The race week experience will vary for everyone, depending on their accommodation in relation to Tenby. The expo and Ironkids will be part of the pre-race activities. I recommend attending a race briefing and taking a dip in the sea at North Beach before bagging and racking at the transition area on Saturday.
Race day will begin with a 4 am wake-up call, allowing enough time for a hearty breakfast and a visit to the transition area for final bike preparations and dropping off your white kit bag for post-event use. With your wetsuit on, you will join the throng for the parade through town to the famous zig-zag beach ramp, where you will leave your shoes for the T1 run.
The atmosphere will be electric, unlike anything else. As mentioned earlier, the Welsh anthem will be played and sung, followed by ACDC’s Thunderstruck, signalling the start of the race. With the new rolling start replacing the old mass start, finding some space and settling into a good rhythm for the swim will be easier. Not getting too caught up with those swimming ahead will be important. After all, it’s going to be a long day! The swim will consist of two laps with an Australian exit. The first turn buoy will be relatively easy to spot. The second will be a bit more challenging, so looking for the red RNLI building, which aligns with the course will be helpful. Then it will be back to the beach, over the timing mat, and back in for lap 2.
Once you complete the second lap, it will be time to climb the ramp, remove your wetsuit, and put on your shoes for the half-mile jog to T1. This will be a chance to recover, gather your thoughts, and enjoy the enthusiastic crowd.
On Saturday, you should have familiarised yourself with the transition area, as it will now be a chaotic scene of flying bags and disorganised participants. It will be crucial to take your time, put on your bike kit, fasten your helmet, and then head out to your bike.
Upon exiting the transition area, you will find yourself meandering through the town before taking a left turn, heading out of town past Kiln Park towards the towns of Penally and Angle. The first 40 miles may deceive you. Fresh out of the swim, getting overly excited about the event and drawn in by the smooth rolling roads and cheering crowds is easy. However, it’s important to pace yourself. Sit back, hydrate, eat, and let others pass by if they wish. This is your race! As you approach Angle, be mindful of the sand on the roads. These sections can be temptingly fast, but with limited grip at times, they can also be a bit precarious.
The first aid station is located at Angle, and you will feel as if the entire town has come out to support you. There will be toilets, food provided by the race organisers, and new full bottles of water and energy drink. I recommend getting new bottles at every aid station as a reassurance that you won’t run out in between.
From Angle, you will loop around and take a more direct route back towards Pembroke, again on relatively fast, rolling roads, although this can depend on the wind direction. You will take a small detour into Pembroke itself, where you will encounter your first “party town”. Expect to see crowds of people, music playing, and a race commentator on the mic calling out names and numbers as you round the dead turn to head back out towards Lamphey and Redberth. This is where the course starts to change and become more technical.
From Redberth, you will make your way towards Carew and cross the Carew bridge, which features a slight switchback descent. A large crowd will cheer you on here, and one of the official photographers usually stationed here provides a great photo opportunity. From there, you will continue upwards through Cresselly, twisting and turning towards the next aid station at what I like to call Alp Du Narbeth! After a series of small, sharp climbs to this point, this is the first real test of your legs. It’s a bit of a grunter, but the payoff of the crowds and the nearby aid station makes it worthwhile. Remember, you have to do it twice!
From Narbeth, you will start heading back towards the Saundersfoot and Tenby coastal towns. This 15-mile stretch will test even the most seasoned of riders. It’s a full mixed bag of tight, technical sections and open, and fast sections. There are small, sharp climbs and long(ish) steady climbs. There’s a good reason why this is considered one of the hardest bike courses on the entire IM circuit. Just before you reach Saundersfoot, you will encounter one of the climbs that will likely be noted in the race brief: Wisemans Bridge. This is a 300m narrow climb with a 14% gradient. Over the years, more and more people have trekked out here to cheer on the heroes of the day.
You will experience a sense of relief once you complete this particular task. However, it is important to keep in mind that the most challenging part of the course awaits you just slightly over 2 miles away in Saundersfoot. This iconic section of the course will both invigorate and potentially intimidate you as you descend into town amidst a wave of cheers from spectators and then face an uphill climb alongside them. The atmosphere will make you feel like a professional cyclist in a grand tour event.
This uphill climb, known as Heartbreak Hill, begins with a steep switchback and consists of three continuous upward sections with brief breaks in between. The entire route will be lined with crowds cheering you on as you push towards the summit, which will always seem just out of reach. However, you will finally spot the final aid station of the first lap ahead, signalling that you only have 3 miles remaining until the start of the second lap. Keep pushing forward!
Just when your legs feel like they can’t go any further, someone will hand you a fresh bottle at the aid station located at the New Hedges roundabout. Take a left turn from there, and it’s a downhill stretch leading you to Tenby.
The initial part of the route is a descent where you can use the opportunity to warm up your legs by pedalling. Continue pedalling towards the roundabout where you made your first left turn. Expect a large and enthusiastic crowd at this location, with a big screen set up for viewing. Take a moment to acknowledge the crowd with a wave before proceeding to the second lap. The second lap will follow a similar route as the first, with the exception of turning at Pembroke and repeating that particular section. Once you have completed the second lap and returned to the Tenby roundabout, take a left turn and face a short but steep climb into the town of Tenby. From there, follow the road back to the transition area. Disembark from your bike, secure it on the rack, and enter the tent to retrieve your red run bag. You are now on the final stretch of the race!
The run portion of the race is up next! Is it the jewel in the crown or the final swipe of the dragon’s tail? That’s for you to decide. As you exit the tent and cross the timing mat, remember to switch your race belt to the front. Start the run at a comfortable pace, as you still have a full marathon ahead of you. This section of the course is the flattest, but it doesn’t last long.
Think of the course as comprising two half-laps and three full-laps. You will receive your first lap band when you are halfway through the first lap. This means that when you get your fourth band, you only have 3 miles left until you reach the red carpet.
Aid stations are conveniently spaced 2 miles apart, which is beneficial for your mental state. Over the years, the support from the crowd has increased, so there are very few areas along the entire run course that lack spectators.
You will start the run by retracing the route from the beach and then move outward and upward towards the New Hedges roundabout, passing the first aid station along the way.
Just before reaching the New Hedges roundabout, you will make a U-turn to start heading back down towards Tenby Centre. However, before this U-turn, you will need to make a slight detour by turning left to briefly enter New Hedges and collect your first lap band. From there, it’s back down to Tenby, where you will zig-zag through the town’s cobbled streets amidst the largest crowds of the run. Some spectators may be quite intoxicated by this point. Use the energy of the cheering crowd to help you through the challenging parts of the run.
After this section, you will turn left onto the beachfront, leading you towards the finish chute. You will then make a right turn, bringing you painfully close to the red carpet, before starting your next lap.
Remember, you have just three more laps to complete before you finally get to step onto the red carpet for your triumphant Ironman moment!