You might want to put the kettle on and grab a large beverage for this one. It’s pretty long – so long, I started writing it in September and it’s ready for publishing in May. I expect you’ll be done reading by Thanksgiving, by which time I hope to have completed two more!
If you’re at all entertained by these antics, please feel free to donate to a cause that is very dear to me, F*cking Cancer
Much like any major event in your life, there is a certain anticlimactic feeling once the event has passed that oddly mixes with the relief/joy of the event being over. I felt it after my epic bike ride in May 2017 and was a bit lost with what to do with myself. All those months of planning and training, and now what? The time after Ironman Santa Rosa, once I stopped eating anything that would stay still long enough, was eerily similar so I started “researching” it and yes, it’s a known form of depression that follows a major event.
After Santa Rosa I was a little too fatigued to work out, and too busy gorging myself at an Olympic level, but after a few days I felt a bit lost. Now what? The many articles I read all basically said the same thing, rest and then find something new to focus on.
The first thing to do was to enter Ironman Santa Rosa 2019 so I had another long-term goal to strive for. I’m not sure if it’s being Welsh or a Taurus, or both, but I don’t really have the patience for long-term goals so I entered Santa Rosa 70.3 in July 2018 so that I’d have something near-term to focus on. It was a bit of a let down after the full event and I didn’t even feel like writing about it. I had fun, got to hang out with my son Liam, freshly graduated from Portland State, but it wasn’t quite the same as the full distance event.
I needed something to recreate that feeling of fear, trepidation and excitement of my first full Ironman, but I had no idea what that might be…..
As if by magic (where magic involves typing ‘Ironman Wales’ in to Google) I had an answer! Ironman Wales is held in one of my all-time favorite places, Tenby, an idyllic seaside resort that brings back many, many happy memories of going there as a child, and some slightly more “hazy” memories from my teenage years, but best not to go in to those…..
It seemed like a bit of a stretch, for a number of personal reasons plus the logistical challenges. I felt like I was a pack horse going to Santa Rosa, which is just 90 minutes away, how would the logistics work of schlepping my bike and all that gear on a transatlantic flight?
I was also very conscious that I “scraped” a finish in Santa Rosa after swimming in a flat-calm freshwater lake, where I think my pace was 1 gallon of water consumption per mile, and a bike ride that only had a total elevation gain of 4,300ft. Ironman Wales is a sea swim, has 8,200ft of climbing on the bike and even the marathon has 1,400ft of climbing. Would I be able to manage? Would my wife let me go? Would I remember the words to Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau?
After a few weeks of teeth gnashing it was an oncology check-up at UCSF that finally made me want to commit. Sitting in the waiting room with patients still suffering through the various types of cancers and their correspondingly hideous treatments reminded me, again, of how fortunate I am. I needed to do this.
The personal logistics were broached with my ever-understanding wife, who would be in Spain “gin tasting” at the same time as the race, so we had to figure out whether it was ok to lock the kids in the basement again with one of those cat food timers and without the authorities finding out. We realized that they’re old enough to look after themselves, mostly. The last few pieces fell in place so I found myself finally clicking “Register”.
Key Learnings from Spring Break, Quickly Forgotten
In the run up to Santa Rosa in May we had a great trip to Vegas for Spring Break, but not the type you see on YouTube. It was a great few days of relaxation but I really felt it when I got home and got back to training. I swore that if I ever did another full distance event I would not slack off training. Best laid plans, mice and all that…..
In mid-August we took off for 5 days to an all-inclusive resort in Cabo San Lucas. I managed to get a couple of runs in on the treadmill and one ocean swim to see how the salt water might affect the throat. The similarity to Wales was uncanny, in that the water was wet and salty, and there was some sand and rocks. The warmth of the water and the air were, most likely, not the conditions I would encounter in Tenby.
Thankfully a lot of walking, not much drinking and mostly limiting the ice-cream intake* meant that getting back in to the last two weeks of training when I got home was not too painful.
* This statement may not apply to other forms of dessert, or all flavors of ice-cream…
And We’re Off
After what seemed like an age, the time to head to Wales had arrived. A friend of a friend kindly lent me a very large bag that would enable me to bring back a ton of UK chocolate, Quavers, Skips and prawn cocktail crisps (chips, to those of you in the US), which thankfully also had enough room for my bike and all the other paraphernalia I’d be needing.
Squeezing a bike in around the space for Quavers
The bike and bag arrived at London’s Heathrow airport and a quick check showed that all was good and it was off to Hertz, where things very nearly went pear-shaped.
For some reason I had put down an arrival time of 8am for a flight landing at 1pm so the wagon/estate car I had reserved had gone. They did however, have this:
Obviously the bike wouldn’t fit but just for a fleeting 10 minutes or so, I thought about ditching the bike in left luggage and poncing about the UK for a week in an open-top R8. The nice lady at Hertz snapped me out of it by finding me a small Mitsubishi Panzer, and I was all set.
Pork Pies, Fuel of Champions
I finally made to Wales for a few days with my parents before we all headed to Tenby.
It was time to start thinking about the race, putting the bike together and figuring out what I was going to eat and drink for the several days I was expecting to be on the bike. I had recently found a great Facebook group for those on the Ironman Wales journey and I knew they were my peeps when the very first post I read was about the use of pork pies as an onbike fueling source.
For those of you not familar with this subtle delicacy, a pork pie consists of a filling of pork stuff in a crispy pastry. Yum. A couple of cans of John Smiths seemed like an obvious pairing…..
On the Sunday before the race I went out and stretched my legs for a few miles. I usually go back to visit at Christmas when it gets dark by 2pm so all this light was a little disorientating.
Monday it was time for a swim but the pool from my childhood seemed a little smaller than I remembered.
