Ironman Wales Race Report 2017 – The Horror

When I first set up this Blog I seriously underestimated how much time it would take, and how little free time I would have after training for an Ironman plus a full time job plus social life. As such its been a little neglected. however I hope to find time in the next few months to add quite a bit more content mainly as I have now completed Ironman Wales 2017. As a start to continuing the development of this blog I have to begin with my Ironman Wales Race Report 2017. There is quite a bit of pre-ramble so jump to the START if all you want is the race report.

ironman wales race report 2017


Having completed several Iron-distance race’s including the Other worlds hardest Ironman, Lanzarote. I decided I had been overlooking Races closer to home. There was always something about Ironman Wales that put me off. I could never really put my finger on what. It wasn’t the hardness, I have done Lanzarote and France which both have very tough bike course’s. There was just something about the wales Bike that didn’t appeal. But This year for multiple reasons seemed the perfect year to just get on with it and sign up. So early on in 2016 me and a team mate signed up and got ready to face the Dragon, as their social media team constantly put it.

I wrote a post about my intentions when I first signed up.


I had intended to blog along with my training to document how I was getting along but time just got away from me. However Time spent not Blogging certainly got used as good training time. I would say this Event triggered something in me that I had not experienced before and the fear of the bike really lead to some very consistent training up in the hills of the peak district.

Swim was my most neglected. I spent a lot of time in the pool and missed very few session however I didn’t complete nearly as many open water sessions as I wanted or normally get done. This lead to a little anxiety over the swim.

The bike training went very well. I followed the trainerroad.com Iron Distance Training plans and I found a new level of consistency that I have not had before. This lead to a PB power output along with a whole host of PB’s on Strava. After many long weekends grinding up any hill I could find I was feeling pretty happy about my Bike potential.

Running again had a new level of consistency that had lead to some much improved form. I honestly have never been this run fit and as my weakest discipline it really was getting to the point where I was becoming a rounded athlete and not one who loses hundreds of places on the run.

I was still carrying a little more weight than I would like but this just wasn’t effecting my performances and I just couldn’t seem to lose the last 8-9 lbs.

My Targets were clear, When I entered I wanted a sub 12 time a big ask for me. After training I saw no reason this could not be completed. I aimed for 1:10 Swim a 6:30 Bike and a 4:00 marathon giving me 20 mins for Transition and the run from the beach.

Total 2017 training load


2216 miles over 140hrs


480 miles over 73hrs


42 miles over 25hrs

Race Weekend

tenby swim

We Stayed in a caravan on Kiln Park caravan site just a short walk from the town centre. We arrived on Friday afternoon after along drive down and headed quickly to the HQ to register. This was painless enough and we used our Meal Vouchers in a local place for a nice Carb Heavy dinner, something I had been denied for months! Then back to the caravan for a relaxed evening. We may have had a few beers, just to calm the nerves.

The next morning we rose bright and early to head over for the practice swim. All me fears for this race stemmed from the swim. As we arrived at the beach the conditions could ne have been more perfect. a quick 750m loop was set up and we cruised round in flat calm conditions. It was a real confidence boost and really reminded me what I love about Swimming. The forecast for the following day continued to deteriorate. By the end of the day it was giving the wind strengthening throughout the morning building to 45+mph gusts by late Moring, right when the bike was in full swing. Accompanied by a lot of rain and misery. This didn’t put me in the best mood.

The rest of the day was taken up with packing bags and racking the bikes in transition. A nice relaxed day, Followed by a large pasta dinner followed by an early night attempting to switch the mind off and drift off to sleep.


4:29 am and I was wide awake. I had been for the last 15 mins but before that had slept ok, there wasn’t much chance to get any more sleep as the alarm was set for 4:30 am. It was time. Breakfast was a large bowl of Granola, that was a real chore to get down followed by 2 STRONG coffee’s and a can of red bull. Final checks and off we went to the start, Walking along the coast path in the pitch black along with quite a few other idio…athletes.

