Race Report – Ironman Estonia

Somewhat belatedly due to other commitments (and just generally being a bit tardy!), here is my Ironman Estonia report.


I'd been thinking about doing an Ironman for several years so was inevitable that I'd get around it to one day. Unlike some lunatics I know, I've gradually moved up through the distances from sprint to Standard, half Iron and long distance before finally biting the bullet and going full iron-distance in 2019.

Originally I asked Duncan Shea-Simmonds about guiding me for Copenhagen Ironman as he's a great Guide and very experienced over the long distances (with 15 Ironman finishes to his name). Lots of the Tri-Anglia guys were going to this event and it looked like a fast course too. Initially Dunc said he wasn't doing any longer races this year so couldn't help. 10 minutes later I got another message back saying that Claire (Dunc's wife and the other half of the 'Iron couple' as I like to call them) was doing Estonia and, since he'd be there anyway, it might be an option. Before I had a chance to reply I received another message that basically consisted of Dunc talking himself into it!

So Guide sorted I took a deep breath before paying the near £500 entry fee (yup, you read that correctly). At the time I thought to myself 'the bloody T-shirt better be amazing!'.

Several months beforehand we discussed our hopes for the event. American Erich Manser was the current fastest VI athlete over this distance with 10 hours 42 minutes and 59 seconds. Although it would be my first Ironman, we felt we should be taking aim at that mark. Of course it wouldn't be easy to beat and it's a long day where various things can happen, especially with two of you to consider. However it's good to aim high.

My winter training had gone OK, although not spectacularly. I was finding it difficult to allocate sufficient time having set up a new business (Can But Tri Ltd) with Jill and developing other areas of private work on top of my 3 days each week for the NHS. I was probably working more hours than when I was employed full-time, but still getting in some quality training if not the desired volume.

I wasn't overly worried as the plan was always to 'reverse periodise' my training and increase over-all volume once the worst of the winter was done and there was more daylight to play with. Early season races seemed to go OK with a park run course PB and a solid run at the Ringland half marathon indicating there was still work to do but I wasn't too far off course.

Things went a bit astray soon after with a fall at Brandon park run resulting in nasty sprained ankle. This was a major blow. The sprain was painful and annoying but the more problematic issue was the crushed ligament on the inside of my ankle. Even with treatment it was likely to take several months to fully heal meaning Estonia was in serious jeopardy.

Finishing the 13.4 mile run at Holkham meant Estonia was back on!

After 6 weeks of rest/treatment I knew I needed to begin running or forget about Ironman for this year. I did my first jog at the national Paratri champs and then built up slowly from there. I had various targets like trying to run 3 times one week, jog a 10k, race a 5k, race a 10k then jog home and finally finish the Holkham half Iron tri with a 13.4 mile run. I can't say it was very pleasant but gradually things improved and all challenges were met (even if I was still a bit nervous of going over on the ankle again). So, we decided to give Estonia a whirl and see what happens.

We did revise our plan a little though. With limited run training/fitness it seemed more sensible to aim to finish in the first instance. We would bike and run as originally planned but just see how the run went. If we were close to the record with 5-10km we could think about it but otherwise it was put to the back of our minds (kind of!).


In the days leading up to the race there was concerns that the swim would be cancelled. The sea temperature had dropped rapidly since we arrived and was just 10.5 degrees. No fear as the organisers had plan B ready and moved the swim course and transition to a nearby lake on the bike course. Awesome - most organisers would have just cancelled the swim and kept the full entry fee.

Duncan and I didn't have time to worry about it anyway. We were too busy building our Estonian fanbase by appearing on not one but two Estonia TV channels having done some pre-race interviews. One provided a literal translation that said 'Iain Dawson - he's basically blind' which my housemates all seemed to find amusing (although they were probably just jealous of our new found fame!). See links below: -




Race morning soon rolled around and it wasn't long before we were stood waiting for the starting horn. I felt really chilled even with the prospect of a long day ahead. The Pro's headed off at 06:30am and we followed about 15 minutes later.

