I’m a bit partial to a spot of running and open water swimming, as you’ll know if you’ve read some of my other posts, so when my mate V suggested the Tenby Long Course Weekend (LCW) I was intrigued. After a total palaver trying to find a hotel relatively last minute, I found myself in Wales with V and some other members of our local tri club on Thursday 7 July in readiness for triathlon action to commence on the Friday night.
Now if you don’t know what the LCW is all about, let me give you a brief explanation. It’s basically a bunch of people gathering in the very picturesque town of Tenby, in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for a swim, a bike ride, and a run. Now that sounds pretty attractive to me. However, take into account that 750 of the people taking part over the weekend will be testing themselves over the long course triathlon distances, more commonly known (or famously branded) as the ironman distances. On Friday night they swim 2.4 miles in the sea off Tenby’s North Beach, on Saturday morning they set off on a 112-mile hilly bike ride around the local national park, and they finish it all off with a 26.2-mile (yes, that’s a marathon) circular run from Tenby to Pembroke and back again on Sunday, finally finishing in Tudor Square where a special ceremony is held for those who survive the conditions and the cut-off times to receive a coveted fourth medal, crowning them LCW champions. Oh yeah, and it’s basically the Ironman Wales course.
Obviously I wouldn’t be doing the full distances, not yet anyway, that particular idea is still percolating in my newbie triathlete’s brain. Thankfully, though, you could also enter each race individually or do shorter distances, so I’d be doing the full swim (because I know I can do that), the 66-mile bike (because I don’t know whether I can do 112 in 10 hours), and then a half marathon (because marathons are horrible and this one is also very hilly). V, and several other of our tribe, would be doing it all, and much respect to them for it.
Friday dawned with reasonable weather, if not a little chillier than our usual south coast haunt, so we wandered the winding old streets and took in the views as Tenby started to bustle with a strange combination of old-age pensioners, who must have been slightly bewildered by what was going on around them, and an ever-growing number of triathletes, clad in technical fabrics talking about all things swim, bike, run.
The swim had to wait for high tide, so wouldn’t kick off until 7 pm, and was hailed as the UK’s biggest mass participation open water swim. Over two thousand people would be launching themselves in a single start wave into the water and battling round either one or two 1.2-mile laps. Crazy times.
I’ve done plenty of sea swims, but 13 degree Welsh seas that apparently last year contained thousands of jellyfish, plus a challenging current, worried me slightly. We were penned in on the beach just before the start, whilst supporters crowded the cliff above and some very rousing music blared out over the sound system. It felt like we were going into battle. The start was insane. We filed down the beach and into the water as fireworks exploded above us. Then it was just a battle to survive. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be my first ever open water competitive swim, let’s put it that way. Two thousand deranged and hyper swimmers fighting for space in the sea and aiming for three strategically placed orange buoys was complete lunacy. I got smacked in the head towards the end of the first lap but struggled back up onto the beach where we had to run round what I believed is called an Australian exit, or something, before hitting the water for lap two. I fended off cramp in my calves for the whole of the second lap and spotted one small jellyfish, plus something larger that I didn’t hang around to analyse, before hitting the final buoy. That’s where I got smacked again, this time dislodging my goggles, and this time the person just kept trying to invade my space. The surprise at being whacked had caused me to cramp again, so I stopped to sort my goggles and shout at the sod who’d belted me, only to find it was one of the perhaps seven people I knew in the entire field. How ridiculous is that? Anyway, it was done. Over an hour and a half of swimming found me clutching my first medal of the weekend.
A late dinner and late bike prep (take note, sort your bike stuff before going for your swim or you’ll be up until after midnight and a wreck on day two) found me waking up to some god awful Welsh weather on Saturday. We knew it was due to be pretty shitty, but imagine a rainy, drenching mist and blustery wind, then imagine a hilly 66-mile loop of the Welsh countryside. I had to dig deep for some strong Lincolnshire grit to even make me leave my cosy bed in my warm, dry hotel room.
My wave was due to set off at 11.15 am, but when I got there at 10.45, the organiser was just telling people to set off as soon as they liked. I followed her advice, I thought I might as well get this particular misery over. It didn’t take me long to work out that my cycling glasses were totally pointless, so they came off. I’m a fairly newbie cyclists so it was all about just getting round, trying to be efficient with my gears and getting up the copious hills. I was actually fairly pleased with myself, arriving at the 30-mile rest stop feeling full of beans (or energy gels and special hydration fluids). I gobbled twiglets, a bit of mars bar, had a rest stop, and stopped for a selfie with one of my tribe who was out doing the 42-mile route. It mostly went by in a blur of hills, mist, wind, the odd impressive pro cyclist hurtling past, and some motivational chats with other riders of similar ability. Then about six miles before the end I saw a rider hit the back of a car up ahead and flip over his handle bars. Shit. Thankfully, he was ok, disorientated and with a bleeding hand, but insistent on getting his partner round the 112 miles in less than seven and a half hours. I stayed with them until he was able to hop back on and the pair of them zoomed off in pursuit of their goal. I really hope he was ok. My own proud moment came on the King/Queen of the Mountain hill climbing challenge, when I cycled all the way to the top and the compere said I was making it look easy. I think we all know I wasn’t but it kept me going to the finish in Tenby, where the crowds nearly made me cry with pride as I crossed the finish line. I’ll never set the cycling world alight, 66 miles took me five and a half hours (including a couple of rest stops and the bike v. car incident), but never has a medal felt more deserved. Two down, one to go.
Sunday was half marathon day. We hopped on the bus to Pembroke Castle, where we would join the marathoners at their halfway point. They make you pay another £10 for the bus, which is a bit rude considering how much the weekend can cost you, and we had to go really early because of road closures, but the time spent at the castle was really cool. I had a little explore, finding some odd cave formation below the main bit of the castle ruin, before remembering I was supposed to be resting in readiness for my run.
We were led out of the castle into Pembroke town by a samba band, parading down along the main street so we could cheer on the marathoners who were looking at sub four hours. And then, at 12 pm, it was our turn. I very quickly realised I had no energy, I guess I’d left it all on the road the day before. I had a couple of gels with me, which I wouldn’t normally bother with whilst running, but needs must. I cracked one of those bad boys open at mile three, after a particularly gruelling hill and it pushed me on for at least another four miles. SIS gels are magic, who knew? I played cat and mouse with A from the tri club for a while, but at about six or seven miles we gave up on that and decided to see it home together, which was a much better plan. The hills just kept on coming, but finally the clouds parted and along the ridgeway outside Tenby we were suddenly rewarded with one of the views I’d been promised on the bike leg. It was stunning. We stopped briefly to enjoy it before, buoyed by our surroundings, pushing on to Tenby, more crowds, a red carpet finish, more twiglets, and our tribe members. It was my worst half marathon time ever, but medal three completed my stack and my, let’s call it, Medium Course Weekend.
Highly recommended: well managed, well supported, rumour has it there’s some beautiful scenery, Tenby is charming and I just had a fab time with my tri buddies. Who knows, perhaps it might inspire me to get better on the bike and go long next year!