Transition was the usual buzz of nervous energy. I carried out the final bike checks and noticed my front tyre was a lot lower than the rear. they had both been 140psi when left and I know Tubular tyres slowly lose pressure and needed topping up the front was way down on what I expected. I instantly started panicking with thought of a puncture before I even started. But there was little to do at this stage so just pumped it up to 160psi and hoped it would stay up, and if necessary use my co2 to keep topping up. Of to the loo’s for the last minute change to lose weight then slap on the Sudocreme and then the wetsuit, before lining up just in front the 1:15 self seeding sign.

With nothing else to sort out the nerves finally kicked in big time. As we stood there clad in Rubber there was too much time to think. The final 30 mins before the start really dragged the steady march across town was great with incredible support considering the hour. It was hard to grasp what was going on up front and I really was just stood about wondering what was going on. Eventually my feet wer in the sand and the national anthem echoed out across the natural amphitheatre.

Swimwales swim map

Finally the Gun went, I think, and we all moved off gradually, heading for the water. The queue for the swim start seemed fairly long and congested, not something I am used to with the normal Mass start madness. After finally being allowed through the bottle neck and off toward the water. The first sight of the took me back a little. With the new Rolling start I expected a quiet swim but the sea was the usual sprawling mass of neoprene and fists. Still I hit the water which felt brisk but pleasant and got to it.

Once in the water the apparent congestion from above water seemed to disappear and I quite happy in my own little space just swimming away. The water was calm and perfect swimming temp, cool but not cold. The first buoy seemed to take ages to roll into view. and even longer until it was upon me. I noticed off to my right my team mate grinning away at me. I edged ahead as I had the inside line but he quickly crept past as we began the back straight. Any attempt to stay with him was overruled by my head telling me to SWIM EASY!

The next turn buoy came up much quicker. This along with a common theme of swim times faster than expected leads me to believe there was a strong current across the bay. Which gave an overall assistance. The inward leg seemed a lot longer than it appears on the map.

Out of the water for the Australian exit which sent my heart rate through the roof and back to the water for a second lap. I paused for a few seconds to try an get the HR under control. Then off I went. The next lap was fairly uneventful apart from feeling the onset of cramp and the sea rapidly becoming more and more choppy. it seems the swim had been timed perfectly before the approaching storm.

I was out the water in, well I have no idea, I had no tracker on and there was no official clock, or if there was I missed it. So It was on to my purple bag. Suit half way down, feet doused with the water I had packed, old trainers on, a big glug of flat coke and off for the run into town. Main aim for this 1o00m run for me was to just keep the heart rate down, there was little to be gained and a long day ahead. Large crowds lined the route and it was a nice head clearer for the efforts that lay ahead.

Transition was brief and I donned my helmet and bike shoes. I went for the tried and tested tri-suit only option. despite what was forecast as long as you are working hard you stay warm. I needed a quick stop in the loos before heading out on the bike. I checked the front tyre and it was still hard enough so I just hoped it would stay up long enough for my 3 co2 cartridges to last the race.

Target time : 1:10

Actual Time : 1:05:33

Position : 281

Transition 1: 0:14:06

BikeWales Map

On to the Bike and began settling into my race pace. A nice light easy effort, but not too easy, just turning the pedals keeping the Heart rate low. I race off Perceived effort only and find this still works well for me. My only time check comes at half way other than that I just focus on how my body feels on the day. Pretty Old School.

The Course runs west along the coast to begin with and the winds were forecast as 20mph+ from the west for the beginning of the Bike leg, and gradually strengthening as the day went on. We felt every bit of that wind for the entire 25 Miles out to Angle. It was seriously brutal. as we passed the beach at Freshwater East, the seas were huge, with gigantic crashing waves pummelling the shore, a Timely reminder how bad the swim could have been. With seas half that the swim would have been cancelled. So after 25miles of being battered by the winds, we made the turn back towards Pembroke with everyone hoping for the evil headwinds to become a tailwind. Initial that didn’t seem the case but soon enough the effort for speed equation changed and minimal effort was resulting in nice steady high speeds. the 10 miles back down the peninsular was heaven. Pure aero bar TT work.

