Thursday, 5th December 2019
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Ironman ambitions - Part 8

by Paul Hayward
Tuesday 14th July 2015
Tags  Paul Hayward   |   IRONMAN   |   Long Course Weekend   |   2XULCW   |   Activity Wales Events   |   2XU

Our obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward has been inspired to become an Ironman. At the recent Long Course Weekend in Tenby he gets a chance to 'test the waters' over the full distance

Ironman ambitions

After the elation of the Outlaw Half the realisation set in that there were less than 14 weeks (this is now 10 or 9!) to go to the start of Ironman Wales. I was pleased with how I had coped so far and how my training was going but I knew that I needed to push on, both in the swim and on the bike, to stand a chance of making this race and not being a “DNF” (did not finish).

At the beginning of July I had elected to take on the 'Long Course Weekend' (2XULCW) from Activity Wales Events and sponsored by 2XU (longcourseweekend.com). This event replicates Ironman Wales in Tenby, but the three disciplines are spread out over three days, which would give me a good chance to get a feel for where my fitness and ability were at. Going into the event I was up to four hours on the bike, with a double loop around “the Blewbury Hills” with 3,278 feet of ascent, and during my open water swimming I had finally managed a 1k lap at Berinsfield lake, so all things considered it was not looking too bad.

I was looking forward to a week back in Tenby, where I had fallen in love with Ironman and  the locals and where this journey had started (HERE). It is hard to describe what makes Tenby so special, there are so many reasons, from my girlfriend’s smile when she is there to the electric atmosphere. Coming back to Tenby and and registering for this event I had butterflies in my stomach and I was genuinely excited.

Although not the Ironman, I was back in Tenby and I was taking on the 2XULCW. I was actually competing in Tenby doing an Iron distance event and to be honest I felt so pleased. I think it must have been the change from training and coming back, but this happiness soon gave way to dread come 7pm and the start of the swim.

The swim took place on Tenby’s North beach, the same beach as Ironman Wales, and was a 1.2 loop of the sea with an “Australian Exit” split into a triangle of 800 metres, 800 metres and 300 metres. Those who had signed up for one lap got to run to the finish and those who were doing two laps did a small jog across the beach before heading back into the sea.

At the safety briefing we were told that the nervous swimmers should stay at the back. I have to say that seeing 1,800 odd people rush past you into the sea escalated any nerves I had and made me feel that the idea of a sea swim was just crazy. As self-doubt crept in, I actually had thoughts of going home. However I was not there to win or to do well, it was a test  for my training and my resolve so I just had to get in the sea. At the back of my mind was that I wanted to make the two hour cut off that had been put in place.

Ironman ambitions

As I finally ran into the sea with the last 50 or so athletes and saw several hundred swimmers ahead of me, I was still asking myself what I was doing there. The first 800 metres were against the tide and as the waves crashed into me, I felt as if a truck had hit me and I was thrown back. The waves were like barriers and I could not get through them easily. It was taking ages to get anywhere. Looking up to the first buoy, it never seemed to get nearer despite how many times I put my head back down and swam.

Scott Farnell (my swimming coach and the reason I am even swimming) said to me that I need to learn to “sight” as I swim and use the front crawl with my head up to do this. I struggled to do this and resorted to breast stroke after 16 - 20 strokes. Although not perfect, it allowed me to catch my breath (and swallow more water), realign myself for the swim and calm down.

By some effort the first buoy finally came and I was still surrounded by some athletes. I was no longer on my own, as had always been the case before. The second buoy came quickly, with a little help from the current, and I turned in to do the last 300 metres of lap 1. As the music and announcer got louder and louder, cramp set in and absolutely tore my rhythm apart.

I attempted to breast stroke and stretch it out, but on making it to the beach I was in a lot of pain and did not know if I could go on. I looked at the marshall and I asked if I could do the one lap and stop? He smiled and replied I could - but I would be a “DNF”.

With three minutes in the bank before cut off I did not want to take the easy option out so I ran and went back into the sea and back against those waves. Once again it seemed to take forever but this was the least of my worries as I swam straight into a school of jellyfish. I can only explain it as a sensation that a huge rope is around you, I felt I was drowning as they came so thick and fast. The marshal on the canoe was even worried for me and when she told me I actually panicked.

After holding on to her canoe and regaining my breath, I swam through the school to the second buoy and back to the beach. It seemed to take forever again and on getting closer I heard the final 30 second countdown. I had missed the 2 hour mark and I rolled in, somewhat stunned, at 2 hours and 5 minutes.

I was a little sad to have not made two hours, but I had made the Ironman cut off with 15 minutes in the bank. If I could do this in the Ironman race, then I would make the bike and I’d have a shot at completing the race! As I worked this out I could not hide my smile and I wanted to jump in the air. On top of that I heard that the buoy had been dragged out by half a mile, which meant I had actually swam over the distance within the time allowance.

Ironman ambitions

The following day I set off on my bike to take on the famous heartbreak hill and 112 miles of Welsh countryside. Armed with three bite size Chia Charge bars, one normal sized bar, a pack of Cliff shot blocks and some High 5, I was ready. The first 70 miles of the bike were relentless, as the hills never let up and took all of my energy.

Whilst the views were breath taking at times, the hills were like nothing I had seen and then came “Wiseman’s Bridge”. I cannot describe this hill without shaking my head and swearing, but in essence, it was an incredibly sharp climb to Saundersfoot. A number of competitors were reduced to walking with their bikes and I could have done with some more softer gears to be honest. The trusty Boardman bike just did not have a soft enough gear and I was broken by the summit.

Heartbreak Hill, in comparison, was harmless and by the time I made the cut off for mile 70 with 5 minutes to spare - I had to wonder what was going on. The second lap was a further 40 miles encompassing some of the harder ascents and another bash at Wiseman’s Bridge.

The second time was much worse and I envied all of those people pushing their bikes up the hill. The chance to stretch my legs and walk was pretty attractive but I had just eaten a whole pack of shot blocks and thought I better use the energy! I made the finish line in a respectable 7 hours and 44 minutes with time in the bank for the cut off.

I had managed, through the swim and the bike, to prove that I could do the distances in the time allowed and make the final stage, the marathon at an Ironman. I had been so nervous about both disciplines and my training had not pushed to these distances yet. However this was a huge positive boost for my confidence and I had shown I could do it, now just to string them together!

With thanks to Zone3 (www.racezone3.com) for their support.

Ironman ambitions



About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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