So what is the Long Course Weekend?
‘Pembrokeshire plays host annually to one of the most difficult triathlons in Wales – the Long Course Weekend, a unique event which lasts three days in mid-July. To kick-off the weekend on Friday evening, the Long Course athletes have The Wales Swim to complete – a 2.4 mile swim that takes place on Tenby’s North Beach. On Saturday their attention turns to The Wales Sportive, and 112 miles of undulating Welsh countryside lined with enthusiastic crowds. To finish the weekend, the athletes have the small task(!) of completing the 26.2 miles of The Wales Marathon, which is quickly establishing itself as a fantastic event in its own right. In 2017 out of the 1,000 Long Course Weekend athletes, only around half could manage to cross the finish line and collect the final piece of the event’s unique medal design.’
In 2017 I was one of those athletes who did not complete the LCW. I finished the swim and the run but didn’t even attempt the bike after a disastrous attempt at training, but that story is so last year! So 2018 was time to return to Tenby and avenge! Within 2 days of returning in 2017 I had entered LCW and booked my accommodation, I meant business!
Cycling was always going to be my main challenge, in every sense! I am neither a confident nor a skilled cyclist; all the gear and no idea! During the winter months I spent hours in the gym on the watt bike building up strength and endurance. As spring arrived I ventured out on the road, never on my own as I lacked confidence so there were rides with friends but mainly I entered Sportives so I had the security of knowing there was mechanical help and other cyclists around if needed. The first main one was in the Forest of Dean; the scariest of them all and where I learnt the lesson to check the race profile! The plus side of this Sportive was that I conquered my fear of the downhill, well I had to with 5,829ft of ascent/descent over 60 miles! I’m not sure if the crying at the end was due to shock or relief! I also entered 3 x 100 mile Sportives two of which I finished, eventually, and the third I was pulled on time after the organisers moved the goal posts halfway through the event! So eventually the LCW arrived and I was as ready as I ever was going to be!
I arrived in Tenby at lunchtime on Friday, registered, of course spent money in the Expo and then made my way back to my perfect little abode in Saundersfoot, just a 5 minute drive from Tenby and then relaxed, well tried to! Friday evening was the swim and an event I felt quietly confident about as I had been swimming in the lakes since Easter when it was a tropical 9 degrees! The atmosphere on Tenby’s North Beach was just electric; the swell of the supporters, 2,200 wetsuit clad apprehensive swimmers and the Samba band playing against the backdrop of a Mediterranean vista! Not your normal stereotypical Welsh weather! After the sea acclimatisation and race briefing the fireworks signalled the race start and 2,200 swimmers dashed into the water, apparently an amazing sight as a spectator!
I had positioned myself to the side and towards the back of the masses in the hope of not being swum over and the plan worked. Using the headland to sight to the first buoy I ensured I swam wide around it, too close and it’s like being in a washing machine (I learnt that lesson last year!); it’s further but actually quicker! You use the lifeboat station to sight to the second buoy and after the hard push against the current to the first buoy you seem to whizz down to the second buoy. Wide again around that buoy and then it’s time to head for the beach, but with the sun in your eyes you cannot see a thing so you just head for the noise and hope for the best! Finally into the shade and you can see the rock you’re aiming for and it’s time to find your feet for what they call an ‘Aussie Exit’; out of the water, run along the beach, run back in the water and do the whole thing again! The second lap and the numbers are less as there are sensible people swimming the 1.2 mile distance! This time you can get closer to the buoys but there are more jellyfish on lap 2 and with the tide turning it seemed much harder this time. I only touched one jellyfish but fortunately I suffered no side effects from this! After a mostly incident free 2nd lap it was time to sprint to the finish, well as much as you can sprint in soft sand after swimming 2.4 miles! My finish time was 1:26:28 and I absolutely loved it, can you tell!
