We recently got wind of a local athlete, Alex Tennant, who had decided that after taking part in her first Triathlon in 2021, wanted to complete the four hardest Ironman events in the world-Lanzarote, Nice, Wales and finally Kona, all within the same year. In this article, we share Alex ‘s journey from complete beginner to multi ironman finisher. Over to you, Alex.
Turning a new page
Competing an ironman seemed an impossible task to me when I first started this journey. The ironman distances viewed in isolation are intimidating:
• 2.4 mile swim
• 112.6 mile cycle
• 26.2 mile run
During lockdown, like so many others being frustrated by the inability to do a lot of the things I loved I took up road cycling. I was freaked out by the tiny handlebars, skinny frames and would struggle for enough puff up the smallest of hills – at the time I was living in Chepstow and let me say – no where is flat round there! But I pushed through and managed to make some small progress leading to my first completion of a 100 mile ride in August 2021. I did this solo and remember how incredibly nervous I was.. I was so proud to do this and it gave me confidence to strive for more.
To this day I don’t know what possessed me, but I madly entered Ironman Wales in April 2022 for the event that coming September (!) I had always looked with awe at Iron athletes – some claim to complete an Ironman is to complete the hardest one day challenge in the world. Could this be possible for me? If it was going to be an Ironman then it had to be Ironman Wales – I’m Welsh so you just can’t avoid going for the Dragon. A fierce course that really if I’d looked at closely might have put me off… Anyway when I did start looking at the specifics of the event (an open sea swim, hugely hilly bike course and hilly run) the fear began to set in and I remembered that I had never run over 10km and the last time I had swum was sometime around school age having never ventured into the open sea as a swimmer.. time to get to work!
Fear is a great motivator so over the next few months, I spent as much time as I could training in Tenby getting the know the course as best I could. Riding with my friends at Cardiff Ajax cycling club gave me much more confidence on the bike and having lessons from Heathwood Swimming in Cardiff I started to see the progress in my work but I had so far to go.
But finally, the day of Ironman Wales dawned, and I lined up on Tenby beach with 2000+ other nervous souls looking out at a ferocious sea – the worst sea conditions I had ever seen or considered swimming in. At the time though I was just so determined to give it my best and get through the swim and onto the bike I didn’t allow myself to dwell on this. The Welsh national anthem played and will be a moment I’ll never forget. Into the sea then I remember emerging so extremely happy that I’d done it! Everything else was a bonus from here. The rest of the day was an absolute blur; cheered on by the most incredible crowds I was soon ringing the first finishers bell – ‘Alex you are an Ironman!’. Epic and my Mum achieved the loudest screaming award of the day!
For many it’s one Ironman and done but I was hooked. Soon followed an entry into Ironman Lanzarote in May of this year and I worked hard over the winter to keep up my fitness. Lanzarote is a beautiful island but I’d had a rough time with a chest infection that followed me into the race and put me out of training for weeks beforehand. It was touch and go if I’d start but start I did and somehow managed to get through it! Second one done.
I recovered well from the race and believed I could put in another ironman performance before the year was out. With the change of Ironman World Championships for the men this year for the first time to Nice in France in September they were running their standard Ironman event less than a month away. I fancied giving it a go to see what the men were going to face! I loved the look of the single loop bike course and again another sea swim with a flatter looking marathon run than I’d done previously. Nice was beautiful but brutal in 33 degrees heat! I was chuffed and totally shocked to bits to receive a slot for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in the October that year. I am no athlete but the opportunity to compete in the home of Ironman I just could not turn down.
This left me with a choice as I was already entered to run Ironman Wales again in the September with just over six weeks between to recover for Hawaii. Would it be enough time? I believed I could do it, but I was risking an injury or decreased performance in Hawaii. The decision to go for it was swung by my desire to complete the four toughest Ironman’s in one single year – Lanzarote, Nice, Wales and Kona – something I believe hasn’t previously been done.
Ironman Wales was no less forgiving than the previous year, but new challenges presented themselves with a calm sea but hidden current on the second lap that was brutal for a slower swimmer like me and a blistering heat for most of the day. Crowd support could not be beaten as per usual with the cheers getting louder throughout the night keeping the spirits high even if their spirits were of a different kind! I was soon making my way down the red carpet with all eyes towards the challenge Kona would bring.
So here we are on the eve of my first ever go at an Ironman World Championship in the most incredible place – Kona, Hawaii. I started on this triathlon journey just over a year ago having no background in any of the sports. I have faced many setbacks along the way – the challenge of having to fund these events and balancing training with a normal full-time job and people who have doubted me or the times I have doubted myself. But curiosity can take you to places you can only dream of!
Chuffed to bits to say I completed my first ever Ironman World Championship event in Kona, Hawaii! There is so much I could say about this day, but I’ll keep it short. To step in the same path as so many Iron legends before me and many more alongside me – it was a real honour to be able to do this.
The day was everything I had hoped for and more. A truly beautiful island; to swim in a sea so clear you could see the fish was heavenly (and I cheered myself for doing this non wetsuit – a big step up without the aid of any buoyancy); the bike course I loved as it was exposed, wild and somewhere you had to embrace the wind as a friend rather than try to fight and the run held no prisoners in the baking heat and ever constant humidity. But cheered on by the incredible volunteers and knowing my support on course and back home – the whole day was cherished even through the pain. Finishing an Ironman is always special but this one was extra so; plus I had a personal best of my overall Ironman time so what more could I want!
It was the first time in history women had their own Ironman World Championship and records were broken – the overall course time record was broken; the run time record was broken and for the first time in any Ironman event 100% of all athletes completed the swim and a staggering 97% of women completed that day (just over 2000 starters) from the ages 18 to 73 – the highest rate of completion in the history of ironman. An Ironman at Kona doesn’t get easier – the distances remain the same and this course hasn’t largely changed since 1978 but there was some magic in the air that day and I was proud to have been part of and witness to it. I hope this does nothing but inspire others to give a triathlon a go or any challenge that they may not think possible for them.
My five tips
- Enjoy the journey. Life is short so cherish this time you have doing something you want to do so you can look back and smile for all the great memories you’ll have.
- Its excellent to do hard things. It makes us stronger and gives us resilience to face the normal challenges everyday can bring.
- Value and appreciate the people who support you. No single goal is achieved by your effort alone – it makes a team to be great.
- Mindset – the road will never always go to plan; embrace challenges and be adaptable.
- Be good to yourself. We can be our own worst critics but often it’s important to look back and see how far you have come!
P.S I’ll let you into a secret…if I can you can. Never stop being curious and never stop believing you can. You can.
Inspired by Alex’s achievements? We certainly are!
Competing in Ironman triathlon events is by no means cheap and we’re here to help out when you need it most. Pedal Cover cycle insurance and cycle travel insurance. Our Policies are designed to cover triathlon athletes every step of the way, from winter training on your local roads, all the way to your hotel abroad. With crash damage, theft, bike box cover, lrace fee cancellation cover, liability cover, emergency medical expenses, trip cancellation and curtailment cover, Pedal Cover Insurance are your one stop shop for getting the right level of protection so you can focus on what matters most-Enjoying the ride. For a quote, visit our website or give our friendly support staff a call on 0800 121 4424