Long Course Weekend is always one of my favourite weekends of the year. It’s a festival of triathlon like no other and is a weekend that makes non-triathletes want to be triathletes. A couple of years ago, a uni friend was there with her kids and wannabe ironman husband (now ironman). I talked her into doing the half-marathon and at the end of the weekend she said to me “Lucy, I get why you love triathlon.”. That says it all really.
The concept of the Long Course Weekend is genius. An Ironman over 3 days; A half-ironman over 3 days; or pick and mix the distances as you wish. There’s something for everyone. This year they added the junior long course weekend with a 1.9km swim, 40 mile bike and 10km run, as well as a Long Course Kinder for younger kids. I’ve been part of the weekend for 4 of the last 5 years, but given its timing just before Ironman UK, have always held back from running the marathon. This year, there’s no pro race in Bolton, and I’m retired (!) anyway. So I figured why not take the opportunity to do the whole thing.
Tenby is one of my happy places. This tiny, beautiful, seaside town embraces triathlon like nowhere else and the atmosphere there on race weekends is special. As I drove down the hill from Saundersfoot into Tenby on Friday lunchtime I’ll admit to feeling shivers down my spine as I relived in my mind all my Tenby experiences over the years. I’ve only ever had fun in Tenby, and each time I go back, the buzz around triathlon just seems to get bigger and bigger.
The swim takes place on the Friday night with a proper party atmosphere. 2500 people in a mass start. Drummers. Fireworks while we’re swimming. This is a swim-race like no other. The main motivation to swim fast is for your pint of Erdinger and to beat the queues for the obligatory Friday night fish and chips, though this year there were some pretty enormous jellies (non-stingers) to keep you on your toes. I wonder what they made of the commotion going on above them.
The bike is basically a sportive, with a choice of distances (40, 70 and 112 miles). Having said that, it’s the only triathlon I know where the best swimmers are penalised! The top 10 men and women doing the full LCW are set off at 1 minute intervals down a ramp in time trial format with everyone else in groups 30 minutes later. Drafting is allowed (but not for time trial bikes; in 2020 it will be road bikes only) so in many ways you’re better off swimming slower and riding in a pack. Sadly for me, in a non-elite race, my swim puts me higher up the field than it would in a pro-race! The route is based around the Ironman course, with some minor differences and this year, many of the roads were closed. Having previously only ridden the Long Course in a group, I’ll admit to not being over-enamored with the idea of a solo, hard 180km on my time trial bike when my alarm went off. However, once I’d woken up after the first hour, I went into what I can only describe as auto-pilot and rode as I always do in Tenby. Hard. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy racing my bike and found legs I thought I’d lost since I last raced in Tenby. I finished, half expecting to run into T2 and start a marathon! The bike finishes for all distances are in the centre of Tenby, with Tour de France style crowds and that unique Tenby festival atmosphere. Every single rider is made to feel special.
Perhaps the hardest part of the weekend is recovering from a tough bike to run a very hilly marathon (660m of climbing) the next day. My advice is more fish and chips, some decent ice-cream and some foam rolling. Fuelling well is critical and it’s easy to do in Tenby! The concept of the run is simply brilliant. The marathon starts first and picks up the half marathon (and then the 10km) en route. So, marathon runners are treated to parades through the streets at the half way and 32km points, as crowds of runners cheer their way from their meeting points in a castle (Pembroke for the half marathon, Manorbier for the 10km), to their retrospective starts; while those doing the shorter distances get to do their warm ups in castles. A pretty special way to start any run, and if you’re running the marathon, knowing you’re going to get big support at these points makes it very easy to break the run into chunks. But actually, there are so many locals around the course, with pop up aid stations, that it’s easy to stay entertained. I was a bit nervous about running the whole marathon. I rarely run fast and knew I was pushing my calves a bit after running a local run series with 4 short races in the 10 days before. But the great bit about being ‘retired’ is that you can throw caution to the wind and sometimes not be sensible. As it was I loved it. I had company for the first 19 miles, felt strong and even managed to negative split fairly comfortably which I haven’t done in many years. And touch wood, my calves have survived.
Racing in Tenby for me is always special and I loved being back. I’m not living my life as a professional athlete any more but I still love being part of triathlon and expect I always will. I was super impressed with the performance of the young pharmacist Rebecca Duxbury who finished second (definitely one to watch in my book) and the awesome Jill Cliff who is always on the podium. Honestly, in my book, the Long Course Weekend Wales is one of the greatest events in triathlon. I have a sneaky feeling I’ll keep coming back in some capacity for many years to come.