Ironman Wales race report - Tom Foster

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Tom Foster raced Ironman Wales a few weeks go, lets check out what he thought about his race!

How many weather apps should you have on your phone? Easy, as many as you want so long as at least one says the weather is going to be ok!  

Living in the UK, being a cyclist makes you obsessed about the weather. Will it rain? Will it be windy? Will it be sunny? – probably all of them! So not a surprise then that during my taper, my additional free time that was used with training was mainly taken up obsessing over the changing weather patterns and how they might affect Tenby. What wheels? What additional stuff should I wear? Gillet? Arm warmers? But they are not aero! 

Usually when I taper I feel horrendous, edgy is the best description, I just feel that I need to do stuff when it isn’t really necessary. This time around was different, I felt ready for a taper; I was knackered. Ironman training is incessant, it’s the volume more than anything and eventually it catches up with you.  Trying to balance it all off is not easy and so, it was safe to say, I was ready for the rest.

The week leading up to the race was fairly standard and I actually felt more organised than in most races all year: my kit was packed days before and the bike was cleaned the weekend previous. We headed down to Cardiff on the Friday, then on to Tenby on Saturday morning – having sat in 7 hours of traffic trying the same journey over the summer I thought it better to save the stress and just get there and be efficient on Saturday. The advantage of having done a race before is knowing what stuff you can skip which allows you to make the most of your time leading up to the race. Saturday was still busy, having to rack and drop bags off. That, combined with knowing what seemed like every second person in town, made going anywhere quite time consuming! And I don’t know a lot of people! 

A quick catch up with the coach, and a quick dip in the sea – more to see how cold it was (as it turned out, it wasn’t too bad)!  We all headed out to the race brief, the last one is always the quietest, fortunately nothing new there and they made best efforts to rattle through it quickly. Main thing: don’t leave your pink bag on the beach!

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After that it was simply get home, relax and try and get to bed early. Oh, and a quick bit of Borat with Jonty and Jack before going to sleep. I slept very well, all things considered. I awoke to Jonty and Jack already getting breakfast underway. They didn’t sleep so well. We headed up to transition to put last minute things on bikes and check tyre pressures etc. After that we decided to skip the athlete procession to the swim start and headed back to the flat to chill out and gather thoughts before the whole place goes crazy.

Heading down to the beach, we had to make our way through the crowds to get in the swim pens. We weren’t supposed to be able to have a swim warm up, but there was a gap in the fence so we all shot through it and got in the sea. Only snag was that Jonty still had his wedding ring on. Luckily coach was on hand on the sand to take it off him. Coach also told me in no uncertain terms to get to the front of the swim start!

Swim: Through the rolling start and I was into the sea.  I quite quickly found a little bit of clear water which was quite a relief given the number of people that could be in the water around me. I made all efforts to set a straight course to the first buoy and swim at the inside of the course, so much so that I kept having to avoid the surf life savers keeping us on course. I tried my best to find feet to swim off, thinking that because the swim is self-seeded it should be quite easy, however the trick is not to find someone the same speed as you but someone who is slightly quicker so that you end up swimming the same speed. 

I settled into a comfortable pace and just held my line all the way around; I felt quite good so kept plugging away. The first lap soon came to an end and I toyed with the idea of looking at my watch to check my time. Pros: I would know if I was going well and could be encouraged; Cons: if it was slow it was going to kill my morale. The other thing was that I wanted to keep my watch tucked under my sleeve to make taking the suit easier to remove. I decided to let myself have a look and was pleasantly surprised to see 28:30 something.  So a morale boost for me! Lungs in mouth, I ran around the Australian exit and back in to the water before settling back into my swim pace. I knew I just had to swim like I did the first and I would be on for a good time. The second lap of the swim was pretty undramatic however the swell had picked up a bit (probably the beginning of the weather).  I found a really good set of feet to swim off for the last 400m so I focused on staying close and having a nice tow into the beach. 

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Out of the water, quick check of the watch showed 59:50 something, so job done there!

T1: The transition from swim to bike at IM Wales is a feature of the race at nearly a kilometre (it gets longer every time it’s talked about!)  The run from the beach to the transition area requires strategy of its own: spare trainers with elastic laces, run in the wetsuit or shoulder it? Anyway, that aside, once I had got to the change tent I had some decisions to make: what clothes to wear? It didn’t seem that wet and windy on the way up from the swim but something inside me said that would change. I decided it was a full arm warmer, gilet and gloves day. Obviously, this level of dressing takes some time, but it would turn out to be a worthwhile sacrifice. 

Bike: The bike at Ironman wales is the meat of the event in that it can make or break your race. Bike to plan and you can achieve a good time and then have a good run; push it too hard and you’ll either blow up on the bike or it will bite you on the run.

