The Ironman season still has a way to run, with Tuff interest at IM Barcelona at the end of this month when Craig Hunter races – Good luck Craig. The tough course that is Ironman Wales had two representatives from Tuff Fitty; Martin Hawkins did well in the swim and completed the bike course, but a knee injury would prevent him completing the run. We offer our commiserations to Martin, and are sure he will have many other opportunities. We are delighted to welcome another of our club members who has crossed the line at an Ironman. Congratulations to Chris Robinson, who has recounted his story for us here:-
Before I give my race report for Ironman Wales I feel the need to share a bit of a prologue.
My Ironman journey began back in January when I posted on Facebook a simple question “should I sign up for an Ironman?” Predictably my Tuff friends (and others) gave me an overwhelming “do it”.
So I signed up for Ironman UK, and got stuck into training.
Before long a splinter group of Tuff Fitty formed: Tuffs in Ironman Training (TIIT) group. We went on regular bike rides together, and occasional runs and sea swims. We prepared mentally and physically for our respective long course challenges. For me the highlight was “the long one” Wiggle Fontwell sportive.
Tuffs in Ironman Training
From the start of July onwards our respective long course events came, starting with Challenge Roth where five Tuffs (Matthew Whittaker, Wardy, Ade Willard, Gareth Piggott and Hobbsie) set impressive times in very hot conditions.
IRONMAN UK DNF
On Friday 14th July I went up to Bolton for Ironman UK with James Brock and Peter Littleboy. We all got psyched up together, attended the pre-race events and shared the nerves.
Pete and James completed their Ironman journey on Sunday 16th July, sadly I had a crash while trying to collect a water bottle at the first Aid Station and had to pull out of the race due to broken gear. The experience was made worse by being asked to walk for miles uphill to meet a mechanic – who never came despite repeated radio messages.
I was understandably devastated. I met my mother, girlfriend Sara (who flew up specially as a surprise with her son Arthur) and drove in silence to transition 2 to collect my bags. In the First Aid area at T2 I was sitting there when the Chaplain came up to console me. She was incredibly kind in her words, and supportive, and then remarked that Ironman Wales was only seven weeks away. Suddenly I changed from despair to determination.
A few conversations and emails with the organisers later and I was signed up for Ironman Wales. It was 16th July, and Ironman Wales was 10th September.
In the meantime two other TIITs finished there long course races: Gareth Sewell and Phil Lintott-Clarke doing incredibly well at Outlaw.
GETTING BACK IN THE SADDLE
This might seem all well and good but psychologically and physically I was in a bad place. I was previously expecting to spend the rest of July recovering and preparing for some other races later in the year. Instead I found myself with a number of bruises, including a badly bruised rib cage that made swimming and running extremely painful. As the ribs became less painful I built up my training hours to 10 then 12 hours per week until it was time once again to enjoy the three-week taper.
On 8th September I loaded up my car and drove to Wales with my girlfriend Sara, who has been my rock throughout the training, helped me get back into shape, and made me enjoy the trip to Pembrokeshire. She even found a last minute room at a hotel between the finish line and transition!
Tenby was incredible. The whole town had completely embraced Ironman with flags, souvenirs, and every local completely excited about the forthcoming race. I met up with fellow Tuff, Martin Hawkins, and we sorted registration and I felt the need to buy more than a little kit in the exhibition – most importantly, some warm sleeves.
Race day itself (Sunday 10th September) began a little later than the other long course races, with a 6:30am muster on the streets of Tenby where we all got into position based on predicted swim times. We then walked in a vast wetsuit procession along the streets for about a kilometre to the beach where we waited on the soft sand for the start.
A choir sang the Welsh national anthem, the music played, and then the race began! We all ran across the sand to a backdrop of cheers in a continuous wave through the start line and into the clear chilly waters of the bay.
The swim was great. It was a bit crowded at times, but the sea was flat and I felt on form. We did two laps within the bay with a short run around a rock in between laps.
Then came the quirk of this ironman – the extra transition. We ran out the water up the zig zag path to the sea road. Along this path were rows of pegs. I collected my pink bag off my peg, and in it were my spare running shoes, plus water bottle and towel to wash my feet. We all ran with wetsuits around our waists, or over our arms, for 1km back to transition. The streets were heaving, as the locals demonstrated why they won the award for the best local support. Then I realised it wasn’t me they were cheering so enthusiastically, but a bloke running in just a pair of speedos behind me. It still felt good.
