one or two little lumps to get over before Carew. I was definitely in a more distance cycling mindset now, 30 minute stretches feeling like 5 minutes, people who I'd been exchanging places with an hour ago, where still exchanging places with me now.. Another local lad, Neal passed me on the final hill before Sageston, just before the fast stretch to Carew. We chatted for a bit, but he slowly pulled away, and I was happy with my pace. It was a nice feature of this event, to have these little encounters, even if it did mean they were all passing me! 

After a fast stretch from Sageston towards Carew, I checked my race time - I think I was making the predicted times that I gave my family the night before pretty much spot on. I wondered if they had made it to Carew with the park & ride after I left them at the swim. Sure enough, there was my Dad right at the junction at the castle, then around the bend were my sister and mum, absolutely roaring at me! It really was a great boost not only to see them there, but also was great to know they were getting around the course seeing these great locations as I see them. Crossing the bridge I saw Paul, in a prime position for taking photos. I gave him a smile and a wave, then immediately realised I should have been looking more focused on the race for the photo op... Oops, I was never that cool with cameras anyways...

Passing my dad (right) as I rolled through Carew
Coming across the bridge at Carew
Not looking nearly serious enough!
From Carew to Crosshands is pretty much a steady climb with brief respites to be had only on two wonderfully fast dips (which only deliver you to the bottom of a long climb again). This general area is known on strava as the 'false summits' and with good reason. Lots of samey climbs and samey bends, no real landmarks, very hard to get a feeling of progress here, despite having practised the course several times the past year. All the same there were a few highlights - on reaching one of the false summits, there was a mini peleton of life size straw men (in full cycle regalia) on bikes lining the road on the left hand side. I could definitely appreciate the effort put into them, but they were very disproportionate and the weirded me out a bit. Well actually, a lot... On another summit, I'm reached the top, zip down, chest out, and batteries treacherously empty. There was a bevy of young ladies waiting at the top. One of them actually swooned. This was followed by a series of chest hair related compliments being hurled my way.

Batteries recharged!

Crosshands to Templeton was a flatter pacier section and a good opportunity to get the average pace up. The main highlight here was a supporters' couch raised up on a tractor at the side of the road - now that's endurance supporting done right. From Templeton another long climb. This was easier than I remembered it being in the past - maybe it was the support; maybe I had just lost feeling in my legs! From the top it was a speedy, bendy descent into the valley before a sharp climb back up into the town of Narberth, the high point of the course, and also the half way point of the Ironman bike. This was another descent I was looking forward to doing on closed roads which still turned out to be a bit cagey thanks to the proximity of other cyclists. I ignored the effort level strategy on the climb back up to pass the people that had slowed me down - probably a bad idea but made me feel better!

Endurance supporting done right! Eventual winner Jesse Thomas passing on his bike 

The support on the main st in Narberth was fantastic and very welcome after that steep climb. Another little reward I got coming out of Narberth was looking down at my computer and seeing my heart rate figures smiling back at me. Yes! Back on track! It was only now though I was getting a feel for the condition of my legs. They did not feel nearly as fresh as I would have liked, and though I was still cycling fine, was starting to feel the strain on each pedal stroke - something I had not felt at all on my practise cycle two weeks previously. I was starting to feel the effects of not being able to measure my efforts up the hills already. Only 90km of cycling to go, and then a marathon ... No problem! Was mainly downhill to the coast now anyways, then the 3 witches, then a very fast stretch from Sandersfoot to Tenby then onto lap 2, all the same again except without the Angle Peninsula. Simples. The return of my heartrate monitor was still timely, but it was now for damage limitation rather than damage prevention!

Oh and about the 3 witches.... 3 consecutive climbs from 3 different bays on the coastline: the 1st climb out of Wisemans bridge, the steepest climb of the course, breaks your body; the 2nd climb from Coppet Hall actually isn't that bad and fools you into thinking the worst is behind you; en the 3rd climb out of Saundersfoot... Well... It's nickname is Heartbreak Hill...

