An Ironman. A man made of Iron. Tough, unyielding, immovable. Built with strength, resilience and determination.
It’s not then hard to imagine how much grit and determination it takes to be crowned one. A massive feat of endurance, of will and of courage.
Not satisfied with the challenge itself, two of our white warriors Kev Winchcombe and Nick Kenney took on the the toughest Ironman course in Europe, Nick having completed his first Ironman in Italy last year. Before them lay 226k (140 miles) of continuous exertion. A 3.8k sea swim, straight into a 180k bike ride followed by a marathon to run and all within the cut off time of 16 hours.
Set in the medieval town of Tenby on the Pembrokeshire Coast in South West Wales, the course utilises the 4km of sandy beaches. However the rolling hills in and around the surrounding area made for challenging run and bike legs. But, despite its reputation as the toughest Ironman on the circuit, the locals also hold the reputation for being the most supportive, turning the town into a real celebration of human spirit for the day.
Race day…. 7am….. North Beach, Tenby.
2500 hopefuls, all wishing to test their metal in this ultimate test.
2 laps of a 1.9km circuit, coupled with an Aussie exit between laps kicked off the proceedings.
“Kev and I lined up nervously together in the start pen” said Nick “The swim could not have gone better. It was so beautiful in the waterI didn’t want it to end. Every time I turned to breathe I got a view of the sun coming up over the bay”
They both nailed the first event, both underestimating how fast they would complete it. Kev was first out of the water in 74 minutes, with Nick Just behind him in 75. A 1km run through the roaring crowds in the town to the transition area and they were both off on their bikes.
A brutal ride of 112 miles faced them, (that’s the equivalent of Portsmouth to the Severn Bridge by the way!), and as if that wasn’t hard enough, it was peppered with 8000ft of elevation. Technical riding at the best of times, but it was windy too, just to pile on the pressure.
“Nick caught me up after the swim and went past me with ease” Kev tells me
Unfortunately 30k into the ride, disaster struck! Nick went over a cattle grid and somehow got thrown straight over the top of the bars impacting with full force onto his shoulder on the tarmac.
“I’ve ridden over many cattle grids, but something went wrong. I don’t know if I hit a buckle in the grid, but my front wheel just locked and I went straight over”
“I could see Nick bending over his bike at the side of the road” said Kev “I couldn’t stop but slowed down to see if would catch me up which he did”
“I felt a searing pain in my shoulder. I could feel a bump along my clavicle, so I knew I had fractured it, but I decided to carry on regardless”
“We rode together for another 20 miles or so” said Kev “what a tough man!”
“I got to the next feed station” said Nick “I was in so much pain I couldn’t get my water bottle out. One of the Marshalls recognised my distress and pulled me out of the race. They probably saved my life as there was some dangerous descents coming up and I couldn’t really use my brakes properly”
So that was the end of the road for Nick.
Kev carried on, gutted for his teammate, but determined to keep going. He entered the 2 loop section of the ride and the hills just kept coming and coming until he reached the transition area back in the town.
He was still on target for his sub 15 goal. All he had to do now was get through the last 26.2 miles on foot without hitting the dreaded wall. A difficult ask in any marathon when your energy tank is full at the start, but to ask this from your body when you are already on empty is brutal. And he had only had 5 hours and 35 minutes left to make it under his target time.
4 laps of a 10k loop of Tenby. That’s all that stood between Kev and the finishline. Crowds were lining the streets. So deep in places that the runners had to go in single file as the locals urged them forward and patted them on the back, almost as if they were transferring some of their energy over to these remarkable human beings. It is with no doubt, that this is the leg of the journey that makes or breaks the race.
“I managed to run the first lap ok” said Kev
As the laps ticked by, the scene became more and more like a scene from the walking dead. Those bright eyed warriors, full of adrenaline that graced the beach at sunrise were reduced to lurching zombies at sunset. Their stares fixed, their feet metronomic. One foot in front of the other, desperately trying to keep going.
“I gradually ended up walking more and more of the hills on each lap. I got going on the downhills and the lap finish area through the town was amazing. The crowd were so loud, you had no choice but to run that bit”
Kev kept going, exhausted. Nick had appeared back on the course to will his teammate on alongside Kevs family.
“I’m really tired” said Kev in words of the four letter variety as he set out on his second to last lap.
10k left. The sun had set now, but he went out for one last time into the darkness. An hour and a bit away from glory.
After what seemed like forever Kev finally made it to the turn off point. Toward the cheers, toward the bright lights and down the red carpet . Arms aloft, eyes to the sky, he crossed the line to the immortal words
“Kevin Winchcombe……YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
A dream come true. An amazing feat of perseverance, determination, strength and dedication. Months of training, months of blood sweat and tears, months of wondering if it really was possible. Well it WAS possible and it WAS worth all the hours of training. He well and truly faced the dragon and won.
A brilliant performance by anyone’s standards and with 7 minutes to spare….. Kev you are a legend!
Nick later had his injury confirmed as a displaced fractured distal clavicle. He has been operated on and is beginning the long road to rehabilitation.
“Hopefully I will be able to try again next year and finishing then will be even sweeter”