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Race Reports 2012

Ironman Wales – David Capeling (Sunday 16th September 2012)

If the truth be known, a week after the event I am still trying to get my head around the 15 hours and 23 minutes that were Ironman Wales for me. In order to make sense of it all and pass on any learning to others I thought I’d write it all down.


I arrive in Tenby on Friday morning having driven up with my Dad and I immediately register so that I get it out of the way and know what I am supposed to be doing for the rest of the weekend. I also have a chance to get a look around the expo with two conflicting pieces of advice ringing in my ears. The first piece of advice is from every article on racing triathlons you’ll ever read and is seared into the psyche of those that have learnt the hard way... “Never try anything new on race day.”

The second piece of advice was from a certain Bruce Korican... “Arm warmers are probably the best piece of race kit I’ve ever bought.” Now I’d noticed the weather was quite a bit cooler in Wales than Surrey and I really wanted to wear my FTC tri-suit so that I would stay cool later in the day but cycling in the morning would be distinctly chilly indeed. Dilemma. Enter the friendly chaps on the K-Swiss stand, £XX later and I am the proud owner of some shiny new arm warmers. What can possibly go wrong?

The race briefing wasn’t until late afternoon so I decided to drive the bike course and get it clear in my head again what to expect. I had done the Long Course Weekend in early June and so I knew what the bike course had in store but I am a big believer in visualising what you are going to be up against and 2 hours driving around the course proved to be time well spent. The race briefing out at Carew airfield later in the day passed off with the standard restating of what was in the race instructions. The only point of note was the Race Medical Director stating that they would not ‘be providing intravenous drips on demand’... whoa there sunshine, I’m here for fun and the medal if I can finish. I have a fear of needles, I would literally need to be unconscious before you got a needle anywhere near me. Having elected not to attend the Pasta Party that followed I headed back into Tenby although the food smelt great and the setup was mighty impressive.


I intended to have a lie in due to all the driving the day before but I was awake at 6:30am as I never sleep well in the run up to an ‘A’ race... or my equivalent anyway! Staying in a basement apartment on the sea front I could not resist grabbing a cup of tea and heading out to watch the sun come up behind St Catherine’s Island. Amazing Welsh coastline, the sun rising and the constant patter of triathletes feet behind me getting the previous day’s journey out of their legs; back to reality I’m here for a reason. I return to the apartment and start to think about packing the 3 coloured plastic bags marked ‘SWIM’, ‘BIKE’ & ‘RUN’. It never ceases to amaze me how such a relatively simple task of putting the right kit into the right bag can reduce a relatively intelligent grown man to a complete bag of nerves; sod that I’m off out on my bike. I decide to combine a shakedown of my bike with a recce of the run course; wheels on, helmet on, tyres pumped up and I’m off. Now I actually like running, and I don’t mind running up hills either but when I realised the length of the hill (4.5km) and its steepness in places coming out of Tenby I was honestly shocked; this was followed by the realisation that I’d have to do the hill 4 times and it lead me to start to doubt if I could complete the course. Nothing I could do about it, it is what it is, and I will worry about it later. At least my bike was working with the gears changing smoothly; back to pack the dreaded bags.

SWIM – wetsuit, lube, goggles, both swim caps, yellow shoe bag

BIKE – shoes, towel, fresh socks, sunglasses, arm warmers, helmet, race belt & number,

RUN – shoes, fresh socks, baseball cap... is that all?... are you really sure?

I go to rack my bike and drop my bags off, I am issued with a massive plastic Ironman bike bag and I realise I have entered the triathlon big time now, no more Tesco bags tied round the saddle and handle bars for me! I am also issued my timing chip which I immediately place around my left ankle so that there is no chance of losing it.

Saturday afternoon and my support crew arrive, my wife Lucy, my 3 kids, my Mum and my friend Gerry all here to cheer me on. Everyone resolute that I will complete it although none of them have seen that bloody run course!

In bed by 11pm and I’m a bag of nerves, I know I need to break this down as if I think about doing a long course triathlon as a big lump it is way too much for my tiny mind. Laying there staring at the ceiling I devise a points system, I had already broken the race into sections and now I allocate a point to each. I get a point for each of the swim laps (2), a point for each 30km on the bike (6) and then a point for each lap of the run (4). These aren’t very proportionate but they’ll do, score 12 points and you’re an Ironman, simple. My one rule is I must only ever concentrate on the point I am on, never think any further than that.


