As I sit here listening to Classic FM it’s hard not to feel some pride at how this race went. I definitely came to Tenby this year thinking I could spoil the Oliver Simon show, and I honestly believed that with a good swim I would be able to steal it on the run. But the reason I am so proud of this result is simply because my plan failed so early and I managed to fight as hard as I could and prove to myself that I am a good athlete. This may sound silly given performances of the past, but the doubt remains regardless of whether it’s your first race or whether your defending a win. Anyone who knows me well will know that this fear and doubt is a strong if not healthy motivation, and although I have had good results in the past at Elite level I still find the going tough and I still have a lot I need to do before I can feel totally confident at that level. It’s even harder to feel confident when you’re racing someone who is the pride of the community, and on day 3 when I closed the overall gap during the run and it was announced over the loud speaker, my wife told me she saw a child close to tears! All of those things considered when I got back to the hotel after the swim on day 1 I was feeling very down, and without the support of my wife it’s hard to imagine I would have been willing to bury myself on the bike in the way I did. To sum the swim up in one word I would say “shit”. For sure there were things I could have done to prepare better. I hadn’t swum in open water enough and my sighting technique and rhythm was very poor. I found myself way offline on quite a few occasions and definitely covered more water than I needed to. Dealing with the extra chop is something I’m not used to and something I can’t practice in London, but with improved sighting the damage could have been limited. I had invested a huge amount of time on my swimming and to come away with such a poor time was very grounding.
I woke up the next morning knowing I was going to be chased for over 5 hours by two of the UK’s best, but I had prepared very specifically for this in training. I knew I could go hard for the first 3 hours at around 310-315watts, attack the first loop and then hang on during the second. Last year I was caught before the end of the first loop and then it was impossible to break away. I knew if I could build a gap before the second loop then anyone behind would start to fade and hopefully I could push on to the finish. What I couldn’t have prepared for is how hard mentally it was being chased. If you’re like me then you’ve always wondered what it feels like to be in a breakaway during a bike race, and I can assure you it’s bloody horrific. It’s very hard to lose the image of the people behind you, and on the start of the second loop I went through a really dark patch where I kept thinking they were just round the corner. I want to add its a real shame that Gareth had a mechanical early on in the bike. We rode together for about 20 mins and I think if we had stuck together the race overall would have been much closer in the end, as he is strong rider and will be a threat overall next year. The invitation for a joint ride next year is here Gareth! Straight after I finished my first really big effort and was transitioning to a lower power for the ride home my mind was on the way out. I was very tired from the long effort over the power I would normally ride and mentally I was worn down by the guys behind me. I found a holding pattern to deal with it but I definitely slowed down a bit too much here just trying to hold it together mentally and next year that won’t happen. Getting back was a big relief, and for a big guy like me having to attack those climbs takes an awful lot of watts so I was pretty cooked at the end. I trained very specifically and very hard for this course, but it is seriously brutal. You never find any rhythm towards the end and as you get more tired it keeps chucking different gradients at you. But deep down I would take that over almost any other type of ride going, and I love everything Pembrokeshire and Tenby have to offer including the climbs.
Olly is a one of the UK’s best Long Distance athletes and he is very good in all 3 disciples which makes him even harder to beat. On top of that it wasn’t that close last year and I’m sure we both knew that. I certainly did. He gets in front with his swim which is one of the best anywhere and then he has to stalk me to win. ‘He is in his home town and now he just has to follow me to win’ were the thoughts that made up the bulk of my conversation to myself on the second day, and if anyone asks me what’s harder than an Ironman about doing it over three days I would say that it’s switching off. But fortunately Tenby provides plenty of ways and it’s part of the reason this event is such a success.
