Ironman Wales Dragon submits to Ash (Evans)

We are stood on cold wet sand from heavy rain the previous night and penned in amongst other nervous looking men and women in neoprene and pink swim hats, goggles in their hands ready to start their attempt at slaying the Welsh dragon that is Ironman Wales.

The Welsh National anthem sounded out and the crowd erupted around us, if felt like we were heading into battle and then they played it on the speakers, my anthem, Ironman’s anthem, the first lyrics pretty much some up my feelings on that beach. That anthem is ACDC’s Thunderstruck.

If you have been to an ironman event I can almost guarantee you will hear it. I most cried on right there on that beach in Tenby, it had suddenly become real.

I was going to attempt to become an Ironman. What on earth am I doing here? Lets Rewind.

Two years before a conversation in the office at work lead to me to focus on this goal, Matt Austin and Darren Scutt wanted to complete a half Ironman distance. I decided at that point in the back of my brain I would become an ironman in 2 years, just how and when I didn’t know?

I made a plan I would tackle a Half ironman (outlaw half) 1st year -> Marathon (York Marathon) end of 1st year -> Ironman (Weymouth) 2nd year. I hadn’t realised how much of a journey this would be of self-discovery and how life just likes to throw you curve balls for the hell of it.

The deviations started immediately at the Scunthorpe and District running club end of year awards, they awarded me the ballot prize of a place for London marathon 2016, I had never run a marathon and hadn’t intended to do one until after the Outlaw half.

Entry opened for Outlaw half, in minutes the places were gone, I’d missed it!

Here comes the second deviation, Ironman’s Staffordshire 70.3 opened. I wasn’t missing this 2nd chance, I entered and dragged the Matt and Darren in for the ride.

November 2015 Started following a coached plan for the Staffs and London, it didn’t start well I missed lots of sessions on training peaks as life was getting in the way and there were not enough hours in the day.

I increased my hours in the day be getting up earlier and those little red blocks started to change to green.

April arrived all to quickly London Marathon happened and in very brief, I had a good race hit the wall hard at 19 miles and came away with a sub 4 hour on the first go. The plan was working.

Fast forward, Six weeks out from with Staffordshire 70.3 on the horizon as my first goal point and half way toward becoming an ironman. I had been doing to the local Duathlon training races with Scunthorpe triathlon club for a while by this point. In the May I had a normal training race and I had been adding extra training to the plan with improvements coming thick and fast, Grantham triathlon on the weekend coming. Everything was going well!

It was at this point in the duathlon on the 2nd run back in that I tripped over and a slight pain appeared in my lower back. I assumed over training. Unbeknownst to me what I had just done was partially slipped a disc in my back.

The dull pain continued for days so I popped some ibuprofen and raced Grantham Triathlon. It was 2.5k into the run as I dropped off a curb I became concerned. There were my feet below me I could see them moving, but I could not feel the pounding of the tarmac. I didn’t dare slow the finish came and I lay on the floor my back was in spasm, I went to bed and the next day I was crippled and unable to get out of bed. Sarah helped me from the bed I was broken.

I went to go see an osteopath on recommendation from Darren. The osteopath confirmed the partial slipped disc in my back, righted it, no running for a week only gentle other exercises.

I also had gained a limp, the second session the following week a quick tug and click and the limp was gone, gentle exercise allowed, but no big distances, swimming was allowed.

I eased off the training and at each session with the oestopath making me better, for the last 2 weeks up to Staffordshire I prayed I would be ok. On the last session and one last click it felt like the disc slip had never happened.

Staffordshire 70.3 arrived but I did not do a race report after… Why? Darren Scutt’s race report summed it up and I was proud of him, I didn’t want to steal his limelight and it had meant so much to him (it is worth a read) and true my journey wasn’t finished .

In very short run down here is my Staffordshire experience I had great lake swim, it was wet for the entire bike start to finish but no wind. The run was a partial off road run (which I hate) it was hard but I loved the entire race with a strong finish of 05:43.01 sub 6 hours. I was happy!

Fast forward to October 2016 I ran York marathon in a time of 3:47.12 hitting the wall at 20 miles and blanking the rest of the race but I was getting faster!

