Ironman Wales is a spectacular race and you should definitely do it. This is what I told my friend who was attempting his 3rd Ironman after the previous two hadn't gone to plan. So he signed up, as did I, without really thinking about it.
My focus for 2016 was time trialling and I hadn't done any triathlon training. About 6 weeks before the big day, I remembered I was doing an Ironman and I should probably do a bit of running and swimming. Taking into account a 3 week taper, there wasn't a great deal of time. I also got very ill for an entire week, after swimming in the River Thames following a large outflow of sewage (that's what I think anyway).
I had very low expectations, but was hoping to get round even if I crawled over the finish line.
The week before IM Wales, I had an important time trial (The Yorkshire CC 50mile TT) which counted towards the BBAR. This meant I couldn't prepare my bike for triathlon use (i.e ruin it) until the last minute. I put a front mech on, double chainring, different front brake (something that worked - the tri rig is mainly just for show), rear saddle mounted bottle cages and saddlebag and taped a few gels to the top tube. Once finished, the bike deeply offended my eyes, but was ready for the ferrous man.
Pre race nerves kicked in bad. I had that continuous sense of impending doom that is reminiscent of the night before the first day back at school after holidays as a kid (or now, as an adult, the first day back at work after a weekend).
I also seem to get mildly injured just before almost every race. I don't know if I am unlucky, or just become hyper sensitive to things. This time the injury was to my bicep muscle, pulled lifting some ridiculously lightweight carrier bags from the car to the rental house. It was definitely pulled though, and hurt, and I was concerned this would be a problem during the swim (as it turned out, it never developed into anything worse than a twinge during the race).
Skipping to race morning, I happened to find myself standing on the beach next to friend and fellow competitor Adam Brittain, who made the mistake of asking how I was feeling. I told him this would be the last Ironman I do....
Conditions were great for the swim, certainly compared to 2014 when it was (or felt like) double overhead surf. I was surprised to complete the first lap in ~29mins. The second lap took a bit longer, but I got caught in a weird whirlpool at the first turn buoy, which I couldn't escape. It was sucking me into it. During my flailing, someone kicked me in the face, dislodging my goggles. Despite this, I think I probably lost less than a minute and completed the whole swim in 01:00:07. For me this is fast - I think there was some beneficial tidal assistance or it was a bit short. Either way, I hadn't lost too much time to the fast guys.
The Fun Bit (ie Bike) (4:58:06) - [strava]
As most of my year had been spent time trialling, I had high hopes for the bike. Some pre race calculations / estimations done in excel made me think I could probably go under 5hrs.
It took about 40mins to overtake most people. I saw the last group (riding as a peloton - total 'draft fest') at Angle on the far West Point of the ride. After that, I was pretty much on my own, except for the odd pro who had fallen off the pace (pro's start over 10mins ahead).
At the 60mile point, I had probably built up a pretty significant lead. I hadn't seen anyone for ages. I thought it was a bit pointless continuing on at that rate and was potentially putting my run in jeopardy, so made a conscious effort to ease off slightly.
The support out on the course is phenomenal. Once again, heartbreak hill aka St Brides hill aka Saundersfoot Hill was a total highlight. One of the best cycling experiences.
As I finished the ride, and came into transition, I heard the MC Paul Kaye making a big deal over my bike performance. I was terrified I was about to dismount my bike and discover my legs had turned to jelly, making me look like a massive tool. I was the first Age Grouper, and I think about 4th overall at this point (difficult to know, as the pros started at a different time to me).
The Run (03:33:00) - [strava]
As I ran out of transition, I felt like I was stepping into the unknown. First brick run of the year and a full marathon ahead of me. I was also busting for a p1ss. My supporters (team #marginalgrains) said I looked miserable, which was exactly how I felt.
The run is a hilly 4x lap course. I found running down the hills quite hard - I kept getting a stitch which at a few points brought me to a walk.
For the first 10miles I drank Coke, but then switch to electrolyte drink and the odd cup of water.
At mile 20 I started to struggle. I knew I had dropped a few places to the pros, but was still in first place for my age Group.
At mile 24 my quads were in agony. I remember thinking that I wouldn't care at that point if 10 people overtook me, I just wanted to get to the finish.
The End (09:42:45)
I was pleased to see the red carpet. I mustered what little energy I had left to do a convincing run down to the finish line. I had no idea what time I had finished in - I wondered if I had gone under 10hrs. I looked at the display behind me to see 'P. Harrison 09:42:45' lit up. I was so surprised and pretty overwhelmed to be honest. I finished 10th overall, 1st in my age Group, and had managed to post the fastest bike split of the day.
Massive shout out to my family and all the supporters who came out to Tenby and kept everyone going. They make this, in my opinion, the best Ironman event.
Also thanks for the ongoing support I receive from Athlete Service (the best bike shop) who are always there to lend me some emergency kit to break before races.
Finally to meglio, who make some great physio products and sports massage gear. Check their website out and find all sorts of self massage / foam roller type equipment. I have been using my meglio foam roller for the last few months, usually a Sunday evening, and it has definitely helped relieve some muscular pains!