This was my 4th time at the Long Course Weekend, and why? Because I love it! It’s one of the highlights of my annual racing calendar, but really really damned hard.
This year, I set off alone, the three people I was booked to go with all flaking last minute. I wasn’t surprised and actually relieved to be having some quiet time to do exactly as I pleased. I took a leisurely drive down to Tenby in Pembrokeshire and checked into my (now really rather spacious since it was just for me) family room, before heading to registration. The race expo was a bit disappointing compared to previous years, but the one thing I wanted was there – a Swans stand to buy a new pair of goggles exactly the same as I bought this time last year. (https://www.swansuk.co.uk/)
I didn’t have much time to spare before the swim, so trotted off in my trisuit, wetsuit in hand to pull on when I got there. I had a bit of time to acclimatise to the water temperature before the countdown and we were off.
Two laps around a circuit in the sea off North Beach in Tenby with a short beach run between laps. The swim involves a bit of dodging of ships along the backstraight, but this year I only saw one jellyfish compared to the thousands in previous years. It didn’t feel too choppy or rough, but my stroke didn’t feel particularly slick. I got into a fairly steady rhythm following the feet of a man with particularly mesmerising line through the water. He didn’t kick much, so didn’t provide much for me to draft off, and neither did I feel much sense of urgency in the swim, since when I rushed to get past him and lost him for a while, I just ended up sighting badly and finding him back in front of me again like some guardian angel.
I exited the water in 1:25:01, with a total distance on the GPS of 4068 metres. Compared to 1:18:48 for over 4300 metres last year, this wasn’t great. I was really quite disappointed given I have swum at least once a week this year, covering almost 50 miles in the last 6 months, compared to a total of 10 miles for the whole of 2015. I actually swam 1:07:56 back in 2014 so somehow I’m getting significantly slower.
After the swim, since I was left to my own devices, I enjoyed my favourite food in the world bar one (icecream) and treated myself to some squid at a chinese restaurant; relaxing with my book – “Run or Die” by Kilian Jornet. I took the leftover rice for my early morning pre-bike breakfast in bed.
Saturday was wet. Very very wet! My bright pink Sealskinz overshoes (https://www.sealskinz.com/UK/) got a lot of positive attention. But they didn’t quite manage to stand up to this level of rain. They kept my feet warm, but some rain got in, and once it got in, it wasn’t getting out again. I finished with feet that were a bit white and shrivelled as if I’d been swimming for a long time, rather than riding a bike. A steep descent had been removed from the course compared to last year. I was glad of this since last year, I stopped to attend to an accident I saw happen, and two further riders crashed while I was waiting with him for an ambulance. All in all, the bike was as difficult as always. When the previous winners (Dominic Rohan-Gates & Oliver Simons) passed me, I was ascending a (minor for Pembs) hill, and tried to hang on to them, which I managed for the length of the truck we were overtaking, and then they were off – phenomenal athletes. I also saw Lucy Charles and Lucy Gossage power past me. Later on, I was sad to say Nerys Jones, a previous race winner, and the only long course female athlete to beat me in the marathon last year sitting in an ambulance. Like the swim, I was disappointed to finish 8 minutes slower than last year (8:37:49 compared to 8:29:12), again with more training, a snazzy new bike, and no 15 minute stop with a casualty! Grim weather though, and looking at the results there were a lot of DNFs, particularly among the top boys and girls including Dom R-G, Lucy Gossage, Lucy Charles, and Nerys Jones. Last year’s eventual winner Emma Newsome was almost 90 minutes slower. So I guess it was a tough day at the office.
My mum met me at the sportive finish line, and I had a slightly more relaxed schedule this night, with time for a leisurely dinner including this monster melty camembert, and a big bowl of pasta. Sadly, even I couldn’t fit in dessert after that. Two days in a row without an icecream!
Sunday came, and with it, run day, the day I’d been looking forward to most. There was finally a bit of respite from the rain, though showers would come later. The marathon course is one of my favourites, and this was to be my 4th time completing it – probably the only race I’ve ever done that many times (given I dropped out of the bike at 72miles in 2012, and the swim was also shortened that year). I went off fast, wanting to use the flats and downs, knowing about the hills coming later. This was a different approach to last year, where I had Alan with me, pacing me sensibly and stopping me from bolting off at the start gun. I set out as 1st female, but got overtaken on the first hill, and then again when stopping for the loo. I began to dedicate miles to specific thoughts or people I knew, a technique I’ve heard about to pass the time. I started by thinking about running tall with my shoulders back for mile 6-7. Mile 7-8 I concentrated on running an even pace, thinking about my friend Alan, who was out running a 50 miler, and I only had 26 to do. I thought about his words “top 3 women don’t walk the hills Laura” and tried to keep steady on all the undulations. Around half way another lady overtook me, but I concentrated on running my own place.
Then there was the section through Pembroke, past the castle and past the athletes lining up for the half marathon, cheering us all through. Such a brilliant atmosphere and boost. I saw Mark Kleanthous, a triathlon/ironman coach I know, who shouted and gave me a high-five as I passed through (www.ironmate.co.uk). Soon after, another girl overtook me. I recognised her club vest as being from Milton Keynes, and asked if she knew Mark; and she said yes, he’d told her to hurry and catch me as I was only 15 seconds ahead. And that she certainly did. I wished her luck and she surged ahead. The fast half marathoners started to pass through, and I lost a couple more places, really crumbling around 18 miles, but I hung on, and completed in 3:37:35 in 8th place (5th out of the women who had done the swim and run too), that’s 3/3 disciplines slower than last year with a 3:33:58 and 6th place last year.
Overall I completed the race in 13:40:15, compared to 13:21:58; and I’ll admit I was really beating myself up about it. But looking at the results, OK so I was 8 mins slower, but last year’s winner, who came 2nd this year was 13 minutes slower, which is comparable when you take into account our overall times. I’d say the conditions were tougher, and it can only make me stronger for the main event in September – Ironman Wales.
2012 – Shortened swim due to weather, quit bike at 72 miles, 4:31:31 marathon
2014 – 1:07:56 swim, 9:47:00 bike, 3:56:57 marathon
Total 14:52:08, 267/300 overall finishers, 32/43 female finishers.
2015 – 1:18:48 swim – 78/396, 8/56 women
– 8:29:12 bike – 324/396, 40/56 women
– 3:33:58 run – 48/396, 2/56 women
Total 13:21:58, 204/396 overall finishers, 19/56 female finishers.
2016 – 1:25:01 swim – 199/419, 23/68 women
– 8:37:49 bike – 310/419, 31/68 women
– 3:37:25 run – 44/419, 5/68 women
Total 13:40:1, 199/419 overall finishers, 23/68 female finishers.
NB 68 finishers out of 95 who started.
And I have to remind myself that these are just those that finished. There were many more who didn’t finish, didn’t start, did just one of the events so don’t count in these numbers, not to mention those who’d never ever contemplate doing such a thing. I have to be less harsh on myself, learn from my less than perfect performances and keep going to achieve my goals – next up Ironman Wales!