Coming off the back of a good race at Challenge Roth and not really knowing if I was going to compete at Ironman Wales, the decision eventually came around to race this year and see what happened. I had a couple of weeks after Roth, with very little training to try and recover and knowing that there were only 7 weeks until Wales, I didn’t feel as if I would be ready, so I thought I would just tick over the training and try to go to Tenby with an open mind. There was no pressure on me to perform in Tenby and I was going into the race to try and enjoy the immense atmosphere the crowds bring.
We stayed in the same place we did in 2017, The Western Lodge. I can’t even begin to explain how perfect The Western Lodge is and to top it off Jacqui and Richard, our hosts are the most incredible people. We have stayed in contact with them since our first visit in 2017 and we are really lucky to be able to call them our friends. They would literally do anything for you and it made our stay in Tenby that much better. So I just want to say a huge thank you to both of them and I know we will stay in touch in the future.
Saundersfoot Triathlon is always on the day before IMW and as we did in 2017, Catrin had entered the race. It was a beautiful morning, but when we arrived the sea looked very choppy. It is a challenging bike course, but the run is a nice flat 5km out and back to finish. Catrin performed very well on the day and came away with 8th place in her age category and 10th female overall. A great start to the weekend.
We went to watch the Ironkids race in the afternoon, where 3 of my nephews were ‘racing’. It was great to see all the kids sprinting around the streets of Tenby with huge smiles on their faces.
Race Day – We set the alarm for 3.30 am to get up, have breakfast and be over in transition for 5 am. Tyres pumped up, nutrition sorted and back to The Western Lodge to get into my wetsuit. Being only a 2-minute walk from the beach was ideal and we had a good 45 minutes back at the B&B before I made my way down to the beach.
There were no nerves whatsoever as Catrin and I made our way towards North Beach. The streets were filling up and I said to Catrin, I am going to have to make my way down to the start if I want to get to the front Pen of the race. I gave her a hug and kiss, as I always do and made my way down the zig-zags. It took me about 15 minutes to walk and weave past all the other athletes and I eventually got to the front. No warm-up this year, as it was quite chilly first thing, I didn’t want to get cold by waiting 40 odd minutes soaking wet. The fast swimmers were already at the front of the pack and it was very chilled. I had a quick chat with Gaz, Alex John, Nick Thomas and Andy HT. As always the National anthem started and everyone was getting ready for the start. Thunderstruck by AC/DC was then blasted out of the speakers and it was almost time to get stuck in. Going into the race, I didn’t really know how I was going to perform. I think this was a blessing, as I didn’t feel any pressure or expectation to do well. This didn’t mean that I was going to take the race easy, as some people might have thought. Just try to enjoy the day and do what I do in every race I take part in.
The male Pros went off, followed by the female Pros and then it was our turn. Andy was by far the strongest swimmer in the group of us at the front of the race and it would have been stupid of me to try and go with him, so I entered the water and swam at my own pace out to the first buoy. The water was calm and the first lap is always the easiest, as the congestion builds up with the slower swimmers on the second lap. I didn’t have any issues on the first lap of the swim and exited in 24.50. I didn’t record the swim on my watch, so at the time I didn’t know. I felt ok and took my time running across the sand to enter the water for the second time. Again out to the first buoy was plain sailing and I was completely on my own. I then caught a pack of the women pros and a couple of male pros. This is where it got difficult. Swimming over towards the lighthouse there were hundreds of athletes all over the place. It made it difficult to swim in a straight line, as I was zigzagging in and out of swimmers to try and get some clear water. Not too much of an issue, as I knew what to expect from my experience in 2017. Coming into the finish of the swim with a time of 51.00. Disappointing, as I swam a 49.10 in 2017 in much worse conditions. Andy was way out in front at this point, with a very impressive 47.03.
I decided to take my wetsuit off at the pink bag railings and as I was doing so my bottle of water I took out of the bag started rolling down the ramp. I didn’t want to get DQ’d for littering, so I ran down after it. Onto the transition run and the crowds were going mental, as they always do. I had in my mind that I needed to take this run very steady, so I looked around for some familiar faces while running up to T1. I saw family and friends and heard people shouting ‘come on Fordy’ Catrin told me where she was going to stand, so I could see her on the way through. I caught a glimpse of her with the rest of my family and gave them a thumbs up and a smile. Into the transition tent and on with my helmet and race belt. I then started running out towards my bike still carrying my blue transition bag. I ran halfway to my bike when a volunteer shouted, ‘you are meant to leave your bag in the tent’. Oh shit, I had to run all the way back into the tent and put the bag back on the hook. What a muppet. Back over to my bike and I was away to start the bike course.