4:30am and I’m up. Drinking tea and eating porridge with banana and honey follows shortly. By 5:10am I’m in transition pumping up my tyres and loading my bike with energy drink and nutrition. Back to the apartment dump the track pump, grab my swim bag and say goodbye to my wonderful supporters who despite the hour look well up for this. I on the other hand can feel the nerves starting to build, just keep focused on the 12 point system! I arrive back in transition and get my wetsuit on; it’s a bit of a scrum to find a place to change and handing over my ‘SWIM’ bag (now with my post-race gear in it) to the events team takes quite a while. At 6:15 we have been asked to clear transition and make our way (a 1km walk) down to the beach and the start of the swim. This process takes absolutely ages and is not helped by the access to the beach which is a relatively narrow and steep ramp where the hooks for our shoe bags are also located. It was well thought out but I would advise anyone in future that you leave transition as early as possible and just get to the beach as soon as you can. I arrive on the beach and they are calling competitors out of the water, opportunity to warm up (for me read ‘acclimatise’) is over. This is not a good start as I am happy to swim in open water as long as I can get my face in and water down the front and back of my wetsuit; this was going to have to be a ‘dry’ start. The situation doesn’t help my nerves but I remember Ali’s advice from the previous Monday “Take it easy on the swim, remember it’s only there to make you a bit tired before the bike!” This is from someone about to swim a 10km event, so what does ‘take it easy’ exactly mean?! Either way it settles my nerves a little and I try and focus on having a relaxed swim and bagging those 2 points. The next thing that happens comes totally out of the blue; I don’t expect it and I certainly could not foresee the effect it had on me. This is Ironman Wales so before the start they play the Welsh national anthem. I’ve been an England rugby supporter since I was 10 or 11 and one way you fire us lot up is to play the Welsh national anthem. An absolute result in the psychology department! I become totally focused on the job and decide there and then that this is just me versus Wales - the landscape not the people.

The cannon goes and we’re off, it takes a minute or so to get into the water and after about 15 minutes of more or less constant contact with other competitors I get into some clear water after the first big buoy and swim the long ‘back straight’ of the first lap. I know from experience now that my swim was going well, relaxed, breathing on both sides, high elbows, not pulling my arms across my body, it felt good. Turn around the second big buoy and head for the big rock on the beach. As I come up the beach I get jelly legs so decide to walk across the timing mat before diving back in for my second lap. It was then that the sun came out and all I could see to my left was brilliant blue sky, it was almost a shame to turn right around the second buoy and head back the beach, I never really liked sea swimming until now. Not sure I had heeded Ali’s advice and taken it easy mind you; I finished in 1h 14m which is a PB for me by more than 2 minutes.

I hit the beach and the jelly legs predictably kick in again, this time I have to get to my bike in transition which is up the steep slope and that 1km back across town. I decide to take my time, get my shoes on properly and walk/run as quickly as I can; a collision with another competitor or a railing at this point and it could be race over. I arrive in transition and it is complete carnage, the tent could easily be twice this size and still struggle to contain the ‘peak’ number of people trying to get wetsuits into ‘BIKE’ bags and pull on arm warmers over gloves with wet arms which just won’t bloody go on as smoothly as they did on the K Swiss stand yesterday morning. Not the smoothest of transitions then but we got there in the end. For anyone contemplating this event I would advise putting some fresh water in your shoe bag to sluice off your feet which will be covered in sand.

