14 Sep Coach Ant @ Ironman Wales
Posted at 12:00h
Normally a triathlon update starts with the swim.
But this one goes back a step to lining up for the swim, something usually pretty boring, but in Tenby, it was a full blown hint on what to expect later on in the day.
We lined up through the town in our wetsuits, looking like a bizarre and oversized fancy dress party at 6:30am. We would line ourselves up depending on our estimated time slot.
Me at this point, I just really needed a pee, so wanted to get to the water ASAP… a sign of what my day was going to be like.
The traipse through town was incredible, the closer we got to the beach, the more spectators were lining up either side, the noice incredible and just shows how well supported the event is by the locals.
Onto the beach, I nipped away from the crowd to get into the water, quick wee and rejoined the masses queueing up to enter the water. But just before the start, a loud singing along to the Wales National Anthem, definitely something that will live with me for a long time.
Actually felt rather warm, the water a little choppy and it took me a while to settle, the chop was enough to lose sight of the buoys every now and then which meant numerous swimmers were veering off course and clattering each other… I’d probably have to pop myself in that category too. But lap one was ticked off in just over 27 minutes, lap two, was a mostly solo affair as the group I exited the first lap with dropped back and there wasn’t another group ahead to chase down but once I’d hit the water I actually welcomed the space.
Onto the T1 run
Just over 1km run (up the zig zags from the beach) to get to Transition. Again, crowds were incredible and there was no break from them which meant the jog to transition was more like a fun on sprint… Oh the joys of adrenaline…
Helmet on, gels in pockets and wetsuit went on the hook in the bag drop area, my shoes were left on my bike, which meant a delicate jog to get my bike across the stony car park (error on my part here).
But once on the bike I was happy and flying through town to start the big loops.
Lap one headed as far west as you can go to a place called Angle, here, it was WINDY. Overtaking was risky because bikes simply weren’t being ridden in a straight line anymore and I kept repeating in my head to not do anything stupid… At this stage I was feeling pretty good, I was bang on my power target for the bike (218 watts for the opening 90:00) but clearly my average speed was down due to the head wind to get to this point.
Already in this first 90 minutes I’d needed two (yep… TWO) pees, clearly I’d drank a whole lot of sea water that my body was trying to eliminate asap… And no… I didn’t get off the bike (I have now mastered just peeing myself whilst riding but for anyone considering it, make sure you have a water bottle to “wash” yourself down with afterwards!)
As we turned back towards Pembroke the tail wind kicked in nicely and it was a good chance to recover before starting the first of two very hilly and punishing laps.
From the get go of the really hilly section, my left knee wasn’t happy. I’d been suffering the previous 5-6 weeks with it and as a result, I’d also not been running at all. However cycling initially was ok, until very recently… As it turned out even with intense physio in the weeks leading up to the event, the pain would be with me on every pedal stroke.
This meant all climbing had to be saddle based, no dramatic out the saddle stuff from me (unless I got really desperate) and I’d have to aim to keep my cadence up too, I didn’t want to make my knee any worse and potentially not finish the run… Or even the bike.
This meant a couple of things…
Firstly, every hill I’d be cursing myself for not generating enough power…
Secondly, I never really got warm on the bike, even on the steeper climbs.
But, in my head (and this is genuinely my thought process at the time), hundreds of people have completed these events with way more working against them, this knee is not an excuse.
And then I thought about all the people I work with, the people in the RUN365 group who would be checking up on my and I knew there was zero chance of me stopping… Unless it was due to being too cold (which was a high probability at this point).
The best part of the bike was the climb at Saundersfoot, the crowd literally spilling into the road leaving enough gap for one bike to come through. This is the closest us regular folk will ever get to that Tour de France feeling! After this was completion of lap one (of the hillier lap..!)
Rounding onto lap two, and never before have I come so close to stopping, and plenty already had, due to the cold and very harsh conditions. But I carried on, in my head I knew I could tick off the bike, my concern now was running that marathon on a dicky knee…
Lap two was much of the same, more peeing, protecting the knee on the climbs and try to generate as much power on the flats and downhills as I could, but I was rapidly losing power and positions too. The cold had really started to kick in on the second lap, the rain had become a little worse and I was using every mental trick possible to just keep me moving.
