It was several years ago when Ironman UK was moving from Sherborne and there were teasers out about a fantastic new location that I was chatting at a café stop and discussing where we thought a good race location would be. I felt a holiday resort out of season was ideal as the races I’d most enjoyed were where everyone could and did stay in the same location and all the race venues were within easy reach. I remembered how the Waikiki ITU World Championship in 2005 had felt like being a student again as you would head to a local coffee shop and keep bumping in to people you knew.
Now I’m sat in a coffee shop in Tenby a few days out from Ironman Wales. It’s my third year racing here because it is such a good race. It fits my holiday resort out of season criteria just perfectly. Tenby is a beautiful little town in an area of immense beauty. It’s economy must be based off tourism and as such there are tonnes of accommodation options resulting most people racing will be staying within easy reach of the town. The bumping in to people comment has been confirmed by my taking nearly an hour to walk the 500m from the Expo because of meeting people I knew.
This race has that lovely incongruity that I love when racing and training from Puerto Del Carmen. There the majority of the people are drinking and partying till dawn making us athletes quite a contrast. Here in Tenby the majority seem to be old age pensioners on bowling tours or just here for a relaxed break sitting looking out to sea. Over the three years their knowledge seems to have increased. Gone are the looks of shock and horror when the Ironman comes up in conversation to be replaced by knowledgeable comment and disappointment at leaving before the race.
Over the years the town has embraced the race. The first year they seemed a little bemused and more concerned about the road closures. Last year many sounded like experts and places started having Ironman specials which already appears to have increased this year. This coffee shop I’m in now has already discussed with me that they are going to be putting on several items specifically for the Ironman. “Lots of pasta” I heard. I couldn’t help but point out that wasn’t my thing but it probably was for the majority.
It feels like history is being built with this race. I’ve been to every one of them and at the moment I don’t really see why I won’t continue to race each year. The town is embracing it and adopting the race, it’s lovely to see. My worry is the race will get too big for the town and the commercial interests of a private equity firm will force it to move. That’s the problem with this part of our sport being run for profit, there’s no monetary value placed on the feelings of the local people that make a race so good.
Back when we were having that conversation I’d been thinking that perhaps Blackpool would be a good location. I didn’t know Tenby but it is perfect. For starters the bay the swim is in provides a brilliant amphitheatre for spectating. Even for the swimmers it’s fun, cliffs to look at, anchored boats to dodge, a lifeboat ramp to aim for, then a shard of rock and swim and run around.
The long T1 was forced on the race due to bad weather in the first year but now I think it’s a selling point. Running though the big crowds getting cheered on is awesome, reminding me of T1 at Wisconsin when you run up the spiral exit ramp of a multi story car park with massive crowds either side.
Then there’s the tough bike. It’s so British, it seems we love tough courses and this fits the bill perfectly. No big cols to go over so it can deceive but just look at the bike splits and you see it’s got to be one of the slowest in the world. Finally there’s the run, 4 laps with at most 500m of flat running. It’s either up or down. It’s a perfect mix with half the lap outside of town where spectators are thin on the ground allowing you time with your thoughts. Then you return to Tenby where it goes up and down every street allowing spectators with initiative to see their athlete a couple if not four times each lap.
I’ve raced around the world and I’ll admit my experience of all iron distance races is they are great fun and well run but if I was to rank one as the best (outside of Kona) it would have to be this race. So, if you’re thinking of Ironman, give this one a go next year but please don’t enter too quickly as I don’t want to miss out!