Then back home, a shower, more pasta consumed and time for bed; Saturday was my biggest day and my biggest fear! As I had put down my anticipated finish time for the bike as the slowest allowed I had been allocated wave 1 to start in. Wave 1 started at 7.15am, in batches of approx. 20 cyclists, and I knew I needed to start as close to this time as possible to ensure I met the cut off. I arrived at the start at 6.45am and I was terrified! I knew I’d be okay when I started, it was just the thought and dread of it! The briefing was going well until they mentioned the 76 hills we would come across, I knew it was hilly but I really didn’t need to know how many! At 7.20am I crossed the start with only 112 hilly miles ahead of me! The first loop is actually the least undulating out of the whole course so I actually felt quite comfortable, I had loads of riders fly past me and I think in turn I overtook at least two cyclists! I concentrated on my gears, eating every 30 minutes, avoiding pot holes, checking the signage, looking out for other riders and occasionally appreciating the scenery! The first feed station was at 33 miles and very welcome indeed, even just to stretch out for a few minutes. There was another feed station, which I briefly stopped at, before the end of the first loop and the cut off. After 66 miles, and with 70 minutes to spare, I pulled into the cut off feed station; the relief was immense but I now knew the next loop was the hilliest and we did it twice! Refuelled and I was off, there were always cyclists around, most of them were faster but I was still upright and moving forward! The two hardest hills in this section are a 16% incline at Wisemans Bridge and a 14% incline in Saundersfoot; my bike asked to be pushed on both of these and who am I not to oblige! I pushed my bike on the steepest part and then got back on and cycled, well in Saundersfoot the hill goes on for over a mile after the steepest part so you have to! On the 2nd loop this strategy paid off as everyone who overtook me whilst I was walking, I in turn then overtook them when I got back on my bike! My feet were in a lot of pain after 90 miles which is not the easiest to deal with; trying to cycle and wave your feet around to relieve the pain is not the ideal combination! Finally the finish line and I have never know relief like it and I wasn’t even last with a finishing time of 9:51:33.
I am certainly not a cyclist but out of the 937 athletes who had entered the LCW nearly 140 DNF’D on the bike so I’ll take that!
After catching up with everyone else and coming to terms with the fact I’d cycled and survived 112 miles (with 6,730ft of ascent!) it was time to go back home and relax, shower, eat more pasta and have an early night as there was still a marathon to go!
Day 3 and back in Tenby and on more familiar ground; marathon day! On one of the hottest days, and having spent nearly 10 hours in the saddle the previous day, it was never going to be the easiest 26.2 miles plus there was 1,630ft of ascent/descent to contend with! The first 3 miles around Tenby my legs felt awful and I wondered how on earth I was going to survive a marathon! But after walking the epic hill that starts at mile 3 my muscles loosened and I was able to keep a steady plod and that’s near enough how the remaining miles unfolded. I managed to plod for most of the miles and just walked the steepest inclines. The second half of the race, after Pembroke Castle, I find more interesting; all the villages we run through come out in force with impromptu water stations and garden hoses for us to run through. The scenery is more varied and along the way I managed to run with different people which certainly passed the miles. The epic hill on the way out we also get to run back down on the way to the finish line and I managed to make up some time there before the final long drag and climb back into Tenby. The crowds on the last half mile of the course are amazing and as I hit the red carpet I cannot describe in words that feeling; perhaps my expression says it all!
My marathon time was 5:07:10 which gave me the following overall finishing stats. On day 1 there were 937 athletes entered for the LCW, you can see as the days went by how the numbers diminished!
It was then time for a quick change (in the car in the multi-storey carpark; class!) so I could go back down the red carpet and be presented, with my fellow athletes, for that coveted 4th medal.
It is a moment that will remain with me; the sense of achievement leaves me wordless. The run and the swim were not so much the issue, however I still trained hard for these, but cycling 112 miles was something I never thought I could achieve and to be honest is not something that I ever want to repeat! Indeed those immortal words’ never again’!
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