Friday, 27 July 2012

Ironman Wales - at long last

Put the kettle on, make yourself a cuppa and grab some biscuits this is gonna be a long one


I decided in 2010 that I would like to do an Ironman race and looked into doing Ironman Switzerland, but a combination of cost and date meant that I decided that it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the sound of doing Bolton, so I decided that my Ironman adventure would have to wait a couple of years as I was insistent that as I would probably only do one Ironman distance race that I wanted to do an Ironman branded race.

I came back from holiday in September 2009 to be told that there was going to be an Ironman race in Tenby the following year. Well, my Welshness came to the fore, and I decided it had to be done. I got agreement from Ang that she would support the obscene amounts of training I’d have to do and whipped out my credit card.

I followed the Fink intermediate plan, but found it difficult to hit all of the training sessions in the peak phase due to family commitments or injuries. On the whole my training went well and I made sure I got the key sessions of long bike and run done every week. I did the 70 mile loop on the Long Course Weekend and got round in 4:35, which gave me an idea of what my bike split should be.


Got to Tenby at about 11:30 on Friday, and was pleased to be told that we could go to our caravan straight away (as opposed to the quoted time of 2pm). Unpacked the car and strolled off to registration, this took about 30 minutes from Kiln Park.

Found the registration to be well organised, had the usual bit of banter with the volunteer about my famous namesake and walked off with my A3 sheet of stickers, poster and rucksack.

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The boys had decorated the caravan

Race briefing was informative and there was plenty of talk about the swim and the forecasted weather conditions. I didn’t fancy hanging about for the pasta party, so I walked back to the caravan. However, once back at the caravan, I found I just couldn't get settled; so decided the best thing to do was to walk back to the pasta party and spend some time with some of the Celtic Tri guys.

Saturday morning was a mix of settling my bike up, preparing my transition bags and watching the England rugby game. I decided to give the organised swim a miss, as I felt it would serve no benefit.

When I took my bike into transition I found out that as mentioned in the briefing the swim had been moved to North Beach, which would involve a 1,000m run to transition. However, this now meant that I would need an additional pair of shoes. Due to a lack of foresight, these would have to be a pair of fashion Adidas classics.

Saturday was our wedding anniversary, so Angela and I decided we’d have some time together and go for a meal whilst the grandparents looked after the boys. I was recommended a restaurant which was great. I had decided to eat light and have chicken whilst drinking soft drinks and Ang had steak and lager (something wrong with this picture), we ate nice and early so we were back in the caravan and I was in bed by 9:30, I think I fell asleep at about 11ish.

Race Day

I woke at 4:30 and managed to get half a bowl of porridge and a cup of coffee down me, and left for transition at about 5:15.

Once I was at transition that I realised that my preparation was not quite as planned as I thought; as I’d forgotten a pre-race drink and I wasn’t really sure how to get to North Beach. But Tenby isn't that big so I just followed the crowd and was soon at the beach.

From above the water didn’t look too bad, but once I was at sea level you could see that it was a little bit more than rolling. Had a quick warm up and found the water temperature to be quite pleasant.

I had a chat to some fella with a camera, and found out later on he was from ITV Wales News

As we were waiting in the starting pen the sun broke through the clouds and the view was spectacular. Then they played the Welsh national anthem, which of course I sang. Then BANG! We were off


Yes, I ran along the beach. That was the direction the people around me were going, in fact I didn’t see the ones that went straight in. The swell was certainly challenging and once passed the first buoy you were really exposed to the might of the sea, with some severe rising and falling. Once passed the second buoy, it settled down a hell of a lot. And by the time you were heading back to the beach there was plenty of benefit from the current heading to shore.

The second loop went pretty much as the first (all be it with less running) I did however seem to go a little off course after the first buoy.

Swim Time: 1 hour 10minutes 35 seconds


Shit! I couldn’t get my wetsuit off, the zip was stuck, and try as I might I could not get it undone. So I employed the help of a couple of marshals to help me, even they had difficulty and ultimately I had to have it ripped off.

As I was running through the streets I noticed that my heart rate monitor felt loose, so I undid my top to connect it back together, only to find out the connector was damaged and would not stay in place. This meant that was going to have to race on feel as opposed to heart rate zone.

To add to my zip agony, when I zipped up my cycle top, the zip unravelled from the bottom, with a little coaxing and brute force I got it in place.

T1 Time: 18 minutes 42 seconds


With the reported 2,400m of climbing this was always going to be a tough day, but with the added problem of high winds produced by Hurricane Katia this was going to be very tough indeed. This became apparent when the relatively easy first section was into a constant headwind.

After about 30 minutes on the bike I started to feel a sharp pain behind my knee, and whilst I was expecting the usual dull ache of muscle fatigue this was something I'd not encountered before (I found out a couple of days later that this was a slight hamstring tear).

I'm glad I had previously ridden the route in the long course weekend, as it meant that there were no surprises. But I suppose on the other hand the downside is I knew what was coming up. I am definitely not a climber and the climbs at Freshwater West, Narbeth, Wiseman's Bridge and Saundersfoot are testers to say the least.

My nutritional plan was to use the products supplied by the race, which meant Gatorade and Power Bar gels. To ensure that my body would be able to digest the carbs I used Gatorade and Power Gel bars exclusively during my training. I found that I liked the taste of both and they didn't give me any gastric problems. This meant that I could go light on nutrition and pick them up at the various feed stations.

The support at the various towns and villages on the route was superb. Particular points that stand out for me were Narbeth (where I found out Wales had lost in the rugby by 1 point), Saundersfoot and of course Tenby itself.

