It will challenge you, it will hurt you, it will try to break you…anything is possible!
The 2017 Wales Ironman competition is over and Tenby did itself proud yet again – what a wonderful venue and spectacle. Wet and windy conditions made it one of the toughest ever with many of the 2000 entrants failing to finish and all stages with slower times than usual. Ironman Wales was won by Cameron Wurf from Australia and the UK’s Lucy Gossage this year.
Ironman is the worlds’ most challenging endurance event and was first dreamed up by US naval Commander John Collins and his wife Judy in 1978 – now an international event with the world’s toughest engaged in the whole lifestyle that is Ironman! As John said, anyone who manages to complete the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and run a marathon in under 17 hours can brag for the rest of your life.
How did our local hero get on?
Stephen Morse was going really well until a catastrophic bike disaster 50 miles into the cycling section ended his race – read the story of his heartbreaking experience below…
Thursday 7th September (registration)
As this was my first Ironman I elected to go down early for registration to try and embrace the atmosphere and the circus that is Ironman Wales> I was lucky and managed to get into a carpark close to the middle of Tenby and proceeded to the expo and registration. The expo tent was full already and seeing all the seasoned athletes with their previous Ironman merchandise and tattoos, really made me feel like a fish out of water at this point I had to get to registration and gain my two wrist bands: pink (my athlete one) and green (to show I am a virgin to the whole Ironman experience).Then moving onto another stand to collect my bags and complete registration.
Friday 8th September
Last day back at home before I went down to spend the weekend in Tenby ready for race day. Always having to pack bags again and again seems to be a ritual in my house, as I always seem to forget something or worry about forgetting things: in total I had 5 bags: Pink, Red, Blue, orange and black.
Pink:- this is the bag in which anthing you want or need from the swim, so trainers, energy bars / gels, water etc. This has to be collected from the swim or each athlete would be disqualified from the race.
Blue:- this is your bike bag, anything and everything you will need for the bike section, helmet, glasses, gloves, cycling shoes, energy gels, food, microfiber towel to wipe everything down to stay dry (although that didn’t last long with the weather!
Red:- running bag, for myself this was a small bag, I had my trainers, running vest, running hat and that was pretty much it, thankfully due to the kit I could wear all day e.g. my tru suit and compression kit, it was potentially quicker for me to get changed.
Black and orange bag:- these are what are classed as special needs bags, these can have anything and everything that you want from tablets to pork pies: these bags are designed to pull you from the darkness mind-set that might occur as the event went on. My special needs bags had pork pies, Lucozade, Jaffa cakes, paracetamol, ibuprofen, and deep heat just in case.
There was a white bag which I didn’t use, this is the street wear bag for all athletes that finished and wanted warm clothing to walk the streets with.
Saturday 9th September
Left Haverfordwest and made my journey down to Tenby for 11am managed to rack my bike up early and place my red and blue bags into the transition tent early enough. After 3pm I was not allowed to go back into that area until 6am on race day. Maddi (my partner) was with me so we spent time on the beach trying to help me focus on part one of the race, went to watch the Ironkids. Then we went into the expo to view the stalls and again soak up the atmosphere whilst trying to get as much information, hints and tips that I could. Finally, it was time to go to the obligatory race meeting: within this meeting all rules and regulations were explained in detail – such as there are some number of rules in which athletes can be disqualified instantly e.g. littering and nudity. There are also lesser penalties, which consist of 1 minute and 5 minutes for lesser breaking of the rules. At the end of the race briefing there is a Q&A space.
Finally, off for some much needed pasta in one of the local pubs and sleep:considering it was a Saturday night I was in bed and sleeping by 9pm as a 3am wake up call was beckoning…
Sunday 10th RACE DAY
3am alarm bellowing in the hotel room (other half not happy as it was her birthday), up and getting breakfast ready: porridge and beetroot juice; slowly getting ready adding kit on. 4am have some more cereal bars to continue with the energy reserves; 5am go down to transition – make sure the bike is ok and add fresh foods (flapjacks & banana), make sure the bike is set up right, tyre pressure is high enough and finally nothing has been stolen off the bike.
Back to the hotel room to get the wetsuit on and everything else, so trisuit, compression kit (calf support and hamstring) Vaseline around the neck and arms, baby oil on the ankles and wrists (to help when getting the wetsuit off) Vicks to help me breath, goggles and swimming hat. Finally last bit of my Lucozade then off to swim pacing.
