Tuesday 25th September 2018 (1.33 pm)
No need for the two alarms in the end, the first one on my iPhone did the job as I woke up excited and looking forward to the day. I slept really well which I did not think would happen. I woke a few times during the night, slightly panicked by the wind outside. I jumped out of bed just after 5am to see what the sea was doing. It was dark and I could not see a thing.
I had a shower to freshen my head, splatted a tub of vaseline in areas that I know would rub, put on my tri suit, half wetsuit, took my sea sickness tablet, picked up my special need bags, pink bag, hat, goggles and bike nutrition and left the hotel. All of this with no nerves (surely not right).
It was still dark as I made my way the 100m or so to the special need bag drop off point. It was starting to get busy as people made their way to transition, some on their own, some chatting with friends, some eating bananas or energy gels. Everyone seemed to have that same feel of excitement mixed with terror.
As I entered transition I walked towards where I left my bike (or where I thought I left it). Once again trying not to look like a complete amateur I walked up and down the side where I thought it was. I could not see it. I could not even work out the numbers and where 502 fitted in to the sequence. Not being great with numbers anyway I tried the other side of the rack. Were the numbers going up or down? My brain could not work it out. After a few more minutes of searching, I was finally reunited with my bike. It looked easy yesterday when there were far less bikes. Not to make the same mistake again, I gave it an easy reference point, which was 4th rack in and opposite the ‘M’ in ‘IRONMAN’ written on the side of a truck. All I had to do was pray that they did not move the truck.
After putting my water bottles and food bags on my bike, checking my tyres to make sure they had not deflated overnight and then zipping up my wetsuit I made my way to the swim start. At this point I ate half of my porridge bar and had a few sips of water. I chucked what was left in my pink bag and waited with over 2000 people to get this thing underway.
The atmosphere at such a ridiculous hour was incredible. You could not move for the amount of people. As the professionals made their way into the water, I walked slowly down the North Walk. I was just hoping that I could find my 502 pink bag hook! Thankfully I did, so with my trainers added to the bag I carried on walking to the beach holding my red swim hat and goggles. I hate wearing swim hats so left it late to put on. I then put my goggles over my head, adjusted them with my hat about 15 times then put my game face on. I was still amazed about how calm I felt. I don’t usually get nervous about events as I happily just rock up to them and go. This was different though. This was Ironman Wales which had been my goal and focus for the last 10 months. My head was in a positive place and there was no way that I was not going to finish the swim. My strategy for the day was to take one event at a time. Three different sports. Do not think about the next until you finish the one you are on.
I had a good start in the swim, helped by seeding and where I positioned myself. I am not afraid of being bashed about, you accept that in mass event open swimming. I just had to swim my race, not be bothered by anyone else, hold my ground and remain steady with my breathing. I am confident in the water, helped by all of the training I have done and importantly open water swims and events. For me, competing in Tenby Long Course weekend was critical as I knew exactly what to expect in terms of distance and line to follow.
As usual, the swim around the 1st buoy was a free for all. I knew I wanted to take it wide to avoid the chaos; however, this didn’t quite go to plan as I got swept up in legs, feet and arms and ended up closer to the buoy than what I wanted. There was no way I could swim around it; so I reverted to some sort of doggie paddle (I knew that was in my training program for a reason) and I literally got pulled around by everyone else. It was a great tactic and felt like I was floating around the lazy river. Time to start swimming again to make the long drag out to the life boat station. Not even the jelly floaters could stop me in my tracks as I ramped up the kick, got around the 2nd buoy and headed to Goscar rock and the beach. Lap 1 completed as I walked around and composed myself before jumping back in to start lap 2.
Lap 2 was not as busy as swimmers had spread out by this point. I often had large sections of water to myself and had to keep checking that I was still on course and not in Saundersfoot. As I headed back onto the beach with a swim time of 1hr 16, it was now that I could start thinking about the bike leg. I was more than happy with my time as I walked back up the North Walk whilst undoing my wetsuit. I collected my pink bag, washed the sand off my feet with my water and put on my trainers.
Running the kilometre through town was crazy, people shouting and cheering. Many calling out my name but I was unable to make people out in the crowds as I headed towards transition. I made my way into the tent, and changed into my bike gear. I took my time making sure that my feet were dry and talced and that I had everything I needed.
Thankfully, I located my bike (the truck had not moved).
I did not think about how many miles I had to do or how long I would be on the bike for. For me it was being in the ‘here and now’ (maybe the first time I have ever used mindfulness). I did have the cut off times in the back of my head though, but I just told myself to keep pedalling, keep fuelling and not to overdo it in the early stages. My Garmin buzzed every 5 miles and whilst I was aware of this at first, the longer the ride went on, it just faded into the background.
Having cycled 99% of the course before I knew what was coming (hills), but yet again I was not thinking about them until I was there. I was prepared for them, I had trained for them and my motto was to deal with them as and when. I lost count of how many times I said ‘slow and steady will get you to the top’.
I had my first wee stop on lap 1 at Lamphey. I decided to keep my tri suit on after the swim and manoeuvring myself out of my suit in a small port-a-loo was one of the hardest things that I had to do all day. My race belt had to come off and the last thing I wanted to do was drop my nutrition from my back pockets down the toilet. After 10 minutes of faffing, followed by a drink change over and 1/4 of a banana I jumped back on my bike thinking to myself that I would not be doing a toilet stop again (well not on the bike anyway).
