Well it doesn’t get a lot tougher than the course at Ironman Wales……. except at Ironman Wales when you throw in rain storms and high winds…… That just makes Ray Courtney’s achievement even greater – fantastic race in his own words……
“For the whole year there had been a steady countdown towards the Ironman logo in my “Fran Training Calendar” for 10th September – Ironman Wales. My first Ironman. Entering it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was so long away that although it seemed like an impossibly big goal it was far enough away to be quite abstract. As the year progressed and the hundreds of hours of running up and down hills, chasing that black line up and down swimming pools and the countless hours of pre-dawn turbo time passed the race got closer and closer, less and less abstract and the full scale of what I was about to do loomed large in front of me. Fortunately my increasing fear of the event more or less closely matched the subtle sense that I was getting fitter and fitter. Despite juggling a busy job with way too much commuting and a young family I had managed to keep Strava busy all year.
I was pretty scared the day before and really wanted to be anywhere else in the world. If someone had come into the race village and said “Anyone want to just go home now, no questions asked?” mine would have been one of the hands shooting up. I managed to make a schoolboy error of walking over 15000 steps around Tenby, up and down the hill to & from the car park to registration, transition, briefings and just general wasting time so it was about 7pm before I got to the hotel to do the very important sitting on my bed doing nothing bit. I stuffed a load of Madeleines and other assorted carbs onboard and got a fitful half night’s sleep and was up at 3:15 ready for the fun to begin. Once I’m on race day it’s all quite mechanical and I just get on with the well-rehearsed plan, getting to the race, setting up the bike and getting myself ready. As I stood in the mass of people in wetsuits and matching caps ready to begin the death march to the beach though I looked across up a side road at the finish chute and told myself that I was going into something now and the only way out was through that finish chute. There was no option but to complete this thing!
The swim was great. It’s a lovely sheltered bay with flat calm seas. I had worked it out as a 800 yard swim to the 1st turn, a 900 yard swim to the 2nd turn and then a 400 yard swim to the beach. x2. Easy. I seeded myself about 1:20 so I knew I wouldn’t get beaten up and I had a steady swim in reasonably clear water, keeping pace or slightly faster than those around me. I only got clipped a couple of times, mainly near the turn buoys, and then I was up on the beach in about 33 minutes ready for the Aussie exit run to lap 2. The wind had picked up now and there was a bit of chop and swell so it slowed things down a bit. My regular systems check confirmed that everything was in order: still felt strong, stroke still on track, breathing good, keep going. I made it back to the beach still feeling strong in about 73 minutes. A PB and I’ve just completed an Ironman Swim. Awesome!
Then the 1km run up the hill and through the now packed, noisy town into T1. I took it steady and got fully dressed in neoprene shoe covers, bike top, gloves, arm warmers and a gilet and was ready to hit the roads, slightly feeling overdressed. I managed to nudge the lap button on my Garmin and make it think I was now running so I spent the first 2 minutes buggering around with that as I headed out of town and into the wind out towards the end of Wales. I kept a steady pace, passing people all the way out to Angle and then the winds really hit us hard. Then the rain started. The next 3 or 4 hours were cold, windy and rain, lots of rain. It was like the Sunday ride from hell. As the hilly sections started it became a mix of keeping in low gears to keep my legs fresh on the very many uphills and keeping safe on the treacherous downhills. I had no idea how well my legs would work for a marathon as I hadn’t done any serious running for so long and I had it in my head that my knees were bad or I’d somehow not be able to make them work for a marathon but I was determined that my 100% priority was to finish this race. Nobody would care if I was the fastest for ¾ of a race and then crashed into a tree or bonked and dropped out. And I had a lot to prove. My wife’s voice played over and over again “You’re not going to do an Ironman, don’t be so silly”. Well I bloody well was and I was going to complete it! Fran’s words about expecting the dark times and to know how to deal with them stayed with me as the long dreary ride progressed. It was grim out there in that storm. I was drenched to the core, freezing cold, my neck hurt and my undercarriage was not enjoying itself at all! But before I knew it I was going up Saundersfoot and the absolutely mental Welsh people who had turned out in their thousands to stand in the rain screaming “Go on boyo you can do it!” put a smile on my face and provided a huge lift in my spirits for the next 40 miles until I went around past them again on lap 2. Who cares that it was a big hill – It was full of crazy Welsh people in fancy dress screaming encouragement! Brilliant!
Then before I knew it I was back in Tenby and cruising into T2 mere seconds under 7 hours. I’ve just done an Ironman swim and bike. Awesome! My legs felt fine, like they had only 50 miles in them not 110 miles. So a quick change and then out for the run. This was going to be interesting. I started well, no rubber legs at all, so my steady riding plan had worked. Now all I had to do was a marathon which usefully was broken up into 4 laps. I had heard that the run course was a bit hilly. How bad could it be? The roads were already packed with thousands of runners and walkers going up and down the very many hills, most of them a lot steeper than I had imagined… Just one foot in front of the other and then beep: 1 mile down, a short while later beep: 2 miles down. Then a turnaround at the top of a long hill and shortly afterwards you pick up the first of 4 coloured bands to mark a lap. This became the next goal. The first lap was a green band: Meh. Second lap was a blue band: that’s half way! Third lap was a red band: this is really happening! The Garmin kept beeping and the mile count kept incrementing. I walked through every aid station and ran most of the way between them. There was a fair amount of walking up some of the sharper hills too, but I’d limit myself to 1 minute’s walk and then run again. Before I knew it I had picked up the yellow band, the last one, “woohoo”, now just a Parkrun left and I’m there. So it was back into Tenby for one last zigzag around town. I love this town now. I love the Welsh. I am 2 miles from being an Ironman and then I round the last corner. I’ve done it. I cross the line in 12 hours 52 minutes. I am an Ironman!
As I left Tenby the next morning heading home I drove out of town up a long, steep hill for several miles and I suddenly recognised the vestiges of an aid station from the day before. I know this hill. I ran up this – 4 times! That was an epic day. Wales is awesome. I’ll probably be back one day – now I have a time to beat J “