The descent into Wisemans Bridge is quite a lot of fun, but nearly always spoiled by caravans and tourists slowly plodding down the winding roads and sometimes stopping for oncoming traffic - this was not a problem today, but caution and lack of practise on this as an empty road got the better of me leaving me having to slow down in a big way on the final few sharp bends to prevent a close encounter with the stone walls on either side (not an unknown occurrence in the Long Course Weekend and Ironman Wales). I noted corners of excessive caution for lap 2. It was surreal seeing the normally bustling tourist car park completely empty, yet somehow there was still a sizeable number of supporters at the pub at the start of the waterfront. Then onto the climb. My heart rate monitor should have made me behave, but I didn't - I was worried about my tiring legs failing at lower effort levels so did what I had to get to the top. One of the guys ahead of me had to get off and walk. I barely passed him before the top. Make no mistake - this hill was steep! 

Then following descent was pretty sketchy, a very quick drop down to sea level via a series of ever sharpening bends. Again, lack of practise on empty roads made me err on the side of caution. No regrets here, the last bend was extremely steep sharp and narrow. I was still going at enough speed to be shot half way up climb no. 2. No difficulty here - just save the energy for Heartbreak Hill.

Saundersfoot is a very scenic seaside harbour town, it's main street punctuated halfway by a roundabout to the harbour and some zebra crossings before continuing onto a sharp uphill bend onto St Bride's Hill, aka Heartbreak Hill. This set-up generally makes for a pedestrian and vehicular obstacle course seemingly contrived to dampen any momentum you have before allowing you to stagger up a horrendous climb that never ends. 

Not today. 

Railings lined the main street, holding back hundreds, maybe thousands of spectators either side of an empty main street, a glorious runway, leading up to St Brides. The descent from climb number 2 launched me up the main st. I heard familiar shouts to the left among the crowds cheering, my housemates Flo and Alex - fantastic! I rounded the steep corner with momentum I am not accustomed to, see my parents and sister across the road. I gave them a smile and a wave. My mother was roaring at me and made a stern gesture that I have some feckin climbing to do! I kindly oblige. Who cares about race plans anyway? The crowd was immense, no more rails, people spilling onto the road leaving just enough space for cyclists to proceed in single file to a medley of cowbells, whistles and eh, clappy balloonamajigs. It would have been an insult to them not to try my hardest, which I did. I remember thinking, "I'm going to regret this later...". I rounded the corner to see the noticeable pink of the Cr@p Tri club supporters, a very social local triathlon club. They were great craic altogether - one of the guys recognised me and a bunch of them starting oohing and aahing at me building up to a crescendo of cheers. And with that I was beyond the famously supported stretch of the hill, but by no means the end of hill! Not as steep now, but very much still there, on and on it went, before cruelly climbing more steeply at the last stretch, doubly cruelly lined by more support meaning more effort.... Had to put on a good show!

Flying through Saundersfoot town centre
Rounding the corner for St Brides Hill climb, still looking too happy for my own good! 
Time to put in a bit of effort for the crowds 
Still, would be rude not to smile!
I was completely pooped at the top (how the hell was I going to do another 70km lap?!), but at least knew it was a fast pacey stretch down into Tenby. Unfortunately the personal needs feed station was located on this stretch, in area I would have rather been building up momentum than slowing to a stop. A minor negative though - here I got to completely restock my bike with fuel I had prepared myself the night before: more brownies, more jellies, more energy drinks. There was still enough of a stretch back to Tenby to enjoy some speed anyway!

Passing through Tenby was actually a bit of an anticlimax - unlike the Long Course Weekend which took you right through the town centre, the bike course here skirted around the town centre dropping down quickly to a heavily supported double roundabout which I weaved through satisfyingly before getting fired back out into the countryside.

From here, memories of the bike course are not so vivid - I had taken it all in on lap one and had lot of distractions and distresses along the way. Now my heart rate monitor was working again, and my focus was now on maintaining disciplined and getting this bike course done. Tenby to Lamphey was tailwind aided loveliness. Lamphey to Carew seemed to pass by without letting itself known, Carew to Narberth was notable only by the fact that the course was lest congested and more spread out, allowing me to take the more enjoyable descents and bends as I pleased. This lap no longer held the theme of me being constantly overtaken. Everyone seemed to be holding their place in relation to each other for the most part - I seemed to have found my place finally in the flow of cyclists.

