Distance: 3.8K/ 180K/ 42.1K
Where: Tenby, Wales
When: September 11
First man: Jérémy Jurkiewicz 9:04:21
First woman: Kristen Moeller 10:01:19
Last finisher: 16:44:44
No of finishers: 1133
As the heavens opened over the small seaside village of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, there was a sense of apprehension among the triathletes who had gathered to take part in the inaugural Ironman Wales long-distance triathlon.
Many had already tested parts of the course during The Long Course Weekend, which took place in June, and there was a general feeling that this could be one of the toughest Ironman races on the circuit - and that was if the weather was good. But, as we all know, the only predictable thing about the British weather is its unpredictability.
So, on the Saturday afternoon, with the rain lashing down and strong currents making the South Beach - where the swim was due to start - unswimmable (to use the technical term), the race organisers, together with the RNLI, shifted the swim to the North Beach - which added a cheeky climb up the cliff side before the 1K run to T1.
In the swim
North Beach was supposed to be a mill pond in comparison, but it wasn't. When the starting flare went 'pop' at 7am on Sunday morning, 1300 intrepid triathletes from 43 countries threw themselves into crashing waves, doing their best to dive under or over to make some progress. Even the strongest swimmers later agreed it had been a rough first leg. But with 50 qualifying slots to the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona available, there was everything to swim for.
Being a two-lap swim, there were inevitable complications. Ironman first-timer Cat Heraty said, "It's a very weird sensation to get into the sea with 1,300 other people and start swimming to the same point. Sooner or later, even with different speeds, you're going to meet a lot of people at a bottleneck. I knew this was to come so I just settled in and swam. Lots of people had run to the far end of the beach nearer to the buoy to swim straight out (and save 400m off their swim) but I thought I'd conserve my legs and make my swim as pure as possible."
First out of the water - in an impressive 44:59 minutes - was Tenby pro Oliver Simon, with three other triathletes right behind him. Running 1K barefoot in a wetsuit is not ideal, especially when it involves zigzagging up a cliff side, so the organisers provided bags in which competitors had left their spare trainers (if they could find them among all the other bags) to run up to T1.
The bike leg
The start of the bike course was the only flat bit of the challenging two-loop route and an opportunity for many to find their bike legs before they met the undulating hills of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. With waves crashing spectacularly into the shore, competitors were temporarily distracted from the exposed nature of some parts of the course (which was a good thing for those who rode with rear disc wheels). And since the sun had decided to make an appearance, riders passing through the area's picturesque villages were cheered by generous numbers of local supporters.
However, this was not a course on which to set a bike-split PB was - no one went under five hours. The fastest split, 5:10, was recorded by this year's Ironman UK winner, Aaron Farlow. Although the course didn't have a huge amount of positive gain in elevation, there was no respite. The continuous climbs and descents, combined with 30mph head winds, made this course breathtaking in more ways than one.
Long run up
If competitors were hoping the run from Tenby would offer some respite, such hopes were quickly dashed: there was an immediate two-and-a-half-mile gradual climb that took them out of town before a turnaround point brought them back again. The course then meandered it's way through the crowd-lined streets of Tenby.
The final moments of the men's race were thrilling; Australian Farlow and Frenchman Jérémy Jurkiewicz battled it out in a sprint to the finish, with Jurkiewicz taking the title in 9:04:21 - a mere but crucial five seconds ahead of Farlow. The women's race was won by Kristin Moeller in 10:01:19, ahead of Anja Ippach (10:15:59) and Age Grouper Stefanie Adam (10:40:59).
By the time most of the weary but grinning finishers had collected their bikes and limped off to eat, a few competitors were still battling it out. Fifteen minutes before the midnight cutoff, Dave Orlowski - who competed in the very first Ironman in 1978 - finished, eight seconds ahead of Mexican Luis Alvarez, who was competing in his 77th Ironman and has completed every Ironman venue in the world. He won't forget this one.
Where to stay
Being a popular seaside village, there is no shortage of accommodation within 30 minites' drive of Tenby, but it's a good idea to book early. The best option is to look on www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk for a comprehensive list. Other options are:
For self-catering and holiday cottages: 01437 765 765; email@example.com
For hotel or bed-and-breakfast accommodation: 01437 765 777; firstname.lastname@example.org
For a cheaper option there is a Youth Hostel five miles west of Tenby: YHA Manorbier, SA70 7TT; 0845 371 9031; email@example.com
What to do
The Pembrokeshire National Coast is one of the most stunning locations in the UK and there are plenty of attractions for both you and your family. You could go surfing, chill out on the sandy beaches, visit the castles etc. The best place to go for more information is tenbyvisitorguide.co.uk but here are a few ideas:
Pembroke Castle. Established as a Norman fort in 1093, this strategically important castle was later the birthplace of King Henry VII. pembroke-castle.co.uk
Adventure boat trip. A great way to see seals, whales and dolphins. Of explore the nature reserve on Ramsety Island. thousandislands.co.uk
Coasteering. What is it? (rock hopping, adventure swimming, cliff jumping, scramble Climbing and more). celticquestcoasteering.com
To find out more about taking part in the next race, visit ironmanwales.com
Photo by Rob Holden