I always knew my first Ironman would be tough but last Sunday's race was something else. I felt like I had prepared sufficiently leading up to the race. I had spent 3 weeks on holiday in France where I could increase my weekly mileage. I completed two half ironmans at around the 4:30 mark which I was pleased with considering it was only training. I also entered the real world of working life starting my job as a Statistician with Adelphi Real World in mid-August. This brought new challenges as I was usually leaving the house at 6:30am and only getting home at 8pm to ensure I fit in my training and maintained my fitness. Nevertheless I was committed to this so wouldn't have changed anything.
Taper week was a nice time to reflect on my hard work. I knew I had done everything I could and it was just a case of freshening up for the race. I cut down my weekly hours considerably as I wanted to ensure I was on my game come race day. Sleep is a massive part of recovery so I tried to have a total of 9 hours sleep everyday. I left for Tenby on Friday morning with my family and registered that same evening.
One thing is for sure about Ironman events is that you need to be organised. We had a minimum of four bags that needed to be filled prior to race day that contained our race essentials. A top tip I learnt was to take a photo of everything you place into your bag prior to handing it in because it alleviates the stress of thinking you've forgotten something important the night before the race.
A 4:45am alarm woke us on the morning of race day. It was a nice calm morning with no stress but the constant worry of how bad the weather would be for the bike section. However, you can only control the controllables and the weather is the same for every competitor.
The Swim (2.4 miles)
The swim was a rolling start meaning that everyone was staggered in to avoid a mass brawl at the start of the race. It consisted of two laps with an Australian exit. As I entered the water I had to maintain my composure and focus purely on my technique. There was no point killing myself and trying to get a PB because I knew it was going to be a long day. I spent a lot of my time in open water which was good in the fact that I had my own space but didn't help my time as I couldn't draft anyone. I think I finished the first lap in around 31 minutes which I was very happy with and would have been delighted to have done double that for the total swim. However, on the second lap the waves picked up and I noticed my technique went a little bit. Coming out of the water and looking at my watch I had to not panic. I still felt fresh and knew that the worse part of the race was over with.
The transition was something else for this race. It consisted of a 1km run up a hill! Fortunately you were allowed trainers to get you there though. The run gave me time to put my arm warmers on, but reflecting back I would have taken my wetsuit off straight away as it would have been a lot easier to run. I ensured I wrapped up with warm cycling gear ready for the bike because I knew the weather conditions were about to get bad.
The Bike (112 miles)
Onto my favourite part. The bike leg was something completely different. You can spend hours preparing for the hills but the wind was something else. The wind was approximately 25mph coming from the south west and there were gusts of 40/50mph. This made handling the bike challenging. The first section of the course was all into the wind and then along the coast. I seemed to be getting overtaken quite a bit but reserved my energy for the bigger hills which came later on. Along the coast I was terrified of falling off from the gusts of wind so sat up for a lot of it. I just thought to myself that there was no point trying to save a few seconds by being more aerodynamic and then end up falling off. It would have completely ruined my race if I did. The worst part of the wind was behind me after about 40km but then the hills came.
Prior to the race I said to myself that I just wanted to spin up the hills with a high cadence. I stuck to this plan and maintained a nice rhythm. I didn't even get out of the saddle until about 130kms in. I had previously ridden the course at the Long Course Weekend and knew that I needed to eat sufficiently to stay strong on the bike. In the end I consumed about 3.5 Clif bars, 6 Clif shots and 2 High5 gels, along with 4 bottles of energy drink.
The wind was by far the most challenging part of the course. However, it didn't help that it rained for about 3 hours as well. This only made descents more nerve-racking as you didn't want to take a corner too fast or slip on a white line. There was also some oil spillage on the course too but thankfully the events team did a superb job and managed to redirect us from the worst parts and clear the other affected areas.
The support on the bike was incredible. It was a horrible day out there for the athletes but just as bad for the supporters. Nevertheless, they were out in force on a lot of the climbs and certainly helped. The second lap was where I made a lot of my time I think because I paced it well. I didn't go too hard early on so still had plenty of energy near the end. I didn't have a clue where I was positioned in my age group, so just had to stick to my race plan.