From Narberth onwards, I was starting to feel properly spent. It was quite sunny and warm all day, and I was worried I hadn't been taken on enough fluids, though strangely I was not thirsty so also weary of over hydrating . At least I had ritually been taking salt tablets on the hour every hour. My stomach did not feel good at all - I was not sure whether I was supposed to be eating more or less. I was also suffering deep throbbing pains in my big toe now - i didn't even want to know what that was!

I pushed on through the little hills and fast country lanes and flew back down the descent to Wisemans Bridge - no caution this time! I saw Flo again, and my landlord Paul half asleep in the car park looking like some hobo that had been washed ashore. I begrudgingly  pushed up the 1st two climbs, more people walking here this time, then proceeded to try too hard up heart break hill again. Less supporters this time, but enough to make you find that little bit extra. I saw my mum and sis and the top of the well supported area, caught them completely by surprise - just as well, I wasn't in so much of a state to give a wave and a smile anymore! I got to the top of the hill, wrecked but relieved to have the last climb of the bike course behind me. 

I sped down the fast stretch, past the personal needs station and back down into Tenby. The re-entry into Tenby was not as expected. Again I was expecting to be brought into the centre the Long Course Weekend from the top of the town, but I was led right down to the double roundabout before having to climb into the city centre. The climb was tiny, but in my state this was an unpleasant surprise! Back onto the crowd lined streets of Tenby and I felt some energy  creeping back. I saw Paul and his camera again. Another smile and wave. Then same again, seeing Vicki on the final stretch into T2. 

Back into Tenby town centre to finish the bike leg, feigning everything-is-alright-ness
Bike done.

Bike Course Flyby [click to go to link]

I dismounted and went to run my bike in on my clippy cloppies. Nope. Hamstrings were so tight I could barely walk! I hobbled my bike in and racked it up. I wisely stopped and took my crossbar bag off the bike before leaving it behind. Jesus, my legs were in a bad way! No stress though, I limped through the transition area in a daze, going through the motions, stopping to use the toilet facilities, then stopping to take 1 drink of water, then another at a drink station just before the transition tent and continued hobbling in. Here Alex W, who I had seen enter transition as I started the bike, finally caught me. 

Into the transition tent and I got my run kit bag and sat down. A volunteer helpfully emptied the contents onto the floor, and took everything I discarded and put it into the bag. They had obviously been briefed that we would be massively dazed and disorientated at this point. Everything they did was a massive help. Helmet and peak cap off, visor on. Sunglasses left on. Clippy cloppies off, runners on. Energy gels into back pockets. Race number to the front. Right, ready to go!

And then I just sat there, for what must have been 10 minutes, eating brownies and jellies out of my crossbar bag, all the while shaking my legs, wiggling my toes. Then, that done, I threw my crossbar bag into the runkit bag and handed it to the volunteer. I was just about to leave the tent when I noticed another feed station. Oooo, some grapes! Mmmm, a banana! Okay, another water then. Cup of Pepsi? Rude not to! It was an intense 10-15minutes of consumption, but I needed it to be able to face the prospect of having to run a marathon! Strangely, despite all my faffing, I met Alex again coming out of the transition tent. We were all in the same boat here! A volunteer offered sun block which she put 2 lines of on my neck (if I had any self awareness at all, I would have spread it around a bit, but my mind was on other things now), and then we were out of transition and onto the run.

Starting out on the run, salt from dried out seawater/sweat caked into trisuit, unrubbed sunblock on my neck
Myself and Alex W had paced off each other for a good portion of the Long Course Weekend marathon, and coming out the starting straight of the run I assumed it would be the same again this time around. However, I found myself pulling away from him as we did the initial stretch of the run lap through the city centre. My legs actually felt pretty good, all the faffing in transition must have made a difference! The supporting crowds were immense. I remembered the day before, when the girl leading around the transition tours said not to get carried away high fiving the crowds as it tires you out - to hell with that, I couldn't help myself! 