Off out on the bike and the westerly wind all the way to the village of Angle justifies the purchase of the arm warmers, they might have been impossible to get on with damp arms but I am not at all cold. I know that the first big lap (68 miles) will be quicker on average than the second (44 miles) due to the bike course being loaded with hills at the back end. For the first 3-4 hours I really try and conserve energy and concentrate on cycling smoothly whilst eating regularly but being careful not to take too much on. The last part of the first lap makes up the majority of the second lap and herein lies the rub. The hills into the towns of Narberth and Saundersfoot are challenging to a fresh set of legs so seeing them the first time and knowing that you’ve got to do this all again in a few hours is quite soul destroying. The advantage of these hills however are the supporters in these two towns which are basically using you as an excuse to party. Coming up out of Saundersfoot the hill is relentless but with the music pumping and the crowd shouting there is absolutely no way in the world you’re not going to grind your way to the top. Even in the small villages the support is fantastic; climbing one hill a little voice shouts “D’ya wanna know where you are?” and misunderstanding the question I think ‘surely I’m in Wales somewhere’ but reply “Errr yeah.” “You’re in 1049th place; keep it going you can get in the top 1000!” This comes from two young lads sitting by the side of the road in a light rain with a clipboard and a pencil, ultimate supporters!

Back into Tenby at the end of the first lap and my support crew are there on the way out of town shouting me on, just the boost I need. As the second lap plays out the rain starts properly and the muddy roads get a bit treacherous but what I lose on each uphill I gain back on each descent which in hindsight was maybe a tad reckless, a lot of people ended up on the deck or in the scenery. The big climbs are low on supporters during the second lap as the rain continues. Far from bringing a downer to proceedings it increases the amusement, Narberth on the second run through consisted of a massive stereo system pumping out music and 3 stalwart supporters dancing in the street and cheering us back markers on. It was absolutely ridiculous to see but simply fabulous for morale.

Back into Tenby at the end of my bike and my supporters are looking relieved to see me, the bike cut off time is 10h 30m after the start and I was within this by only 40 minutes. It took me 8h 24m which although slow was 11m quicker than when I did this course on its own in June. I am just happy to be into transition with ample time to finish; bottom line is no matter how hard it gets I can’t see me taking longer than 7 hours to complete a marathon.

I run out of transition, feeling great and my kids are high fiving me as I get out onto the run course. There are a few hundred metres through the town before heading out north and onto that hill (4 points to go!) I had decided to implement the strategy advocated by Paul Manning, run for 9½ minutes then walk quickly for 30 seconds which worked so well for me in early June during my last marathon. I complete the ‘out’ section of the first lap and feel ok although it’s a real pull up the hill and the relief of going downhill is only short lived as the constant jarring on the knees begins to take its toll almost immediately. As I complete lap one and enter Tenby town properly for the first time I appreciate just how much of the course is in and around, up and down the town. I also realise that everyone in town that is not competing is shouting support, the noise is phenomenal with music blaring out of bars, and a drumming band making sure absolutely no one walks through the town.

The second lap is much the same as the first with the high of the town at the end, by the third lap everything turns a bit dark both in terms of the sun going down and in my state of mind. I knew I was starting to ‘bonk’ i.e. I needed to get food in me but the last thing I felt like doing was eating. I forced down a mixture of Gatorade, half a banana and some Ritz crackers and waited to see what happened. I was determined to keep the food down as I had seen several others fail in this regard quite spectacularly. Eventually after about 20 minutes the lights started coming back on again and my body effectively gives me a green light to continue running properly. I complete the third lap telling the crowd “Only 1 more lap”, they respond in kind with “Come on Farnham!”, “Come on David!” and “there’s a short cut through this pub if you want!” The last lap was a hard hard slog and I end up ‘tabbing’ military style for a large section of the hill as I realise it was the same speed as running. When I realise this I know I am done and that this is very nearly the end of my day both physically and mentally.

Back into Tenby, end of the last lap of my very first Ironman and the crowd are screaming me around the town (they know you are nearly finished because of the number of arm bands you have collected). I see Mike Billups shouting me on in the crowd who I know must have finished in a fantastic time as I only saw him on my first lap of the run. I enter the final road towards the seafront and the smell of beer is overwhelming as people flow out onto the streets welcoming everyone toward the finish. Final turn, left instead of right and I am onto the Esplanade. Out of the darkness into a complete cacophony of sound and light as the supporters bang the hoardings on the finisher chute and shout you on, red carpet under foot, high fiving my girls as I run toward the end and then finally, finally I cross the line. A quite simply awesome feeling, not at all fast (15h 23m) but what an amazing day.

Thank you to everyone who supported me in the run up to and during the race, it wasn’t possible without you.

Dave :)