Ironman Wales 2014
September 17th, 2014 by Fraser
On my 2nd attempt at finishing Ironman Wales I crossed the line in… 2nd place. – After more than 9hours of racing on a course best described as ‘brutal’ I think this shot best reminds me of the considerable amount of relief to have just gotten it done!
The weather is always a factor when racing in the UK and this weekend the gods couldn’t have been much kinder. – Save however for the easterly wind which coupled with an incoming tide created a formidible looking sea on race morning. Below on the left I appear to be figuring out exactly where the first swim bouy is…
I really feel for all of the athletes who worry about getting through the swim leg of an Ironman – it’s a long old way in calm waters, but I’m afraid on Sunday morning it was anything but calm or indeed ‘flat’ and I for one didn’t enjoy it very much at all.
Indeed I was sure (probably for the first time during my years racing) that after we had completed the first swim lap we would be ushered up and away from the beach early. Alas, no such luck and back in we went! I know that I am a strong swimmer and I was relieved to finally get the swim finished, so I take my hat off all of those who had to dig deep and battle their inner demons to reach the safety of the beach.
The demands of this Ironman course certainly don’t end once you climb onto your bike, oh no! A mini run from the swim exit to the T1 area of over a kilometer certainly gets the blood flowing. The good news is that the first hour or so of riding is comparitively sedate but this could easily lull you into a false sense of security before the meat and bones of this bike course rears its ugly head after 50 miles. Twisty lanes and steep ups and down arrive in quick succesion and it demands a lot of concentration simply to keep the pedals turning.
Saundersfoot is a small fishing village on the last few miles of the bike loop so you pass through it twice, and what a reception we received on each passing! The crowd noise was incredible and if only the gradient wasn’t so damn steep then I could’ve spent some more time taking the atmosphere in. Nonetheless I was just concentrating on getting up the slope! I think in this picture above I was simply trying to figure out how far up in front of me the road continued 🙁
Throughout the day I was tussling with Matt Trautman – in fact I think from mid way through the swim until past the half marathon point of the run there was little separating us. Matt drove the pace on the bike for much of the 112 miles, especially the final 40 mile loop and that pressure meant that although I struggled(!) we distanced ourselves from the remainder of the field, reducing our initial group of 4 down to just the pair of us. The head to head battle continued as we started the run.
Initially I simply wanted to get into as comfortable a pace as I could and due to the out and back sections of the run loop we could see early on where our remaining competition was. I soon decided that barring serious problems (which are always a very real consideration!) it was down to the two us, which seems fairly straight forward now with hindsight. One lap of 10.5K became two and still we were essentially glued together, never more than a step between us. The crowd support around the course was superb – even on the more remote sections of road we had cheers and claps, but the real encourgement came from within the town centre where large crowds were already gathering excitedly; I suppose in anticipation of the finish and to generally experience the race from close quarters. I loved the whole atmosphere, it adds a fantastic extra element to the memories.
Unfortunately my tank was evidently running closer to emtpy that Matts’ seemed to be and that invisible elastic that seemingly had held us together since early in the day finally snapped on the 3rd run loop of 4. It’s a strange sensation trying to ‘race’ at this point in an Ironman – there really aren’t any more gears left, no more changes of pace in the tool box to call upon, its just a case of survival as best as you can manage – one foot in front of the other and some energy at every remaining aid station if you can stromach it.
After such a long day of close racing I think we both were happy to have reached the finish arch and as far as I’m concerned there is even more respect for your competitors after an Ironman is completed than over shorter distances. My conatulations go to Matt for such a strong and steady race all day long – a very well deserved winner. I laughed at his awards ceremony words where he commented on his previous experiences as a Professional Sailer – he was never going to be fazed by the sea conditions like the rest of us!
Always the one struggling with the fizzy stuff…. not enough practice evidently!
Another great part of the weekend in Pembrokeshire was that ‘Clan Coull’ were in attendance. Graham and Gillian looked after me over 10 years ago when I first moved to Stirling when I took some time out from University… my ‘6weeks or so’ in the spare room turned into nearly a year!! They have been an adopted family ever since and it is always fun spending time at a race with them. However IM Wales was especially exciting because both Craig and Gregg were racing with their dad for the first time. There is a great interview with them on the Ironman site here which talks about their journey to Tenby beach! After I had finished mum and I had a super time waiting to see first Graham (he snuck past Craig deep into the marathon like a crafty old fox!), Craig and then Gregg who had just crossed the line prior to this picture above. He also had just said to me that “I have much so respect for you guys doing it in those times” but I would turn right around on its head and express my wonder at you being on your feet for 15 hours! Really pleased to share in the day with the whole family, well done to you all – especially chief supporter Gillian!!
I had set this race as a season long goal, and as much as I wanted to win I have been racing long enough to know that a podium at this level is not to be sniffed at, and as such I am more than satisfied as it starts me on the road towards Kona ’15 with a healthy portion of points. Thanks of course go out to all the volunteers that make these events what there are. To anybody thinking about an Ironman next year I cannot suggest you try this event enough! Give it a go 🙂
Photos thanks to Ross Grieve/©Dirty Green Trainers at www.dirtygreentrainers.com and also Nigel Roddis/Getty Images.