Introduction to Ironman Wales

Feel the roar of the dragon.

Have you ever imagined what it would feel like to be a professional athlete? Have the roar of the crowd driving you on, earning the respect of complete strangers and being amongst a group of dedicated peers?

For me, taking part in Ironman Wales gave me that feeling. I have taken on the challenge three times, and it’s always succeeded in delivering. The event, hosted in the quaint fishing town of Tenby on the Pembrokeshire coast of South Wales, is regarded as one of the most spectacular and toughest on the Ironman circuit.

The entire town and county are transformed in the week leading up to race day as thousands of competitors, friends and family arrive.
For many, Ironman will be one of the most challenging days of their life, where they will need to dig deep and harness every second of their training to complete the course.

Hosting a prestigious event is something to be really proud of for Tenby and Wales, alongside famous Ironman events held in Hawaii, Lanzarote, Frankfurt, Nice and Copenhagen. Despite the town and surrounding areas being overrun with triathletes and all their gear, the locals embrace the event and make it so welcoming and memorable.

Feel the roar of the dragon.
40 years of Ironman

40 years of Ironman

An Ironman triathlon has become a global phenomenon since its inception in Hawaii 1980. The Ironman circuit has over 150 races in 50+ countries, regions and territories worldwide.

A full Ironman triathlon comprises a 2.4-mile (3.8km) swim, a 112mile (180km) bike and a 26.2-mile (42.2km) run. The world record for an Ironman distance event is 7 hours 40 minutes for the men and 8 hrs 26 mins for the women.

For amateur triathletes, owing to the amount of sacrifice and training involved, simply getting to the start line is seen as an achievement when you consider avoiding injury, overload, or being overwhelmed and giving up. But once you complete the course, your will be an Ironman for life!

Ironman Wales | The Swim

Ironman Wales is a famously tough course – featuring a hilly bike course, hilly run course and even a hilly swim.

The day starts at 7am with a mass swim start from North Beach, entering the water for two laps of Carmarthen Bay, offering very little protection from the power of the sea. The first few hundred meters of the swim can be brutal, with arms and legs everywhere. There is a high chance of being unintentionally punched or kicked, dunked under the water, having goggles knocked off, and sandwiched between swimmers. You will not be able to see or hear much and have irrational fears of swimming into a boat or the prominent Goscar Rock.

In many ways, it’s worse than it sounds, but you will find your rhythm and your own space, settle down, and realise this is the start of the most amazing and maddest thing you have ever done.

Competitors will complete an Australian exit, meaning they run out of the water and back in again before starting the next lap. This halfway exit for some is not a blessing, as your senses are all over the place as you run across the beach with very little visibility, likely cold, tired and confused.

Upon exiting the water after your second lap, it’s time to take on a unique part of Ironman Wales, the run back to transition, starting by running up the zig-zag path heading up to the town, collecting your running shoes on the way up in a numbered bag. Not the easiest thing to do after a 2.4m cold sea swim.

The run back to transition is where you first experience the Tenby crowd as you run through the narrow and crowded streets surrounded by noise, banners and flags.

Once back in transition, you head to the main tent to find your bike bag to get changed for your cycle. You will witness many a strange sight of varying techniques to get wetsuits off!

The Swim
Suffolk Ironman Blog

Ironman Wales | The Cycle

Onto the bike, you head out of the Tenby to start the cycle through the scenic countryside of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It’s hilly and can be very windy by the coast. There is no escaping from how tough the cycle is; there are no shortcuts or secrets. Featuring As you make you tackle the 112-mile course, you will encounter almost 2,500 metres of net totalling climbing.

The bike route starts with the first loop taking riders West towards Angle, with stunning views of the Celtic Sea, then back East to Pembroke and Lamphey. From here, you start the big loop, which you will need complete twice. The second loop takes in many notable landmarks and landscapes, including the towns of Carew, Templeton, Narbeth and Saundersfoot.

You will find fantastic and inspirational support on the ride, particularly in Pembroke, St Brides Hill, Wiseman’s Bridge and Narberth. You will pass through a very busy Saundersfoot twice and climb Stammers Road, also known as Heartbreak Hill. As you power through the climb, you will experience what it would feel like to climb the Alps in the Tour De France, with the street lined with supporters cheering, shouting and ringing bells. The atmosphere in Saundersfoot will be one of the lasting memories of the day. Aside from the support across the route, there will be times of isolation and silence when you are alone or in a small group with no energy to talk, and you need to dig deep and focus.

The cycle has added jeopardy due to the multiple cut-offs to ensure the roads can be reopened. Based on your training, you should be in a position in the weeks before the race to know your risk of missing a cut-off. The cut-off is brutal but necessary to ensure the safety of the event.

After climbing out of Saundersfoot and tackling heartbreak hill for the second time, you speed towards Tenby up the last hill and head back into transition. For many, the bike could be thrown into a skip or the sea at this point, but correct bike racking is required! Then it’s back in the tent to find your run bag and start the final leg. For those aiming for a time or working towards a plan, you will know where you are and what you need to do across the next 26.2 miles. Hopefully, you haven’t left yourself too much to do, as the run is not a walk in the park.

Ironman Wales | The Run

The Ironman Wales marathon is a four-looped course that takes competitors on a long hill climb out of Tenby towards New Hedges. The hill climb flattens out a couple of times but is mostly a relentless ‘never ending’ climb – the last thing you need after the cycle. The long out-and-back run from Tenby is heavily supported throughout. Many groups have BBQs and picnics, parties, play music, enjoy a late summer evening, and cheer on some tired people!

On the return down the hill, you head into the centre of Tenby and its medieval walls, colourful coastal buildings, medieval town walls and stunning harbour views. The support in the centre of Tenby is extraordinary, with thousands of people lining the streets, cheering and having a party. You will likely be hurting, tired and demoralised, but the support energises and inspires you to keep going. As you leave the town and head along the Esplanade, you turn right for your next lap. You see the road that continues straight ahead and leads to the finish line. You can see the lights and hear the crowd and official announcer calling finisher names. Having to go through that three times can be painful, but it does keep you focused and even more determined to finish.

As you reach the top of the climb on your last lap of the run, you are by no means finished, but you feel on top of the world. It’s all downhill from here! Once you make it back to Tenby and enjoy the amazing support for one last time, you head down the Esplanade to the finish line, which is packed with supporters. As you cross the line, you will hear the immortal line of ‘you are an Ironman’!

Ironman Wales
Suffolk Ironman Blog

Challenging but rewarding.

Ironman Wales is one of the most challenging events you will ever take on. It’s unforgiving, relentless, uncompromising and lots and lots of climbing. But it will also be the most enjoyable and inspirational endurance event you can ever do, whatever the outcome.

The stunning coastal and county scenery, historical landmarks, the quaint town of Tenby and the unforgettable support throughout the day make the event one of the most popular on the Ironman circuit.

My goals for 2023 are to complete the course in under 12hrs. My previous best result was 12hr 8mins back in 2018. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in this time, including completing the Arch to Arc, the birth of my second child, lockdowns, a major ankle injury……… excuses, excuses!

To achieve under 12hrs, my focus will be on a solid training plan to build a strong cycling base. I am very confident in what I can do with my Swim and Run. However, an Ironman cycle consumes a lot of your overall time. Putting the work in on the bike can buy you a huge block of time and set you up for a comfortable run pace.

I look forward to sharing my training plan and progression with you over the coming weeks and months.

    Thank you for reading

    Daniel Coughlan 
    Team OnVenture

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