A famously hilly Ironman course set along the rugged Pembrokeshire coast. Iconic landscape and excellent support make this a must race for UK iron distance triathletes.
Where: Tenby, south Wales
When: September (since 2010)
Size: Around 2000 triathletes
Distance: 2.4 mile sea swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run
Difficulty: Challenging | Tough | Rock Hard
Organisation: Basic | Good | Perfect
Pro finish times: Around 9hrs 10mins
- Arrive in Tenby nice and early for registration – this is the most stressful part of the whole triathlon!
- Stay outside Tenby if you can as it’s a bit more chilled out pre-race
- Plan your own pre-race nutrition because it’s mainly pub grub on offer in the area
- In between the swim and the bike there is a 1km run – so you need to bring trainers.
- And take off your wetsuit as soon as you exit swim as it’s a long run to T1
- Prepare mentally and physically for Heartbreak Hill!
- Try not to walk as it’ll be harder to start running again on a slope!
What’s the set up and organisation like?
As an Ironman event, you pay a high entry price in exchange for slick organisation and this doesn’t disappoint. The stewards, volunteers and locals are all very friendly and happy to help traveling triathletes.
Entry begins by signing up online and you don’t get anything sent in the post which is a good and bad thing. You don’t have to remember to bring paper work which is a good thing and there’s a PDF race pack online that you can print off with all race instructions if you need to. There’s also a good amount of emails sent out leading up to the race to make sure people know what to expect when they get to Tenby.
When you register on the day before the race you get 4 coloured bags which you have to fill with various parts of your transition equipment – one bag for the swim-bike transition etc.
During the race everything is well signposted and the course well laid out to make it clear where you have to go. Big shout out to all the super friendly teenagers who do a great job of cheering competitors on throughout the race.
What’s the course like?
Very rugged and very Welsh. The swim is a sea swim which is beautiful. There’s a big lighthouse along the coast and the bike and run starts in Tenby which is a pretty little town and then stretches out into the amazing surroundings.
The start of the race has now become infamous with the giant rock jutting out in the bay which you have to swim around then run along the beach then swim around again.
Then it’s up hill a massive hill to Transition 1 – good idea to take off your wetsuit or you’ll be drained by the time you make it to T1 in your suit.
On the bike its 2 laps. 1 lap is around 70 miles then around 40. The course takes you down to the coast on rolling, moorland roads. There are sand dunes and long saw grass lined roads which are quiet and fairly smooth.
The run course is really challenging – you go straight out of T2 and uphill for 3 kms then around the town – 4 loops of 10km. It’s a bit repetitive but ultimately a solid, interesting run course with lots of castles to look at. Shame it’s 26 miles long!
How difficult is Ironman Wales?
Very tough. It’s got a reputation for being one of the toughest Ironman races in Europe and the saying goes – whatever time you get for a normal Ironman, add 1 hour! The difficulty comes from the hills and the weather which can often be pretty nasty.
The biggest hill is on the bike – Heartbreak Hill they call it and it is insanely long and steep. Luckily the crowds are packed in at the top so it spurs you on to crest.
The swim lay out is hard. You have to get out and run along the beach halfway through the run and everyone is bunching up and shoulder-barging a bit. Also the run from the beach up to T1 is not to be underestimated.
The actual run is down and up all the way. 5 km up 5km down with long sloping climbs. Tip – try not to walk as it’ll be harder to start running again on a slope!
What was the atmosphere like in the crowds and among the racers?
Atmosphere is one of this event’s best aspects. Many of the triathletes are first timers so you get a good informal bit of fun amongst races. Lots of good chats on the bike course.
The crowds though are amazing with thousands of people in town for the event. Everyone has their name on their number bib so people shout out and are really supportive. Especially people in pubs that line the route!
What is there to do Apres Race?
Tenby isn’t a big town but it goes all out for triathletes every year so why not make a weekend of it?! Here’s the tourism website for the area. Another, less busy option for accommodation is Saundersfoot which is very close and less busy.
My Race Diary
By Sophie Robert
1st time triathlete, experience endurance athlete
Time: 12hrs 56mins
Position: 8th in category
It was one of the best days of my life. An exercise in how deep you can dig! The hardest part for me was halfway through the bike when I was in lots of pain and really felt tired.
Running was my weakest part training-wise but then once I got the first lap of the run over, I felt I like ‘I can do this!’ and really started enjoying it all. Seeing the sun setting on the last 2 laps with all my family there to support me was incredible. I feel really proud to have completed the race as Ironman is such a good marker of universal resect – especially Ironman Wales!
For more information on Sophie’s race plus more on her incredible challenges – see her website here.
Other iron distance races reviewed
- Ironman Europe Big 2014 (trireview.co.uk)
- Journey back to Ironman (back2ironman.wordpress.com)
- Ironman Tattoo (imborntotri.wordpress.com)
- Ironman to Bring 70.3-Mile Triathlon to New Jersey in September (backofthepacker.wordpress.com)
- Hello! (birchmatthew.wordpress.com)
- Ironman to Bring 70.3-Mile Triathlon to New Jersey in September (sykose.com)
- Brits flock to Ironman 70.3 Mallorca (joetidy.wordpress.com)
- Ironman Wales 2013: More than 1,500 tackle one of endurance sport’s toughest tests (walesonline.co.uk)
- Ironman Wales (amateurironman.wordpress.com)