I start this report almost bang on a year to the day on since I entered IMW 2016. At that point I hadn’t successfully completed an olympic distance triathlon let alone a half, let alone a full, so it was a bit of a mystery how I was going to complete my first full IM, especially this one which I’d be warned was a bit of a toughie. Still, ‘a year to go’ I thought at the time, ‘I’ll be able to swim in open water by then, no problem’…
Luckily a couple of friends entered at the same time so we set up a whatsapp group which would become invaluable in supporting each other later on when the training got VERY tough and disruptive in the last few months before the race.
With little idea of the training volume that was to come we set out, some of us with coaches, to get ready for the biggest race, by miles, of our lives. Varied success in prep races ensued, including a disastrous 70.3 in Puerto Rico and a great 70.3 in Staffordshire.
God knows how many hours of training later, it’s a week before the race. I’m feeling edgy, struggling to concentrate in work, stroppy, watching footage of last year’s race on repeat, feeling heart rate spikes every now and then and desperate to get on with it. I’m whatsapping Tom & James every 20 minutes, and a group from Cr@p Tri meet in the pub for “pre-briefing” a few days before heading to Tenby. The same group met when we first entered and it good fun to get together to talk about race plans and potential banana skins. We spend a lot of time talking about broken chains and me and James leave wondering whether we should buy tools and learn bike maintenance. ‘Bugger that’ I think, though for the next few days I regularly dream about snapped goggle straps, broken chains and broken rear mech.
My final week of training is a nice 4 hour affair, after 9 the previous week and 16 or so for the weeks leading up to that. Cue anxiety about 2 rest days and losing fitness… ‘relax’ everyone says, ‘you’re ready’…
With lists written, enough kit packed to survive an arctic expedition, me and Tom set off for Tenby Friday lunchtime. Traffic is clear and we’re both feeling great. Checking into my lovely rental house ( on the run route – excellent find ) is smooth and I’m meeting Deb ( 4 doors down ) and off to meet Tom at registration. Packet pick up is smooth, kids registered for IronKids and it’s into the merch tent. I love a merch tent, though manage to be highly restrained and only spend £50, plus the £12 flag of course. Make a note to come back a buy a jacket tomorrow though, and hopefully some finisher kit on Monday.
Then it’s off to check out the swim start. The North Beach is a truly spectacular place for an open water swim. The sea is pancake flat, the course looks shorter ( somehow ) than long course weekend back in July and we pray for it to be the same on Sunday. We meet with some more of the many, many cr@p tri athletes taking part and head for the briefing. That takes the usual hour or so, the club gets a couple of nice mentions, it’s too hot and then it’s back to the house to meet my family and friends who’re staying with us.
Saturday is spent packing the multiple IM bags ( this one has four… swim, bike, run & day gear ) then racking the bike and dropping two of the bags off. I have a GREAT bike position on the end of a row – easy to find and right near to bike out. I always feel a bit anxious just leaving the bike and make multiple checks of the content of the bike & run bags, just to make sure…
Then it’s IronKids – a great 1500m race for 1000 kids off all different age groups. My boys look good, but are disappointed not to get medals as they’ve run out! Poor form and that better not be the case on Sunday…
Back to the house and it’s a nice 40th birthday dinner ( spag bol ) for Rhian. I’m on the Erdinger 0.0% and decide it’s the best of a VERY bad bunch of alcohol free beers I’ve had over the past three weeks. Bed is pretty early after a MAJOR panic over a lost timing chip ( which I blame Karen for, but was actually in my clothes pile where I’d put it ).
And soon enough, after a surprisingly good sleep IT’S RACE DAY!
Alarm goes at 4.20am, and as always there’s no need for the 2nd one I set. Showered, breakfast ( porridge, crumpets, banana ) and I’m off to drop bottles and Garmin at the bike and day gear at the athlete village. Back to the house for a cup of tea and Karen’s up. 6.10 I leave the house to good luck wishes and walk over to the rolling start swim line up at transition. It’s a 1000 metre walk from there to the start and I luckily spot a few cr@ppers… I’m grateful for the company and am relieved to feel really confident ( a world apart from 12 months earlier when even a 750m sprint swim would have me sleepless and my heart at 160 before even starting ).