I started to plan the next part of the journey waiting for Ironman Weymouth to open, but there seemed to be a problem, it still wasn’t open? I waited but all the comments seemed to be it wasn’t going ahead. I looked for another event toward the end of the year and there it was Ironman Wales.

I knew Wales would be hilly, I knew the weather has its moments there. Do I want to enter this? I hit the regist er button. I immediately regretted that decision as I it sunk in the difficultly of the course and ironindex ranking of 2nd toughest and my biking wasn’t the best.

I needed a new plan to improve my biking, I decided the best way to keep myself motivated was to enter longer sportives. Tour of the peak in Derbyshire was booked to tackle some hills and was I coerced into Coast to Coast in a day. The final event to book was the long course weekend on the same course as Ironman Wales (except the run) but over 3 days what a great recce chance!

I wanted a coach that had the ironman experience under their belt enter offthatcouch’s Steve Clark to guide the plan.

Again this planning didn’t start well, work and life in general getting in the way. I started to get on track and at the end of January 2017 disaster also the week of the Lincsquad awards.

In a circuits session I did a burpee (squat jump) and a small twinge in my back. The next morning I had pain in my back, I got up, blacked out and collapsed in a heap naked on the floor unable to move. I thought in that moment this there is no way back from this. Sarah called an ambulance and lots of gas and air from the paramedics and into the ambulance and off to hospital they examined me.

I bet you cant guess… yes a slipped disc and they gave me some very strong pain killers and said it will heal in 6-8 weeks of no exercise. Back to the oestopath who set me on my way to recovery. I collected my ‘Most improved’ award at the Lincsquad award ceremony with a hobble, the irony, thank you everyone that voted for me though!!

So the oestopath told me ‘you can swim that is all’. 4 clicking and popping sessions and 2 weeks of only swimming, a 6-8 week injury sorted in 4 weeks. Back to training!

Massive congratulations were heralded as I found out I was to be a father from Sarah, the due date? August 30th, Ironman Wales date? September 10th it’ll be fine… oh and we decided to move house so started living at my parents.

Skip forward to June 2017 my health is good, I am the fittest I have ever been, there have been many group long rides and I just feel good. Tour of the peak is done and here come the two biggest ‘training’ events coast to coast in a day and 2 weeks later long course weekend and I am still at my parents and Sarah is getting steadily more pregnant.

These events are my marker if I can do these I can ‘Slay the dragon’ in Wales for real in September.

Coast to coast caught me out a little because I thought I was going to be in a group, it turned out I end up riding with no-one for the first 50 miles and hit a dark place. Rich Robinson appear and rode with/shielded me for the next 65 miles which pulled me through (thanks Rich!) and the last part on my own I found my strength was on the descents and maintaining inertia was a lesson for the future. The pace was hard the distance was tough and I felt like I had earned my stripes 10:12:09 pleased.

Next up was long course weekend, Friday is the 2.4mile sea swim, Saturday is the 112 mile bike and Sunday is the 26.2 mile run. If you enter all 3 full distances together in the ‘long course weekend’ you can have a 4th medal all the medals are stackable into a 3D image. The course is almost the same swim and bike as wales Ironman but the run is completely different. I was using it as a recce for Ironman and was out to enjoy it.

This was my first experience of Tenby and I can honestly say that it is a beautiful place and the locals (mostly) love triathlon and sports in general. I also cannot recommend Long course weekend enough.

The swim on the Friday starts at 7pm which throws a spanner into your nutrition straight away, I ate my main meal at midday and brought a sandwich for the end. The sea water was like a millpond incredibly calm.

It was a mass start with fireworks and smoke in the water, this smoke was awkward with my breathing and I could almost taste the blue colouring. Lap 1 went well and I only had elbows with one person and poor sighting due to an awkward anchored boat. Out the sea and run across the beach in an aussie style exit. Lap 2 was good as well the boat had moved, but I swam over a jellyfish which was a big as a dustbin lid (the rumours are true!) back to shore and I swam up and sliced my hands on Gosscar rock, out to the finish one down first medal. Massage and then to bed.

The bike set off the next day was 9am for the 112 miles it was a sunny calm warm day, excellent! I had enough nutrition to get around to half way on the course without stopping. Using my road bike now was a time to learn the course, I set of a little fast but reined it in, the hills were interesting with Wisemans bridge having a long slow drag, and Saudersfoot a short hill followed by a much longer drag after.