Back at Pembroke as we prepared to carry on the first big loop the Rain Arrived. from mile 30 till about mile 75 we had pouring rain. This had the multiple negative effects of making the roads incredibly wet, slippery and dangerous along with completely fogging up my race glasses making the descents also blind. It also meant my Carbon Brakes almost didn’t work. So any braking had to be done very early with a healthy dose of optimism. It seemed a few were too optimistic and I saw quite a few laid on the ground being tended too.  That and the rain completely destroyed your soul. It was complete misery and thoughts of pulling out seriously started appearing.

The main loop is where all the big hills are and as such I knew with the first “Angle” loop out the way this was where the work began. I had mentally broke it down into a few sections. The triple hills around Carew Castle, The Templeton and Narberth Climbs, the Princess Gate Descent, and the double Kicker of Wisemans and Saundersfoot at the end. My problem was with no reccy I didn’t really know how easy or hard any of those sections were. But I was about to find out.

The first climb up the ridgeway was easy enough, I was able to move quite well up there without reverting to granny ring. I kept the effort reasonable and got to the top feeling things were looking good. There is a surprise mystery climb between there and Carew Castle, that doesn’t really show on the profile, but it was light enough, The climb out of Carew was fairly steep but quite short, and swallowed out at the top. The third of this section was again fairly steep but even shorter.

The next climb up to the top of Templeton starts very easily and then kind of meanders along undulating until you hit the town then goes up steeply, there was a lot of crazy supports on this climb braving the horrific weather. We Competitors truly thank them for this, it’s a dark moment that they lighten up. I even joked with a fellow competitor that I wasn’t sure who was more daft us or them?

The long fast decent to the Narberth climb was treacherous and then the road kicked up seriously. The climb up to Narberth was the steepest section we had come to yet, but it wasn’t the longest stretch of road and before I knew it I was into town. and heading up the long undulating climb to the highest point on the course, well joint highest, after all we go there twice!

The long decent then starts at princess gate and would be excellent fun in the dry. I these conditions it was scary. Breaks in the walls/hedges assaulted us with the full force of the 45mph winds that were blowing and corners were soaked and littered with debris making them treacherous. This wasn’t helped by an oil spill that at the time of writing is suspected as deliberate sabotage. The organisers jumped on this with spectacular haste. Once section coned off and multiple marshals warning us of the danger, and the fire brigade out dosing down the next oiled up corner to make it as safe as they could. You can’t prevent things like this but the way the organisers dealt with it was exemplary. Such a shame people like that exist.

Finally in Wisemans bridge it’s time to see what all the fuss is about the double assault on Wisemans and Saundersfoot. Honestly they were ok. After all the wind and the rain dancing up a short but steep hill on the pedals wasn’t the worst part of the day, and the support on Saundersfoot just has to be experienced to be believed. I was accused by a large priest (costume) Of doing too much smiling and not enough pedalling. I wished I had time to explain that’s just how I grimace.

Finally back in Tenby for the start of the second lap. With all the above fresh in the mind it was time to do it all again! But first the horror show of the 10-12 mile section from Tenby to Pembroke. This was meant to be the easy “flat” section but the way the wind was blowing meant it was into a 45mph headwind. Pedalling well, in a full aero tuck, downhill and I needed first gear, doing around 10mph! It was long hellish slog. The only slight relief was the rain appeared to be breaking off into showers as opposed to relentless downpour.

Eventually this misery ended and we started the next misery, the triple climb section followed, then the Big double climbs up to Templeton and Narberth. Slow and steady won the day and while strava showed I we slower on just about every climb my pace was still reasonable considering the wind induced fatigue. Finally the long descent into Wisemans. The oil situation now well under control. The final climb up Wisemans bridge was not pretty, but a slow grind finally came to an end, while the hill is really steep it is very short. The final drop into Saundersfoot and up the last climb. The Supporters section was very much quieter now, but still a frenzy of noise. Again I just did all I could to keep moving, not really knowing how to stop without crashing was about all that kept me going. The long final part of the hill dragged on then finally I was over the hill with just the descent into Tenby to go. oh and someone managed to find on last hill for us right at the end into Tenby.

