On Sunday 14th September Tadley Runner Matthew Blagg came second in his age group to win qualification to the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Ironman Wales, held in Tenby, is regarded by many as the toughest course in the world with steep hills on both the cycle and running courses.
Sunday’s weather appeared favourable, but after the 7.00am start for the 2.4 mile swim the sea became very choppy resulting in many swimmers swallowing too much sea water. Normal drop-out rates for this race are 5-7%, but it is thought that the sea conditions caused a record 12% of the 2,000+ entrants to abandon the race at some stage. After the event, the Race Director commented that “there can now be no doubt this is the world’s toughest Ironman with this year’s introduction of uphill swimming”.
Matthew, in his second Ironman, completed the swim in 1hour 13 minutes – 10 minutes slower than last year. At this point he was 288th overall, but he appeared to have survived the swim much better than most and he overtook many athletes on the steep 1km run to transition for the cycle ride. With the third fastest time in his group (5hr 43min), the 112 mile ride saw Matthew improve his overall position to 51st and his age-group position from 41st to 6th, but a six minute penalty for drafting meant Matthew started the 26.2 mile marathon in 7th.
Running was considered his strongest event (before this year’s cycle ride!), and Matthew overtook 24 runners to finish in 3hrs 17 min, 2nd in his group, and 27th overall. His total time was 10:29:14.
Ironman races are held throughout the world, and open to entry by anyone over 18. However, entry to the Ironman World Championships is by qualification only and limited to athletes who perform well in their age group in each Ironman race. Ironman Wales had just 50 qualifiers out of 2,085 entrants. Ironman races were started in 1978 when just 15 competitors accepted a challenge to combine three toughest endurance races in Hawaii into one race in an attempt to discover who the toughest athletes were: swimmers, bikers, or runners.