I didn’t have a plan for the bike, just ride on how I was feeling and try to catch Andy, who was leading the age groupers. I have to be totally honest, I felt absolutely terrible as soon as I got on the bike and riding out towards Lamphey, my legs felt like lead. I knew Gaz was going to be about 7-8 minutes behind me on the swim and he is a very strong rider and runner, so I was half expecting him to come past me on the bike, as I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere. A couple of male pros went past me and I tried to go with them, but my legs didn’t. I didn’t really look at my Garmin until I got to Freshwater West, where I saw my average speed was 22.6mph. I certainly didn’t feel I was riding that fast. The first glimpse I got of Andy was when I was riding out towards Angle and he was coming back the other way, with a few of the pros not far in front of him. He must have been around 8-10 minutes ahead at this stage.
I had a plan from the section from Angle back into Tenby, which is a flat and very fast road. I was hitting my power target for this section, which was the only section of the course I had a number to aim for. This was where I saw a motorbike had stopped in the middle of the road and just the other side was an athlete laying on the floor, flat on his back and not moving. It looked serious and I hope he is ok.
Onto the big loop and this is where the hills come into play. I was still feeling terrible on the bike and I kept saying to myself, just take the hills nice and steady and try to increase the effort on the flats and descents. I wasn’t taking any risks at all after seeing the crash earlier, so I focused on maintaining a decent pace, without overdoing it. I was looking forward to getting into Narbeth and actually seeing someone. Up until this point, I was completely on my own, not a soul in sight. It was if I was out for a training ride on a Wednesday morning when everyone else is in work. The roads were quiet and I was looking forward to the crowds that were ahead. Moving along nicely, I then managed to see 2 pro athletes in front of me on the climb just after Carew Castle. Finally, someone to chase and maybe work with for a while. I closed in on them both and went around them and that’s where they stayed. I was hoping we could take it in turns on the front, but they weren’t interested.
Not far from the climb into Narbeth and I could hear the music playing and crowds cheering. I knew from this point that there was going to be a lot more support, as Wisemans and St Brides was only around 10 miles away. I saw a few familiar faces in Narbeth and this gave me a bit of a boost going forward. Still in second place age grouper, as I knew nobody had gone past me at this point, apart from a few pros, I struggled on towards Wisemans. This is the steepest climb of the day and I remember in 2017 the support was fantastic on the hill. I was very disappointed to see only a few supporters at the top of the climb. If you overcook it on this hill, you will be paying the price, as there are a lot more hills just around the corner. I took my time and got to the top without an issue. Moving towards Saundersfoot and I knew that’s where my family were going to be standing. The crowd support there is always epic and I really needed to see Catrin to give me the boost I felt I needed. As I approached the hill, I could see hundreds of supporters all gathered and cheering, so I got out of my saddle and tried to see where Cat was standing, I was almost at the top, when I caught her eye at the last minute, I smiled, but shook my head to indicate to her that I was feeling shit. I then saw Will Munday a little further ahead and this is where I got my first accurate split. Will is a top athlete and I knew I could take his split as an accurate one. He shouted over that I was 5 mins down on Andy. I knew then that I had to concentrate on catching him, without going into the Red.
The first lap completed and out onto the second. I was back on my own by this point and I was waiting to catch up some of the athletes that were on their first lap. It gets very congested on the second lap and this is where you have to have your wits about you and keep that concentration. I felt I was shouting on your right, on your right the whole time, but that’s what you have to do to avoid any mishaps.
My nutrition was going pretty well, apart from I didn’t feel I was taking on enough fluid. I missed a couple of bottles at the aid stations (my own fault, I was probably going slightly too fast through there to grab a bottle) and I just wanted to get off the bike and start running. Coming up towards the 90-mile mark on the bike and I saw Andy halfway up the hill. I kept at my own pace and eventually caught him and went past. Although I had passed him, I didn’t want to kill myself by pushing too hard for the last 20 miles or so.
As I came up to 100 miles on the bike course, my legs finally woke up and I actually felt the best I had all day. What the hell had they been doing for 100 miles? I was out of the saddle and pushing hard on the pedals. Joe Skipper came alongside me on the second time up Wiseman’s hill, he had a mechanical on the bike on the first lap and lost around 30 minutes. He asked me how many were in front of us at this point, but I didn’t have a clue, then off he went. I enjoyed my second time up heartbreak hill and knowing you are only around 4 miles from the finish, gives you that motivation.
All plain sailing back into T2 where I heard the announcer say, ‘here we have our first age grouper back off the bike, Nathan Ford’. I saw Catrin again as I was removing my feet from the shoes, before making my way into transition. Bike Split of 5.16.24 with a Normalised Power of 275
Going out onto the run and my legs were feeling great. I clocked I was running 6.20 pace leaving T2, so had to make a conscious effort to slow right down.
