Thursday 16 October 2014

My Ironman Wales

It was up early on the Friday to set off for Ironman Wales. All the preparation, planning and procrastination was now behind me. All that remained was to load up the car with the 101 necessary triathlon items - oh for the simplicity of running - and drive 240 miles from London to Tenby.

All packed - The bike, the gear, the nutrition and the supporter
At the 'let's get a coffee and stretch our legs' stop I met a young lady who had noticed that I had a bike strapped to my car. We spoke about the race ahead and wished each other the best of luck. Later I'd come to realise that that lady was in fact Amy Forshaw, the eventual female winner. 

And the winner for Best Banner goes to...
Arriving in Tenby it was clear that Ironman-fever had taken over the town. Banners and flags were everywhere and athletes in lycra were parading their beloved bikes for all to see. Once settled and unpacked I went out to register where it was quickly evident that in terms of protocol I had no f***ing clue. Day licences, bike covers, zero littering policy, special needs bags...well, I know now.

The only unshaven being at registration
On the Saturday, I headed down to North Beach to partake in the swim practice session. The waves were a little 'energetic' and after the jelly-fish (plural) discovery of the previous day, I felt fully briefed for what to expect on race day. 

Looking swell
Talk amongst yourselves
Jelly legs
Back on dry land I packed (and repacked) my transition bags, set-up my bike and racked it all at transition for the morning. It felt good to finalise proceedings and waving good-bye to Daria (my bike - named after my favourite supermodel Daria Werbowy) it was back to the room to eat, stretch, eat and eat again. Hitting the pillow I fell straight to sleep and slept like a log till the 4am alarm!

Logistical overload!
All tucked in for the night
'Leaping' out of bed, I took care of race day inbound/outbound duties and headed to transition. I had deflated my tyres when I racked the bike on advice I'd sourced from internet forums, though this was an eager move and more suited for races when the temperature is high. In reality, I had to scramble around for a pump and this stressed me out. My heart rate was further increased by the seemingly impossible task of fitting my aero bottle velcro strap. As I left transition there was an explosion of one athlete's that's stress!

With the traditional 'walk down' to the start set to commence, I had my usual rush and struggle with the wetsuit and joined the mass of participants somewhere toward the rear. The sky was biblical. The setting could not have been more dramatic. The streets were lined with cheering supporters. My girlfriend accompanied me on my walk down to the beach to settle my nerves. Excitement and anxiety jostling in my mind.

Perfect weather
Trainers bagged up and racked - for the 1km run back up to transition - I got my groove on and charged down to the water as the start time quickly approached. Whilst I knew I could swim comfortably up in the leading third I held back and decided to swim 'safe' so as to not get kicked or punched. At the klaxon, the hoards raced in to the swell and I calmly followed, placing my entry and plotting the first buoy. If the sky was biblical then the waves were the wrath of god. Once in it was impossible to spot the buoy, and I had no alternative other than to follow the masses. This continued for much of the first loop and it was a relief to come onto the beach for the turn-a-round. The second loop was far from 'swimming' but less congested and I came out in one piece and began the run to T1.

Deep breaths
After a strong run back, surprised by all the chin-wagging and casualness in transition, I geared up and headed out into the unknown having barely ridden on roads, as much of my training took place on the turbo in my living room. I was strict with my nutrition and kept re-fuelling. Despite feeling comfortable and keeping with the other riders, it soon became clear that I lacked the maniac mentality to zoom down the hills. The soft thrum of deep section carbon wheels would pass by with the rider off the brakes and continuing to pedal! Early on I would tend to catch-up on the upward return, but eventually this lack of kinetic energy saw me trail off.

Heading out of T1 
At around the halfway mark I had a shooting pain in my left knee that never fully resolved itself. It made for a pretty uncomfortable remainder to the bike leg but fortunately it vanished on the run. The hills were monstrous and I now understand all this talk of 'gear ratios' and 'rear cassettes' having struggled at certain points to push the wheels round. 

It was with great relief that I turned into T2 having had no mechanicals nor punctures. Running a marathon was all that was now required. I dismounted the bike with assured footing and set off on my way to bring it home.

Heading out of T2
Feeling comfortable after lap 1 of 4
The run was surprisingly comfortable from the outset. I decided to walk the aid stations to catch a break and to ensure I stomached the nutrition. I kept a consistent pace and focused on one lap at a time (we had to run four). The support was incredible and the volunteers were brilliant. Seeing my girlfriend after each lap also gave me focus and drove me on.

With 5km to go I was handed my final armband that signified the home straight. Keeping to a sub-4 hour marathon, I remained relaxed and made sure I soaked up the final stages of the race, continuing to smile and high-5 the kids. 

Turning toward the finish line chute I took one last competitor to ensure a clear gap and with arms aloft came through the finish line to Ironman Europe's Paul Kaye announcing 'Craig Norris you are an Ironman'. My emotions were equal parts joy and relief. Job done.

The end
After coffee and pizza and fish and chips and mushy peas, I returned to the finish line with champagne in hand to cheer on the final finishers in their hope to beat the 17 hour cutoff. It was incredible to see the emotions and witness the race as a spectator for those final moments. 

Much to work on for next year, I can't wait to return to Tenby to do it all again.

Ironman Wales 2014 / 12:35:47 / 408th overall / 71st in Age Group

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