IRONMAN WALES 2019
Well it has now been two months since I completed IRONMAN Wales. It was epic. Some will read this and think it was just another sport event and what is all the fuss about. Others will wonder if they could do the same, and some will be very indifferent and just curious. Whatever your motivation for being here, thank you.
For me, this blog and my short stories are all about my Triathlon journey and how I can inspire others, whilst at the same time advocating those things that have helped me to be successful.
In the pockets of my spare this has helped me to earn a little income to pay for my new sporting passion whilst learning to blog, keeping fit and chasing down my personal dreams and passions under one roof.
I have taken personal pleasure from sharing some of my exploits and the action I have taken towards IRONMAN Wales. I could have chosen any number of events or challenges at this stage in my life, but I chose something that I knew would light a passion inside me.
FIND YOUR PASSION
I found a passion for Triathlon 5 years ago and discovered that I had the potential to swim, bike and run better than I ever had. It was important to me to find something that would challenge me. This was besides work, and with the support of my family.
Having something that I could drawer positive energy from and which would help to develop me as a person was part of my intention.
That included, starting a blog and developing a small networking business in a nutrition company which has helped me transform my health and which is now a staple part of my story and success.
I didn’t know how the story would end, at least not this chapter. This was a gamble, and I had committed to it and held myself accountable to my closest friends, which included learning to blog.
I knew that even if I failed, I would have learned a huge amount.
After 8 weeks reflection since the event, to give things a chance to sink in, I felt it was time to finish this post.
Let me start with a big thank you to everyone I have met and come to know over the last two years on my IRONMAN Wales journey. I have met new friends and had amazing support from people closest to me.
My wife and children have been particularly understanding. Whilst they probably don’t really ‘get it’, I am so thankful to them for recognising what this meant to me and for allowing me to find time for every long run and bike ride. Even if most were before anyone gets up and out of bed at the weekend! Also want to say a big thank you to Dad for coming with me for the weekend and helping to calm the nerves. It really helped to have someone to shame the experience with.
Lastly, a massive thank you to everyone who sponsored me and raised money for The Brathay Trust. An organisation dedicated to inspiring young people to believe in themselves and to achieve their dreams.
THE IRONMAN WALES EVENT
I travelled down to Wales on Friday 13th Sep (yikes!) with my father and we pitched at a local campsite within a ten-minute walk of the swim start.
It was a long drive and we didn’t arrive until early evening, so we didn’t have much time to set up before dark. The views from the site were wonderful, providing a clear view over the bay and colourful rooftops of Tenby Harbour.
On Saturday morning we got up, had breakfast and wondered down the hill into the town to orientate ourselves and find registration. I had never seen so many athletic looking people in one place before!
The town is wonderful. Lots of cafes and scenic points and all within easy walking distance of each other.
First stop was IRONMAN registration, which was located behind the Expo and merchandise tent in the middle of town. Then it was off to the race briefing.
THE IRONMAN WALES BRIEFING
The large hall had more than a thousand participants who were seated and keen learn all about what to expect the following day. There was palpable excitement in the room and the professional briefing set the scene very well for day ahead.
After the briefing, it was off to Transition 1 to rack my bike and hang the run and bike kit bags. I have never seen so many bikes racked up in one place. The process was easy to follow and extremely well organised and there were plenty of people on hand to provide any advice on anything.
EARLY TO BED
We ate early and attempted to get to sleep before 9pm, hoping to get a good rest. The alarm went off at 4am. Everything I had prepared the night before was ticked off one item at a time having got up.
Apprehension kicked and I was very nervous about forgetting something. My morning breakfast included an Isagenix IsaShake, porridge, 500ml of Amped Hydrate, and an Isagenix e-shot. The perfect start for this type of race in my view. Nothing too heavy and lots of slow release energy with a gentle natural caffeine and brain stimulant to get the day off to a good start.
READY SET GO
After breakfast and zipping up the tent, it was time to walk down to the swim start in my wet suit, goggles, and swim hat had to carry an issued pink bag, into which I put a pair if trainers and an energy gel. The trainers were for the run to Transition 1 after the swim. The bag was placed on a hook corresponding to my race number on racks along the zigzag path down to the beach.
THE IRONMAN WALES START
Once on the beach, I had to stand in a pen corresponding to my estimated swim time. I had planned to complete the 2.4mile swim in 1hr and 20min. So, I stood in this zone and waited in anticipation, chatting to other prospective IRONMAN athletes.
