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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ironman Wales 2012 - Race Report

Pre Race

I got to Tenby on mid morning on Saturday which allowed meant I did not had to rush around. I leisurely walked to the Ironman Expo, had a look round the stands and got my registration bags. I then went back to the car and packed the bags and got my bike ready. To save time I had already packed my kit into separate bags so it was a matter of transferring them in to the official kit bags with my race number on and put the number on my kit belt and bike.
The only thing I would need to do in the morning is add my race nutrition to the bags and gps devices. I then headed back with my race kit packed and checked it all in, we even got a bike cover not sure if that is a good sign in terms of the weather.

Ironman Wales 2012

I noted where my bike was compared to the transition in/outs and any surface issues as there were a lot loose stones on the car park surface.

Ironman Wales 2012 Ironman Wales 2012 Ironman Wales 2012

Also noted were my bags were, luckily they were near the end of the racks.

Ironman Wales 2012

I then headed round the town taking some photos of key areas of the Ironman (used in the race report), the only difference was the sea was at low tide but would be at high tide for the race.
Ironman Wales 2012 Ironman Wales 2012

I then went the few miles to the hotel to just relax for a few hours before going back to the expo for the race briefing. The key points I noted was only 350,000 ironmen on the planet out 7 billion (0.005%), this one of the toughest Ironman and T1 and T2 bags cannot be accessed until the race!!

The last comment meant I would have to change my plans even before the race started, which give me a bit a minor pre race panic!!

Race Morning

As the race start was 7am on a Sunday I had a nice lay in till 4am for breakfast!!

This gave me an hour to eat, wake up and get ready for the day. When I went outside it was still quite dark, when I got to the race car park I could have done with a torch to get to transition it was still that dark.

I got to my bike took the cover off and put on my gps device and drinks bottles. I then put as much of my nutrition in my bento box and even some in my repair kit. The rest I left in a carrier bag and put on my aerobars with handles going round the aerobars so it should not full off. This would mean I would have take a few seconds to put the nutrition in the cycle shirt pockets. As long as they did not think I was leaving that to identify my bike, which is not allowed, I took the risk.

To the Swim

At 6:15am we had to leave transition and then there was a procession though the town to the swim start. I had put on the bottom part of my wet suit leaving torso and arms exposed to the elements, this would ease getting in the sea. I also had my trainers on loosely for the run to transition of the swim. While walking along I recognised another Ironman who runs a local parkrun 5km run, I thought what a small world. There were a lot of people at the top of the cliff to watch the swim and the fast part of transition.

I then racked my yellow bag (run to T1) to on my race number which was only a few away from a turn in the zig zag path up from the beach to the promenade on the cliff above.

Ironman Wales 2012

Then I fully put on my wetsuit after some acclimatising and my 3 swim hats and goggles. I decided against using my swim watch as I did not think the sea water or the potentially getting knocked about in the swim would be good for it.

By the time I got to the beach there was only a few minute to go so I got a brief dip in the sea, just enough to check the kit was ok and so it was not a shock when we started the swim. Was a bit concerned by seeing the biggest lifeboat I have ever seen and at least 30 people on surfboards and/or kayaks.

I lined up on the right side of the starting line up of 1,500 people as I thought it would be less agro in the swim and better swim currents. They played the Welsh national anthem which was sung with strong feeling by a few near me, I thought we are really here. With that the start gun went off.


If you have not seen a mass swim start it is quite an awesome sight. Included is a video from youtube of the start.

For the swim we headed straight up for about 200m before turning to the left diagonal the turn buoy. All this time I was getting hit, kicked and punched more than normal and swallowing a bit of sea water, it was great. I thought I must be going faster than normal as there is a lot more people around me. I got to the turn buoy which is about a 135 degree turn to the right, the waves were really small if noticeable but people decided to stop before turning which created a pile up. This was a bit interesting trying to find some gaps and get swimming again.