After the walk over ( Tom goes flying past to the faster seeding part of the queue ), we drop our swim bags with running shoes for the run back to transition, then line up ready for the off. It’s about 6.45, so about half hour to go. I’m lined up with a predicted swim time of 1h 20 to 1h 25. The sight on the beach is just spectacular. The sun is rising, there are thousands of supporters and I can see pink cr@p kit everywhere.
Veterans of IMW talk very fondly of the national anthem, which plays before the pro start. I’m not expecting to start blubbing and thankfully don’t, though it’s a special moment and we take a few minutes to look around and take it all in. Having spent 10 minutes putting my swim caps and goggles right though, I think the announcer is having a laugh when he asks us all to take our hats off for it.
The pros go off and 7.10 and we start walking slowly after. Hand shakes, good luck wishes and then a quiet moment. Good to see family along the beach for a quick photo, then a friend right at the timing mat before hitting the water. And we’re off!
It’s a good start. I’m straight into space ( thank you rolling starts ) and the first 500m or so to the first turn go smoothly. I have no idea how fast I’m going in open water, but it’s a long day I tell myself and a couple of minutes here and there now aren’t going to matter. Slightly concerned to see an athlete in a bit of bother but someone’s looking after him so I press on. The first buoy is bedlam – loads of contact and my line has been way too direct ( ignoring coach’s advice, though not intentionally – I can’t swim straight ). I haul myself around the buoy by the handles and then it’s into the big straight.. 1km or so in length. Sighting is a bit tough as the sun is low and in our eyes, but I quickly get a view of the lifeboat station roof and relax. A few jellyfish drifting below me get me moving quickly, then the second big buoy is on me ( wider & smoother ) and then it’s the last 400m or so to the yellow swim arch and out.
Quick look at the watch and it shows 39 minutes. Happy with that. See family again, quick smile and wave and back in. Lap 2 is similar… first buoy is bedlam again but I quite enjoy it. Should have learned lesson though as it costs me time. On the big straight I get a tremendous kick in the face, which properly lodges my right goggle in my eye socket ( but thankfully doesn’t break anything ). He also dislodges my swim cap, which doesn’t matter at all, but I’m keeping that as a souvenir, so probably not entirely sensibly I make a quick stop to shove it up my wetsuit sleeve. Hydrodynamic I was not. A big jellyfish floating nearby gets me moving.
The final swim in is smooth and whilst I’m a VERY slow swimmer I’m very happy with 1h 19. A year ago it would have been beyond my wildest dreams, though today it ranks me a very lowly 1,377th out of about 2,000 ( 273rd out of 350 odd in my age group ). Ouch. Ahh well, it’s up the hill, on with my trainers ( teetering about with sea legs ) and into the 1k run to transition.
The run through town is also spectacular. Crowds two or three deep in places line the whole route and I see and say hello to family, friends and cr@p support. This bit is really enjoyable and I’m feeling as fresh as before the swim. First stage done, with time in the bank to get under the target of 13.5h in total. ‘Good work’ I tell myself sipping my flat coke and enjoying a banana.
T1 takes a spectacular age and despite reminding myself on the way in ‘blue = bike red = run blue = bike red = run’ I still pick up the wrong bag. A volunteer laughs at me and gets me the right one. My arm warmers won’t easily go on wet arms so the whole affair including the run takes me 13m 40 – less than the conservative 15m I’d allowed. Pick up the bike, get the Garmin running and we’re off for 7h ish in the saddle.
The ride out of Tenby is downhill so a good chance to let the heart rate settle down, and get mentally ready for a long ride. Just outside Tenby I see the remnants of a nasty looking accident – someone’s day is over and I later learn it’s a club mate. Harsh way to end after only 1km of the bike.
At this stage I’m still debating nutrition strategy, which is probably not ideal. I had planned to take a lot more gels than lots of people seem to think is sensible, so I decide there and then to go with a banana every time I can grab one, topped up with gels and bars, one of each every 1.5h or so. All washed down with a bottle of water or energy topped up at every feed stop. And a salt pill every 40 mins. Sounds reasonable to me.
