By Ian Baker
As some of you know, I originally entered Ironman Austria, but after a serious lack of training I pulled out and deferred my place to Wales. The thinking behind this was that it was a late season race, and I wouldn’t have to travel abroad. I was very aware that it was one of the toughest events in the calendar, and I was very out of shape. Over the next few months, I decided that I definitely wasn’t going to do it, and then that I might do it, and then that I definitely wasn’t going to do it, etc. A month ago, after a massive pep talk by a certain Ceri Ruzzi and egged on by my “friends”, I decided to give it a go.
To give you some context, I started training 10 weeks before the race, which consisted of the following. It’s not an excuse it’s just the way it is.
- Swim – 5 sessions totalling 8k
- Bike – I had been out every Saturday and done a couple of 140k ish rides
- Run – 5 sessions – 2 in the last 6 weeks which were practice run / walk
The plan was to just get round the swim, take it easy on the bike (impossible) and walk/run the marathon. I estimated this would take 15 hours…….
I got round the swim in 1.5 hours as predicted and then got on the bike. It was pretty clear straight away that this was going to be a long day; the kilometres didn’t seem to be clocking up, and by half way I was pretty tired. Psychologically, the second half of the bike was easier as I knew I was nearing the end, although aches and pains were creeping in. By the end of the bike, I was in a pretty bad mindset and was wondering whether it would make more sense to just stop at transition and DNF. All that disappeared when I saw my amazing support crew cheering me on.
The bike had taken me 8 hours and 21 minutes: a full hour longer than expected. It was now about 5:30pm, and I had no idea whether I could make it round the marathon before the cut off at 12:15.
I made it round the first 10km loop in about 1 hour 20 minutes, walking up the hills and doing the classic Ironman shuffle down the hills. The first loop was really tough as everyone had more of those magical arm bands than me. My memory is a bit hazy from here. I remember meeting my girlfriend at the end of the second loop. I met Alicja again at the end of the third lap and she told me that she was gonna finish the run with me (superstar).
At the beginning of the last loop I was in a very bad place mentally and frankly in a lot of pain. It was around 10:15 pm and I knew the cut off for the last loop was 10:45. I stopped at an aid station at the beginning of lap 4 and had to kneel down as I was feeling really wobbly but assured everyone that I was ok and was able to continue, so we headed off on the last 10K.
I walked the first 5k looking at my watch and wondering if I was going to make it. It’s a funny place to be at 11 p.m. in the dark with very few athletes around you but amazingly there were lots of supporters still out. With about 5k to go and at the top of the hill I realised that I was going to have to start shuffling again if I was going to make it.
It was very slow and painful. My legs felt like someone had taken hammers to them and my feet were covered in blisters (sock planning failure). The kilometres started to pass and I realised that I might make it after all. As we came back into town the support was amazing with people shouting, cheering and generally being amazing. Jon joined us for the last couple of kilometres as we wound our way through Tenby. It felt so long; the course is confusing and I didn’t know how long I had to go. I was just looking for the magical blue floor which I knew led to the finish line.
Finally, we arrived at the finish which was absolutely packed. I couldn’t believe it, my name was announced, I was told to look back at the timing on the sign I had made it with 2 minutes and 16 seconds to spare!
I had seen people just making the cut off at previous races and never thought it would be me. I’ve always imagined how hard it must be to simply be active for 17 hours and trust me now I know. I wouldn’t recommend doing this to anyone. I had 17 hours to ask myself what the hell I was doing and to be honest I still don’t really know. The feeling of crossing the line was amazing and there must be something wrong with me because if anything it’s recharged my interest in this crazy sport.
There’s no way I would have made it without the support of my girlfriend and true friends from the club, Alicja, Ceri Jon and Walt. For anyone who is considering doing Wales it is an amazing event but it is brutal: if you’re gonna do it make bloody sure you’re well trained!
Never again ?????
Ian is a longtime member of Ful-on Tri and a coach for the club. Ian has raced long distance a few times, including Challenge Roth, Ironman Copenhagen, and Kona.