Wales Long Course Weekend

The Wales LCW is a brilliant weekend of racing in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales comprising a Friday evening 2.4m swim, a Saturday 112m bike, and a Sunday marathon ie. a full iron distance triathlon over 3 days, and brilliant training for Ironman Wales. There are shorter options for each discipline  (1.2m swim, 40m/72m bike, half marathon, and introduced last year a 10k run too), but anyone who enters all three events at the full distance is classed as a long course athlete, and on completing all three is eligible to collect the coveted 4th medal. People can enter any combination of The Wales Swim, The Wales Sportive, and The Wales Marathon they like so there’s something for everyone.

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I first entered in 2012 as a warm-up for IMUK, for which I had a place but later was forced to pull out due to work. The swim was choppy, and actually cut short due to the bad weather, but I felt quite strong. Coming into day 2, the bike I was nervous. I am not a strong cyclist and this course is really really tough. I felt so ill after about 30 miles and planned to pull out at half way, not realising that the two lap course wasn’t two equal laps, but one of 72 miles followed by one of 40 miles. By the time I got to the end of lap one, I’d had something to eat and actually started to feel better, but mentally I’d quit a long while ago, and I had to stop. I was absolutely gutted when I felt good the next day in the marathon and had to watch everyone collecting their 4th medals at the medal ceremony in the town centre at the end. I knew I’d have to come back to conquer this race. The medals this year were like puzzle pieces, with the 4th piece linking the swim, bike and run medals.

In 2014, I was back. I enjoyed the swim again, in spite of the jellyfish. I completed the full bike course and felt absolutely elated, though I was cutting it very fine to make it before the cut off. And the next day, I ran a decent sub 4 hour marathon so I was really proud of myself and got to walk down the red carpet to collect my medal which completed the set.

In 2015, I went back with my MDS tent mates as a reunion weekend away. Five of us went, but only three had signed up for the swim which comprises two laps and a run around the rock. The other two had travelled together separately from the rest of us. I got down onto the beach and there was no sign of them. I knew they’d been delayed en route so wasn’t sure they’d made it. I hammered through the swim and came out in a strong position. I’d completely forgotten about the jellyfish, but there are literally hundreds of them; white translucent blobs everywhere; some bigger than my cat and she is pretty hefty! One bounced off my neoprene clad belly and I stuck my hand into a couple too. I ended up with a time 11 minutes slower than the previous year, but later found out the course had been around 400-500 metres too long. I headed back to the hotel assuming my tenties had missed the swim and feeling pretty gutted for them that they’d be out of the running for the 4th medal, but a little later they showed up, having run onto the beach and begged to be allowed into the start pen at the last second.

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The bike course, I now knew well. As I said, it’s really tough and comprises a long loop and a shorter loop with a few big hills towards the end and included in both loops. There’s also a king of the hill section with massive cloud support to drive you up the incline which you do twice and get a time for. The crowd obviously spurs me on, because looking at the rankings for the king of the hill versus the whole ride, it seems I’m good at the short hill climbs. This is surprising since I find the big 17% climb just before this so daunting. In 2012, I got off and walked it. In 2014, I walked it on both laps. This year I rode up the first time, but the second time when I was more fatigued, as I was approaching I saw a kerfuffle ahead about half way up, cars and bikes all over the place and at a standstill. I unclipped and walked, taking the opportunity to refuel, fearful that if I’d got to that point and had to stop, I’d be unable to unclip, and liable to fall over and make the situation worse. Annoyingly, whatever was going on had all cleared by the time I got there. On loop 1, there is a steep descent with a tight bend,  and people were blasting down it. I’m a nervous cyclist and was taking it slowly and carefully, but witnessed someone crashing out just ahead of me. I stopped to help and he had split his helmet and had blood coming from his ear. He wanted to carry on but Dr. Gush came out and put my foot down. While I was waiting with him for the paramedics, I saw so many people careering round the corner out of control, and another man crash, actually colliding with me and my bike even though we were on the grass verge well out of the way. I was there about 15 minutes, but overall still managed to take 1 hour and 18 minutes off my time from the previous year (9:47 down to 8:29). This year, instead of a mass start, the race took the format of a TT with people going off in waves based on their predicted times, and the top athletes from the swim having a ramp start. It was good fun seeing the elite athletes speed past on their fancy machines on the way round, and a little game in my head trying to hold them off as long as possible, as well as being nice to see people all day rather than cycling alone at the back of the pack.

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For the marathon, Alan and I decided to run together. He really tried to rein me in and force me to pace sensibly at the start, but I wanted to make the most of the initial flat and downhill course, aware of the steep incline to come. We stuck together through the pouring rain until approximately mile 18, when I needed a bathroom stop and waved him on. We both ended up finishing in just over 3:30 and I was 6th female overall and 2nd female long course athlete so absolutely chuffed with that.

Pembrokeshire is a beautiful destination, and the atmosphere is so friendly and supportive. The race is brilliantly run and executed by Activity Wales Events and Matt Evans (who himself ran the Marathon Des Sables in 2015), and I highly recommend it to anyone into multisport events. I’ll be back in 2016 hoping to knock a bit more off my times.

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