We had placed ourselves so we'd be catching and passing people who had over-estimated their swim ability. We thought this would be better than people swimming over us or getting tangled up in our tether. This worked really well with a relatively incident-free swim. The only real challenge was that the water was literally black in places and I couldn't even see the tether rope never mind Duncan, but we completed the 3.8km in 1 hour and 8 minutes and  seemed to be in good shape at that stage.

Solid swim was a good start

Into T1 and one of the most unusual experiences of my tri career occurred when a TV camera team suddenly appeared asking for an interview as we were getting changed. Not wanting to disappoint our new fans we proved that men can actually multitask by dressing and answering questions like 'how do you feel?' and 'will you continue?' 'Errr, yes absolutely we will carry on'.

Out on the two-lap bike and we were flying along for long stretches on what were largely immaculate roads. There a few uphill drags and a rising wind making some sections feel quite tough.  I was treating it like a mobile buffet and trying to get as much food/fuel in before the run. I was riding a little conservatively, but still working harder on the uphills and headwind sections. Duncan was powering away relentlessly, probably knowing he could outrun me anyday:-).

We came into T2 with a 4:50 bike split (112 miles/180km) and a little over 6 hours on the clock in total.

Mobile buffett on the bike leg!

26.2 miles...that's how far we needed cover on 2 (well 4) feet with something like 8km's of cobbles split between either end of the 4.5 lap run route. We started off briskly and were above planned pace for the first km. We tried to back it off and ended up going quicker for the second km (oops!). I was already feeling rubbish anyway and tried to stick to our plan of running between each aid station and then walking whilst taking on food/fuel. This was working fairly effectively, but by half distance (13.1 miles) I was toast. Duncan was trying to encourage me on saying 'right, lets jog to the next aid station' etc, In my head I was thinking 'No, No, No!' but I was saying 'yeah, OK'. I could have quite happily walked off the course and had a little sit down, but that was never an option I was going take. Firstly I was determined to finish regardless of how long it took or other consequences and secondly I knew Dunc had worked really hard in the swim and on the tandem. It's a team effort and he'd done his bit so it was time to dig in (and pull some great faces on the photo's!).

Who said running this far was a good idea?

Whilst we had tried to play down the record thing, I knew we had been up on the old mark but it was now looking doubtful given the pace was dropping and I was walking up some of the inclines. I think the cobbles probably weren't helping as they are a bit brutal to run on, especially with my ankle being dodgy. I was getting quite a lot of discomfort from that, but it was a case of just shutting it out and grinding out the km's.

Somehow we got to final 3km and I knew we still had sufficient time in hand on the record if we could jog it home. Trouble is Duncan really put the hammer down and started belting through the cobbled streets towards the finish shouting encouragement. I wasn't sure what was going on to be honest! I tried to shout back but he couldn't hear me over the very loud crowds screaming encouragement. Turns out he thought it was going to be really tight but hadn't accounted for the 15 minutes wait we had after the Pro swim start 10 hours earlier! I tried to go with it and even managed an ITU style sprint finish before we crossed the line with a 4:19 marathon. Not quick but I was thrilled just to finish.


10:31:03...phew! Over 12 minutes off the old record. That was better than I could ever have hoped for given the circumstances and it certainly makes me think we could go a whole lot quicker in the future!


It was tough day but this is a really good event if you are looking for a well organised, friendly and pretty fast Ironman. That entry fee now looks like relatively good value...my legs did hurt for days after all!

I can't tell you how good the race organiser's were - Apart from moving the swim at short notice, nothing was too much trouble from getting the tandem couriered to the race office or the race director himself taking us back to the airport (that was probably down to Kim being with us mind you!).

Massive thanks to Duncan for guiding and getting me around that run as well as all those who helped towards this event.

Well done to Estonian housemates Claire who smashed the opposition to win her Age Group by something like 20 minutes and also Kim who qualified for the upcoming World Champs in Kona...I think we all achieved what we had hoped for.

Oh and the post-race part for 'hero's hour' was good fun to welcoming in the last finishers to make inside the 17 hour cut off!


One thought on “Race Report – Ironman Estonia

  1. Janet SS

    Great blog Iain ….. retrospectively- you now feel as if you actually enjoyed it! #glutton for punishment … and ready for the next one. Maybe I’ll even get to see that one !!

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