Ironman Wales 2023
by Danny Isaacs
Daniel Isaacs recently took part in Ironman Wales coming how in an outstanding time of 10hrs 6mins and 24seconds. No mean feat on one of the toughest Ironmans globally. A swim in the often choppy sea followed by a very long UPHILL transition, and a super hilly bike AND run course makes super challenging. But the support is like no other, and so for this reason it’s on a lot of triathlon bucket lists. DAnny wrote us a short race report following the event and it looks like his 2024 race plan is already all planned out…
3rd in AG
I’d managed a decent pre-race sleep which is rare, and then had a very chilled morning prepping the bike in transition before heading back to the airbnb to relax. Little did I know the crowds had already started gathering above the beach and this made for a hectic dash down to rack the legendary ‘pink bag’ and onto the beach for the swim. By the time I got into the start pen my HR was 150 and my watch was telling me I had elevated stress levels and that I might think about breathing…thanks Garmin. Then came the Welsh National Anthem… One of the most inspiring and passionate anthems at the best of times, but it almost sent me over the edge. It’s a moment I’ll never forget, totally epic. Shortly after the pro women were off and then it was our turn. Thunderstruck kicked in…and we were off.
Not quite the swim I was hoping for but a decent enough start to the day.
From the first few strokes I felt pretty off, maybe due to how elevated my heart rate had been in the moments before. There were some strong currents pushing us around out to the first buoy and along the back straight, but my mantra for the day was to focus on process so I turned my mind to my form, sighting, and sticking on feet, and this helped me settle into a rhythm. Approaching the beach for the Aussie exit and my hamstrings started cramping…’this is going to be a long day’, I thought.
The Aussie exit is a special feature of the Wales course and support was so loud, although running on sand at that point was not so welcome. I gracefully belly flopped back into the water for the second lap, and despite losing the group I’d been with, I managed to jump on a guy’s feet and held on until the turn back towards the beach. Swimming headfirst into the buoy didn’t help with that. The final stretch to the beach felt tough but before I knew it, I was out, stripping the wetsuit and heading for the pink bag to stick on my runners for the +1km dash up the zig zags and through town to T1. The atmosphere through town was buzzing.
The most fun I’ve had on a bike for years!
It took me the first 30ish km to settle in and move on from my slight disappointment with the swim time, but once I was locked in on the bike, it was so much fun. I had a power target and was doing a good job of staying aero and sticking to it before the start of the hilly section on the first loop. Once I hit the hills and had taken on a bit more nutrition and water, the power seemed to be there and I felt confident and fast on the twisty roads of Pembrokeshire. Approaching the bigger climbs up to Narberth, Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot I was with a great group all riding fairly and doing their share. The crowds were on another level though and this spurred me on to push over Heartbreak Hill and down into Tenby and I started the second loop solo and feeling great. This didn’t last long. I passed the 2nd pro female shortly after but as soon as we hit the hilly section again, I had a huge drop in energy. My face was tingling, the hammy cramp was back and I felt empty, so I backed off the power.
She caught me back up and as she came past, she asked, “What’s wrong?!” and then looked at me and said “ah, just tired”. I laughed and agreed as she rode off. The hills felt much tougher this time round and I had to be cautious not to push too hard for fear of cramping again. I did rally though towards the end of the loop, and pushed hard up Wiseman’s and Heartbreak Hill, playing to the crowd as much as possible. Climbing done, it was back down into Tenby for the run.
A race in the final 10km!
The support out on the run course was unbelievable. People everywhere, everyone cheering and shouting encouragement. It was impossible not to smile. At the same time, it was hot and only getting hotter. I felt decent on the first lap but made sure to settle into a conservative pace up the first climb and take on every cup of water I could get my hands on at aid stations. Starting the big climb on the second lap I had a real dip in energy and could feel the dizziness and tingling in my face kicking in again, so I dialled back the pace a little more and took on more energy, which seemed to help as by lap 3 I felt a bit better and found a bit more pace up the climbs.
On the way back into town for the end of lap 3 my sister, Adelle, shouted that I was 6th in AG and could catch the guys ahead if I just kept going. I put my head down and got to work…on not slowing down, there was no speed increase to be found. But by the time I came back round for the 4th lap she shouted I was up to 5th and running faster than those ahead of me. Race on! I got passed by two really strong guys on the final climb, and the hammys started to go again. After a quick stretch I got cracking and could still see them. I pressed on as hard as I could, and by the aid station in New Hedges I had caught them back up. With the final steep downhill approaching, legs screaming, lips and face burning, I put my head down and tried my best to open it up. I turned back and they were gone.
Pushing as hard as I could up the final few climbs and through town, I rounded the corner on the esplanade and made my way down that magical red carpet and across the finish line. Ecstasy, euphoria, and total relief! I saw my family and Adelle shouted that I had got 3rd in AG! I couldn’t believe it – this was my first AG podium at an IM event.
I’d gone into the race openly chasing a slot for Kona, after IM Copenhagen last year when I qualified (to my massive surprise) but then couldn’t afford to take the slot at such short notice. When I found out I was 3rd in AG I was really hopeful that it would be good enough but couldn’t be sure given the talk of limited slots (25 across all male AGs). Fortunately, the KQ was confirmed at awards and slot allocation the next morning!
As always, there are many people to thank for their ongoing support and encouragement. First thanks to Flo for being the best training buddy and backing me all the way, to my family for their amazing support on the day, and of course to FoT – the best Tri club around!
The road to Kona starts……..in a month or so, after some beers 🍻