Billed as a 3 day multisport festival the Long Course weekend is set in the town of Tenby on the Pembrokeshire coast in South Wales.
At the heart of the event there are 3 iron distance challenges over the course of the 3 days; 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run, better known as a marathon, but around this there are various distances that you can choose from to suit your abilities and experience.
For myself I chose to do the 1.2 mile swim on the Friday evening and the 10k run on the Sunday, missing out the bike section as even the smaller routes took in the legendary 16% climb out of Wisemans bridge and 12% St Brides Hill climb or as it has come to be known in long distance triathlon Heartbreak Hill by those who have tackled Ironman Wales – the last hill before dropping back into Tenby, so its quite a challenge come the end of a 112 mile bike ride.
Arriving on Thursday and staying in an Air BNB in Saundersfoot literally a matter of meters away from the bike course, myself and my partner were greeted by blue skies and sunshine – the last we’d see for a couple of days – I keep finding triathlons located in great locations which keeps me on the right side of her if I can turn it into time away.
Registration took place at the Salterns car park in Tenby itself – after walking through the shop – they’re not daft these race organisers getting you to go through a shop before you get to the registration tent at the far end of the expo, passing all manner of retailers from local food producers through to Tredz in case you need some last-minute equipment.
The swim takes place in Tenby at North Beach – again a location that if you google the start of Ironman Wales you can hear the Welsh national anthem being sung and echoing around the bay – a spine tingling experience I’m sure with the sun coming up.
For us however the swim started at 5 o’clock on the Friday evening, Tenby gradually got busier through the day as more and more athletes arrived and were taking in the atmosphere (despite the drizzle we were experiencing) through the afternoon people started to line the top of the road that overlooks and the beach got busier as people were arriving as the Long Course Kinder event – a splash and dash for local children and those that were competing across the weekend that wanted to involve their children started at 4pm. This really is an inclusive weekend. The children had the stage to themselves and had a parade down to their start accompanied by the Samba band, this really helped to build the atmosphere towards the main event.
As the children’s race came towards the end it was time for acclimatisation and the water was some what colder than people expected, one chap I spoke to in the water said it was the coldest he’d known it in 3 years, after a little swim to warm up and the temperature really didn’t feel too bad.
Soon it was time to get out the water and head to the start pen where 2500 neoprene clad athletes and me waited for the start.
This was a truly great feeling to be in this pen and one I won’t forget.
I positioned myself towards the back of the group to try and avoid as much of the washing machine start as possible, soon the count down started from ten and with the flash and bang of fireworks on the beach and to the sound of dance music and the start horn we entered the sea.
We had been told in the pre-race brief to pace ourselves as it would feel as if we weren’t moving due to going against the tide for the first 500 odd meters or so to the first buoy. I started my swim well managing to control my breathing and not hyper ventilate due to the sheer volume of people and the task at hand.
I got to the first buoy having passed a few swimmers on the way out and made the turn –the buoy was moving and it seemed to take a while to get round it – these were very large buoys due to the distances involved in sighting. Heading down the back part of the route – it was like an arrow head triangle this is where we had been told we’d pick up speed as the tide was working with us, whilst the tide helped a bit we also had turned into the oncoming waves which despite having the two lifeboat stations to sight at and the large orange buoy in the distance made things difficult as if you sighted at the wrong moment it was a mouth full of sea water- I had a few.
Also at this point the leaders, who were on a 2.4 mile swim taking on the full Long Course weekend, caught up with the back end of the rather large pack, they kept on their trajectory and I had to stop a couple of times for a moment or risk getting kicked in the face.
After reaching the 2nd of the orange buoys it was another right turn to head for land – if only it was that easy, again it seemed to feel like we were fighting against the tide, but in the distance was Gosker rock, and for the first time you could hear the music in the background and the cheering of the crowds for those who were doing the aussie exit to start their 2nd lap and those that were finishing.
Eventually out the depths of the sea came the lighter view of the sand which meant the swim was nearly done, finally getting to a point where I could stand, I along with lots of others began to exit the sea and head up the sand which had been churned up well, heading to the finishing chute to collect my medal and some Erdinger grapefruit flavour alcohol free beer – well earned. Chip time for the swim was 1hr 16 but the course seemed to be a bit long with my watch telling me I’d swam 1.5 miles as opposed to the 1.2 miles, the leader also said his Garmin reported a 4.1k – rather than 3.8 k (2.4 Miles) so it seems it was long for all. So maybe my sighting wasn’t all that bad and the course was slightly long – completely understandable given the way the tides were pulling us around.
1st orange turn buoy in the distance
As I wasn’t riding on the Saturday but I knew Lee Davies was so it was time to do some cheer leading on Heartbreak hill, the first riders came through at just gone 9:30am having started at 7am and this being about the 70 mile mark for the first loop and the 110 mile mark when they were completing their 2nd lap.