I ran past the waterfront on North beach (where the race had begun only 9 hours earlier) and out of the town centre to begin the real lap, the part that most of the crowds don't see. I had never ran this before, but as I had done it on the bike while practising the bike course, I knew what was coming.

For those not familiar with the run course, once out of Tenby, after a short dip, you run up a steepish but manageable suburban road away from the town centre up to join the main road to Saundersfoot which, you guessed it, is predominantly uphill. About 100 m up from joining this road is the first feed station. After that you steadily climb until you reach Saundersfoot roundabout, about 4km out of Tenby and then you turn back on yourself, seemingly heading back to Tenby, but nope, you take a left about it 100m down the road to go uphill again into Newhedges where there is a second fee station, and also where you collect your little coloured bands denoting which lap you are on. There is a feed station either side of the road here so you have two chances to reenergise before and after getting your armband. Then back to the main road and back down the hill to Tenby, passing feed station 1 again on the way back. Down the steepish suburban road back down into Tenby and then a mini climb before hitting North Beach on the fringe of the town centre. Before fully entering the town you had to take another left and go up and back down a little cul de sac road called the Croft, an annoying bit that must have been there just to make up the distance. Then run along the seafront over North beach and down a steep lane to feed station number 3, where I could access my personal needs bag if required - and also the only place on the course where friends and family could hand me stuff. From there through a series of lefts and rights you essentially run every street in the medieval town centre for about 1 or 2 km before reaching feed station 4 and starting a new lap. 10.5km done.

And all I had to do was run that 4 times. Simple!

Lap 1: the first climb out of Tenby was pretty handy. Like I said, my legs were feeling pretty good after my fafftastic T2. Coming up to the 1st feed station, still full after my scoff session in T2, I made a snap decision that I was going to have something different at each feed station on the lap. At this one I opted for a banana. I quickly realised I wasn't hungry yet so was now left running with a banana in my hand for the next 3km. Hmmmm, fail.

Up towards Saundersfoot roundabout and my running felt good, rhythmic and springy. I saw Peter Lloyd ahead at the turning point and passed him by the time we got to feed station 2 (cup of Coke here) in Newhedges. He'd obviously smashed the bike leg though - he was 1 run lap ahead of me. Me being me, I wondered how much I could pull back over the course of the run. In hindsight, halfway into lap 1, this was probably a bit naive! Back down the hill, past feed station 1 again (pretzels) and down the steep hill, up the Croft and back still feeling good. Coming back into the town centre I saw Paul with his camera, the 1st time I saw any of my supporters group on the run. Yay! Then left, down the steep section of street towards the personal needs station. Sure enough, my parents were there, to give me a bottle of lucozade isotonic as I'd briefed them the night before. Sweet. I was surprised to see Rhodri from my office manning the feed station with my personal needs bag ready - he was obviously here for the whole day, fair play! No need for any of my pre-made drinks now, so I just took a salt tablet and was on my way. This would be the routine for the the next 4 laps.

Coming back into Tenby after lap 1, high 5's must be given!
Then there was the town centre - wow! The streets were lined with people are cheering enthusiastically and personably - my name was cheered with such familiarity that I was looking for people in the crowd who knew me. It was hard not to get energised by this level of support, it was amazing! It seemed like a fair old stretch through town the 1st time around- rights and lefts, up one street, down the other. I wondered when on earth I would be starting lap 2 but I enjoyed every second of it all the same. It was such a boost to see so many people behind this event and it's competitors - it really made a big difference. 

I got to the feed station at the end of lap 1 not really needing anything, so made a gesture to one of the kids to just throw the cup of water over me for refreshment. He must have been very excited by this prospect, as he threw all 4 cups in his hands at me. It was a lot more and a lot colder than I was expecting and I may or may not have shrieked like a little girl, but it was refreshing nonetheless! Onto lap 2...