The first lap was generally pain free and as I rolled into Tenby to see Sarah at the feed station at 70miles I refilled all my nutrition and off again out on the next lap. On the second loop by the Templeton feed station a large group of Humber triathletes exited as I passed so, I tagged in with them for a while chatting. Picking the pace up I left a few of them and a few left me, rounded the corner for Wisemens for the final time and passed batman and robin on a tandem, the spectators throughout were ace what a great day! Massage and then rest of the day the kill and then bed my legs were starting to ache. Another medal down 1 more to go.

Sunday the marathon set off at 10am, a lay in! My legs were throbbing ‘lets dig deep again’. Off from the start was a run around Tenby the noise from the crowd was electric. Out of Tenby, then I hit it, at 3 miles ‘Penally heights climb’ for 0.6miles a climb which averages 7% gradient and max 12.8%. It quickly became about survival I walked every climb. Other competitors walking like zombies, the heat started to rise the sun was out we were in between sheltered hedge rows being cooked. I took on additional water where I could. I struggled all the way round and although a very steady marathon I was please to just finish, at least Ironman isn’t as bad as that I thought (how wrong I was). Three medals and now for the special 4th medal.

The town was frenzied as we stood in our long course t-shirts every athlete was called up and we were given our 4th medal (I even made the tv!) we lined the cetre of town and the winners walked through us to the podium it was brilliant!

I was seriously thinking at the start of August, I wasn’t going to be able to start Ironman Wales maybe our baby would be late? Would I have to hold on to the long course experience as the so near but so far?  However baby was in breech position (the wrong way up)and after trying to turn them and the decision was made for us and they wanted to join the world on the 12th .

On the way to the operating theatre for the caesarean section Sarah turned to me and said ‘at least you can complete Wales now.’

Well there was no going back now. Sarah believes in me I will be there. Hollie Scarlet Evans was born 23:49 and was like an atomic bomb on my life, work and training.

Still living with my parents, no new house sorted and baby all in one room, the sleepless nights ensued. I tried to train and found I was so weak. I asked my loving wife and parents for one request, 1 week out before the race please let me sleep in the front room on a camp bed to recover my stamina, they agreed.

Here it is the race weekend has arrived 5:30 hours in a van with Hollie now 4 weeks old and Sarah we arrived at registration, 15 mins before it closed, as I exited the van my baby daughter did what can only be best described as exploded. Cue long agitated Sarah calling me in the queue to ask how long I would be. Collection of my 7 bags for raceday.

I stayed at the same guest house as long course but due to a no under 2’s rule Sarah had to stay 10 miles away lucky her father came down and made it easier for me (thanks Rob).

Saturday Bike racked into transition before I had left I had attached pictures to my top tube of Sarah and Hollie I didn’t realise how much I would need these, I exit with my timing chip in hand.

At the race briefing we were told to preferable NOT use aero wheels due to high winds forecast and 90% chance of rain all day. Chrissie Wellington takes to the stage and asks us all if anyone is s**ting themselves… I raise my hand. She assures us apparently that’s ok!

Easy evening and race day pizza I am buzzing and go back for an early night, one last check of my kit.

Where is my timing chip? Then it hit me it was in the van about a mile away, new problem Sarah has the keys to the van 10 miles away. Sarah’s dad drove back to Tenby to pick me up to get to my van and collect the chip. Crisis averted (thanks Rob!) so much for an early night.

Race day I couldn’t sleep up at 3am breakfast at 4am the guest house owner drives us to the start she is as excited as me and she isnt doing it! We line up according to swim time, I look around in my pink swim hat and neoprene and amazingly Pete Tindal from Lincsquad is stood next to me, we exchange chat but my mind cant think of anything but this is crazy. There are two other squadders here somewhere I don’t see them Paul Mcewan and John Chambers. We start to walk to the beach through the town and down to the sand and I see sarah on the way.