As the run started my only goal was to hit my marathon pace and stay with it for as long as possible. I had fleeting thoughts of a break at the very end but to be honest I wasn’t feeling very confident about how I was going to get rid of Olly. I don’t run with a GPS watch and in the end that really helped me as it wouldn’t be too long until I was running so far over marathon pace halfway through the marathon, that mentally it would have been very hard to cope with that reality. As Olly stalked me during the first 2k all I could think of was that he looked strong, I didn’t feel strong, that there was a camera in my face, my legs felt terrible and that I needed a piss. If I had had a GPS giving me more bad news it might have tipped me over the edge but as things flattened out a bit two things happened. Firstly my legs warmed up after the first climb, and secondly the piss situation was resolved subtly. This was very hard with a camera in my face, and I’m as proud of resolving that off camera whilst on the move as I am of my overall performance. Suddenly I started running a step in front of Olly and then all of a sudden I thought why not make it a couple of steps, and then all of a sudden I briefly thought that in 10k we are going to be climbing relentlessly until the end, and if you don’t go hard now you ain’t gonna to want to later. So I went. I went at just over half marathon pace for about 6k then backed off to just over marathon pace until we hit the first climbs. I’m not going to lie after a couple of the big climbs I started to shit my pants a bit. I’ve never run a marathon in this way before so it it was all new, and as I tried to find a rhythm in the climbs and get my heart rate down I realised all I could do was survive the climbs and then if I could push during the flatter section at the end I would. But my legs were on the way out and on the downhills I really felt my size. As a bigger guy this course is more suited to someone else, but I love it and in the same way as the bike it’s a discomfort that I don’t look on badly. It’s a a great natural challenge and all you can do is mange it as best you can. Olly said he had closed the gap and saw me going up the last climb and to be honest I was very much on the way in to a black hole at this point, but something happened once I was over the last climb and it was a bit of a blur from then until the end when I ran up to Gareth at, and I think I refereed to him as my angel for always being there when I needed him. This probably sounded more erotic than I meant it to given I could barely speak at this point so I kind of whispered it, and given that he ran away from me about 5 mins later there is a good chance he took it that way. Gareth I’m happily married with a child, sorry mate no love here! Naturally I am a strong runner, not a naturally fast one and for that last 2-3k my strength enabled me to pick up the pace and move away again from Olly, even though my legs were done and the tank was now empty and had probably fallen off completely on the last climb somewhere. The relief of the red carpet was something that will live with me forever but my legs and head were completely gone. The footage shows me crossing the line and collapsing, but I would like to point out that I stopped my watch just before collapsing. The sign of a pro who’s learning well. Olly trotted across the line to steal the show once again, but there is no shame in coming second to an athlete of his quality in his home town. I would like to think that with the amount I have improved on the bike and run Olly considers me a threat next year. I will have to swim better but I get the feeling next year will be very close and not just between me and Olly. He deserved his win this year and he is also a good bloke so I will forgive his cool demeanour. Wales has a lot of good athletes who will want to be in the show next year and I’m sure they will. One of them is Richard Gardiner and I am very proud that I ran within 5 minutes of a Marathon runner with his quality. Looking at what’s he’s achieved I now know what a top athlete he is and it was a pleasure to be in the same ball park as him.
In hindsight this Long Course Weekend was a pretty accurate reflection of where my training was at that time. But for me it was also a reflection of how mentally tough I can be on occasion. Not always but some of the time. Physically it was hard, but there were lots of occasions where mentally I was tested in ways that I haven’t been before and I came through them and managed to up my physical performance to deal with them. This course and event takes you to those places naturally!! I love this event and I love Tenby. Activity Wales Events manage to do something very rare, and that is combine a brutal event whilst making every athlete who crosses the line feel special. The format is also more entertaining on TV and I also think it’s a way of getting lots of people to try their hand in different ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if in time it takes off as a mainstream format in multiple places. Next year I want to come back and do better, and for me this event tests lots of areas where I struggle so it’s a great personal discovery. I will focus my training towards being in the right shape to getting the tittle back, but even if I don’t I know I will have a great time trying.