Ironman Wales 2023 race report
By Andy Schofield age 53 years and 3 months YOUNG
I was awake before the 4.30 am alarm , I’d slept well and was feeling good after a reasonably early night. Straight out of bed and tri suit on, then the usual morning routine of coffee, overnight oats and bathroom stuff. We met Chris outside the apartment block (flats if you grew up in the 70’s) and set off to transition, the excited chatter off others walking the same way getting louder as we walked through the town . I could feel the nervous excitement building and I was almost bouncing up the street, I’d been ready to race for days and just wanted to get on with it now.
Got to transition, put my nutrition on the trusty old road bike , checked the tyre pressures and made sure I was in a nice low gear for setting off. I put my wetsuit on up to my waist and we made our way back towards North beach. A few last words of encouragement and a kiss from Ali and we were on our way down the famous zig zag path. My start number 687 was luckily right at the bottom of the railings next to the pro’s so that was a promising start , meaning I only had to walk 20 yards on the concrete to get my trainers after the swim ! Bonus .
Chris and I wished each other good luck and he made his way forward in the pen ( he is a swim god after all) I stopped near the 1hr 20 board and was ready . Hinchy and Mel went past and stopped a little further up and at this point I still felt good, excited, nervous but ready to go. I kept running through my plan for the swim and then the run to transition over in my head ….all good . Then the National Anthem started and my emotions went off big style . It’s strange how Tenby grabs hold of you and gets in your head and makes you want to do things that you never thought possible , well it does and here I am with tears in my eyes listening to an national anthem I don’t understand, from a country I wasn’t born in ! ….strange world isn’t it. Then……Thunder and now we’re rocking . The familiar sound of thunderstruck booms across the bay and the race is on.
We start moving forward and before I know it I’m running though the arch and Into the water, nearly at waist height I’m in and swimming. Stick to the plan , stay right and out of trouble , round the first buoy and alls good , I’m in my own space and feeling comfortable. First lap goes well , I’m out in bang on target time of 40 minutes, a steady jog on the Aussie exit and back in for lap two. The stretch from the lifeboat station to the opposite headland seems to drag and when I exit the water I’m a bit disappointed in a 50 minute second lap , that seem like hard work but hey I’ve done the swim in 1 hr 30 and that’s the first major worry out of the way. I jog up to my pink bag , wetsuit off trainers on , swill my mouth out and clean my face with the water I’ve put in the pink bag …then start walking while I pee myself straight into my trainers ( this is such a glamorous sport) once I’ve finished I’m jogging , up the zig zag path and past Ali , then the rest of the awesome support crew dotted along the route to transition.
T1…. Nice and steady, don’t rush , dry your feet, get your socks on , helmet, glasses, gloves , race belt and grab some food to eat while walking to my bike . Walk to the line , throw my leg over the old girl and we’re off.
It’s a calm warm morning and I’m nearly dry after the 1k run to transition, we roll out of Tenby and into the Pembrokeshire countryside. What a morning to ride a bike , I’m picking a few off already and with the faster ones passing me it’s probably about equal . I’m on the way to Freshwater west and hear a shout behind… it’s Hinchy flying past me and he’s way up the road in no time at all. Don’t panic , David is a very strong cyclist , do your own thing , stick to the plan!
I’m conscious of sticking to my 90g of carbs an hour nutrition plan so I’m getting through my bottle ready to swap it at the first feed station .
Though Angle , bottle swapped and on my second lot of carb drink , feeling strong and comfortable. We reach Lamphey and I know this is where it starts to get more interesting . It’s warming up , the hills are ok and when we reach Narbeth on the first lap I’m still good, bottle swap, stop to empty drink sachets into both bottles and off we go again looking like a coke head as I’ve managed to get the powder all over my hands and bars.
Wiseman’s bridge 1.5 miles ,this might usually put the fear of god in me but not today, I know that the first lap is nearly done and I can’t wait to see some familiar faces. Down Summerhill , up Wiseman’s…”get out the seat boy , go on get up there” “ you’re smashing it” … I love it , the Welsh are passionate and give you so much support it’s what makes this so special. I’m past “Clarkys corner” and through the bottom of Coppett Hall when I hear someone crash big style behind me …ah well that’s racing , I’m flying though Saundersfoot carrying as much speed as I can for “Heartbreak Hill” and in no time at all I’m in bottom gear spinning , but amazingly still passing people ! Round the right hander and I sit down and spin my legs on the flat for a few seconds before the next kicker.
The crowd is huge , ten deep at both sides of the road, they drag you up the last bit , Ali and Phil are at the top, shouts of encouragement and I’ve gone down the hill into Tenby , Ah well at least nobody’s out on the run yet , that’s good! I head out on lap 2 and pass Sophie, Gemma and Craig outside Saltys caravan park, I give them a thumbs up and crack on . Next it’s Mels mum and dad and then the Key kids and Claire and her mum and dad, the Gibbs family are there somewhere, I hear them shout.
I’m out of town now and trying to keep my pace up , I’ve got a target and need to keep ahead of it so I’ve got a bit in reserve just in case I get a mechanical.