The next 700m was straight along to the fair turn buoy, there were boats out to see and people in kayaks along the route to ensure that people did not get massively off course. I was using a house in the distance which was painted white, as the rest were other colours. Again at this turn buoy the same bottleneck occurred, I could also smell the cooked breakfast that the cafe’s nearby must have been cooking for all the spectators. It was then a 400m swim to the swim exit for the first loop. This was just to the left off the big rock (Goscar Rock). This bit was less busy until the shore line when I was getting hit more. I swam until the water was about knee height as I can then easy stand up and run out of the water. This was 1900m (1.2 miles) swum only another 1900m to go and I was feeling really great.

There were a lot of people at this point so I could not run the 20m as fast as I would like so I checked my goggles and swim hats were ok. I then ran in to the sea and then dived in and swam off on the same route. This lap there was a lot less swimmers around the first lap so I could get into my natural swim rhythm better.

I completed the swim in 1:16:23. This is 3:50 minutes faster than my previous 2.4 mile best (in a lake) just a few months earlier and 9:49 minutes than my quickest 2.4 mile swim in a sea.


The T1 transition was a split area, which was officially 1km but felt like 1 mile from the swim exit to the transition tent. This included a run up the beach then up a zig zag path to the top of the cliff then a run through the town to transition.

Ironman Wales 2012

The first part of the transition I got the top part of my wetsuit off easy and then ran up the beach and the first slope. I saw somebody seat down on a seat to get the wet suit off I thought that was a good idea, somebody got up from there just before I goto there so I thought I might as well. Although sitting down it still took me as long as normal to get the wet suit off. Then I ran up the next path and just around the corner to my bag. I had put in the bag a flannel to get most of the sand of my feet so less likely to cause any blisters as I would not being wearing any socks for the run in. I got my trainers on, wetsuit around my neck and my swim hats and goggles and started running. When I got to the top of the path I drank the small can (150ml) can of coca-cola I had also put in the bag to get all the taste of the sea water out of my mouth.

I was running fairly fast through the town and even overtaking some people. There was a lot of people cheering us along the route in to the town.

I then got to the change tent and got my bag was close to the end and went to the change area as I would putting on cycling specific kit different to the swim. This was a small space they had section off with only 3 seats in their, I timed it well and got a seat as somebody left.

On the swim and then the run in to transition I decide what I would be wearing for the cycle and some kit I would take with me. I decided on 3 layers with winter gloves but taking fingerless gloves and a light waterproof jacket with me. This took me as long as normal, although I was not thinking straight as I was trying to put on my right cycle shoe on my left foot, in my defence it did have an shoe cover on but it took me a while to work this out!!

With that I headed out to my bike which I easily found, I did not run that fast as there was a lot of loose stones in the bike area. When I got to my bike I my nutrition bag was still there so I put the nutrition in my cycle shirt back pockets.


I then started the 112 mile cycle ride, it was one larger loop of about 70 miles then a small loop of about 42 miles on the same part as the bigger loop. Based on the Ironman distance triathlon I did 2 months previous to this race I went off a bit slower than normal, just one gear easier. This also took in to account the big hills were at the end of the loops.

I was also eating solid food on a regular basis, on the half hour a brioche and on the hour half a sausage roll, with drinks in between and when needed. I only skipped one rep of this as this was too close to one of the aid stations which I got extra food (bar and banana) at. With the plan being the last 60-90 minutes switch off solid food to liquids and gels, to nutritionally transition for the run.

The first 15 miles were in to the wind and a bit more exposed to the elements but were relatively flat with moderate up and down sections. We then got to the furthest west point which had a sharp 180 turn, it made me laugh it was at a place called Angle. This then had a bit of climb next to the beach which you had to be careful of the sand on the road for tyre traction and gaps in the hedges for the wind.

I was keeping as much as possible on the aerobars to be more aerodynamically efficient.

At the 25 mile point we got to the first bike aid station which I changed the drinks and got the food I needed. This was the second out of three times I would go past my hotel. This point it got more undulating and hilly in places with some narrow lanes. Going through these narrow lanes the leader went past with a motor cycle following, as the lead car/van could not get past all the cyclists.