Then the ride. And wow, what a beast of a ride.
In transition people were chattering nervously about the weather. Everyone was putting on extra layers. I put on my Chestnut Tree House jersey, and newly-bought sleeves, and the only gloves I’d brought (sadly just fingerless), and set off.
Riding in the rain and 40mph gusts
Ironman Wales is famous for its hills, and for sure it was one steep climb after another, and another, and another… totalling 8,000ft. But the thing that made it brutal was the 40mph gusts and regular driving rain. It was a repeated slog uphill followed by a slow careful descent. Every leaf-covered winding downhill, every skid pan corner, every feed station made me fear a repeat of Bolton. I wasn’t prepared to take risks so I used the brakes a lot, and stopped at every feed station. As a result the ride averaged just 14.3mph. Not cool, but who cares.
The hills never seemed to end and my legs grew more and more tired and achy. Towards the end of the loop was the toughest climb of all – but it was in the crowded streets outside Tenby. On the first loop this was incredible. The barriers were close together and the cyclist rode through a narrow gap enclosed by crowds who were literally screaming encouragement as we stood on our pedals. The second loop wasn’t as crowded because of the weather, but my legs were on fire with lactic acid. When it was done I could enjoy the last few small climbs as I approached Tenby town centre.
As I eased carefully into transition, I joined the many lovely friends and family tracking me online in breathing a MASSIVE sigh of relief. All that stood between me and my goal was a run. It might take a while, it would certainly hurt, but surely nothing could prevent me achieving my goal now.
I spent a fair while in transition changing out of my bike kit, drying, putting on lovely warm dry socks and shoes and taping up my Achilles. My legs were ruined. They were already screaming “stop and have a break” at me. But I knew I couldn’t rest – otherwise they’d seize up and I’d be done for.
So out I jogged. Here we go! Just keep running!
The first loop was the most painful
I saw Sara just outside transition and shouted “that hurt, that really hurt” at her, and those I hoped she’d share the video with online. By this time she was communicating regularly with not just my Mum and daughter, but also loads of Tuffs including Wardy.
Just to stress how tough this course was, the run began with a two-mile climb. It wasn’t steep but it just went on and on. At the first feed station I was told “the first loop is the worst”. She was right. After the climb I went down a bit then uphill some more to collect my first wrist band, then the fun bit was the downhill and run through almost every road in the beautiful crowd-lined streets of central Tenby. The second and third loops were ok, just ticking off the miles. Not as bad as the first for sure. Then on the fourth loop the legs started hurting a lot as I went up the long climb for the last time.
The fourth lap seemed to go on forever. On the one hand running through the town for the last time and in the dark was wonderful, and I should have savoured it. On the other hand, the pain in my legs and exhaustion after approaching 14 hours of intense exercise was taking its toll. So when I approached the final few hundred metres and the sign said right turn for another lap, left for finish, I took great pleasure in turning left.
I did as I was instructed in the briefing and pointed at my number badge in the hope that they will do the announcement. Sadly there had been a computer glitch and all I got was some half-hearted mention of my name but I didn’t get the big “Chris Robinson, you are an Ironman”. But that was OK, it didn’t seem so important now. I just enjoyed the red carpet and the experience of being on the other side of the finish arch.
I celebrated momentarily and limped into the recovery marquee
The food in the marquee didn’t look appetising so I just grabbed some fruit, got my T-shirt, and sat for a bit. Then I caught sight of Sara and rushed out for a long-awaited hug. Before long we were driving home.
On the journey home I heard that Martin had sadly had to pull out of the race due to a knee pain. I felt awful for him. He was now experiencing the terrible disappointment I felt at Bolton.
Finally at 3 AM we arrived home and could collapse. What a day.
For the next twenty-four hours I was showered with lovely messages from my fellow Tuffs. I also found out just how many were tracking me and sharing updates throughout the race. It was incredible. Thank you!
PS So far I have raised over £1,000 for Chestnut Tree House. Another thank you to those who kindly sponsored me.