I was simply looking forward to getting off the bike, in my head that was the end. I’d ride and limp getting off the bike leaving me unable to run. But then I told myself I’d have to walk the marathon. I couldn’t leave without that damn medal and t-shirt…
Entering Tenby again was bliss, the crowds were growing (even in the declining weather conditions) and I heard plenty of shouts from friends and family that were there to watch.
I racked my bike and headed off for yet another pee in the portaloo (I needed to go in the final 15 minutes but there were too many crowds and other riders around!) then into the tent to grab my run bag.
Running shoes on I headed out starting steady to see how my knee felt… Good news at this stage was… Zero pain!?
I couldn’t work out why I was running ok, and even now I still can’t comprehend it considering its now hurting again, but I’ll speak to my physio and she can work though that conundrum!
However, it meant running a marathon now, a full 26.2 miles when my previous long run was 19 almost 6 weeks previous (a pretty long taper if you ask me..!) But I had the confidence to know that I could run it, and personally at that distance, it’s the mental battle you need to win rather than physically knowing you can run the distance.
Once I was running, it was a case of managing the intensity so that I didn’t hurt my knee further. So I ran to each aid station, ate and drank and then ran to the next. So my fuelling was fine, my body was fine and I was loving the atmosphere around Tenby…
Essentially the route went out of Tenby along an uphill A road which had a scattering of supporters all of whom were most welcome at this point, but the second half of the loop zigged and zagged through the town, along cobbled streets, along the seafront and through residential roads too.
In places the crowd was 3-4 people deep, the number of high 5’s I dished out was through the roof and the shouts of my name as I ran around the town never got boring. This will stand out as one of my favourite runs of all time.
The run was 4 laps, I had the traditional drop at lap three, which psychologically is the toughest one for me, but all of the laps were reasonably consistent, but lap four felt like a breeze. When it came to the finish shoot, it was the most rewarding thing I think I have ever done (with a little jump for joy too!)
It’ll go down as my toughest challenge (so far) mentally and physically and the most special run course.
Probably also the coldest bike ride too and the most number of pees on a bike (8 in total..!)
But what vital lessons did I take from this that I think you’ll find useful?
– In the final 6 weeks, don’t panic over how much or how little training you have done, the hard work should be out of the way by this point and you should be focusing on recovery/tapering anyway.
– Never underestimate how important comfort is, on the bike I thought I’d brave the cold, it was a silly mistake and I learnt from it very quickly as in T2, I ensured all of my toes were clear of any sand or stones before starting the run, I wasn’t doing to be attempting discomfort around my feet!
– Smile and give the occasional high 5. In my previous IM (in Nice in 2016) I was deadly serious throughout, focused on time and not much else. Tenby taught me through the pain and agony that smiling, dishing out high 5’s and keeping a positive mind is way more important as the numbers on the watch – in fact for the vast majority of participants the high 5’s will provide a much more effective performance enhancement (obviously not scientifically proven, but I’ll work on that..!)
– You don’t need to run a marathon to run a marathon. I got asked how long my long run was before Wales and I always get asked before any big event. I’ll have a different answer each time as to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t really matter. Some people feel they need to run 20+, some (like me) are happier running good quality 16-18 mile runs rather than slogging through to 20. However, you do need to ensure that your body isn’t breaking down in those latter stages, i.e. you posture isn’t screwing up and your knees dropping inwards etc… This comes from a good strength program more than from running more and more.
– Alerts on your watch (or for me, my Garmin) are worth their weight in GOLD! I didn’t use them on the run at IM Nice, but I did for Wales and every 15 minutes when my watched beeped to say EAT, I made sure at that next aid station I took some food on board. Make things stupidly simple if you are attempting a long distance event!
– Study the route. For a course like IM Wales, its a brute. I’d recommend to anyone to make sure they check it out before taking part in it. If I had turned up on the day and been greeted with THAT, I’m not 100% I’d have managed to keep myself together mentally. And the same goes for any even you might be considering – look at the route, see where it goes, where the hills are so on.
Thanks for reading,
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Ant is the creator of RunCamp. Everyday his goals are to educate, motivate and inspire runners and triathletes to make themselves better than they were yesterday.
Running in his eyes is a journey, and through his coaching he aims to make everyone’s journeys more enjoyable.
As well as running, you’ll find Ant regularly taking part in triathlons, from sprint distance up to full Ironmans.
He also has a big weakness in the forms of Papa John’s pizza and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, so if you ever want to get an easier session, thats one way to get one!