It also started to drizzle and wind to pick up a bit, this made bike handling skills even more important when getting fatigued. I remembered the pro who fell (slide off) at a corner last year on the tv review of the event so I knew when there was a big warning signs for the event and road signs take a bit more care. Based on the marshals and first aid it looked like a few people already had come off their bike.

At about 50 miles I put on my water proof jacket as it was getting a bit wet and colder which is not a good combination on an endurance event in particular a cycle. Then within 5 miles I got too warm and had to take it off.

A couple of miles before the the big hills at about 56 miles and 97 miles (more about this later) there was a few decent warm up slopes in Narbeth, below is a video from there.

Then at 60 miles the first big hill came it was a 16% incline which was in shade and about quarter a mile long. I had to get out of the saddle up this hill but was overtaking a few people, with the last quarter of the hill I had to use my 3D trigonometry skills to get up the hill (zig sagging, this was a closed road and there was no event vehicles around), it reduces the angle cycling but slightly increases the distances cycled.

With less than a mile recovery came the next bill hill of a similar steepness but about 2 or 3 times longer through Saundersfoot. This was also through a town so there was a lot of support in this section. I made it all the way to the top without stopping. However at the top it was starting to rain again a bit harder so I put my waterproof jacket back on.

The next few miles were the cycle back to the Tenby to start the second smaller loop. I was starting to feel no energy in my legs and a bit cold but I carried on round. The second lap I was going significantly slower than the first lap and normal at least 4 mph slower but there was a stronger wind and rain. I was noticing the road closure signs and the time that the road reopens, they were getting closer. I went passed the hotel for the third time and I could have easily stopped there but I carried on. This next section was the hilly and more technical handling part of the course which was now wet, this was not a good place to be when mentally and physically fatigued.

For the previous 2 hours each time I got to marshal point I was thinking about stopping, so I was glad in a way when the pulled me out at 97 miles as I missed the cut off time, to the point. At that point was just less than 8 hours of cycling which averages at 12.2mph which was 2 to 3 mph slower than average at an Ironman event.

Ironman Wales 2012 - Cycle

The above graph shows my split time from my gps per 5 miles, the red line is the overall average and the green line is the start of the second lap. From this the first 50 miles were significantly faster than the rest, the big hills started 10 miles after this. Also the start of the second lap was done a lot on the first lap (same part of the first lap course for 10 miles then missing the next 30 miles) and down a lot of normal rides and Ironman triathlons.


Included is an overview video of the event to give an impression of the whole event on the day.

The swim went better than planned and is still improving and the extra T1 went well, the day just went downhill from there on. The cycle was significantly slower, although I was performing well on the steep hills it was just the rest of it.

The support and marshals were great around the bike course, with more people in certain hotspots, such as the steep hills even in the poorer conditions.

I should not have bought anything from the expo as that jinxed the race. The event support was great all weekend, I will be back at some point.

This was my first DNF which I was more annoyed with myself for not training specifically for this event.

From the official results there was 1317 people registered at the weekend, so I think this was already down on the number who entered. Then on the race day 112 people DNF or DQ’d which is 8.5% of the participants. I think this is a lot more than normal.

In the end stuff happens on Any Given Sunday.

Lessons Learned

There was a lot lessons learnt the hard way from this event, most I already knew but had ignored them.

The main one is to practice/train on the course or similar to the course and likely weather. I did this for the swim and extra T1 and cycle nutrition which went well but did not for the cycle which went wrong big style.

Next thing is train and then train some more.

Next is read the race instructions, the bit about the T1 and T2 bags was at the top of a page in bold and red font, I must have skipped over this information to the maps section.

Check course maps, verify on race day for the swim or last minute changes. The swim had a straight bit fast and not just a triangular route.

Mentally on the bike I lost it on all parts apart from the big hills where I was overtaking people. I need to cycle more and in different weather conditions other than sunny and calm day.

Significant changes need to be made to my training, including planning training which I did not do this year and more weight loss.

Bring on the next Ironman race, only 8 months to go.

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