The start was electric. Motivational music was playing over the loud speakers and thousands of spectators lined the cliff tops. The Welsh National Anthem made the hairs on the back of necks stand up.
Then it was time for the professionals to start. Gas flames shot up in the air and the hooter went off. There was no turning back and gradually the age group athletes started to move forwards towards the water’s edge and start funnel. Sensibly, everyone was slowly released into the water, avoiding a mad rush.
Thankfully, the sea was calm, and the sun was rising, which all helped to settle the nerves and get into the zone. Once in the water, surprisingly, it did not take long at all to find my swim stroke.
Unusually, I felt very relaxed. The water was clear and there was enough space around me not to have to worry about clashing with fellow athletes.
THE IRONMAN WALES SWIM
Training to overcome my anxiety of swimming long distances in the sea was paying off. It was time to enjoy the first leg of the full IRONMAN distance 2.4mile.
I started slowly to warm up and focused on trying to spot the buoys to guide me. Initially I swam too wide but by doing so I was able to keep plenty of space around me. The clear blue water meant you could see the bottom and occasionally the odd harmless jelly fish floating past underneath you!
The swim was what they call in the sport an ‘Australian Exit’ which means you have to get out after the first lap and re-enter the water. It was a chance to stretch the legs and engage with the crowds before lap 2.
My confidence grew and I decided to push a bit harder towards the finish. The result was my fastest 2.4 miles sea swim; even if it was my first! The point is, I planned to do the swim in 1hr and 20min, but I actually did it in 1hr and 13min.
Towards the end of the second lap I had to slow up for a minute to relieve myself before getting out of the water. Common practice for open water swimmers! You are racing for up to 17hrs so you must take the opportunities when you can!
Exiting the water for the second time, I gave the thumbs up to one of the race camera crew. Then jogged up the zigzag ramp to my pink bag.
I decided to take off my wet suit at my bag hook, so I didn’t have run in my suit. Top tip is to put elastic laces in the second pair of shoes. Lacing them with cold hands was a bit tricky!
Pink bag in hand and with my trainers on, it was time to exit the zigzag hill path. I run past the roaring crowds through Tenby town to the Transition One changing tent. Once in the tent, I had to locate my two kit bags. The red bag for the bike and blue bag for the run. They were hung above each other and I had rehearsed where to find them the day before. Another Top Tip.
Some people were going for a full change of clothes and others like me had a triathlon suit on under the wet suit. I put on my helmet, glasses, and a cycle jersey on top of my tri-suit.
It was about 18 degrees but on the bike over 112 miles, you can dehydrate, and the wind chill can make it feel much cooler. Opting for comfort was a good call.
Other items to wear included my open finger gloves to provide some padding on the hills, and my cycling number belt. The last thing to do was to pack everything from the swim into my empty blue bike bag. This included wet-suit, goggles, swim hat and my first pair of trainers.
After one more Isagenix e-shot, I left the tent to find my bike which I had loaded with nutrition the night before. This was also a good move and meant I didn’t have to go back to my bike before the swim. Top Tip number 3!
My race number had to be turned to face backwards for the bike. I pushed my bike to the Transition One exit having already put my shoes on. Some people fixed their shoes to the bike peddles with elastics for speed. It can be a bit tricky to use this technique, and for long distance races, it isn’t worth trying for the marginal gain! Next time!
THE IRONMAN WALES BIKE
At this point I wasn’t feeling tired; it was more exhilaration having completed the swim. The next 112 miles was going to be the first real test. My race plan was to average 16mph and complete the bike in 7hrs.
The overall race goal was to finish and become an IRONMAN and the plan and hope was to finish between 15 and 13hrs. The bike was going to be very unpredictable because of the hills, and so was the run for the same reason.
Two loops made up the bike route. You ride the first loop once and the second loop twice. I started out strong and maintained an average speed of 18mph for the first 40km. The hills we continuous but they weren’t long or particularly steep by North East England standards! I could not believe how many people had turned out around the course to support which made every hill that much more tolerable.
My attention turned to nutrition and hydration. I carried three Isagenix IsaLean Bars (protein and slow release source of carbohydrate), a packet of jelly babies (instant sugar), three Isagenix Amped Hydrate sticks (one was premixed; supports hydration and slow release energy), and ‘precision hydration‘ salt tablets x 4.
There were feed stations on route about every 40km, so I could also have Enervit (IRONMAN sponsor) bars, bananas, and water. The plan was to eat every 15min and drink 500ml every hour. I alternated 500ml of Amped Hydrate with 500ml of water.
