On race morning I got out of bed just after 4 and gorged myself on porridge and muesli. It’s an odd feeling waking up so early knowing that you’re going to spend an entire day exercising. Almost all of it will be uncomfortable (as in you’d kind of like to do something else instead) and a good chunk of it will be really painful (as in you’d really like to be doing something else).
The race started at 7am, and I spent the final 10 minute countdown in a numb daze. Pretty much the sole focus of my life for half a year had been to get ready for that moment. The beach shelved quite sharply so within a couple of paces I was out of my depth. Don’t be under any impression that I’d started swimming though - there were far too many people for that! The sea had become a maelstrom of hands and legs and it would have been crazy to put your head under water lest it be smacked by a flailing limb.
After a couple of hundred metres though, the field stretched out and I could find my stroke. With 1500 other people around it feels like you’re swimming downstream in a river, so the two lap course seemed to fly by. I was surprised to get out of the water in just over an hour - over 15 minutes quicker than I’d ever managed in the pool - and not really feeling any worse for wear. 2.4 miles down, 138.2 to go and the warm glow of never having to swim again radiating through me.
We then had to run up the cliff and through the town to our bikes which were about 1km away. The noise was incredible. People were lining the street 2 or 3 deep on both sides of the road and it seemed like all of them had little bells that they were ringing as loud as they could. You can say what you like about the Welsh, but they do love to see people doing silly things, even if it’s early on a Sunday morning.
The cycle was a two lap course - one big one of about seventy miles, and then a smaller loop of part of that course to make up the rest of the distance. Unfortunately, the only part of the course that was even a teensy bit flat was the bit that we only did once. There was 2400m of ascent in total. Silver lining? 2400m of descent! The miles passed by slowly, and I was managing to hold a fairly steady speed of 16 mph. Everything seemed to be going well, until the weather turned. First it started drizzling, and then it started chucking it down. Not only did this drive many of the people that had been lining the route and doing such a good job of shouting support/obscenities at us inside, it also meant that we had to really slow down on the descents. I passed quite a few people who had come off on the winding roads and lost a lot of skin, or worse, broken their collarbones. It had turned from a nice ride in beautiful countryside to a grim and cold survival exercise. The survival element was amplified by 3 punctures in the last 20km (damn you thin race tyres) which left me shivering so violently that I couldn’t keep my front wheel straight.
Having lost a fair bit of time with all the tube changing faff I was keen to get on with the running so that I’d be able to get to the end and therefore never have to exercise again. The run course was a 4 lap affair, and consisted of about 4km up a big hill, 4km back down it, and then another 2km wiggling around the streets of Tenby. You were given a different coloured band on each lap to denote where you’d got to on the course. The band system might seem lovely to organisers, but from a slow kid’s (i.e. my) point of view, it was cruelty. When I was on my first lap, plenty of the quick kids had got their last band. The envy was palpable as people in my position glared longingly at the arms of those who were further up the field.
My first lap went well, and I was comfortably ticking over at just under 8 minutes per mile. On the second lap though, things nosedived and they didn’t recover. My stomach started to feel incredibly uncomfortable and within a couple of miles I had to dive into the nearest portaloo. I thought this might improve matters, but there was no let up. Eating and drinking only made things worse, so for the last 30km or so of the run, no food or drink passed my lips as I just couldn’t keep it down. By the third and fourth laps, without going into too much detail, my digestive system had completely shut down and it felt less like I was running a marathon than I was desperately running from one portaloo to the next. These last three hours of the race were the least comfortable of my entire life. It felt like my stomach was turning inside out, and I really can’t explain how I’d ended up in that state.
Support from the all sorts of sources was really what kept me going. Short chats with other competitors, the crowds in Tenby itself (especially outside the pubs as the night came in), seeing my family and friends - these were all vital distractions from the pain. I had expected pain, but not in this form - I’d imagined that my muscles would be screaming at me by this stage, but it really wasn’t the case. All I could do was keep trudging on knowing that each step brought me closer to the end. I’d had my running gear printed up with the CF Trust logo. The real high point of every lap was passing a family who clearly had some connection with the charity. They had a little daughter who must’ve been 6 or 7, and every time I’d come past she’d scream “keep going Mr. Cystic Fibrosis!” and, like so many of the kids around the course, put her hand out for a sweaty high five. Their parents would often thank you as if you’d done them a massive favour, not realising how much of a benefit it was providing us athletes as a distraction!
By the time I picked up the pink and final band, I was broken. Everything hurt, and taking into account portaloo breaks my pace had dropped to well over 11 minutes per mile. At the finishing line they have a big red carpet that you run up and under an arch with enormous crowds lining the street. I’d like to have sucked up the atmosphere more than I did, but I was in such a daze that it seemed over in a flash. As I came under the arch, I just managed to take in the commentator saying “Ned Yoxall, you are an Ironman!” All of a sudden, it didn’t seem like such a big deal and if anything I was a little embarrassed by the American-style brashness of it all. I managed to raise my arms and smile as I finished in 13 hours and 46 minutes. I was quickly bustled into a holding pen where I was plied with recovery drinks, given my finishers medal by the mayor and asked if I wanted to receive any medical attention. All I wanted was to be able to drink something after such a long time without hydration, and I tentatively sipped the drinks I’d been given. There was as much a feeling of relief as there was of achievement.
So, was it all worth it? Well, from a sponsorship point of view, a resounding yes. I hope to raise a bit more through a video made from various footage taken by my family and I on the day. From a personal point of view, I’m glad I’ve done it. Would I do it again? No. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being fit and regular exercise, but the amount of exercise required seriously restricts the rest of your life. You can’t drink. You’re often tired and grumpy. You can’t even spend weekends with your partner because you’re off on a long bike ride/run and then you feel knackered when you get back. You don’t have any flexibility to make the most of the other things in life, and unless your absolute passion in life is being as fit as you can, for me it’s a trade I was only willing to make for a short time. There is a residual glow, though, in the back of my mind. I’m pretty proud to have finished something that at first glance seemed impossible, even if that’s not going to be my lifestyle forever.
You can sponsor Ned online by visiting www.justgiving.com/NedsIronman or by text through JustTextGiving by sending ‘IRON66 £(amount you’d like to give)’ to 70070. Anything you can spare would be hugely appreciated!