The ride is one big loop and a smaller loop within that big loop. The first bit is faster than the last two thirds or so and I’m relaxed to see my average speed up near 29kmph – well above the 25.5ish I’m hoping to finish at. I’m passing more than I’m being passed ( again due to being a terrible swimmer rather than a good biker ) and I see a couple of cr@ppers down near Angle. Just before that I try something new ( the only thing ). Before the race I was planning to stop about half way to stretch legs and back and take a pee. But I’m feeling on fire today and don’t want to waste that 2 minutes so decide to try out peeing on the bike. I give the pedals some stick to find some space with no one behind. Then stand and lean to one side and let it go. Beautiful. Wet shorts, soaked calf guards and pee builds up in my bike shoe. I realize about half hour later than dried pee turns white and everyone knows what you’ve done ( ‘I like a man who pees in his shorts’ says someone as I pass them out of the saddle on the hill out of Freshwater ).
Coming back into and through Pembroke was an early highlight – a fantastic descent ( 74kmph max. ) loads of people in the town and big smiles. Still feeling great. The section after Carew was my least favourite – quite a few draggy hills and average speed inevitably suffers. Before long though I’m on the road into Narbeth and although the two hills are a bit of a bind, I know the town is going to be a great spot for support and a morale boost ( and some food and spotting another friend ). That’s done and I know the big loop is nearly done, but for the two horrible climbs at Wiseman’s Bridge and Heartbreak Hill at Saundersfoot.
Wiseman’s is fine… slow and steady, heart rate high but nothing worrying. Then the excitement builds as I’ve heard lots about how good HBH is in Saundersfoot – it’s where all the cr@p support is and my family’s there too.
Before you can enjoy it there is a bit of a hill, so it’s out of the saddle and through the worst part. Then the noise builds, you see the pink everywhere and it’s a feeling like no other I’ve had in a race so far. The energy boost is unbelievable. You can be told about, watch it on the montage, but it doesn’t convey just how good that moment is. Heart rate ROCKETS but it doesn’t matter. One of the highlights of my racing life so far.
Rest of the loop is into Tenby ( friends, support ) then out onto the small loop. I’ve got a snickers to look forward to soon just in case this bit is tough mentally but honestly I still feel great. Legs are fine, heart rate is behaving itself and I’m starting to think ‘I’m going under 7 hours here’.
The small loop is quite a lot like the first one. Morale is great, nutrition working pretty well, I know the course well, heart rate decent, speed slowing as expected but better than planned. I enjoy my snickers, take another pee on the go and do HBH for the second time – great support again but not quite as good as the first time. In the distance, heading out of Saundersfoot I see a cr@pper and decide to go say hello. Turns out it’s Tom so we have an impromptu hug, quick chat and agree to see each other on the run shortly. The downhill spin into Tenby is great and as I see runners well into their marathon, my mind turns to the 42km of running I have left and morale starts to dip a touch.
Bike time is 6h 49 – catching up with the pack as I finish that discipline 892nd ( 196th in age group ). That’s about 20 mins quicker than target, more time in the bank. 26kmph average speed.
Transition two is thankfully quicker than T1 ( 5 mins and let’s be fair, there’s no rush ). I grab the right bag, swap t shirt ( more lovely pink ) and set out.
The run is a very tough one. 600m of climbing over the marathon and some nasty hills, mainly on the way out to the turn points. The first lap is OK – 5m 45 per km, in line with target. I’ve agreed with coach Lawrence I’ll try and go for 2 hours for the first two loops and then make it up as we go along after that. At that point I’m feeling good, but my mind keeps turning to how much of the run is left, rather than focusing on specific points and breaking it up.
There’s LOADS of support though, especially at cr@p towers and at our house in town. In flagrant breach of the outside assistance rule, Karen and the kids offer all sorts of treats at the end of lap 1, but I’m feeling good so press on. The end of the lap comes tantalizingly close to the finish line but you swing right at the last minute. I’m jealous as hell of the guys with all four lap bands who get to go straight onto the red carpet.
Lap 2 starts to get harder. The hills are biting but I’m determined to run the whole thing apart from feed stations. I’ve also brought 6 gels, but quickly realize I’m not going anywhere near them as my stomach is feeling on the edge of getting ropey. Mid way through lap two I’m feeling I might need a more serious toilet stop, so decide to back Andrew’s advice from a previous race report ( ‘Don’t trust an Ironman fart’ ) and I stop at the house for a toilet break – much to the amusement of the supporters in the street. I grab some water on the way out ( luckily no referee in sight ) some Haribo and press on.
I see my coach who says ‘keep it controlled G’. I find myself keeping up with him on the run and quickly scold myself for being stupid.. ‘slow down Geraint’.
