Earlier this month I visited the seaside town of Tenby to participate in the 6th Long Course Weekend. Long Course Weekend covers the three distances of an Ironman triathlon over the course of 3 days. There’s the 3.8km swim on Friday, a 180km bike ride on Saturday followed by the 42.2km marathon run on Sunday. As I’m training for Ironman Wales in September, it was the perfect opportunity to test the swim and bike legs of the event as these are identical to the Ironman Course.
Tenby – the Town
I drove down to Tenby from Liverpool on Thursday evening straight from work and set up camp in one of the nearby camping sites. This meant that I had all of Friday to chill in Tenby before Long Course Weekend began. Something I would definitely recommend! After registering at the HQ I had a little wander around town then parked myself at a little cafe which had a fantastic view of the beach and brilliant coffee. When a cortado isn’t on the menu but the barista knows what you’re on about, you’re onto a good thing!
I spent a good few hours at the cafe watching the water disappear and chatting with various locals and visitors at the cafe. Everyone was excited about the weekend whether participating or spectating, giving me tips for the weekend as well as for IM Wales later in the year. I’ll definitely make a return to the cafe on my next visit as apparently they make the best Greek salad this side of Melbourne. That’s gotta be put to the test for sure! While carbing it up I chose a local ham & cheese panini – half of which was promptly stolen by an evil seagull. I was much more careful about protecting the replacement!
Tensions rise as the drummers beat and dramatic music blares out of the speakers behind us. I am one of over 500 athletes waiting at the waters edge by Tenby beach waiting for Long Course Weekend to begin. I take a moment to look behind me and observe all the people standing along the cliff top of the town watching and cheering us on then turn my focus back to the start of the weekends events ahead of me.
There’s Iron Mate Mike standing near me at the start line giving out advice on ocean open water swimming, giving last minute tips on using the current to drafting for efficient swimming. Then next thing there’s fireworks going off (wait what, fireworks?!) and we’re all running frantically for the water and start thrashing about in the sea.
The swim was a lot tougher than I expected. I swim in open water once or twice a week in what is usually quite choppy conditions, except this doesn’t quite compare to an ocean swim. My shoulders feel tight underneath my wetsuit (I swear its shrinking), everything seems much more difficult than normal and it seems like EVERY one is over taking me. Its 44 minutes before I get out of the water for the Australian exit ready to take on the second lap.
By the second lap I’ve got my stride back and feeling much smoother moving through the water. I have one jellyfish encounter with an absolute monster of a jellyfish. Thankfully he was quite deep down and didn’t get me too nervy. Swimming through the boats I lose sight of the buoys a few times. I swear they were moved further out while we were swimming!! Just before approaching the beach I take in a whopping big mouthful of seawater which leaves me retching . I don’t recommend it. A dazed run along the beach and I’ve acquired my first medal.
Apparently the weather on Saturday for the bike leg was the worst weather they’ve ever had. To be honest I didn’t think it was all that bad. But then I’ll ride my bike in some pretty nasty weather if it means I get to ride my bike. Although I didn’t REALLY fancy getting out of the tent first thing in the morning while it was still raining!
At the first ‘hill’ my chain falls off while changing gear. Twice. Frustrated about losing my rhythm I set off again into the misty and windy morning. I didn’t spend as much time on my tri-bars as I would normally due to the cross-winds and slippery roads as my main priority was to familiarise myself with the course for September. There were plenty of opportunities to get some good speed up and I clocked over 65km/hr at a few points which was great fun!
No surprises here, but I absolutely loved the bike leg. When I signed up for Ironman Wales, everyone seemed to be going ooooh that’s a really tough course it’s so hilly. Since I live in Liverpool, I was expecting to see and be riding the hills (mountains really) that you get in North Wales. Proper hills. Hills that you worry you may not get up on a TT bike without falling off. So while I was riding along I kept thinking, right where are these hills?! It’s not a flat course by any means as it continuously rolls up and down a bit, but I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Until I got about 80 or 90km in. Oh hello. There’s the hills. Right at the end of the first lap!
The first time I arrived at heart-break hill I didn’t know what I was getting myself in for. The second time around I worried I wouldn’t make it up, but thankfully it seemed shorter. The commentator was impressed that I rode up with a smile on my face. Both times. I love riding my bike that much that even when it seems impossible to get up without falling off, I’m smiling!
Medal two. Tick!
The run was always going to be tough. Crawling out of my tent on Sunday morning my muscles were protesting. But the 3rd and elusive 4th medals depended on completing the marathon so off I went. The LCW marathon course differs to the Ironman Wales course, but is still a bit hilly. The best approach for me was to walk up the steeper hill parts and then run the rest. If I tried running up the hills it hurt my knees and I didn’t want to injure myself so close to my ironman.
I kept pace running with David, one of the guys I met over the weekend until I hit 16km and started getting dizzy. I took a gel dropped the pace a little bit and carried on.
It was a beautiful course, my favourite bit was definitely along the coast with the sea breeze. Despite there being a hill there at 32km! Being my weakest discipline the run was a struggle, but I was stoked to end up with a new personal best – sore legs hills and all!
The Medal Ceremony
The medal ceremony is special for any long course weekend completer. Everyone is there wearing all their medals and lining up along the red carpet of the finish line after being presented with the coveted 4th medal. I got a special hug from the race organisers for being such a smiley individual. After celebrating with my new tri friends, it was a goodbye until September, a slow, dazed wander to loosen the legs and pack the tent up. I then drove back to Liverpool where I promptly face planted my pillow.
Until next time.