5am: the alarm goes off. I got up and put the kettle on ready for my morning porridge and knocked on the room next door for my dad. We then walked to transition together in the dark to do our final checks. The air was fresh and wet, and the nerves were kicking in!
I handed in my white bag – this was full of my clothes ready for after the race (who knows what state I would be in at that point!) I then went to check my bike to make sure nothing had moved during the night. I fixed my water bottles to my bike, which had lots of Tailwind Nutrition in them – it turns out that was an absolute life saver! I put my bike computer on. It was beginning to feel very real at this point.
We walked back to our hotel which was very conveniently right next to the finish line! (We stayed at the Atlantic Hotel!) I put on my kit and my wetsuit halfway up… it was time! Together with my dad, mum and girlfriend we walked down to the swim start. This is where we started to see the amazing atmosphere that is common with an Ironman – there were people already lining the streets with banners, cheering us as we went down. I said goodbye to my mum and girlfriend, and headed on to walk down the infamous zigzag. This is where I really did feel nervous, along with all the other 2300 athletes! I put my shoes in my pink bag, ready to help me run to transition after the swim. We were then put into a pen, where we had to order ourselves by our (rough) swim times. I ended up 10 minutes behind what I thought I could do, as I couldn’t seen to get any further forward in the queue. Everyone sang the Welsh National Anthem, and the noise was incredible! Soon after this, the song Thunderstruck came on and the pro’s were set off. We all started moving forward as people entered the water… here we go. I ran and dived into the sea. It had begun. My race had started.
The swim was a 2.4 mile sea swim, where we swam two laps with an Australian exit in the middle. This involved getting out of the water, running a short distance along the sand then entering the water for the second lap. I swam hard for the first 100m to get out of the way of everyone – it was chaos! I couldn’t seem to see the buoys at all. However, by the time I got to the first buoy I had set a comfortable pace. As the visibility was so bad, people ended up swimming over the top of me at each buoy, but that seemed to happen to everyone. I ended up swallowing a lot of water on the second leg, which isn’t ideal when its so salty! Before I knew it, the first lap was done. The run along the sand was fine, but as soon as I got back in the water I was so confused and couldn’t seem to get back into it. People began to spread out more, which gave me a little room to clear my head and focus again. I seemed to keep going off course no matter how hard I tried, but I was soon guided back by one of the kayaks. I got out the water, and my swim was done. I managed to complete it in 1 hour 5 minutes, which I was happy with.
The noise from the spectators was incredible and so loud! From the sea, I put my shoes on and ran up the zigzag. People were screaming encouragement all the way up, and it was great to see some familiar faces cheering me on at the top. I got into transition, put on my cycling kit as fast as I could and got on my bike, with a very long 112 miles in front of me.
Once on the bike, I managed to set into the pace very early on, as well as settling into the power that I wanted. I was overtaking a lot of people at the beginning, giving me a confidence boost. As I was approaching the 20 mile mark, one of my water bottles fell out whilst going down a hill – that was a huge mistake. Luckily, I was only 5 miles away from the first water stop… thank God! I got another bottle and changed my set up to ensure nothing would fall out again. I set back into my pace, however another problem was already starting to show! My front derailleur felt very sluggish, and it wasn’t changing gear very quickly at all. I knew that the next 15 miles didn’t have many hill climbs, so I thought I would be ok… a hill approached me, so I changed to my small front chain ring and heard a snap. I carried on up the hill, but when I tried to go down, it wouldn’t change! I pulled over just to realize that my front derailleur had broken, so I wouldn’t be able to get out of my small front ring from now on…great! This meant that I couldn’t get enough speed on the flats as there was no resistance at all. My speed dropped from 20mph to 17mph which was not amazing, but I was grateful that I could keep going. By this point I was starting to approach the streets of Tenby, where all the spectators were gathered around the roads. The climbs were incredibly hard on my legs, but the people screaming encouragement really helped me get to the top, especially at the iconic climb in Saundersfoot! People were crowded all the way up the hill, and I felt like I was in the Tour de France. Soon enough I was onto the 2nd lap of the bike course. This was significantly harder, not just because my legs were tired but the roads were all the same, making it mentally a lot tougher.
I came off the bike with a time of 6 hours 38 minutes and ran into transition to put on my running kit. I felt surprisingly ok as I began the marathon ahead of me. I didn’t look at my watch at this point, and I simply ran to how I felt. The run consisted of four laps of just over 10k each, with a significant hill climb in each. Around two miles in, the first female Simone Mitchell overtook me! I was excited to see her, so I tried to stay running with her to see what it would be like… I managed for around a mile! This was useful, as I managed a fantastic time for my first lap. During the second lap, everything was beginning to catch up with me and I started walking just over the half marathon point. I wasn’t too displeased with this, as I was expecting to walk a lot earlier on. The next 10k seemed to last forever, and I slumped. I lost my mindset and was beginning to wonder why I was doing this, especially with another half marathon to go. My body was aching. I passed a large crowd who were shouting at me telling me I could do it which helped a lot. I passed a young person with a sign saying ‘Touch for power’ and she was holding it out to me. I touched it and started running again and heard her screaming with excitement as I ran off. This gave me a second wind and I knew I could do it. I pushed myself to my limits on my final lap and continued to the very end.
My main goal for this race was to finish. Just to simply cross the finish line would be an incredible achievement. But anyone who knowns me would know that this wouldn’t be my only goal. I had also said that I wanted to finish before sunset, and I was aiming (all going well) for the 12 hour mark…
I crossed the finish line and became an Ironman with a time of 12 hours and 24 seconds, and yes, just before sunset. I am incredibly proud of that result especially with that being my first Ironman. And if that wasn’t enough, I placed 6th in my age group. I’m very happy with that and can’t wait to see what I can do in the coming years. Because of my result, I have now set myself the goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona in the next few years.
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout my Ironman journey and continues to do so, including Chloe Witts who is now helping me recover from this as well as also keeping me in shape, and Smith Heath for the continuous support allowing me to follow my triathlon dreams.
The question is was it worth it, 100% YES, all the early mornings, long rides, all the pain I was in over the training and in the race. It was all worth it to hear the words “Ryan Coombs You are an IRONMAN” and to see how far I had personally come up to the race.
Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions or advice that you have for me, and follow me on Instagram (see link at the bottom of my page) so we can go through our triathlon journeys together.