My power target over all was quite a modest 190-195w (NP).  I had experimented with this in training and it seemed that this was a good balance for me, allowing enough in the tank to still run at the end. The first section of the bike was quite pleasant, although there was a slight headwind, it wasn’t terrible and because you are operating well within yourself it doesn’t seem taxing. Then the weather set in, the wind picked up and the rain started to fall. From then on it just got heavier and heavier. The weather wasn’t an issue for the first 3 hours, I was just concentrating on my nutrition (rice cakes, Torq gels and bars from the aid stations) and my power. That was until we started to descend from Narbeth.  At this point the course turns into the wind and because you are going downhill, you are not working as hard and so the chill starts to set in. So much so that I was actually chattering and shaking coming down into Wisemans Bridge. 

Hours 4-5:30 were pretty bleak, the weather was really bad at this point and I started questioning my own sanity. My body temperature was fluctuating between an acceptable level when climbing, to hypothermic when descending!  My legs felt like they were destroyed.  I was really worried about getting up Saundersfoot back to Tenby, but the risk of being heckled by Cr@p Tri was enough to spur me on! I saw Andy of Cranc at the top, near New Hedges and I uttered some profanity to him about getting off the bike.  I had given it everything I had and I was worried it might have been too much. 

I looked at the time 6:04 - it was a bit meaningless to be honest and I was confident that I had given it all I had. 

T2: T2 went without a hitch, I decided to leave my sunglasses behind for obvious reasons!

Run: I was so relieved to get off the bike, I set out pretty hard. Support crew had me placed at 10:00 back from the leader apparently – turns out this was a bit of a white lie to preserve my sanity as this German guy had come off the bike about 35+ mins ahead of me. Knowing basically that I needed the run of my life, I kept pushing hard. My lower abdomen started to hurt, not sure why, but it was just a fairly solid discomfort. I saw Coach mark down near the gas lane carpark and he told me to steady up a bit – he was right, I was forgetting this was a marathon and not a half like I am used to.  

I really had no idea of where I was and how hard I was running.  I knew the first lap was a bit of a flyer, so I calmed it down after this and just kept my legs ticking over. I had James Elgar ahead of me and I was gaining very slightly on him so I knew I was running pretty well. The second lap was ok, but I knew I was running out of time: I was struggling to eat and just the thought of a gel or stomaching anything was deeply unpleasant. I did my best to choke down a gel and banana but it wasn’t easy. 

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Lap 3 is always the darkest lap: by now I was feeling pretty rubbish, but I knew I just had to press on. I settled for just drinking coke, water and electrolyte drinks at the aid stations. I saw Jonty and Jack, both looking really happy but I just couldn’t rationalise why! I felt rubbish! Support crew said I was a minute from 7th place with 6th place shortly ahead of that. Andy confirmed this, and said I was looking great: looks are deceiving! I kept moving; I knew that it was all going to be over after this lap, so time to enjoy it. Mark told me at the carpark that it was time to dig in. I worked out that I needed a sub 50 min lap to finish and be under 10:30, so I changed my watch to show the overall time and just focused on that.  

Running back into town for the last time I started to feel the end was in sight and a sense of enjoyment returned. Just a few slight inclines and I was home free. I closed on the finishing chute and there was one other guy on the approach.  It crossed my mind to let him run ahead of me but he was going so slowly and I just wanted to finish. I just pressed on and got passed him. 

10:29 – Done!

 What went well:  The swim, my swim has improved massively over the past 4 years (since my last Ironman and starting work with Coach Mark) although the swim conditions were probably slightly kinder this year my swim was a full 12:26 quicker. Which is a big chunk! 

 The run went very well for me too, 3:11 this time around vs 3:29 last time. My time in 2013 was still decent but this time out I had one of the fastest runs of the day. 

Even Better If: Initially I was a bit disappointed with my bike split (6:04), although I felt exhausted after it I wondered if that was due to additional energy expenditure in fighting the cold. However, when I checked my power figures I finished up with an NP of 205. This was significantly above where I had planned and just demonstrated how tough it was out there. 2013 was slightly kinder and I rode a 6:28 then, so a significant chunk off there too. With that said the bike is where Ironman events are won and lost, so if and when I do another more rides in that 4-6 duration are what I am going to be needing.

I think those times and improvements I have pointed out above are testament to the work that I have put in over the past 4 years. I thought I knew triathlon back then, but really, I had only scratched the surface. Experience has a lot to answer for in IM racing. The guidance I have had from Coach Mark has been invaluable, I have managed to juggle my training along with a busy work life and just about managed to keep my home life in check too. Under Marks tutelage I have taken my Ironman Wales time down from 11:24 to 10:29 in 4 years (with only the last year focused on 140.2 distance racing). I was agonisingly close to a spot at Kona with 5 slots in my AG and me being 6th (around a minute off 5th!) despite this I was not too disappointed, the Ironman is like a multi-part time trial. Throw down your time and see if it gets bettered. I gave everything and on the day there were guys who were stronger than me so I can walk away satisfied with the result. 

Big thanks to all the crowds who turned out, it was brilliant to have so many friends and people who knew the Team Cranc kit around the town shouting and cheering on. Big thanks to Andy and Mark for getting the team up and running this year. Thanks also to Torq Fitness for gels and nutrition, I wish they could supply Ironman rather than PowerBar!! 

What’s Up Next? A bit of a break from triathlon until next season. But in the interim #CrossIsComming (cyclocross) and cross-country looms!