A Rough Guide to Ironman Wales

Perhaps this Blog should be titled 'A Rough Guide to Surviving Ironman Wales'; be you a honed Ironman hardened by seasons of tough training and fast racing who has decided to test themselves a little further or perhaps you are an IronVirgin with a taste for the hardcore events. Either way you have stepped up to a significant challenge in what many say is the toughest official Ironman course of them all. So on that note here is a guide to some of the positives of Ironman Wales along with a few simple tips for success.

Tenby is a beautiful place as is the surrounding countryside. You aren't going for the scenery but it is an excellent bonus. Onto the race...

Swim Course

The swim course at Wales is one that you should definitely recce. The beach has a shallow gradient and as such is one where you can make a great deal of progress off the start line using your legs and a combination of hurdle stepping though the shallows and dolphin dipping/diving out a little further. Knowing how to judge the change in depth and not ending up like an ostrich on race day morning might come in handy. It is also incredibly useful to have a look at the key sighting points for the swim. The first leg heading to the left of the beach as you look out to sea doesn't have many landmarks in the background but spotting a patch of colour or edge of an outcrop of land can be useful. The second leg is much easier as you have the harbour, headland and very handily the old and new lifeboat houses to site from depending on the exact location of the buoy. This leg also usually benefits from a little assistance by the local currents, it also happens to be the longest stretch (there is the first big positive). The last leg into the beach keeping to the left of Goscar Rock is by far the easiest to navigate as the houses atop the cliffs make for easy reference points.

On the morning of the race the beach turns into a natural amphitheatre the cliffs make the swim feel as if it is in a bowl and the crowds lining the top beach road make you feel like an athlete centre stage in a stadium. This is only added to as during the swim warmup it will still be dark at this time of year, highlighting all the camera flashes as they go off along the top of the cliff. Get in early and soak up the atmosphere whilst bobbing about just off the shore (this might also have something to do with getting used to the usually chilly waters with a thorough warm up as well). The other benefit to swimming at North Beach is that is quite sheltered so although there can be some swell and gentle up and down of the sea it is rare for it to become the rough seas that can occur at South Beach on the other side of Tenby at the race finish/transition.


The swim was a breeze, now for a gentle warm up for the bike. Unusually at Tenby there is a fourth bag, the shoe bag for the run to transition. This is useful as it can give you time to put on arm warmers as you run over to transition. Place them in the bag along with your T1 Trainers. REMEMBER TWO SETS OF SHOES!! Due to the length of this run it is beneficial to remove the wetsuit on the ramp up from the beach, leave the wetsuit on the floor, shoes on and then start walking up the slope stuffing the wetsuit in this bag as you go. There is no need to go into the red sounding like a steam train running up this slope, plenty of time left to knacker yourself out yet!


The bike is split into two loops roughly 70miles and 40miles or 110k and 70k. A great way to think of an Ironman bike leg is that it is like placing a tee ready to take a drive in a round of golf, put the tee in poorly and there is little chance of success in the drive or the run. Get your pacing and nutrition right during the bike and tee yourself up for the run.

The Angle/Pembroke Loop

Within the first kilometres of the bike there is a small rise just after the popular Kiln Park holiday site, this is not the worlds most important Strava segment, knock it off. The good news is the first proper climb (Blue Arrow) doesn't come until you have got all the way to Pembroke the drag out of there takes you up onto the peninsula to Angle. The good news about this is that if you are still a little damp after the swim the 'light' breeze up here will likely dry you out. There are some technical sections around St Petrox and down through Coldwell Wood, these are well worth checking out before the race.

Sharp Corners indicated by Red, Descents in Yellow and the climb out of Pembroke in Blue.

The next section from here is exposed and a shallower 50mm depth front wheel can be a very sensible option along past the fantastic views of the dunes and the beach. After the beach is the first time you will be very pleased with your decision to go with either a mid-compact, possibly compact chainset or even just a bigger 27th tooth sprocket on your cassette, give yourself a pat on the back for your good preparation work.