There I felt like a sardine crammed with 2000 other athletes on the streets of Tenby: eventually we made our way towards North Beach all in our timed areas – for myself I felt a solid 1:30:00 was on the cards. From where I was based when the National Anthem took place (a key feature of Ironman Wales). Walking down the zig zags to north beach, I managed to grab a quick chat with ex rugby star John Davies who told me “just do your best, it’s that simple”. I placed my pink bag on my peg and that was that!
Race time: the streets were filled with family, friends and well wishers for everyone. Some shouts of my name made me look left and right – thankfully this took my mind of things briefly. Running into the water at 7:10am: just in front was another Welsh legend Ryan Jones – he was my focus for the swim” Keep up with him and I’m doing good”.
The ice cold waters hit my chest, which felt like I was being stabbed: this initially slowed my pace down as I was grasping for breath (personally thinking that my race was over) I kept at it trying to regulate my breathing and stroke speed. Past the first buoy and things were looking up, managed to maintain a good speed for lap one, coming out with Ryan to the right of me at 40:00 (5 minutes quicker then anticipated). Lap two, I knew what to expect, or so I thought – the wind had decided to pick up resulting in some bigger waves. Thankfully due to some chance training sessions in Broad Haven I didn’t mind lap two and managed to slow the pace a bit as had 5 minutes in the bag in comparison to my race plan. Lap two came out at 46:00 thus making the swim a 4 minute personal best for distance (I was and still am very happy at this)!
Now onto the zig-zags and 1km run through Tenby to transition: 22:00 it took me in transition a bit longer then I would have liked, but then again I have never had to run that far for transition. The noise and shouting was amazing: people shouting “Come on, Stephen, keep on running you have only just begun! Getting into transition, pulling the wetsuit off, grabbing the blue cycle bag and trying to do as much as I can as quick as I can. Dried myself off, placed all the dry clothing on, grabbed my food and I was off. First obstacle to complete getting out of Tenby; onto the lovely road of Lydstep, Lamphey, Pembroke, Castlemartin, Angle and back to Pembroke in terrible rain.The wind was strong enough to push many an athlete, including myself ,across the road.Thinking about Race Plan I tried to conserve energy by keeping to a 13 mph average- this would just about get me in for the cut-offs. With all the gear changes, I could hear cranking and grinding coming from my gears. Pig ignorance made me carry on, thinking it’s either me that will fail or the bike. Coming out of Angle, I changed gear and the chain slipped off, causing a 5 minute delay (the time I gained off the swim had now gone.) Thankfully after some bad language, the chain was on and I was back in the hunt for glory. Knowing how the gears were, I tried to keep it in one specific gear, battle as hard as I could uphill until I couldn’t do it anymore, get off and run uphill. Upon getting back into Lamphey en route to Carew, I had to implement my plan B 3-4 times. By the time I did get to Carew the noise was getting worse, but again I managed to get past mile after mile, quietly thinking I can do this – just.
As I was approaching mile 50 on the bike, I struggled going uphill and elected to change from second gear to first… BANG- race over:even at the pace I was going (snail) the bike instantly stopped and I just fell into the hedge. Upon further inspection of the bike, I noticed that the whole back gearing system had broken:there and then I knew my race was over – on the hillside between Canaston Bridge and Cressely.
That feeling of disappointment, annoyance and disbelief – I could tell it was serious when other athletes passed and said “Oh God, sorry mate. Hard luck”.
My only annoyance with the whole thing was the amount of time it took for mechanics and sweeper cars to arrive and collect me: in total took 2:30 hours to get back.
Getting back into Tenby and having to rack my broken bike and seeing a lot out on the run course filled me in envy and anger. Maddi and her Mum were there to greet me, and I went back to my hotel room, had a shower and got changed, then went to my support crew for a few drinks and food.Finally, I braved the weather and temperature to encourage friends around the run course: just because my race was over I still wanted to see them finish.
Personal note: I would like to thank all the volunteers, supporters, other athletes who offered help, mechanics, locals who were pleased to see the event come to Tenby and Pembrokeshire County Council for agreeing for the event to return. for the next five years.
I MAY NOT HAVE BEATEN THE DRAGON IN 2017, BUT I HAVE SIGNED UP READY FOR 2018: ME AND THE DRAGON WILL BE HAVING WORDS!!