Hills that I hated (the most) Freshwater, Wisemans Bridge and Saundersfoot. I was grateful to see my special needs bag at New Hedges. Here I stopped, had a bite of sausage roll, a few crisps and some lemonade. All acted like rocket juice as I headed into Tenby. It was so good to see my support crew as it was just the lift I needed before going back out on to the second loop.
Cycling out of Tenby along the Marsh Road and towards Kiln Park was where I experienced my demons for the first time. Doubts started to arise, the wind started to pick up and I allowed myself to think about what was ahead of me. I was thinking about the hills I had to face and what they had already taken out of me. I knew that I should be ok for the cut off times as long as I kept my pace, stuck to plan and did not let my head overtake.
It got tough but at the right times I chatted to other cyclists along the route. This gave me what I needed as I dug deep, told my head to ‘do one’ and just went for it. On lap 1 at about 50 miles in I started to get pain behind my left knee, this became a problem when pushing down hard on the pedal and whist hitting Wisemans Bridge for the second time I knew that there was no way I could cycle up it. I needed to get off and stretch the leg so I walked up the hill. This helped as I got back on and attacked Saundersfoot. I stopped again at my special needs bag and grabbed a pack of crisps which I ate on the way back into Tenby. I knew now that I had done it, I had completed the 112 miles. I had beaten what I was most fearful of. Now it was time to rack the bike, manoeuvre my way out of my tri suit for another wee, put on my fast daps and head out onto the run. I cannot describe the relief I felt to be off the bike.
As I stumbled out of transition I saw my support crew, I quickly stopped to say hi, have a kiss from Olly before heading out on the 26.2 miles of yet more hills. This was the first time that I allowed myself to think about running a marathon. I made it easier by breaking it down in to 4 x 10k runs (+ a bit more). Four loops of Tenby and New Hedges which I had 7 hours to finish in. Could I? Would I? Don’t even think that far ahead George!
I grew up in Tenby, I have walked the part of the marathon route a zillion times, but until I came to run it after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking I never knew how hilly it was. Never underestimate a gentle slope when your legs are shot and you have missed out on your Sunday afternoon nanna nap. Initially I was in too much pain with my foot (?) to run so I had to walk. Knee was ok (used to that) but it took me a while to get my shuffle going properly and when I did, it did not last long. In the end like many others, I walked up the hills and kind of ran down them.
Every loop, I collected a coloured band (hair bobble) from New Hedges. The first one, green meant that I was at least off the mark though I was only a few miles in. I kept looking at other people to see how many they had collected. When I realised that some people were on their last lap I couldn’t help but envy them. I still had a long way to go.
I found the second lap hard, as I walked past my supporters at the bottom of the hill where I live (which I was to pass 8 times) I remember muttering ‘this is hard, its tough’ but I continued on to collect my blue band. Almost half way there. As much as I could I kept positive and I kept smiling, grateful of the all of the support around. The pain in my knee meant that any sort of extension of my left leg hurt, as my shuffle became even slower. I knew I was still well within time, even if I had to walk the remainder.
Grateful again of my special needs bag I ate the Mars bar and crisps that I was craving. On one loop, I could not even remember my number when I had to shout out for my bag. Shouting 504 would not have got me my goodies. The sugar rush and some energy from somewhere spurred me on to collect the red band. Only 1 more to go.
As I headed out of Tenby on my last lap and the final yellow band I allowed myself to think about the medal at the end. I stopped to chat to my family and later heading back I spoke with my friend who filmed me. I remember saying that I had ‘a park run to go and 2 and a half hours to do it’. I smiled and hugged her as a limped off. Thank you Julie for your support that day.
After 15 hours and 19 minutes I crossed the finish line as an Ironman. I started in the dark and finished in the dark. I had actually done it. I had my medal. My mum, dad, partner, Olly, aunty and uncle at the finish line to greet me. I momentarily said hello before heading back to the tent to grab my kit. A lovely lady took my timing chip off my ankle and allowed me to keep the strap. I stumbled through the tent where I collected my t-shirt, grabbed some pizza and a drink and then somehow managed to carry all of the bags and bike out of transition. I was met again by family, all of whom had relieved faces.
I then uttered those words ‘never ever ever ever again, if I ever say I am going to do it again, don’t let me’.
I hobbled the 100m back to the hotel and took the lift to the first floor (I always walk the stairs). I fell on the bed and could not move for 10 minutes. Outside I could hear people crossing the finish line and being called an ‘Ironman’.
What a great feeling.
Now, as sit here writing this I have had over two weeks to reflect on the day. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done. It is probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Ten months of hard work, physically, yet alone what I have been through mentally. The day to day struggles were there throughout, they are real and I still battle them. I am physically tired but that is expected. I no longer have my routine of training and this is what I miss most. I have one event left of the 12 that I am completing in 12 months and that is Cardiff Half marathon a week Sunday. That will be for fun, no time pressure, just go and enjoy.
Where I go from here and what I do next I don’t know. It is too early for me to sign up to any events. I feel that I need some time to chill out, work on my book, maybe take a holiday.
I owe special thanks to my family, my partner and Olly who have been on this journey with me with their ongoing love and support. Thanks to Rhys and John, two amazing coaches who got me over the line.
Would I do it again? ‘Hell yes’
Olly’s road to Ironpup to follow