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James Beckinsale's IM Wales 2011
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 20th September 2011


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James Beckinsale was Tri247's nominated entry for the Ironman Wales event a couple of weeks ago and despite having the disappointment of a DNF due to a mechanical on the bike he has still managed to put together a comprehensive race report with the help of a couple of friends. As he says, it isn't Kansas...


I have been travelling down to Tenby for the past nine years. I met my wife in west London and I soon discovered that her home was this beautiful little town in West Wales and her love for the place soon rubbed off on me. So, as a triathlete and triathlon coach, you can imagine how I felt when the Activity Wales crew decided to bring Ironman to this little seaside resort! It is said that “nothing great can ever be achieved without enthusiasm” and when I first met Mathew Evans, he had bags of it and it is testament to the man (and his team) that he has pulled this race off. And what a fantastic show it was.

There was a little bit of a worry in the build up to the race; would the locals embrace the event? We all know that when you do an Ironman it's the support, the marshals and volunteers and the host town/ city that make the event what it is. It was wonderful to see the steady build up of bodies cycling the route and swimming on South beach, running round the roads and to feel the atmosphere steadily building around the town! What could stop this from becoming just an amazing Ironman event...

...the weather. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a week like it. To be fair the whole summer has been a bit of a wash out in the UK, however my father-in-law has always told me about this micro climate that hangs over Tenby! Some micro climate!

Rain, rain, rain, wind, wind and more wind all week long - it was horrible and was hardly showing off Pembrokeshire at its finest. With athletes considering not just what wheels to use on the course, but also 'will I put a rain jacket on for the bike', the weather was looking like it could put a real dampener on the whole event. A bit of sun just changes the place - the painted sea front houses, the water, the sand all come alive with a splash of sun.

The swim change

On Saturday morning, the day before the race, the organizers together with the RNLI made the call to move the swim from South Beach to North Beach which is round the corner and much more sheltered from the Westerly winds and, in my opinion, a much better place to swim anyway as it really shows off the harbour and surrounding beach front. However, it adds a much longer (1k+) run into transition through town (which we were told would be taken off the marathon section).

Bag and bike check in was on Saturday as usual for Ironman races, but with bikes being blown all over the place, bike covers were not allowed for your precious steed.

With the change to the swim, there was an extra race briefing on Saturday night, where we were told that we would be given bags to put trainers in for the run across town and into T1. How would that all pan out?

Race day

Race morning, I woke early to the sound of very strong winds and the pitter patter of rain drops! In transition half-awake bodies were swarming to do last minute checks on their bikes, pump tyres, attach nutrition, etc. Down at the swim start, the crowds (fantastic crowds lining up along the rails and up and down the paths leading from the beach) were starting to assemble. The energy was building and it was breathtaking to witness the inaugural Ironman Wales about to burst into life.

The swim: The flare goes up with a bit of a bang and off we go with a beach start and running into the sea. Well, that was what was meant to happen, however quite a few (including most of the professionals) thought they would take advantage of the lack of night club bouncers on patrol and so decided to run virtually all the way down the beach and start their swim down the far end of the beach cutting off about 400m of their swim. Not really cricket if you ask me, but they will put that in order for next year (and did so for the second loop of the swim).

Quite a nice little swell going on during the swim, but what fantastic fun! It makes a change from the normal lake swims that most Ironman events have. It was very well marked out and the buoys were well situated and could be seen clearly - so long as you sighted at the top of the swell!

The run to T1: To be honest, this worked fine. Collecting your trainers from a numbered peg (your wetsuit could be taken off on the slope if you wanted to), running up the zig-zag from the beach (the first of many hills) and through town was really not that much further than the Austria run into T1 and worked well, with lots of support all the way.

Once into T1 it was a smooth process, with no hassle and some good marshals on hand if you needed a little assistance. Already the crowds were in fine voice and it gave a nice little buzz to send you on your way for what most knew was going to be one of the toughest bike courses in the world of Ironman.

The bike course: This course will become the stuff of legend on the Ironman circuit I am sure. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do more than 30k as my tyre wall blew out and I had to try and find my way back to Tenby. My race was over.

I have trained on the course over the years and could write about the hills, etc. However, I thought I would ask a couple of the guys who did the whole race to share with you their thoughts and feelings.

Tim Bishop (M40-44)

Swim Bike Run Total Pos Cat Pos
56:16 5:54:35 3:26:21 10:27:56 60 8

After recently going under nine hours for the first time at Challenge Copenhagen, how did he find this little baby?

The race organisers and Pembrokeshire community put together a superb event on Sunday, in spite of atrocious weather conditions in the build-up and particularly for the later finishers, who crossed the line amid scenes reminiscent of news coverage from hurricanes in the US (but somehow still with a great party atmosphere – though maybe as I was wrapped up in my warmest clothes (including ski jacket) it was easier to enjoy the atmosphere than for those still battling through the elements). This was my 14th ironman, but I don't think I've raced another with more support out on the course or a warmer welcome from the local community.

The bike was challenging to put it mildly and riding with a rear disc wheel made for some really hairy moments, particularly on the exposed section before the sand dunes at Angle, after which another rider asked me how on earth I had managed to survive it. But there was huge support in all the villages along the route, particularly in Narberth and then heading up one of the killer climbs out of Saundersfoot, where the music was pumping and I got completely carried away on the first loop and suffered for it up the rest of the hill. My last three Ironman bike splits have all been under 4:55, so the extra hour here tells you just how tough the course was.

The run was no less challenging (aren't ironman runs supposed to be reasonably flat?), but again there were supporters lining virtually the whole route, even up on the main road out of Tenby. It was great to have an extra commentary station and big screen in the middle of Tenby for each of the four laps of the run too - considering that this was the first running of the event, the organisers have already come up with a lot of extra touches that you don't normally find. Nowhere else in the UK have I encountered this kind of enthusiasm from locals and I think at last we have a long distance race we can be really proud of and that will become one of the iconic races on the M-dot circuit. Even though on a personal level I had a disappointing race, I am left feeling incredibly positive about the event and with great memories.

Steven Lord (M40-44)

Swim Bike Run Total Pos Cat Pos
47:43 5:50:08 3:45:39 10:35:49 82 16

Steven has raced tons of Ironman races and I love the fact that he runs the marathon in Fivefingers!

Great location. An iconic holiday resort slightly out of season is just perfect. The town has loads of cafes and pubs (and chippies), it's beautiful, both the natural scenery and the man made stuff (castles and quaint buildings) and the locals were just so supportive.

North Beach is where the swim should stay. If they could order a big sea each year that would be good. Just need to sort out the start to avoid the running down the beach. Keep the run through town to T1, will become the stuff of legend.

What a bike course. Scenic and fair. Toughest bike course I've done. For a first run I was impressed with the volunteers - didn't miss one grab of a bottle. Nice having focal points - Narberth, Saundersfoot.

The runs is another classic. Keep it completely honest, no easy run because of the hard bike. Distance was bang on (minus the 1km for T1) though I feel in future they should stick to a full marathon. Aid stations could be slightly more evenly spaced. Route was so interesting - in town saw all the sights and gave spectators massive opportunity to see their athlete. Heading out the way the bikes are coming in adds to the interest. Support again was superb.


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