We’re through Lamphey again and swapped bottles , im still feeling ok but conscious of the fact that I seem to be slowing down . I push on but I’m starting to worry about the time . The second target is to beat the bike cut off of 5.30pm it’s always been in the back of my mind, I know I can bike 112 miles but can I do it quick enough? On one of the long uphill drags just before Narbeth I catch two guys up and just as I pass them I hear one say “what time is it” …my ears prick up waiting for the reply ….half three he says, all of a sudden I feel like a weight has been lifted off me , I’ve 2 hours to do 15 miles! I’m bloody ecstatic , I’m going to do it!! …” Woah easy tiger” a lot can happen in 15 miles, get your head on !
I’m at Wiseman’s again , it’s noticeably steeper on the second lap …nearly vertical I would say , where’s that White House …come on where are you ….there you are I’m up ,Saundersfoot next , less people on the bottom section but still loads at the top, one woman shouts “ we’ve been drinking all day love” I wish I bloody had I thought , I laugh and get up the last kicker and I’m done, down hill to T2 , 112 miles done , emotions start kicking in again “ I’ve done it…I’ve beaten the bike cut off”
I execute a perfect ( for me) flying dismount and then reality hits me ….the pain in my knees is horrendous, I can’t even walk properly, I rack my bike and hobble to the tent . I sit down and change my socks and put my trainers on , I grab my cap and down some painkillers then gingerly get to my feet …..oh F*k that hurts, I walk out of the tent and set off on the run course walking ….oh b***ks to it I’m not walking 26 miles , grit your teeth and get running you tart.
It’s was more of a limp for the first mile but after seeing a few friendly faces it got better and I was up and running properly. Dave Key passed me and said he was struggling (it’s not often you hear him say that) he still left me for dead on he run up to New Hedges , then I saw Rob and Chris who announced to the world that his “quads were f****d” then James and Dan and on the way back Hinchy.
I had no idea what lap they were on , I was just pleased to see them all and to know that I wasn’t the only one in pain . But suddenly I wasn’t in pain , I felt good, I didn’t hurt . I took water and either a banana or gel at every feed station and I felt better all the time . The best painkillers are all the OTCF support crew , the boost it gives you when you see anyone is something else, Sophies “ Only 6 parkruns to go” sign kept me laughing all the way to New Hedges ,Daniel Browns high fives powered me up and two laps in I’m halfway there, the emotions start again ….”I’m going to do it …bloody hell im actually going to …..alright son, get your head on “ two laps to go and I’ve got another target …..can I do a sub 5hr marathon? Come on keep going , keep running . I finish lap 3 and see Ali on my way out of town “ see you at the finish “ she shouts … oh here we go again , stop crying and keep running !
I’m heading up the hill on the last lap , it’s just getting dark everyone is walking but I’m not , I want that sub 5 marathon ! I see Hinchy heading into town as I’m climbing the hill ‘ enjoy the finish mate’ we high five , next up is Rob with Chris closely behind , we cheer each other on ‘ see you at the finish ‘ it’s getting bloody real now !
I’m nearly at the turn point at the top of New Hedges…..that’s Dan in front of me , I pass him and give him a shout , it’s downhill and I’m running the last half of the last lap of my first Ironman in this beautiful place….I’m buzzing , I’ve got no pain , I’ll run another lap if they want me to …..er no I won’t !
The town is magic , illuminated by drunks and revellers and supporters all willing you on to the finish , I swear I saw Phil Johnson drinking outside every pub in Tenby , he was everywhere! … “ i pass Nic and give her a shout , on we go …down here for the last time” I’ve done it , now I can relax ….half a mile to go. I gather my thoughts and start to think of the journey, the highs , the lows , the doubt …and all the people who have helped me do this …. I owe them all so much ….the tears start for real but I’m smiling , where’s that bell ? … I ring the bell and look up at the finishing chute “ don’t rush , take it all in , this is it son” I’m Looking for Ali, I need to see her …..I can’t see her … the lights are in my eyes, then I hear her shout … I’m home , I look up and see my name as I cross the line …..“ Andy Schofield congratulations you are an Ironman” yes I bloody am ! Linds gives me a hug and hangs my medal around my neck.
14 hrs 08 minutes on one of the toughest courses there is and the bonus of a 4hr 47 marathon to finish.
There’s a lot of people I owe thanks to, Steve Clark for making me believe this was achievable, Ali for helping me every day and sharing all her experience and knowledge ( also putting up with me when I’m a miserable t**t) love you x
My 2nd wife for all the hours cycling along miles behind everyone else…thanks Gem x….her other husband for the bike tech tips and constant sound advice …cheers Craig….and Chris …for 11 months of messaging and motivating each other every day, chatting about training and generally just being mates and sharing the experiences of becoming an Ironman…well done butt !
Then there’s the rest of the OTCF family….Emily, Phil and Nic, Rob and Linds , Soph, Shawnie , Hinchy , Harriet and Gordon Palmer just to name a few ….the rest of you know who you are ….the triathlon family !…..anyway back to the race report.
In the tent Mel gets me pizza and coffee, I can’t stomach a beer . Some of the guys are still hanging around and I understand why, it’s such a great experience that you don’t want it to end. Dan finishes and I’m really pleased for him after his DNF in 2022 we all chat for a few minutes …I look at my medal and smile , “ right I’m going to make a move “ it’s time to go ….this is not the end of the story though…….it’s just the beginning .