Luckily there was another one in nearby Merthyr Tydfil and I had a great swim in my first ever carpeted pool. Yes, that’s correct. The deep end was mostly carpeted to cover up all the sharp areas where the tiles were missing. Classy!
On Tuesday it was a quick ride up the valley to Mountain Ash and I took a quick peek at my old school and then it was a rest day before heading west to Tenby.
Not that I was in any way excited, but I drove the 80 miles on Thursday and arrived at the beautiful town at 8am. Oops. My parents had found a great B&B which was a long schlepp from transition. I estimated it to be all of about 100 yards, so a great result.
I went to get registered and checked out the town that I had visited so often and it was already feeling different. The whole town was Ironman focused. The stores had unique paintings depicting “the Dragon”, as the event was fondly referred to.
The weather on Thursday was a little overcast so I just did a brief ride for a few miles to make sure everything was good with the bike and got back just as it started drizzling.
Friday was perfect, sunny, calm, and the practice swim with the lovely people of Newport Tri Club went well.
On Saturday it was time to pack all my gear, get my nails done and rack the bike ready for Sunday.
We spent the rest of a very wet Saturday traveling around the beautiful coast, part of which I’d be seeing tomorrow on the bike.
I didn’t really sleep much and before I knew it my alarm was going off at 3am and it was time to force down a couple of bowls of oatmeal. I grabbed my wetsuit and trundled up the street to transition to get ready.
Unlike Santa Rosa where there was a 45 minute bus ride to the lake, you walk about a kilometer through the town to the start of the swim. You have to go down a long walkway to the sand and then in to the water.
Unfortunately, you also need to do this in reverse after the swim – up the walkway and a 1K run back to transition to get on the bike.
There were already hundreds and hundreds of spectators lining the streets and it was barely 6:20am! This gave a little indication of how Tenby gained its reputation as the best event for crowd support.
After a rendition of the national anthem all 2,500 of us started shuffling forward. I had seeded myself at the back of 1:30 group and after a nerve racking shuffle I was in the water. Oh my, it was cold. A quick elbow to the face dislodged my goggles so there was a quick moment of adjustment and off I went.
The water was so cold. I had two latex swim caps on but the band of forehead that was showing immediately started giving me a brain freeze. Within the first 300 yards I felt I was in trouble and would not be able to make it. After a brief moment of panic, I looked across to the right and saw all the spectators lined up on the edge of the cliff, composed myself and kept going. The water was clear enough to see hundreds of jellyfish below us, which was an extra motivation to get a move on. The view every time I took a breath, almost, took your breath away. The multi-colored houses, the harbor, the crowds, it was unbelievable.
After staggering around the beach for the second 1.2 mile loop the swim was over and I was out of the water in 1:22, a bit faster than I’d expected. Thanks jellyfish!
The trudge up the ramp was a little rough after laying flat for the last 80 minutes and not really using my legs (a new goal for 2019, swim using my legs!). Into the cramped changing tent, avoiding various body parts being wiggled about and then it was out on the bike.
Hills, hills and then downhill. No, not really….
Leaving transition was unreal with all the spectators cheering you on and I headed out of Tenby on the first big loop out towards Angle. The weather was cool and I was doing ok until my bottle carrier came loose and I had to do a quick fix with electrical tape.
The scenery on this loop was great, especially riding along the coast. After descending into Angle it was time to climb back out and head towards Pembroke. It seemed the whole town was out cheering. Narbeth was next and after another round of repairs using electrical tape, I was enjoying the scenery and the crowd support.
The famous climbs out of Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot had rightly earned their reputations but the crowds were madder than a box of frogs.
After the long climb out of Saundersfoot it was a downhill run to Tenby and the start of lap 2. The hills seemed a lot worse the second time around and I was slogging up hill number 987398087 when eventual women’s winner Lucy Gossage came blasting past like I was standing still.
The second climb up Wiseman’s and out of Saundersfoot were a bit rough. Those climbs were hard the first time but with 100 miles already put on my legs I was sorely tempted to get off and push until a guy in a dragon suit jogged alongside me and motivated me up the hill. The supporters are truly amazing.
After another run downhill to Tenby I saw people who were already on the run heading out of town and up to New Hedges. Yes, the run had elevation too.
After one final torturous climb up in Tenby it was back to transition, change in to my run gear and back out. The bike had taken 8:07! Ouch.
Why Am I Doing This?
The run consisted of four 10K loops around the town and then uphill to New Hedges and back. Each loop earned you a colored wrist band and I found myself envying those who had already accumulated more bands than I had. The first two laps went by pretty “quickly” (!) but lap three was pretty grim. It was getting darker and my legs were on fire – not literally of course, otherwise I would have been able to see where I was going from the flames.
Each lap was really two distinct parts, both packed with supporters. The run around the town was mostly flat and took you through the streets with everyone out cheering and drinking and the second was out of town on a climb, a turnaround, a swig of Red Bull. pick up a colored wrist band and then back downhill in to town.
This was kind of the view, if you’d had the energy to move your head and look around….
Starting the fourth lap I was questioning my sanity and swearing that I would never, ever do another full distance event, completely forgetting that I had already signed up for Santa Rosa. My mind was meandering to some dark places and passing people outside the pubs with beer in hand made me think of stopping a few times.
After what seemed like an age, probably because it was, I finally got to head down the finish chute instead of having to turn right to do another f***ing lap. I briefly knelt down to feel the red carpet, which was risky as I may not have been able to get back up. The crowd cheered and then I sauntered down the chute, high-fiving all the hands that shot out until I crossed the line.
Relief, or what…….?
Need more? Here’s a video (not mine) that might give you a little taste of what it was like….
(c) of someone on Facebook….
If you’re at all entertained by these antics, or not, please feel free to donate to a cause that is very dear to me, F*cking Cancer