The leaders passed me on the hill out of Saundersfoot, and felt envious of the lucky buggers as they didn't have to do it all again.

I completed the first loop in about 4 hours and 45 minutes, which was a little slow than on the Long Course Weekend, but with the wind this was to be expected. I'd arranged for my support crew to be outside Kiln Park, and I cannot begin to express the wave of emotion I felt at seeing them. But no sooner had I seen them then I was off again.

It was at this point that the pain behind my knee was becoming more severe and it had now come to the point where I could not get aero. This wasn't really and issue as there aren't that many opportunities on the final loop. It wasn't much later that I couldn't get to the drops without being in quite a bit of pain.

The problem with being on the bike for such a long time, is that you get inside your own head. Unfortunately I was now of the opinion that despite spending all of this time and effort getting to where I was, I had convinced myself that I was not going to be able to run.

My cycling efficiency was really poor now, and I was coasting as often as I could and just trying to get back to Tenby in one piece. I made the decision before I got to Wiseman's Bridge that I would have to push my bike up the hill. Despite the mental anguish that I had not been able to ride the whole route, I was buoyed by the fact that walking was causing absolutely no pain whatsoever (perhaps I would be able to run after all).

Seeing the crowds at Tenby, gave me the mental (and physical) strength to power up the short climb to the town. I just had to find out if I could run

Bike Time: 8 hours 2 minutes 21 seconds


I had packed enough kit in my transition bag for me to make various decisions regarding the weather. But this now left me with having to make a decision on what I'd take. In the end I left my jacket and long sleeve top in transition and went out in just my tri top and shorts but with a cap to protect me from the sun and/or rain

T2 Time: 8 minutes 16 seconds


Well here we go, am I able to run? And the answer is, well, yes. All be it the sort of running you can do after being on the bike for over 8 hours, but it was definitely a run; not a walk and not a shuffle.

The great thing about the run in Ironman Wales is that it's four loops of about 10km, and lets be honest after all the training that been done a 10km is a bit of a breeze. So that is how I mentally dealt with the run, just a series of 10km runs

Now not having run a marathon previously, this was venturing into the unknown. Especially as I'd just ridden 112 tough, windy miles with a torn hamstring.

My nutrition strategy was to grab a Coke and some Ritz biscuits at each feed station, and this worked really well for me and would do this again. Seeing my support team and club mates on a regular basis kept my spirits high.

The first two loops was going to plan and I was completing each loop bang on to my planned time of 60 minutes. However the 3rd loop took the running out of my legs and I was starting to shuffle along and this was the point when I had to be mentally strong and keep on pushing.

On completing the 3rd loop, I punched the air in elation as I collected my band. I knew that I had only 10km to go and I was going to complete this damn race. Whilst the fourth loop was mentally a relief, physically it was extremely hard. This was the only loop where I had to walk some of the hillier segments (apart from the bandstand section, coz that was just mental)

However once I'd reached the turn around point for the last time, I knew it was just a matter of 4km of downhill running. By this point the weather had now become quite awful, and my thanks go out to all the spectators who endured this on our behalf.

I was beaming ear to ear at the band collection point where I was turning left towards the Esplanade as opposed to doing another lap. But this was short lived when I hit the seafront and the wind almost pushed me backwards.

As I turned the corner I could see the finish gantry; man alive! I'd done it, I'd only gone and fucking done it. I high fived my two boys as I ran through the chute and crossed the line.

Richard Harris, you are an Ironman!

Run Time: 4 hours 49 minutes 11 seconds

Total Race Time: 14 hours 29 minutes 6 seconds

Post Race

So I gave my kisses and hugs to those who deserved (and wanted them). My first problem was actually trying to get my tracksuit trousers on, I was just physically unable to sit, bend and get my legs in. Eventually I prevailed

The next problem was getting my bike and kit down the hill to the caravan park in gale force winds, this was taken care of with a mixture of hobbling and moaning.

So at the end of a very long day, I was grateful for the supporters that lined the streets. But special thanks must go to the people who were there to support me. So a big thank you goes to my mum, Dave and Denise, Steve, Deb & Elijah, Mark & Rhian, John and all the guys from Celtic Tri. Plus a special thanks to my boys Thomas & James. But most of all, my heartfelt thanks goes to my wife Angela, without her support I wouldn't have got to the start line let alone the finish.

So what next?

This year I will be going back to Tenby, but I'll be on the other side of the barriers, supporting for all I'm worth, preferably with plenty of liquid refreshment. Following that I may complete my mid-life crisis and getting my Ironman tattoo done.

Was it worth it?

Hell, yes!

Will I do it again?

....mmmm maybe


  1. Cracking race report mate!

    I can only imagine how it felt crossing that finishing line "AMAZING"!

    See you at the start line in 2013

  2. Also that's a cracking photo of Richard Lewis!

  3. Great read bud. It was a journey for you, and it makes it more of a legacy memory when you have to deal with issues/injuries along the way.
    I'd say you have unfinished business on that track.
    See you in....

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  4. Hi Richard, I loved reading your race report, and you had a bit of bad luck with zips after the swim and T1, you must have thought what the hell is going on! but you made it, and with an injury, in true Ironman style. Well I'm inspired and my ironman will be in 2013 where of course has to be Tenby :-)

    1. I have to be honest, the zips didn't phase me much as I was focused on the ride ahead

      Glad you found it inspiring, and maybe I'll be joining you on the beach in 2013