Ironman Wales 2017 – Stephen Martin

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Ironman Wales

It wasn’t my first choice race but as soon as the plug was pulled on Ironman Mallorca it was my only choice because it fell on the time I had booked off from work.

Training went great at the beginning. I settled on the Don Fink Competitive Plan and for the first few months it went like a dream. Sadly there were a few bumps in the road and there was also a bump from a van during one brick session. This left me with severely bruised ribs and out of action for six weeks. Not ideal preparation for your first Ironman.

Luckily after the six weeks I eased back into the training much to the delight of my family. The grump in the living room was in better form now. I had to drop down to the Fink Intermediate Plan though. I tried to get back into Competitive Plan but my heart rate was through the roof on each session.

With the training back on track and Wales on the horizon I was feeling confident about completing the 140.6. Well that was until I started reading race reports from previous years.  From jellyfish that were the size of cars to bike climbs that would make a mountain goat dizzy they put the fear of God into me.

Luckily after the race briefing two days before the race my nerves were settled. It was great crack and I left it itching to race. Just before it was over they gave us a warning over the weather but I didn’t pay it much attention. Sure I was training in Ireland for the race not Barcelona. As soon as it was over I went to the beach to do a recce of the swim course and to see if these Welsh jellyfish were as tough as everyone was making out. Thankfully the sea was like a pond and the jellyfish seemed to have the night off.

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The following day was all about Ironkids for us. My daughter Libby was racing. It was a 1k race around Tenby and finishing at the same finish line I was hoping to cross the following night. She smashed her race and was beaming after it. At least one of us would leave Wales with a medal if things didn’t work out for me.

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Race Day

There wasn’t much sleep the night before and I was awake before my alarm went off at half four. A quick breakfast and I was off to Tenby to park the car. The wife and family would follow me into Tenby by train later on that day.

Going into transition that morning to stick my nutrition on the bike I was buzzing. There is a 1k walk from transition to the beach. Everyone is walking together trying to slip into their preferred swim waves. From a spectators point of view I imagine it looks like 2000 nervous people marching into the unknown.

The Swim

I’m a keen swimmer and it’s probably my best discipline of the three so going into the Ironman I was confident of smashing it. Now I’ve raced in hundreds of swim races but I’ve never experienced anything like an Ironman swim. In the 70.3 distances I’ve swam I positioned myself in the quicker waves and found that I was able to get away from the pack easily enough. Not here though. I jumped into the 1:05 wave and hoped to get through it like every other race. The only difference here was that everyone in this wave was the exact same speed as me. This meant that for the entire swim I was getting kicked and punched throughout  the swim. Wales also has an Australian swim exit meaning after one lap you run onto the beach the back in for another 1.9k of punching and kicking. I thought I would get through the swim a bit easier on the second lap but it was just as busy. The water started to get a bit choppy on my way back into shore and I took on some sea water in between waves. I managed to get through the swim in 1:06. It was a washing machine but I loved every minute of it.

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The Bike

There are multiple horror stories about the Ironman Wales bike course so I was fairly apprehensive about it. As I set out the rain started and the wind picked up. Just what you need going into a 180km cycle.  The climbs start almost immediately and it’s not long before you’re out of the saddle reminding yourself you paid to do this. The rain got heavier as did the wind and I was struggling to see two feet in front of me. After 100k I was in a bad place. I was freezing and soaked to the skin and the only thing going through my head was DNF. I’m not a negative person but I just couldn’t shift this DNF thought from my head. As I cycled on I was passing people who had already given up and were at the side of the road wearing their tinfoil blankets. I had convinced myself there was no shame in a DNF, especially in Wales. I had passed at least twenty people over 10k that had had their fill so it was making that decision a little easier.

I had a bread roll with crisps packed into it in my jacket so I decided to eat it and if I still felt rough after it I would call it a day.  All I can say is God bless Hunky Dory crisps as it saved the day. I was a new man after it and managed to get through the rest of the bike with a smile on my face. Even on the dreaded Wisemans Hill and Heartbreak Hill I was buzzing. The crowds played a big part too. They took my mind off the screaming my legs were doing. I was now looking forward to the marathon.

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The Marathon

Setting of for the marathon there was an announcer outside transition calling out everyone who was about to start. For some reason he said my name a few times and then I realised why. I was still wearing my helmet. Emptyhead.

I finally set off with a low heart rate and a steady pace. I was feeling good and seeing lads that I’ve got to know throughout the journey from Wales and Ireland also out on the run made it a lot easier. The marathon in Tenby is cruel. There are climbs at every point. I think even some of the descents had climbs too. The finish area is the cruellest of the lot though. As you set out on another lap of the marathon you’ve got to watch other athletes run towards the finish line. There is nothing harder than hearing the crowds cheering these athletes on whilst you are setting off for another lap into the darkness.

Going into the final 10k of marathon I was hitting the wall. The bike leg had taken a lot out of me. I met my wife and daughters before I set off and told them that this would be a slow lap. The last three laps had gone well but I was feeling it now. The support in Wales is unrivalled. From parties everywhere to the marshals giving you all the encouragement that you need, to running through Tenby with gangs of people in bars lining the streets singing you on. Coming into Tenby for the last time was an unreal experience. Before I reached the town I was restricted to a run walk because I was knackered. There wasn’t much left in the tank  but as soon as the people of Tenby saw that I had my four armbands they lifted me up and dragged me to that finish line.

All the months of training and pain are all worth it just to hear those unforgettable words “You are an Ironman”.  14 hours 40 minutes was the time on the clock.

Everything after hearing those words is a blur but I know I had the nicest pizza I’ve ever had in the finish tent. After collecting my stuff I made way to see my family and shared the moment with them. My daughters got the medal as they were my biggest supporters over the year. As for my wife her tastes were a bit more expensive so a trip to Pandora was on the cards sadly.

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As with all of my big races I use them to raise funds for the chosen charity of the Marathon Man to Ironman challenge. This year it was Make A Wish Ireland and thankfully the target was reached again.

There are a lot of thanks to be given out.

Firstly to my wife and daughters. Without their support none of this would have been possible. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people behind me.

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Next is everyone who decided to take on the Marathon Man to Ironman challenge with me and use their races to help raise funds for a great cause.

Next up is for everyone who donated over they year. Without your help all of this would have been in vain.

Next up is everyone at Pulse Triathlon Club. Especially those who I trained hill reps with every Monday night in all types of weather. Those sessions definitely helped with the marathon in Wales and I can’t recommend them enough.

Lastly a big thank you goes to everyone who followed my journey to my first full Ironman and all your well wishes. I might not have replied to every message but they did register with me and helped out a lot.

Roll on 2018…

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