My watch starts to throb every now and then saying “Low Batt” and so I fear I’ll be doing some or even most of the run on feel. First two laps done in line with target – I could be on for a really decent time here.
Lap 3 starts to get really tough, but I’m still running. Speed slips to over 6m per km, but still on track to break target total time. The hills are horrible now but my body is still working. Salt tabs are helping and I’m remembering how much better I feel today than back in Puerto Rico when my world ended on the run. I’m succeeding in breaking down the last two laps into chunks and am delighted when I get my third lap band – a big milestone. It’s downhill then into town where the support is getting louder and drunker. More water from the house and then it’s onto the final lap.
Emotions are starting to come on strong now. My watch dies pretty early on lap four, but I’ve done some ( very slow ) maths and have worked out I could do a REALLY slow last lap and break 13 hours. Getting to the top of the hill is a major milestone, then I’m giving the guys handing out the last lap band a big smile and I know I’m almost there – 5km or so. Cr@p towers comes into sight for the last time, then the final hill. Into town where the more sober supporters see the red band and know I’m nearly done. Big cheers and loads of high fives.
Occasionally I feel my eyes starting to well up with tears and our house is quiet as I pass for the final time as everyone’s gone to the finish line.
It’s extremely hard to explain how it feels coming into the last few hundred metres of a 220 odd km race. I properly well up but then keep it together as I get to go straight on, not turn right, and hit the red carpet. I have no idea what time I’m heading for but am pretty confident it’s under 13 hours. Lovely high five with Paul Kaye who recognizes the cr@p kit, see some friends leaning on the finish chute and I find myself hearing ‘Geraint, you are an Ironman’. He’s South African so it’s not quite a proper ‘Geraint’ and although it’s a cliché moment, it feels very special and pretty emotional.
And then I’ve finished.
I turn to look at the clock and sort of register under 13 hours, but quickly forget the actual time. Karen is at the finish line but I’m dazed and can only mutter something about my watch not working any more. She looks relieved.
Medal in hand I head into the tent to have a cup of tea and sit down. As usual the food looks and smells tremendous but I can’t stomach food yet. I look around and it’s a strange mix of people looking like they’re about to die and some people looking like they’ve been on a park run. I’m more in the former camp. I get my finisher t shirt, change into warm clothes and have some coke. Then it’s outside to meet Karen and the kids who look very pleased and proud. Collecting my bike and bags is easy and we decide to head home to watch more runners come past.
My marathon time is 4h 19. Probably a bit slower than I’d ideally have liked, but it’s a tough marathon and it’s a respectable time. Total finish time is 12h 47 minutes, which I’m absolutely delighted with. It’s 682nd out of the 2,000 odd – a big improvement on 1,377th after the swim. Must get better at swimming.
I text Tom who finished just after me, then text more cr@ppers. Some much appreciated congratulations from other cr@ppers who’re are our street and I have a sit outside the house to wait for James and Deb to finish. Karen kindly gets me a tremendous tray of fish and chips and blags a beer from next door as I’m desperate for one and amazed I actually feel like drinking one. It tastes unbelievable. After seeing James, Deb and the final cr@ppers home I very reluctantly head for bed. I don’t want the day to end, but after a good check of twitter and facebook I get to sleep remarkably quickly.
A year ago I’d have happily taken finishing the race and whilst my target has improved a bit as I’ve got fitter and done some decent prep races, getting 12¾ hours is a great result for me. It’s a fair way from Kona qualifying territory though ( my best chance of that is to be a 55 year old female ). The day after my legs feel sore but I feel great. We head to the merch tent to grab some finisher gear and I’m surprised to see it’s a bit like the boxing day sales. I’m lucky to grab a finisher jacket in the right size ( not so lucky to find it’s £80 ).
Then a short while later we’re driving home and the IM blues start to rear their head… have I got enough in the plan for next year, am I going to survive with just a half marathon left in 2016, am I going to go mental without 16 hours of training? Of course it’ll mean more time with the family, especially as it’s football/rugby season so that’s a big deal.
The problem with IMW is that it’s such a well supported, legendary race, no other IM can compare to it I fear. Some of the moments were beyond belief and I wonder whether they can ever be replicated. I’m fairly sure I won’t be doing a full distance race in 2017 as the family deserves more time.
I’m looking forward to celebrating the race with friends this coming weekend and plan to absolutely smash my PB at the half marathon the week after. My next triathlon is in Dubai in 4 months. Can’t wait.