As I rolled the final section I saw my incredible wife, waiting in the crowd. She would be out there all afternoon braving the winds, I can’t emphasise just how grateful I am to her!

Any concept of targets was now gone. The wind had turned the Bike into a survival exercise. It took all I had just to get to the end. So when I checked my Garmin I was fairly happy to see a 6:51. way above my Target time but with that wind I was happy.

Target time : 6:30

Actual Time : 6:51:57

Position : 496

I really don’t rush in final transition. I refuse to run, I have enough running to do. I simply take my time compose myself and get properly ready for the marathon. Still over 7 mins is still some considerable faffing not sure what I was doing really. Dry sock after a wet ride is one of the nicest possible feelings imaginable though!

Transition 1: 0:7:16

Runwales run map


Finally out on the run. The course while quite challenging physically is actually quite easy mentally. It breaks down into lots of manageable chunks. The first 2 miles are the tough uphill slog, then it’s two miles of downhill, then two miles of “flat”. These sections are further broken down by aid stations and such like so you always have one small achievable goal to work towards rather than worrying about getting the whole 26.2 miles done.

My plan was to run/walk the hills and walk the aid stations taking on fuel and fluid, not set plan just eat what I fancied, this usually works on the run.

I was pretty shocked to see so many people not doing this. People insisting on running all the uphill’s, people either running through the aid stations not taking things on, or standing around eating/drinking. My three main rules for the ironman marathon are ALWAYS move forward. If your stomach can take on Fuel the EAT, there may come a time when it can’t so it pays to eat now. and don’t expend unnecessary energy. Running the hills was only a tiny bit slower than run/walk and a whole lot more energy. I knew those breaking those 3 rules would be paying later.

The crowd support out on the course was phenomenal. Everyone says it but it does have to be experienced. Most Run courses there is a good amount of support but its concentrated around certain points and most of the run is lonely. Not in Tenby, the whole course is lined. The locals use it as an excuse for a huge party. All along there are large groups who have got together for a drinking session with mates. The noise levels increased along with the pile of empty cans! Through town it was just manic every street just lined sometimes 5 deep offering encouragement often in a very loud manor. The young-uns also got involved and endless Hi-5’s gave the mind something else to think about apart from increasingly aching legs.

The first two laps went well and the half way point is where I know whatever happens I will finish, I will crawl if needs be! I always struggle with the 3rd lap, It’s still an awful long way to go and the body is rapidly failing. Now is the time to bring out the big guns. A lot of people swear by flat coke other like redbull. I have a secret weapon though. Both. Simply take a cup of each mix together and down them. Rocket Fuel!

The final lap eventually came and I started ticking of the points, the reality dawned that all I had to do was run UP the hill and it was all down hill. So when I collected my yellow and final band I knew the hard work was done. Just down the hill around the time and done. As I came down the hill I think I had too much redbull/coke mix as I began getting far to carried away. The final lap of the town became more like a 5k sprint! (well in terms of effort, probably not pace!) and before I knew it I was flying down the finish shoot hi-5ing both sides and across the line. Still just about Daylight, which as nice.

Target time : 3:59:59      

Actual Time : 4:23:40

Position : 558

In  the finishers tent the toll really began to show. It’s amazing how debilitating a finish line is. The Spirit keep the body going doing things it really isn’t capable of. This is never more evident than a finish area. One minute you are capable of running a marathon the next the Spirit gives up (Because you have achieved) and the body collapses. Sorry if that sounds a bit “hippie” I don’t mean it in any really spiritual way just trying to put a name to something that isn’t very tangible. This happened to me in alarming fashion. the array of tea coffee, cake and pizza seemed very tempting but not as tempting as sitting down. After a few mins I got up to get my white bag containing warm street clothes. This is when my head went completely. I didn’t know if I was going to collapse pass-out throw up or all three. I just stood there holding on to a rail trying to stay in the realm of the conscious. Eventually I started to come round without the need for medical attention and finally grabbed my hard earned Pizza.

