Alarm set for 3.45am, I knew I was in for a sleepless night. Feeling nervous, excited and anxious I tried to get to sleep at 21.00. In next to no time, the alarm was going off and as expected, I probably only had about 3 hours of decent sleep. Up I got and went downstairs to make my usual breakfast super shake.
Catrin and I stayed in The Western Lodge, which is owned by Richard and Jacqui. If anyone is looking for accommodation for Ironman Wales, I’d highly recommend staying here. Absolutely beautiful home, which is about 500m or so from the start line of Ironman Wales, North Beach. Richard and Jacqui were brilliant hosts and made sure we had everything we needed. A garage to store our bikes and they even washed our wetsuits for us.
After breakfast, I started to get my nutrition together and gather my kit to set off to transition. When I say I started to get my kit together, what I really mean is Catrin got my kit together. She plays such an important part in my training and racing, always meal prepping for me, ensuring I have all my kit and making sure I’m in the right place at the right time. Without her by my side, panic stations would certainly set in. She keeps me calm and says the right things at the right time.
Off to transition we went and were one of the first ones there, which again was Catrin’s idea. I’m so glad we got there at the front because the queue behind us was huge. All the athletes lined up with their nutrition at hand, ready to give their bikes a quick once over and do the essentials, like pump up tyres etc. Catrin and I planned for me to bring my bike to the edge of transition, as I needed an extra pair of hands to pump up my disk wheel. (i still haven’t mastered the art of doing this myself) With all that done and ensuring I knew exactly where my bike was positioned, we headed out of transition and back to Western Lodge to get changed into my wetsuit and prepare for the long day ahead.
As I said earlier, we were positioned around 500 metres from North Beach, so once I had my wetsuit on, we headed down to the beach. I wanted to keep myself to myself before the race, so I put my hood up and blocked out what was going on around me. Once we reached the top of North Beach, it was time to say goodbye and I gave Catrin a big hug and kiss and headed down the ramp to attach my pink transition bag to the railings. The pink transition bag is an extra bag for your trainers, as the transition run is 1km from the beach to where the bikes are racked in the car park. I wanted to get in the sea for a 400-500m warm up, something I like to do before every triathlon. I saw Alex John, who is also on the Cycle Specific TRI Team, on the beach and had a quick chat about how we were feeling. We wished each other good luck and headed into the sea for our warm up. Once I had completed my warm up, I saw that the other athletes were making their way down to the beach. I dried myself off and made my way over to the group of athletes at the front of the pack. I managed to find Olly Simon and David Bartlett at the front of the group and knowing they are both strong swimmers, I decided to try and work with the pair of them throughout the swim leg.
There were a lot of nervous faces on the beach, mine included and as soon as the Welsh National Anthem started playing, those nerves escalated to a whole new level. I had a plan for each discipline and the swim target time was around 47-48 minutes. The sea looked calm, so I thought that target was achievable. The male Pros were up first, followed by the women pros and then the age group athletes. I was positioned right at the front next to Olly and David, staring into the sea, waiting for the gun to go off. A quick look up to the sky to have a word with Pops, who was always my number one fan and I was ready to go. ‘BANG’, the gun went and we all made a quick dash for the water, battling for a good position, we headed out for the first buoy. David, Olly and I, were setting the pace at the front of the pack. The water was calm and I was swimming at a comfortable pace.
The swim is a 2 lap swim, with a short run across the beach, before getting back in for the second lap. The first lap was quick, but I felt really good, exiting the water in 23.48. David and Olly exited pretty much the same time, so things were looking good. I heard Dylan (coach at cycle specific) shouting to me on the beach, to keep it smooth. Unfortunately, I struggled with the run across the sand and lost both David and Olly, before entering the water for lap 2. I was forced to swim the second lap on my own, trying to dodge the other age group athletes, who were on their first lap. I still felt good on the second lap and when you swim past a number of pro triathletes who started over 5 minutes before you, it really gives you the motivation to push the pace.
The second lap was a bit choppier and by weaving in and out of the age group athletes, I could see Goscar rock and the finish of the swim. I exited the swim in 49. 29, slightly slower than i’d planned, but I think that was due to the beach run at the halfway point. I ran up the ramp and quickly grabbed my pink bag with my trainers in. I also had a bottle of water in the bag to wash the sand off my feet. I started making the 1km transition to the car park when I saw Catrin and my family shouting their heads off. This made me run faster and I completed T1 in 7.56. Upon entering T1, I could see Olly and David were heading out on their bikes. I quickly put my socks and helmet on and made the conscious effort to try and catch them in the first couple of miles. I saw Catrin and my dad when leaving transition on my bike, so I pumped my legs and headed out on the first stretch of the bike course.
Within a mile I had Olly and David in my sights. I quickly caught them up and Olly and I took turns leading, working well together, (no not drafting, before you think it) all the way out towards Angle. I started early on my nutrition and ensured I drank enough, staying on target with the plan in mind. The rain and wind was hammering down on us, but my legs felt good, so I decided to up the pace after leaving Angle. Around 40-45 miles in, I took a look behind me and there was nobody to be seen. I later found out Olly had a double puncture, which is so unfortunate, as he was riding really well. At this point, I knew I was going to have to ride the toughest 2 loops on my own. I was averaging around 21.8 mph for the first 60 miles or so and hitting my power output, whilst feeling really strong. I passed another 3 pro athletes and headed for the climb at Wisemans. Unfortunately, on the way to Wisemans, some idiot had poured oil all over the road. I saw a Marshall screaming for me to slow down and I actually had to get off my bike and carry it 20 metres over the oil and around the corner. Not only was this a stupid act, but extremely dangerous and I later heard they had arrested someone for their actions.