The swim with the rolling start isnt too bad I try to get into a steady rhythm but people keep grabbing my feet and elbowing me, we round the first buoy another boat in the wrong place! I sight using the kayaks at the edge of the course instead, round the next buoy back toward the shore it doesn’t feel fast but its going to be a long day. Out across the beach the sand feels difficult to run on so I walk. The second lap and my stomach hurts, I need to pee and I just can’t let it flow. 2 swimmers swim over me, we round the bouy the sea is getting choppy and in the depths I see 2 jellyfish. We round the buoy back to shore no drama up the ramp and find my pink bag with my trainers all while stripping off my wetsuit, I run past Sarah and smile. This runs to transition seems to be taking forever and my stomach hurts so bad.

Into the transition tent I take my time making sure I have all my nutrition (I’ve found the in the past the on course nutrition makes me ill so I cant use it) then to the loo. Seriously like a 10 minute pee and on to the bike.

The bike goes well I exit in quite a large group and try not to draft at any point I do not want a DQ today. The wind increases roaring in my ears averaging 25mph and maximum 40mph, it is all head wind for the first hour and a half I try to use my added tri bars and nearly get blown off the bike on several occasions, the ground is wet and on a descent with a sharp bend near Angle I almost crash.

Pete passes me on the bike looking strong after Angle, I havent seen John or Paul and as I keep ploughing on it feels like the headwind turns with me. I hit a section I recognise from long course and remember my speed of 18mph from then I look down 9mph my heart sinks, the rain starts.

The rain is relentless and the wind is too, every bump feels twice as hard as long course but the crowd even in the middle of nowhere keep cheering us on.

At 40 miles approximately in my back starts to hurt from pushing through the wind and then the darkness looms, I start talking to myself urging my body on. I look down and see my pictures of Hollie and Sarah, I must get back. I resort to standing on the pedals backside of the seat and sprinting to let the pain in my back go for a second. I do this from 60 miles from the end of the bike. On the next big descent there is a sign ‘OIL’ marshals are screaming wildly to slow down. Some idiot has dumped oil on the course, as if it isnt hard enough.

I get to Saundersfoot and hit the bottom of the hill the crowd is remarkable as I am pushing hard to get up it narrows to a bike width spectators are screaming at you ‘come on ASHLEY you have got this you will be an ironman COME ON!’ it feels like Tenby and its people wants you to slay the dragon. I dig deep. Back through Tenby on to the second lap I am on my own. The rain is still falling I climb a long drag after Pembroke castle squeeze a gel and it explodes in my face sticking my eye lashes together, this becomes the only time I am thankful for the rain. I am willing myself back to Saundersfoot as I want to experience that crowd again, I start asking anyone what the cutoff is – I am in a dark place. The rest of the lap is hard work being blown about, small hills feeling like mountains. I come back into Tenby one more hill I am broken already I look up and see Sarah I will finish this. Back in to transition.

The marshal comments we look like we have been in battle they are not wrong. A slow change another long pee back out as I exit the announcer reads the Lincsquad  and announces to the crowd “lincsquad a club that thinks three sports aren’t hard enough” and I laugh.

I round the corner to exit Tenby and Sarah is there I tell her the crowd is awesome a give her a salty kiss, off toward the hill up to new hedges. I walk up the hill, this is the game plan walk up the hill collect a band, jog down and jog through Tenby high fiving all the kids and power signs this seems to work. I see Paul and John on the downhill both are looking strong. The crowd in Tenby seem to have been getting merry while we have been out on the bike. The cycle continues and Paul seems to be catching me up, by the down hill on the third lap I have nothing, my garmin dies and as Paul passes me I wish him luck. As I walk through the centre I flash a grimace/smile and try to jog 100 people shout back at me you have got this Ashley you will be an ironman it pushes me on I get back to jogging.

The fourth and final band I am on my way back up for it the wind picks up and it starts to rain, I will not break now. I get my band and a glow stick pointing at my arm as I pass all the spectators who have been cheering me on they go nuts each and every time. I round the final corner and there it is my red carpet moment I lap it up and am dazed when I finally stop and speak to sarah I have no idea what I said. I just sat in the recovery tent listening to all the other battle worn competitors feeling triumph in my heart.

I feel like I have gone 10 rounds with that dragon and he finally gave up the prize of my Ironman medal speaking to others who have done it before that is the tough conditions ever experienced and I made it. That gives me a massive sense of pride. It will forever stick in my heart those immortal words ASHLEY EVANS YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Thank you to everyone that has supported me on this journey and all of you that believed, you all know who you are and I hope show my appreciation to you all for being there.