After meeting up with my endlessly patient wife we realised my teammates day had not gone so well and his ETA was not until 10:45. This was unfortunately far to long for me to be able to stay on my feet, and I was fast falling into a deep state of cold. So we opted to leave him out on the course, with my wife returning for him later in the evening. She really is something special.


Target time : 11:59:59

Actual Time : 12:42:32

Position : 470


Ironman wales finish


I entered this race to decide for myself which was harder Ironman Lanzarote or Ironman Wales. I don’t feel I have an answer to this question. There is no doubt THIS incarnation of wales was much harder than Lanzarote, but Gale force winds are not the norm in wales (though admittadly not rare). The Bike course itself gave me nothing to fear. I ahve completely overtrained for it. Spending months grinding up the biggest and baddest the Peak Distriact had to offer lead me to find the course very unintimidating.

I had climbed longer climbs, and steeper climbs and longer and steeper Climbs and really none of the welsh hills left me broken. Even the Mighty Wisemans Bridge is really very short. You are rarely climbing for more than 4/5 mins in any one climb. Compared to the long epic drags in Lanzarote that really have you digging deep to keep the effort up. Sure they are much shallower but it’s the continued effort.

But really I don’t have a definite answer. I think maybe Wales would clinch it on a day when the sea is rough. The lanza Swim is quite idyllic and I can imagine Wales is anything but on  rough day.

But which is better?

Well that’s a question I really can’t answer. Both races are phenomenal. I would happily recommend them to anyone. I still need to come down a bit (hence the next section) But for now they are both very high up in my estimation.


As for my performance. I really couldn’t be happier with my swim. I kept a good handle on the effort and never let myself get carried away and overexerted. The bike was a very solid effort and I was still going ok right till the end. The run was a bit slower than I hoped but my pacing was very even with just a little bit of slowdown on the 3rd lap. I think with just a little bit easier bike I would have easily had a sub 4 in me. Which from where I have come from running wise is incredible. On a flatter course a sub 4 would have been no problem at all.

Reflection – 1 week out





Stephen James


  1. Great review – I couldn’t agree more. Like yourself I was aiming for a best case scenario time of sub 12hr and ended with similar splits of 1:06 / 7:12 / 4:20 (12:59 total). The last 3k of the run will stay with me forever as I emptied the tank to break not just the 13hr barrier but also catch the last of the sunlight 😉 There was definitely time to be made up on the bike course, and hopefully I’ll crack it next year (weather permitting)

    • Great going Ollie, Cutting it fine on the sub 13! Like you I emptied the tank on the last on the last 3k, just to get it done! While there was definitely time on the bike course I also think it would effect the run too as I was just so spent from the bike I lost a little focus on the run, it was all about finishing.

      Still too early for me to plan on next year!

  2. Pingback: Melanie Glastrong
  3. Fantastic report ….. your report mirrors mine, its uncanny how similar they both are, the only difference being my 2nd half of the run was mostly walked due to foot pain …………… I’d set this up as my “retirement” race and I’m glad I finished with it ……….. In 10 years of racing triathlon, never have I had such an amazing time on a race circuit ………. the weather & support in Tenby made it that much more surreal and amazing ……………. my target was 13hrs (i thought that was very acheivable) – missed by a country mile – couldnt have cared less and still dont …………. well done on your race !

    • Hi Fraser, Yeah most people I speak to had a very similar experience. After all, we were all on the same course. It was a really special running of an already special event. The weather at the time really got me down but in hindsight, it’s great to know we BEAT probably the hardest single Ironman event in the world. The weather just added SO much. I’m sure the course would be amazing on a still crisp autumn day, but it just wouldn’t be the same.

      Hard luck on the foot. My teammate was out late after running out of gas and said it was tough going as the course thinned out and the temperature dropped. so well done for finishing, but as I always say once you get to halfway through the marathon you just can’t stop, not after what you have been through already lol If you can get halfway around the Mara you are as good as finished it’s just a question of time!

      Cheers and well done too!

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