The last few days before leaving for Tenby were nervy. Training had been severely reduced as the event approached and was done with very early in the day, yet I was so preoccupied I found it hard to do or think of much else!
On Thursday I prepared all of my equipment and kit for the event, as well as the weekend’s stay, and there was a lot! Obviously the bike and wetsuit needed to be packed, along with trainers, shoes, cycle shoes, shorts, tops, socks and so on, plus also supplements, wetsuit lubricant, spare goggles, even the massage table…..the list was endless! At least it occupied my mind for a few hours!
As I loaded the car early on Friday (well it felt like late morning to me having awoken at 4.15am!), I was feeling pretty good and ready to face the challenge ahead. The excitement was building, and so were the nerves for both me, and my family! B and I headed West and stopped at Carmarthen to stock up in a supermarket, loading up on ingredients to add to the rice based meals I would be eating – risotto, turkey steaks and rice, and rice salad! At 10.30 I had my lunch before we headed onward, arriving in Tenby just before midday and unloading the jam packed car into our rented apartment over four return trips!
Next we checked the sea conditions, which seemed reasonable before walking to the Five Arches car park to register. This is when the emotion and buzz really began to bite. Seeing the banners, the marquee, the sponsors and expensive bikes, plus of course hundreds of athletes signing in, I really started to understand what I had been training towards for many months and my stomach churned a little. I bought my day licence and received my rucksack, complete with swim cap, tattoos and race number. The all-important wristband was attached to me and at that moment I knew I was part of a collective of Ironman hopefuls, distinguishable from others who were present just to watch. I was getting ever closer to affronting the mammoth swim-bike-run challenge whilst those outsiders could enjoy a leisurely pint in the lead-up to Sunday morning…..
Having spent our wages on pre-race merchandise, we returned back to the flat to meet up with Mam and Dad who had arrived with another car load of provisions! More unloading and a cup of tea later it was time for my first dinner, eaten briskly before B joined me for a drive to Carew Airfield for the briefing by “Voice of Ironman” Paul Kaye, accompanied by a rapping medic and the race referee. Things were getting mighty real and just watching Gary, who we had managed to join at a table, fidgeting about, was making me a little nervous too! There was a huge amount to take in for a newbie like me – how clean transition would work, a change to a rolling swim start, the change in the advertised time for the warm up Saturday swim….., all in a hall of maybe 1000 people on a damp grey evening. Emotions of excitement, fear, nervousness all washed over me as we walked away, wishing Gary luck for Sunday and returning to the flat in Tenby for a second dinner and a massage.On Saturday I awoke as usual at 4.15am, ate breakfast and was shortly joined by my Dad who had slept badly due to the church bells, seagulls, and maybe some nerves as well. After we replaced the lightbulb I had blown (him balancing on a chair to change the bulb, me throwing the switch in the fuse box downstairs), I headed out for my 5am stroll. The sea seemed reasonably calm and I familiarised myself with the walk to transition and even permitted myself a glance at the finishing gantry. The sh*t, as they say, was getting real! REALLY REAL!! As I walked the almost deserted streets, all I could think about was the next 40 hours…..9 months of training were coming to a head….. I couldn’t see beyond the red carpet on Sunday to even begin to contemplate what I do next!
At 7am I got on my turbo trainer in the lounge-diner of the rented flat for an easy 40minute spin to work the legs. Keeping close eye on my heart rate, I felt almost bored but at least B had got up and joined me for a chat and so did Al who was the last to arrive (with partner Mylène of course) the evening before. Next I headed back outside for a 15 minute run where I spotted plenty of other athletes out and about – walking to or from the beach, jogging around town, or pedalling off on their bikes. Tenby was coming alive and pretty much everyone was involved in the Ironman in some way or another!Once back, I donned the wetsuit and joined the official practice swim on the beach with a few hundred others. The sea was beautifully calm, but full of jellyfish! I am no great fan but I have come to accept them as a necessary evil, although one guy I spoke to was less enthused and had taken to breast stroking to avoid ducking below the surface! In my own mind I told myself that the jellyfish were a worthwhile inconvenience if the sea could just be as calm on Sunday at 7am! After swimming 700m I returned for a shower, before racking my bike and bags in the transition zone and joining a worthwhile tour of the site which really helped me visualise what would happen where and when! This was just my third triathlon, and my first experience of a “clean” transition area where individual bags in a central location (as opposed to the box by your bike) were in use. More to remember and to stress over, but there were plenty of volunteers on hand who were there to smile and assist and who did a thoroughly fantastic job all weekend. The event attracts a good amount of first-timers (51% in 2015) and the organisers are certainly congnisant of that fact and provide plenty of friendly support and advice around the different venues used.
After lunch (prepared by my own personal chef and loving wife!), Dad drove me around the bike course to re-familiarise myself with the turns and climbs. B was in the car with us and commented that there were seemingly more “ups than downs”! I’d warned them about the three main hills (for me psychologically anyway!) – Narberth, Wiseman’s and Heartbreak – and repeatedly they said “well, this must be one”…..mostly it wasn’t though! The course certainly felt hilly, but manageable and if the wind did what I expected – blowing me back from Angle to Carew – then it would be easier as well.
That afternoon we spent a little while watching the fantastic IronKids event in town and mooched around the exhibition, but mainly just relaxed at the flat, eating, having a massage and generally just trying to kill time watching the cycling on TV, reading and updating social media (which I was handing over to B to provide updates about my race). Bedtime drew near and I prepared my nutrition and track pump for the morning, along with my wetsuit, swim hat, goggles (x 2) and timing chip. B helped me apply the temporary tattoos and I set my alarm. Then I lay down and closed my eyes and tried and tried and tried to sleep……
What happened next would be epic….