Lap 2 was great, running still felt good, spirits were high, I went through all the feed stations getting something different as before, gave the nod to the other local competitors that I recognised. It was all a big happy uneventful blur of "everything is going perfectly". I saw my housemates and sis on the stretch into the personal needs station, cheering me on and taking photos as I entered the town centre again, and I did what any normal person would do in this situation - I did a silly dance and pulled a stupid face. I got to my parents and Rod at the feed station and was in very good spirits - I think I said with tongue firmly in cheek that I couldn't see what the big deal was. I knew I would regret saying that later. Back through fanfare of the town centre again and onto lap 3. 

Brian's top tip: Don't let me notice you while you take event photos....

.... Or they will look like this...

Coming through the town centre on Lap 2, still feeling good
The half way point of my run and my running split was bang on 2 hours, nicely on course for a 4 hour marathon and a 13 hour ironman. I was not getting carried away though - I knew my unmonitored efforts on the bike were going to catch up with me and it was not long before they did. Just outside the town centre at the start of the big climb, and my legs just said STOP. No notable pain or notable fatigue, my legs just said I needed to walk now. So I did. I knew this was going to happen at some point and I didn't mind. Just stretch the legs a little walking up hill and then carry on. But my god it was hard to start running again! In the minute or so that I had been walking my legs had turned into lead and I all of a sudden felt like I was pulling a trailer behind me. I laboured my way up the initial hill to the first feed station, but had to walk again. Well this was the situation now, and I would just have to deal with it. Shaun Newberry passed me, on his final lap. But when I started running I passed him while he was walking. Overall his starting and stopping was working out faster than mine and he slowly pulled away. The flattening out of the road towards New Hedges was very welcome and I was able to 'run' again, though my definition of running was becoming very loose at this stage. Turning at the roundabout towards Saundersfoot, I saw that Peter Lloyd was gaining on me again (well, he was a lap ahead of me on his final lap). I set myself  the goal of keeping the gap ahead of him for the rest of the lap, but could see he had still gained on me slightly as I passed through New Hedges and got my 3rd arm band. I managed to run continuously all the way back into Tenby, but Peter passed me just after  the croft. Fair play to him, he was still looking strong on his final lap!

Passing through the town centre the penultimate time was definitely reenergising, the cheering was really making a difference now. I nodded to my parents at the personal needs station that i would see them next at the finish line. Groups of lads were out drinking on the street now, which could be quite a threatening sight, but everything was quite jovial and in good spirits. The cheering was still very personal too. Two kids starting cheering my name as I passed around a corner. Then I heard one turn to the other and say "you know, I think Brian is my favourite name"! Where did they get these people?! 

I didn't walk as much as a meter through the town centre. High fives a plenty for any outstretched hand. Like Heartbreak Hill on the bike, it seemed like the polite thing to do! Running down Frog St past the De Valance cafe, I felt the presence of someone running right beside me, pace for pace. I looked to my right - it was Emma, my landlord. She had spotted me while sitting in the cafe and ran out after me. Again it was a great boost , before embarking on my 4th and final lap, but shortly after she left me to it, I got a bit worried. I really hoped none of the household would try run with me down the finish line (a disqualifiable offence) - I couldn't remember if I warned them about that!! Yup, in I was in the paranoid phase of my race now.

Coming through Tenby on lap 3, kicking Shane Williams' arse (just don't check the final results.... or tell him I said that..)

Lap 3 had been a 1 hour 20minute split. I was definitely falling off the pace, but it was great to know I had broken the back of the run, and only one 10.5km lap to go. I made a good effort at staying running as I climbed up the hill for the last time, but I'm not sure what the point of it was. My km splits were noticeably dropping off now. They were 5:30 to 6minute km splits in the 1st two laps, they were now 7:37 and still slowing.... 8:13 ... 9:11... I felt like I was running, but I may as well have been walking. 

And something was going wrong with me inside too. I knew I was spent. I knew I needed energy. But I couldn't stand the thought of taking anything that feed station 1 had to offer me. Not another pretzel. Not another energy drink. Not another coke. Not even another banana. I had taken enough of everything today, and my body wasn't going to have anymore of it. I decided I needed some jellies - those haribos with the white undersides - they had saved my life at the long course weekend and I needed them now. None at this feed station, they must be at the next one. This wasn't about finishing anymore, this was about getting my jellies! I was losing my mind...