The leaders climbed the hill at an unbelievable pace and the two of them soon going around the corner to crest the first part of the hill in a blink of an eye.
Over the course of the morning, we were once again joined by the samba band and the hill got busy, both with cyclists making their climb and spectators coming out to cheer them on, it was a party atmosphere and one that this event is famous for.
It was great to be encouraging the riders up the hill and everyone seemed to be thankful for the support at this difficult point in the ride.
As one group of riders passed about mid-morning I recognised the famous black, yellow and red of one rider who was of course Lee Davies flying up the hill, shouting some words of encouragement he had a big smile on his face and was enjoying his ride and soon went around the corner onto the next part of his journey.
As the day went on riders thinned out as some were doing a shorter route of 42 miles and some 70 miles which meant climbing both hills twice, knowing how important support is to all athletes it felt great to pay it forward somewhat.
Heart Break Hill
For the run I had entered the 10k but there was again a variety of options, full marathon, half marathon and 5k for those younger runners or those not wanting to face hills.
After watching the marathon starters head off it was time to get the coach to the start.
This should have been straight forward by catching a bus that the organisers had provided, be it at a cost (this was a closed road run so it seemed like a good idea) to Manobier Castle for the start of the 10k, duly all the 10 k runners headed towards the coaches and started to embark. After a while the driver came on and said we needed to get off as a couple of the coaches were too tall to go under a bridge that they needed to take, this seemed to be a fairly large oversight on somebody’s part but we all got off as instructed. Only to find that there were now not enough coaches to take everyone in one go to the start, so about 70 of us were left waiting for the coaches to return to pick us up.
There was a definite sense of frustration in the air about this but it was out of our control – the only problem being was we got very little information about what was going on and only had the liquid that you had on you to drink – the sun had come out and it was getting warm.
After an hour a little 16 seater minibus turned up – everyone joking this can’t be for us but it was, fortunately for me it had stopped near where I was stood with other runners so we got on, finally we were on our way, we got as far as the end of the road before the driver was stopped by one of the traffic controllers telling her she couldn’t go on the road she needed to go one – she very politely explain she had runners on board and she was going through but he was steadfast in his role – cue a few more sighs form the runners in the back -this had really been a rough morning, a few phone calls later and we were on our way properly.
Eventually we got to Manobier and had to depart the bus in the middle of the village and walk down the hill that we would soon be running up at the start point of our run – or so we thought.
Whilst we were walking down the hill will were met with marathoners and half marathoners running uphill on their way, giving encouragement as we passed them.
We were due to start at 1:30pm but at about 1pm it seemed that there weren’t that many people there, sure enough we soon were told that our start would be delayed until 2pm as another bus had broken down with 10k runners on it and they weren’t going to start without them – fair enough but the problem was they was very little shade in the car park that was forming our holding area.
Eventually the last group of runners arrived, and a familiar face appeared which was that of Matt Heyward who regularly takes part in the Banbury Star Wednesday night TT events, after a little chat he went off to sort himself out as they had been on a rather long journey to get there.
Finally it was time for us to start after what had felt like a long morning, off we went straight into a hill – the first of many we would encounter though the 6 miles, as we crested the hill we came into the village proper where the locals had embraced the fact they couldn’t get out as the roads were full of people running by supporting the local pub standing outside having a drink and cheering us all on – again a real party atmosphere.
The route had a few lumps and bumps and we eventually got onto the Ridgeway heading towards Tenby – although it was some way off, as the sun was out it was rather toasty but we had a couple of feed stations on the route as all the routes came together towards the finish. Lots of encouragement amongst the runners but extra encouragement was given to those with Gold bibs as they were all Full Long Course Athletes and were heading towards the end of a very epic but challenging 3 days, as we could see Caldey Island we could also see the outskirts of Tenby.
Finally we hit the outskirts of Tenby and could hear the music and PA system in full swing welcoming runners home, again we found locals outside giving support, even had one family outside with a hose squirting cold water which was very welcome. Before long it was on to the red carpet and across the finish line in a time of 1hr 46 – reflective of a hot day, hilly course and some frustrations all coming into play.
After getting a finish line beer it was time to enjoy the prize giving ceremony for the winners and giving those that had completed the full Long Course Weekend a well-deserved cheer and applause out of 400 plus entrants on Friday night for the full event there were only 200 plus that completed the event within times allowed which gives you an indication of how tough the full event is.
Re- Hydration is key to recovery or so I’m led to believe.
I really enjoyed my Long Course weekend experience and would highly recommend it, it’s a truly inclusive event and welcomes everybody, it really has a party feel across the 3 days.
For me, my next triathlon is another sea swim-based event at the Bournemouth International triathlon in September