After the first 5 hours on the bike, I planned to take two salt tablets and another 2 after 6 hours. Alternating between the Enervit bars and my Isagenix IsaLean Bars worked well. This allowed me to switch between a savoury and sweet food.
Also, I had been warned not to eat too many bananas as they can upset your stomach. Not wanting to take a chance, I only had four half bananas whilst on the bike and stuck to what I had used in training.
Find out about how my nutrition has helped me achieve my goals and at my site.
SECOND IRONMAN BIKE LOOP
At the town of Stapleton where the crowds had gathered, the second loop was a lot more challenging second time. After the first of the two main loops, I was starting to slow down. Based on feel, I had decided to back off the pace a little and had dropped to an average of 15.8mph.
Another top tip is to ride your own race and go on feel on the day rather than being a slave to pace. It was important to leave something for the marathon run and at the end of the day, it was all about finishing.
Getting up the hill at Stapleton was the most exciting part of the bike course. The encouragement from the crowds, meant you had no choice other than to keep pushing forwards. This was through a narrow funnel of back slaps, flags, fancy dress and high energy boards held by the kids.
At the top of the last hill I had time to start thinking about the run. The last stretch into Tenby was downhill and you cycle past runners heading up to the first Red Bull turning point.
It was an opportunity to psychologically prepare for the last leg; the marathon. A good friend had told me to break the race into three legs and to treat each one as its own race.
The idea is not to think too far ahead and to keep listening to how your body feels. At this point I knew one thing for certain. I needed a wee!
Once back in Tenby it was a quick ride into transition. It was a huge relief to get off the bike. I had been in the saddle for 7hrs and 10min without stopping, and I knew it! After I had racked my bike, I went straight to the portable loo which was a huge relief. Not even the hours of perspiration were enough to lose the 300ml of fluid I had taken on board during the 112 miles. I was well hydrated before starting the marathon. I had planned this from the start, so I felt quietly pleased with myself to have achieved this.
After existing the toilet, I went straight to the transition tent to find my hook and red run bag. It didn’t take long to take off my helmet and cycle jersey and shoes. After slipping on my trainers, running cap to soak up the sweat from my forehead, and running belt, it was time to exit the tent. Now the running number must face the front. I took an e-shot and made sure I had enough salt tablets and paracetamol for the next IRONMAN distance of 26.2 miles on foot!
When I came out of the transition tent, I had quite a bounce in my step and felt surprisingly good. One of the commentators remarked ‘let’s see how happy he feels after another 21km’. This was enough to motivate me to keep running!
THE IRONMAN WALES RUN
The 26.2 miles is four loops of 5km uphill and 5km downhill. I told myself to go easy and just ease into the run. I needed to spend at least the first 2km allowing my legs to adjust from cycling to running. This is something you train for using ‘brick sessions’ or a ‘run off the bike’.
I had done plenty of sessions in training and was pleased it appeared to be paying off. It wasn’t long however before I hit the first 5km hill. The plan was just to keep moving forward at 5:30 km/mile pace. It soon became apparent this would be a challenge!
The uphill section was too steep for me to maintain a reasonable pace. I switch strategy early in the race to just keep moving forward and run on feel, not pace. This was a good move.
Halfway up the first 5km hill was a feed station. Small cups of Coke, Red Bull, water and Tortilla crisps were on offer. I made sure that at every feed station, I took on something but also had my gels and paracetamol in my waist running belt.
IRONMAN WALES HILLS
At the top of the first hill was a welcome Red Bull turning point (a big inflatable arch and another feed station). After the turn and plenty of encouragement from the crowds, it was time to start the descent back towards Tenby town centre.
Halfway down and after about another 2.5km, there was a left turn and short leg to another turning point and feed station, where you picked up a wrist band.
You must collect four different colour bands; one for each loop. I was very pleased to pick up my first and know that I had three loops to go. Only another 30Km to go!
As I approached Tenby, the crowds began to close in around the streets making the atmosphere electric. The energy just carries you along and keeps you moving forward. There was one more turning point above the cliffs overlooking the swim.
It was still light at this point and the view was wonderful. Heading back into town, you run around the twists and turns of the town centre. You can’t help but soak up the support from what felt like all of Wales turning out to wish you well.
Then out of nowhere, you reach a point where you can go left to the finish or right to run another loop! Psychological torture! If you have completed your four loops, then you take the left fork and head to the finish along the red carpet.