The first aid station at Angle (40k) is at the bottom of a narrow descent again this is worth checking out... noticing a running theme here. Give yourself another pat on the back for driving or recceing the bike course in the weeks/months leading up the race.

Its a pleasant ride back to Pembroke and you get the first chance to see all the people you are beating as you head out of Angle. Once in Pembroke itself the support here is good and you are nearing the completion of this section of the course for the last time. Once you pass through Lamphey you turn left onto the smaller loop that you will do again later on here is the second aid station at 60k.

Repeated section of loop

The next section is lumpy but as a reward at the end of it you get a great view of Carew Castle as you cross the bridge over the river here again there is some excellent support here. The good news is you are now climbing all the way to Narberth and beyond to Princes Gate which is the highest point on the course. Even better news is that it is split up with flat bits and short sharp relieving descents along the way.  Even better is the stellar support at Narberth you do get the impression that most of the locals haven't been home from the night before the support is that good. Pacing these climbs and equally not dawdling on the descents is critical to how you will feel the second time round.

Once you are through Narberth you are over half way and once to the top of the course at Princes Gate it is downhill, yes downhill all the way down to the coast through Summerhill and into Wisemans Bridge. Again more support here from alongside the beach inn and again a section well worth recceing before the race.

You will turn inland after 105k having done roughly 15k of downhill and see something like the sign below. Fear not this is just a sign to help feeble motorists. Your an Ironman in the making!

Once over the top of this climb is a technical descent under trees which can be slippy when wet, again this part of the course is well worth being familiar with. The great news is that once down here you are into Saundersfoot you will drop at speed into town and through some excellent support. You can carry a lot of speed into the next climb so use the whole width of the road doing your best Tour De France rider impression as you then continue and part the crowds going up the climb out of town.

The aid station at the top of this climb signals the end of the work for this lap and indeed the end of the bike course after the shorter second lap, all that is left is a fast simple descent down into Tenby when you whistle through on the first lap you can look forward to shouts from friends and family.  The second lap goes back out to Lamphey but turn immediately right to what was the second aid station on Lap 1 without going out to Angle and back. There isn't much to say about the second lap apart from here is where you will find out how well you paced the first lap, especially during those last couple of drags up to Narberth.

In summary the two loop bike course can be summed up into 5 sections easier but windy, mainly up with a few dips, down and very much up, up and down again and then very much up again. It is a course where conserving your effort for later on in the ride will reap rewards. As you can see on the profile below many will work too hard before the first rectangle, struggle before the second rectangle and then up to Narberth again before fading dramatically over the last section. Comfortable to the first rectangle, start to feel the work before the second rectangle and work hard in the last bit before a freewheel down to T2 would be a much more even approach letting the effort come to you rather than going out on the bike looking to work hard.


In Wales the weather can be changeable so the arm warmers you may have had on during the bike, can be kept on and if not desired perhaps they can be tucked into and looped over your number belt a couple of times to secure them.


Lots of downhill every lap

The run is basically a run out of town and then an easy downhill section back into town each time, piece of cake. Having said that it is well worth enjoying the flat section out of T2 as it won't last long. Focussing on the positives of the run and your technique will pay dividends on this course. Make sure you run tall, with excellent posture shoulders back, chin up and focus on picking up your heels with each stride. The more efficient you can be early on with this course the better. The run in and around town is fantastic with good crowds and enthusiastic ones at that. The special needs assistance for the course is normally down by the harbour where supporters can hand up anything required for the run, it can be worth giving them a few extra pieces of clothing and also your nutrition treats for the run.
Run Special Needs - Useful access points for support at red circles.
So in summary yes it is a hard course, but it also has an excellent atmosphere and support from the crowds throughout the day from the moment you leave your accommodation to walk to transition at an ungodly hour to the moment you cross the finish line and beyond. A lot of time can be gained on this course by knowing the bike course well, knowing what is coming up around the corner. You can also look forward to the looks on fellow athletes faces when you tell them you have tamed Ironman Wales.