It was getting dark now, which was surreal. Had I really begun this just after sunrise? The combination of darkness,  harsh temporary lighting and the shuffling silhouettes of fellow fatigued ironman made me feel like I was running in a zombie apocalypse. My fading mental state didn't help this perception feel any less real. Unfortunately the impending zombie threat didn't make me run any faster. I got to New Hedges and got my 4th and final arm band. Yus. I must have spent about 10 minutes diddering between the two adjacent feed stations looking for jellies. None. Balls. I took every variety of drink there was in what felt like the worst possible order. I also took other random bits of food on and forced it down. All downhill from here to Tenby! I had seen other people I recognised who had stayed a set distance from me throughout were gaining considerably on me and passing me. Pretty demoralising but nothing I could do about it. All finishers medals are the same. 

I could feel my body systematically fall apart as I came down the hill towards feed station 1. My right shin burned intensely. There was a deep pain in all my left toes. I couldn't feel my right foot. My ligaments felt like they had been replaced with aged duct tape. My lower back creaked under the weight and rotation of my torso. My shoulder blades and lower neck felt like one single ball of throbbing tension. I felt serious palpatations in my chest, enough for me to monitor my heart rate closely and give me serious worry for about 2 minutes. I walked for a bit. Compose yourself. I continued running, trying to keep momentum. Back down to Tenby town centre and the finish line may as well have been in Cardiff. I had to walk again as I went up the cul de sac at the croft. Then into the town centre for the final time. Rod shook my hand as I passed the personal needs station for the last time. It counted for something. My legs felt they were getting something back as I entered though the crowded streets for the last time. Dare I say it I even felt a bit of spring in my step. It didn't make the streets feel any shorter, mind. There was definitely a few more added on the last lap. I got to the last corner before that special corner, where you turn right for another lap, or left to the finish line. I pointed to the 4 multicoloured armbands on my right arm, and got a massive cheer from the crowd. Batteries recharged. At least for one last finish line effort.

I rounded the the final corner onto the red carpet. So many people! The crowds must have been 5 people deep at least on either side of the barricades. I tried to spot my family and friends, but the glare of the lights on the finish line was over powering. There would be no sprint finish here, everyone following some unspoken etiquette and running at equal spacing to get their own moment in the limelight. And rightly so. I followed suit. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I had so many original ideas for what I would do crossing the finish line for the photo op, but that didn't matter now. Just 2 hands up in exhausted jubilation. I got my medal from the mayor of Tenby, but that didn't matter either at this moment. The concept of medals felt so foreign to me at that very point in time, all that mattered that I was not moving any more, nor did I need to!

Run Course Flyby [Click to go to Link]

Very close to my point of view as I came down the red carpet - epic!

Exhausted Jubilation 

Having a good think about the journey I need to take over to the mayor to get my medal

I spotted my family beyond the barriers but frustratingly couldn't get to them without passing through the athletes tent. In there I must have spent at least an hour between disorientation, getting a massage, getting warm food and drink, bumping into people I knew.... I almost forgot there were people waiting outside for me, another place for me to be beyond this tent of disorientated lycra clad zombies.

After some focused efforts, my family fished me out of there, and we headed back home, picking up pizza on the way home. One gesture of a celebration drink and off to bed for some well needed rest. In all honesty the end was a bit of an anticlimax. I was expecting some celebration drinks with friends, some drunken reflection. But I was simply too exhausted. And so were my family after following me throughout the whole day! What an effort!

With a decent nights sleep behind me. Monday was a day to look back on what I did. In all honesty, it did not feel real - it didn't feel like all of that had happened in one single day. It all felt like an age ago already. It was great to hear everyone's stories of how they followed me around the course, and it was also great seeing all the messages of support that had been posted on Facebook as posts about my progress were shared - I didn't realise just how many people were behind me on the day. 

The swim was a disaster. The cycle did not go to plan at all. The second half of the run was pure torture. 

It was the best day of my life.

Ironman Wales Video [click to go to link]