The first lap of the run gives you an idea of where you are in the race and I was keeping an eye out to see the competition coming the other way. As I was coming back down from New Hedges into Tenby, I could see Gaz running up the hill. I must have been around a 20 minute lead on him by this stage, but I know how strong Gaz is as a runner and his determination is first class, so I didn’t take this for granted. The run course is brutal and if you don’t pace it, you have had it, simple as that. I know my body pretty well now and although I hadn’t trained for this type of course, I was confident that the training I had put in before Roth, would see me to the finish. Lap 2 was as good as the first and although Gaz was gaining on me, I still felt pretty good and had a nice buffer to second place of around 12 minutes. I didn’t realise there was a German athlete in my AG, that was running his way into second and he was the one that was 12 minutes back. Lap 3 is where it started to hurt and I needed some of my family to make their way up towards New Hedges to give me the support I needed. There is a lot of support in the town centre and loads of familiar faces, but up by New Hedges, I didn’t really know anyone. There were people shouting my name and shouting go on Fordy, but I really needed to see someone I know personally and someone who knows me and how I operate. Catrin is the one person who probably knows me better than I know myself, so as I was running down the hill I shouted over to her and her brother Sam, to get up there and pointed to the top of the hill.
I knew that when I got down into the Town, I only had to run up that bastard of a hill one more time, so I kept saying in my head, one more, one more, come on. My sister, Dad, Mum and Nephew Elliot were in the Town shouting their heads off every lap. As well as them I had my Mother in Law, Gill, her Husband Martyn and my Father in Law Carl all supporting me, which I am so grateful for. My 2 other Nephews Connor and Cameron were also there in their Team NFT t-shirts shouting my name.
1 Lap left and I came across Karl Harry, another top athlete and multiple Ironman finisher. I ran next to him on the final lap until I got to that dreaded hill again. I was really suffering from this point and started to be sick whilst running. I then came to a stop, but Karl wasn’t having any of it. He stopped with me and gave me a kick up the arse that I really needed. He said come on Fordy, stick with me now, get on my shoulder and stay there. I honestly can’t thank him enough for that. He didn’t have to stop, but that’s the kind of guy he is. If he hadn’t have stopped to help me. I honestly think I would have walked to the top of that hill. He had his own race to focus on, but still, he stopped for me and that is something I will never forget. Karl, you are an absolute gent and I owe you big time.
As this was going on I Saw Catrin, Carl and Sam making their way to the finish line, so they were shouting at me to get going again as well. I knew as soon as got to that Red Bull tent by the roundabout, it was pretty much all downhill to the finish. I got there and made my way back down and someone shouted over, you have an 8 minute lead on second. As long as I kept running, I should be able to hold him off. Coming back into the side streets of Tenby, I knew I had enough of a lead to hold off the German, so as I approached the red carpet I started high fiving the crowd but missed Catrin and my family as I made my way to the finish line. I was so relieved to see the finish and the emotions crossing the line were incredible. I shouted and clenched my fists, then collapsed to my knees. I had done it. I didn’t have a clue what time it was or even what my run split was, but I didn’t really care, I was the fastest Age Grouper of the day, the first British athlete home and 8th overall. I didn’t expect it, but I am delighted. To finish in 9.36.34 is something I never thought I’d be able to do. A run split of 3.22.04
I saw one of my best mates at the finish line. Kieran Hennah. I haven’t seen him for well over a year, so it was really good to see him and have a quick chat. I then saw Catrin and my family and gave them a massive hug.
It goes to show that going into a race and just racing, without putting any pressure on yourself or overthinking things, can be the best way to approach it. I’m not the most confident of people and I don’t think I ever will have the self-belief that I probably should have, but I really love this sport and anyone really can achieve anything if they work hard and put their mind to it.
Triathlon brings so many people together and it is a sport that will always be a part of my life. The little things go a long way. From everyone supporting and shouting my name, to people like Karl, who went out of his way to help a mate. I can’t thank you all enough. My family spent all day on their feet shouting and encouraging, not just me but all the other athletes out on course and this is what makes Tenby so special. The loudest supporter of the day had to go to my Brother in Law Sam. Every time I cycled or ran past where he was standing, all I could hear was his voice. It helped me push through the pain and get me around that brutal course.
I can’t thank Catrin enough for everything she does for me. I won’t go into the ins and outs, but I hope she knows how grateful I am to her and this win is a team effort, so this one is for her.
I have done Wales twice now and that is it for me, It’s time to move onto my next goal and it is a tough ask, but again I will give it everything I have to achieve it.
Congratulations to everyone who finished the race, I have so much respect for you all. To Andy HT for qualifying for Kona on his first attempt at Ironman and also Daren ‘Scarlet’ Davies for also qualifying for Kona. I am so chuffed for him and can’t wait to watch you both on the Big Island next year.
For me, I decided not to take my slot for Kona, as I have a different target for next year.
Team NFT athletes, who all completed the race and all had PB’s.
Josh Morgan in his first Ironman 11.24.34 (4th place in AG)
Marc Davies in his first Ironman 10.48.14 (qualifying for Kona, but not taking his slot)
Alister Chambers (15.57.57)
Craig Lewis (14.00.19)
Nick Morris (12.10.07) 10 minutes PB
James ‘Jamo’ Davies (12.42.24) 30 minute PB
I now have a number of coaching slots available. If you would like help with your training, or if you would like to race for Team NFT next year, please get in touch.
Tenby it has been a blast.