I’d first like to introduce myself, my name is Mark Robinson and I’ve been working at Cranc since early June 2016 making a full-time career move from racehorses to bikes, or horse power to pedal power if you like! I’m attempting Ironman Wales for the first time this September, this is my journey so far.
Its’ 6.45am on Sunday 13th September 2015, silent suspense fills the air as thousands line the streets of Tenby. Friends, family and fans all here to witness one of the hardest Ironman races of the calendar.
Through the darkness 2000 marching athletes turn onto White Lion Street, 2000 men and women creating an endless stream of black neoprene, they file between the railings like ranked soldiers into battle.
The silent atmosphere has momentarily disappeared, instead replaced with nervous chatter and pounding footsteps. Then bellowing the Welsh National Anthem with their fans, all equally proud to be part of this event, Tenby is now most definately awake!
Peaceful anticipation returns as Paul Kaye puts athletes under starters orders, the klaxon sounds;
‘And we are racing ladies and gentlemen!’
The mass stampede is off dolphin diving into the sea, arms and swim caps visible in every direction fighting for space in the water.
THIS IS IRONMAN WALES!
After what only seems minutes but is the best part of an hour they exit the water one by one for the 1Km run to transition, a 112 mile bike leg and 26.2 mile marathon await.
To spend a whole day supporting 2000 strangers may seem odd, but somehow allows you to feel a part of their journey. A journey that each has undertaken to hear their name accompanied by 4 magic words;
‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’
A journey that for some reason I decided to start and one that I cannot wait to complete.
And so it began…..
Now before doing an Ironman or indeed any triathlon you need a wetsuit, a bike, and some trainers. I had a few problems: I didn’t have a bike, I didn’t have a clue where to begin, I had never competed in any multisport event and I hadn’t swam in around 5/6 years, even back then let’s say I wasn’t a natural!
So before this venture was to fully take hold there were some things to sort out.
To the pool…..
Into the shallow end for a paddle then, and after an hour and a half of well, not a lot, swimming in circles would have been a giant leap forward! The 2.4 mile swim wasn’t going to happen without some help, a few classes it would have to be!
I turned up at Haverfordwest Leisure Centre the following Wednesday evening, into the pool and told to do 4 lengths front crawl to warm up, cue a shocked face and nearly crying like a baby! Not to be defeated just yet I gallantly set off like a hero splashing and gasping in all directions, for a length and a half………
Now an Ironman swim is 2.4 miles long, that’s 152 lengths, I was in big big trouble.
This is where a big thank you to SwimFit instructor Ian is due, who spent the following 45 minutes taking me right back to the basics of front crawl, and although it may sound simple how to actually breathe!
So booked for their beginners class each week I must of swam between 5 and 6 days a week for at least a month, going further and further all the time. It doesn’t sound a lot now but from half a mile to a mile to a mile and a half were big steps at this point.
Finally one Sunday morning in mid December with a full lane to myself I swam the full 2.4 miles, by no means quick and by no means with the best technique but still I was over the moon with my progress the dream seemed distantly possible.
It was during October I first visited Andy at Cranc, and a stroke of luck it was too that Andrew the manager had completed Ironman Wales no less than 3 times, offering all the advice I could possibly need, and boy did I need it!
A full bike fit done I was now armed with my brand new bike, afraid to scratch or get dirty but at least I was on my way.
Even to a complete novice the benefits of the Retul bike fit were obvious and to someone training for an Ironman, an essential process to get the most out your training whilst remaining injury free.
I had never done any proper road cycling so a road bike took some getting used to, especially clipping into pedals. However if anything was going to let me down then it certainly wouldn’t have been the equipment!
I had no excuses now, my swimming had improved drastically and I had a bike that would do the job. With all the gear and no idea I gradually increased my time on the bike until I was comfortable enough to complete the local 40 mile Pendine Daffodil Ride.
Satisfied with my riding and if anything now hooked on cycling there was one more big step I had to undertake, to actually enter Ironman Wales 2016!
To run or not to run……
Completing a few 10K races in December and achieving a PB of 42min 56sec I didn’t think running would be an issue, I’d always run a lot in school and although I wasn’t particularly quick quite enjoyed it.
This was not to be the case for long, in mid March the knee issues began!
Almost every triathlete seems to suffer slight niggling injuries on and off throughout their season due to the nature of training for 3 sports at once. This tends to be lots of varying leg injuries that reoccur and take weeks or months to heal. Iliotibial Band and hamstring strains were and still are my particular curse, confining small chunks of my training to the pool.
Even after rest, cycling still aggravated my left knee and I’ve had to avoid any heavy run training since. I’m planning a run/walk strategy for the day but can’t forget the words of Cranc mechanic Rob and his knackered knees in my ears: ‘If you don’t run it you haven’t done it!’ I’m thinking the ‘Ironman Shuffle’ will have to suffice!
Start with a sprint……
If you’ve ever competed in any triathlon your first was probably one of two things; great or a complete disaster, and you can either remember every second of it or not a single bit of the blur.
I decided the inaugural Swansea Sprint Triathlon was an ideal starting point for a first timer like me and the race itself didn’t disappoint, walking back to the car park with a beaming smile from ear to ear proud as punch – not for long!
Rather tired I failed to notice somebody had closed the car park’s headroom bar whilst there were still hundreds of triathletes in there; I think you can guess what happened next…..
It could have been anyone who drove into that bar with a bike on top of their car, but that day it was my turn! Despite a few choice words afterwards its needless to say my bike didn’t survive the impact, cycling anywhere was on hold until I could acquire a new frame.
Time to thank Andy at Cranc massively for sorting this out so quickly, I was back on the road within 2 weeks!
Upping the distance……
The Long Course Weekend in Tenby is often used as a prep race by many for the full Ironman in September as it is near enough the exact same course. I figured if I could complete the full 2.4 mile sea swim and 112 mile bike then I wasn’t doing too badly. I’m glad to say that I did and in the process develop an even deeper respect for the professional and amateur athletes who complete full distance events like this several times throughout the year.
Swimming was and still is not a strong point, but with a bit of pacing and determination managed the 2.4 miles in 1hr 40mins, making October a distant memory where 4 lengths of a pool had been a struggle, let alone a sea swim with a 1000 plus others!
Happier to be on dry land the gruelling 112 mile bike ride in on/off rain was not the best thing on a Saturday morning! Surely conditions will be slightly more forgiving come September…… right……?
OK maybe not but pleased with a time of around 7hrs 40min in the wet, completing both the full distance swim and bike legs’ has done my confidence the world of good and I’d definitely advise anyone in future to do at least some of the Long Course Weekend if you have worries about your training.
Adding the Ocean Lava half Ironman distance triathlon 2 weeks later dare I say seemed slightly easier in comparison and was my last multisport event before the big day comes in September.
6 Weeks out……
Not long to go now and reality is hitting home; What if I haven’t done enough? What if I can’t complete the swim? What if I miss the cut-offs? What if nothing goes to plan at all……….?
Hopefully in 44 days I’ll wearing that medal and maybe still able to walk afterwards, in a weird way I can’t wait and at the same time don’t want the day to come and the journey to end!
The Ironman motto is ‘ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE’ well I’m sure I’ll find out!