PSYCHOLOGY OF RUNNING IRONMAN
Now it was all about repeating the process and continuing to run on feel with lots of positive self-talk. It was also vital to keep hydrated and fuelled and to take a few more salt tablets.
My right foot was starting to give me some grief at this point. The sole of my foot was very painful (plantar fascia!). I anticipated feeling some pain somewhere at some point, so at the next feeding station a took two paracetamol tablets. Good move!
My plan was now to keep moving forward and focus on gradually increasing my splits (sections of the run) as I progressed. I was starting to feel I as if I could finish and possibly finish strong. It was all going to be about mindset.
Now I was very aware of how many wrist bands everyone had and how this related to how strong people looked. It was awesome to see athletes who after 10-11hrs had picked up all four wrist bands already and were heading for the line on their last lap. These were the people who would be in with a shout of qualifying for Kona (World Championships); every amateur triathlete’s dream. I knew how much hard work and effort I had dedicated to getting to my race and so seeing other amateurs performing the way they were was pure inspiration.
NEARING THE END OF IRONMAN WALES
After the third lap, I started to realise that there were a lot of people running who had just picked up one band, which was a massive boost for me with three! They still had a long way to go. I didn’t have a clock time on my watch (didn’t select this at the start) because I had planned to focus on my pace and splits.
I was still feeling comfortable at the end of lap 3 and as I ran through the town, I noticed a large clock on the side of a building. It was getting dark now and the town lights were on, so the clock face stood out. Realising I was in with a shout of getting under 13hrs, I found a new spring in my step.
My run pace had been quite slow but given the hills and 112 miles on the bike, I was feeling very happy with my first effort at this distance. I now knew I was going to finish and fulfil one of my dreams as a keen amateur.
My foot had settled, or the paracetamol and adrenaline was doing a good job of masking the pain. I felt I had the energy to push on too.
Passing the IRONMAN finish line junction for the last time, I knew the next time I arrived at this point I would take the left fork to the red carpet.
It was now dark now and flood lights paved the streets with warm light making it very atmospheric.
There was something very surreal about starting the race at 0700 in the morning and to still be going as darkness fell on the Town. That was a first!
RUN TO THE FINISH
The last five 5km were the best. The crowds had got more and more drunk during the afternoon with people pouring out of the pubs. They formed tunnels and funnels to run through with all sorts of people in fancy dress.
Everyone was enjoying the moment and despite my overwhelming sense of fatigue, the energy from the crowds spurs you on. Soaking it all up, I approach the last few kilometres. I started to think about how far I had come over the last four years and all the ups and downs along the way.
On the journey, I changed jobs, lost 14kg of weight, and herniated a disc in my lower back. I also met loads of crazy like-minded people and new friends.
In addition, I subscribed to new local facilities, online social groups, and enjoyed the unwavering support of my family. All this provided everything needed for every chance of success.
Now the finish was only metres away.
THE IRONMAN FINISH LINE
I was feeling quite emotional and as I took the left turn at the finish junction, the realisation kicked in. The crowd on the red carpet was electric. I knew my Dad would be at the end in the crowd with his VIP seat too.
The finish was the best of all. It was the most inviting, warm, loud and intimate experience of any race finish I had experienced.
Approaching the end with my arms in the air released a surge of energy and exhilaration. I was greeted with the infamous cry of ‘Mark Philpott, You Are an Ironman’; I had done it.
After a warm welcome and handshake from an organiser and the photo with the long-awaited medal, I could relax. Now I would enjoy a long moment in the finishing tent. They offered a good massage, fresh t-shirt, slice of pizza and cake, and a cup of tea awaited. The perfect end to a perfect day.
A FINAL REFLECTION
If you have made it to the end of this blog, then well done! I hope that if you have, my amateur attempt at blogging this experience has gone some way towards inspiring you. Take on a personal challenge which means something special to you.
My advice is to ignore the naysayers (they just waste your time and suck up your positive energy) and believe in what you can do and your passions. Set the goal and just start taking small steps; the result will be the result.
Whatever your goal, you can do it. If you have any questions about my journey or if I can help with any questions, just post your comments on my blog or reach out to me. I will try my best to help.
As for me, well I am signed up for IRONMAN Wales 2020 and have entered the Age Group British Championships Qualifier in Leeds ITU. Could mean a holiday in Bermuda!! Going for top 50 in my category! God loves a dreamer and it will be a laugh whatever the result!