Back on the bike and heading towards heartbreak hill, where I knew all my family and friends were standing. Riding up St Brides (heartbreak hill) I could hear them all shouting my name. ‘go on Fordy boy’ My training partner and fellow Ironman, Mark Rabaiotti (Rab) along with his partner Hayley, Two of my closest friends, plus Palmer and Christina, all shouting for me. What a feeling riding up that hill, a moment I will never forget.
Finishing the first lap, with the average pace 21.5mph, I was on target for a sub 5.30, which I would take any day in those conditions. The second lap incorporated the 2 main climbs for a second time, St Brides and Wisemans. I was being fed information by Dylan at a number of points during the bike leg, which was really motivating. I was told I was the first age grouper and I had a 12 minute lead on second place, which was growing all the time. This pushed me on and I upped the pace again. I approached Wisemans for the second time and as I was about to get out of the saddle to attack the climb, I heard a big crunch and instantly thought, ‘oh god no, not a snapped chain??’ Luckily enough the chain had just come off. I quickly put it back on and off I went. The rest of the bike leg went well and I entered T2 with a bike split of 5.31.24. Upon entering T2 I heard the announcer saying, ‘here we have our first age group athlete back off the bike, Nathan Ford’ This gave me goosebumps and leaving T2 to go out on the run, I got a bit carried away. Giving Catrin, Rab and Hayley a high five gave me another massive boost. I then heard my dads voice saying, ‘controlled Nath, controlled’ I held back and got into a nice comfortable rhythm for the first 5 miles or so.
I hadn’t reece’d the run leg, so I didn’t know what to expect, something that I did on purpose, as I like to run the courses without knowing how hard or easy it is. I headed out to New Hedges and within the first 4-5 miles a couple of pros passed me. I was sensible and just ran my own pace.(not that I would have stayed with them anyway). I could see Cameron Wurf, the eventual winner, running ahead of me, (he was on his second lap I think haha maybe his third) It really hit home, that I was running with some of the best triathletes in the world. The first couple of laps were quite comfortable and I had a decent pace going. All my family were in Tenby and I had a really good reception from them every time I ran through the town. My brother, his wife, Beth and my Nephew Elliot, were standing in the town centre, Elliot dressed up in his Ironman outfit. The support I had from the 3 of them was incredible. If you haven’t already seen it, head over to my Instagram page, @nathanfordtriathlon to see the video of Elliot running along side me, dressed as ironman. What a little legend. My mum and my sister were also there screaming at the top of their voices, something they always do when they come to watch me.
I reached mile 17 and thats where things really started hurting. I shouted over to Rab and Catrin that I needed someone up the top of the run leg, by New Hedges. I don’t think Cat was too pleased as she later said ‘i wasn’t too happy that I had to do a hill rep to New Hedges to support you’ haha. Having Rab and Cat there was a blessing as I needed their support and motivation.
Lap 3 and I was still getting info from Dylan, that I was around 8 minutes ahead of second place. I really had to dig deep on the last lap and the gap between myself and second was closing very quickly. I maintained my focus, not even acknowledging people shouting my name. (Sorry if I looked to be ignoring you, I wasn’t being rude, just focused and determined to reach the finish) Cat and Rab were screaming at me to keep it together and Rab’s words of ‘come on Fordy, you fucking got this, keep it together’ really gave me a kick up the arse. Rab and I have been training partners since we took up triathlon a couple of years ago, we don’t get to train with each other as much as we would like, due to work commitments, but when we do, boy does he train hard. When I hear the question, ‘Fancy a trail run this weekend Ford?’ I know I’m in for a beasting. In all seriousness though, I couldn’t ask for a better training partner.
Heading into the last 5 miles of the run and I was still leading. Dylan started running next to me and said, ‘i know this is easy for me to say Nath, but you gotta get a fucking shift on’ I gave it my all, but within the last 2 miles, I was overtaken by the overall winner of the 30-34 age group category.
I Had the finish line in sight, so I zipped up my cycle specific tri suit and took in all the crowd support and atmosphere, seeing my family at the finish, made it extra special. I planned on jumping across the finish line for a good finisher’s pic, but my legs had other ideas. I screamed and clenched my fists in a mixture of relief, excitement and pain. I crossed the line in a time of 10.06.37 and a run split of 3.35.02.
I collapsed and was taken into the medical tent for blood tests. Nothing serious, I just gave it everything I had and needed to get some fuel inside me.
Catrin was again by my side, while lay in the medical tent. I can always rely on her to be there for me. I remember saying to her, ‘thank god thats over, I’m never doing another one again’ Her reply was, ‘oh thats’s a shame, you have qualified for Kona’ I didn’t know weather to laugh or cry.
I ended up taking 3rd place in the 30-34 category, missing second place by a lousy 1 second. But that didn’t bother me, I had qualified for Kona and I was going to be competing against the best of the best. They say the support in Tenby is like no other and they weren’t lying. Absolutely incredible.
Too many people to thank and you are probably bored of reading this long-winded blog, so I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me and all the volunteers at Ironman Wales.
Keep an eye out on my website for more blogs like this leading up to the Big day in Kona on October 13th 2018.