Expatriés Alumni – Ironman Wales

A Word from the Expatries Alumni – Rob Ross Rob

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Nick asked me to write a few words about IM Wales which I completed this year.  A word of warning for any of you leaving Paris and becoming Expatries Alumni; there does seem to be a compulsion to complete an Ironman after leaving (Paul Betts, Paul Shoemaker, Valentin Pajot and me this year alone)

If you are going to be compelled to go long then, trust me,  Wales is for you!

Ironman Wales is a great race and there are some good reasons to make this your A-race in 2015 (registration opens soon and it always sells out).

  • It is late in the season.  So you don’t need to do too many loooooong sessions in the cold and dark.
  • It is tough, possibly the toughest course on the IM circuit depending on the weather – if you finish here, you can finish anywhere.  So you have bragging rights on everyone else (including people like Nick going to Roth).
  • You will never see support like this anywhere else.  Tenby is not a major city.  They don’t get blasé about major sporting events happening on their doorstep.  Every single person in Pembrokeshire is out on the course, all day, without fail.  I only just made the bike cut and the climb through Saundersfoot was still like being the lead rider on a Tour de France col.  It was late in the day on the run, and I was well out of town, but the roadside was still packed.  These people had been there 8 hours cheering, and they were not going home until I did.

So a few tips about the race.

Location, Travel Accommodation etc.:

As I said Tenby is not a major city.  You can drive in or get the train.  Neither is a quick trip.  So plan to arrive in good time (ie on Friday).

Accommodation goes pretty quick, but most of the B&Bs and hotels will either let you keep your bike in your room or have a secure, covered lockup. Most will serve a 4am breakfast on the day.  Like I say, all the locals are mad for Ironman.  The best places are already booked for 2015.  So when you decide you are entering, book race and accommodation at the same time.  If you get the train you will have to book seats on the trains between Swansea and civilization.  For your ticket to be valid you need to catch the train you booked, I only say this because trains out of Tenby a four a day, so you need to get up and out on the Monday on time to make your connection.



The swim is a great venue.  2 laps with an “Australian exit” – i.e. you get out of the water and run over a timing mat between laps.  This year it was rough, so my top tip is to get some training in the sea, if at all possible, and when there is some chop.

There are three buoys to sight and the trickiest is buoy 1.  Try and get a good idea on this the day before from the beach by looking across at the headland and the buoy.  There are boats near the buoys – do not sight on these – I did thins and one of them moved between the laps.  Buoy 2 is immediately below the lifeboat station so is very easy to navigate.  Likewise buoy 3 is just offshore of Gossgar rock so again is easy, this year I watched maybe 100 people swim like sheep off towards the rock rather than sighting the buoy – navigate for yourself “baaa”.

I swam 1:48, which was around 15 mins slower than I hoped for – but the waves made it tough going.  The litres of seawater I had swallowed probably didn’t help either.



Here the fun starts – this is like no other T1.

You have an extra, purple transition bag just to help you get from the swim to the bike!  This has shoes in it.  I would also include some food/fluid and a bottle of water to wash the sand and salt off.

Wetsuit off – shoes on – run up the steep path and then 1km through town to the main transition.  The crowd are going insane at this point.  You, meanwhile, are wondering why they don’t knock this 1km off the marathon later….

Into T1 change for the bike and put the wetsuit and purple bag in the T1 bag and you are off.



The first km is narrow and packed – so just take it easy.  Then the fun starts.

The scenery is amazing, many of the villages have sound systems set up and village race callers to cheer you on by name.  You can’t get lonely – the route is full of people.

The whole course is rolling with very little flat.  The jury is out if TT or road bike is the way forward.  There are a lot of bikes without even tri bar clipons.  I used a TT bike and I think this is a good choice for me.

But you will need to train hills and you will need a low gear.

It is a big loop then a small loop.  All the major hills are towards the end (so train to climb 16%+ after 90 miles).

The two biggest climbs are Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot.  I checked them out online and on the course profile.  They don’t look so bad.  Trust me, they are much worse than they look (Wiseman’s is the tougher of the two).

You will get over Saundersfoot simply because a thousand people will be screaming in your ear and ringing cow bells and ten nutters will be running alongside you shouting your name – everyone seems to be assigned ten nutters as they start the steepest pitch.  There is no shortage of nutters in Saundersfoot it would appear.

I was running an 11-28 cassette with 52/36 on the front – but I had a crash and had to change rear wheel.  I elected not to lose the time to change cassettes over and so ran with an 11-25.  This really hurt!  If you in any way unsure take the lowest gearing you can get with you.  I trained all year on a 55/42 and 11-25 because I knew I couldn’t get too many hills like this close to home.


8:25 on the bike – but with the crash and waiting for the mechanic for ever (or so it felt) I’m still happy.  But hey, add this to 1:48 and remember that looong transition.  That’s right.  I have my own personal “Last athlete on course” marker as I head out to run, and I’m on a total of 10:29:30.



Now those of you that remember my time in Paris will know that I am not one to be phased by the pressure of being last.  This is a responsibility I am comfortable with.  Someone has to be last, and that person should be smiling and have done their hair in transition.

If the swim was lumpy and the ride steep then the run really is taking the piss.

Four laps.  There is not one flat metre the whole way.  But the route is packed.  Absolutely packed.  They will cheer anything in Tenby it would seem – even sweaty blokes walking in the dark.


Unless you are planning to finish in daylight – Top tip – take a glow stick – or a head torch.  The route is quite dark, and there is traffic on the opposite carriageway.  Top tip 2 – only one of the sets of toilets is set up under a streetlight.  Strangely, this is also the one where you are least likely ot contract cholera.


People have stereos out in their gardens blasting out music.  Megaphones.  Car stereos turned up to 11.  Huge parties.  They might let you walk, but they will not let you stop.  You would have to lose a leg to make the bike cut-off and then not finish.

And of course you reach the red carpet, you get to high five a hundred strangers (I really hope some of those children washed their hands before they ate), weirdly some of them know your name – not because it is on your number but because they have watched you all day, adopted you (and probably 50 others) and come to the finish for you.  You hear the magic words.  You are an Ironman.

16:20 – I’ll never trouble the podium, but that was not the idea.  I have a smart new T shirt that in my mind tells everyone just how cool I am.  And I  get to eat the greasiest pizza in the world, it tastes great.


The next day people still recognise you.  They’ve been up all night hosing energy drink off the streets, but they are still smiling and asking you to come back next year.  Do you know what?  I think I might.