This was a lot easier than the first transition. A flying dismount and a run into the tent and I was soon stripping off my cycling gear. Fortunately I had undone a lot of my kit in the final km of the bike so I could save seconds in T2. I decided to keep my gloves on as I knew that if I got cold hands and wasn't able to open my gels I would be screwed for the run. I took 6 gels with me knowing that I would probably need something else from the feed stations later on.
The Run (26.2 miles)
The run comprised of 4 loops starting off with a run up a hill, back down then winding through the centre of Tenby. I set off at a pace that I thought I could sustain. Annoyingly my heart rate monitor wasn't working for some unknown reason but I had practiced a lot of heart rate zone 2 so knew the feel and pace that I should be at.
My family told me that I was winning my age group which I was delighted with. I remember passing someone in the last 10kms of the bike so knew they wouldn't be too far behind me. I actually saw them in T2 as I was leaving. I just had to keep focused and eat right. I knew my energy levels were suffering but somehow still felt comfortable and strong.
The first two laps passed quickly and it turns out that I had done a half marathon in a time of 1:41. This was encouraging but knew that my pace would most likely decline on the final hills. I wasn't wrong. The hill out of Tenby was horrible. However, I was determined not to walk up it as I would lose my momentum and I knew second place was closing in on me. On the descent coming back into Tenby I felt my body give in a little bit and knew my energy levels were depleted. From then onward I stopped at every feed station, walking through to take on liquids and eat something other than a gel or flapjack.
It got to about 25km when I got overtaken. I'm not going to lie it did hurt me a little bit knowing that I couldn't keep up with him. I couldn't let it determine my race though as I knew that there was 3 Kona spots so a top 3 finish was all I needed. The final climb was horrible but it was a huge relief getting my final wristband knowing that it was mainly downhill to the finish.
I remember seeing Paul with about 2.5km to go and he told me to dig deep and push through. It was definitely what I needed. I gained my second wind! Better late than never and the support through the centre of Tenby helped so much. My legs were screaming at me but the finish was not too far away. Where was the guy who had overtaken me? Had I left it too late?
The drag to the finish was incredible. The support was unreal and to hear the words "Danny, you are an Ironman" is something I'll never forget. I ended up crossing the line in 10:53:30, made up that I had beaten my target of 11 hours.
A sports massage and lots of food was just what I needed after the race. I stayed in the athletes finishing tent until Paul finished. He smashed it too finishing in 11:46:30. We later had a lovely meal with my family reflecting on what we had just achieved. It was an incredible feeling. We even stayed for hero's hour which was amazing to see the emotion when people crossed the finishing line.
Now, before moving on to where I positioned, none of this would have been possible if it wasn't for the support of my amazing family and friends. My mum, Ann, sister, Rachel and grandma, Margaret, were out in force supporting me every step of the way so I would personally like to thank them. Paul raced amazingly and he has encouraged me so much over the past few years and supported me whenever I needed it. I probably wouldn't have got into triathlon if it wasn't for him so if you're reading this thank you so much! The support of my friends has been incredible from my university friends who had to cope with me talking about triathlon pretty much 24/7 to my old high school and college friends, and my new colleagues at work. Finally, I would like to thank my amazing sponsors High5 Sports Nutrition, Quest Nutrition and Zone3 who have helped me get to the stage where I am at now.
So, where did I position? Had I managed to qualify for Kona? My splits were:
Swim - 1:06:20
Bike - 5:58:31
Run - 3:34:17
Overall - 10:53:30
This placed me 2nd in the 18-24 age group and 99th overall. It turns out that I was beaten by only 1 minute and 51 seconds. This will only spur me on to train harder though!
So when it came to the Kona slot allocation my nerves were high. The provisional list quoted the top 3 would receive a place but it was determined by how many athletes started the race. Fortunately, there were 3 places for the 18-24 age group and I delightfully shouted that I would accept my Kona place when my name was called. I'M GOING TO KONA!!!