After all the excitement of June with my four triathlons back to back including the European Championships, July has come round way too quickly and with it a whole new challenge: the Long Course Weekend in Tenby, Wales. The LCW proper comprises of a 3.8km sea swim, a 112 mile cycle and a marathon over 3 days and is ideal as a course recce for Ironman Wales later in the year. However, since I’m not aiming to do an Ironman just yet, I made use of the option to pick and chose the distances. As my July challenge of the Challenge Year, I picked the full sea swim (3.8km) on the Friday. The half-distance bike on the Saturday and the half-marathon on Sunday would serve as hard training sessions for my August challenge to test out gear and nutrition. Just like a real iron-distance race, the Long Course Weekend was a real rollercoaster ride. Here’s how it went.
Traveling to Tenby hadn’t been without issues as there were signalling problems near Gatwick and a girl, a suitcase and a bike make for interesting work getting up and down stairs (a special thank you here to the kind staff at Gatwick for helping me). But after being picked up at Bristol, the drive to Tenby was without hassles and we even had time to check into our B&B for the weekend, the excellent Beachcomber which is conveniently located near the start of everything. After picking up my race pack, we headed over to the harbour and checked out the start and swim course from above: and what a view it was.
I got ready in plenty of time, soaking up the atmosphere. It was simply amazing. All those people who squeezed in their wetsuits, mostly with smiling faces. And the most gorgeous weather you could think of. What was more, the sea was as flat as a mirror. I had only started sea swimming after the Europeans and the maximum distance I had covered was just about 2km. So nowhere near the distance that this swim would be. I was nervous, but in a good way. My only goal was to complete the swim. Time was irrelevant, although I did think that I could do somewhere around 75 min based on my 1500m swim times.
It was all very well organised, plenty of toilets and plenty of space. With 40 min to go, I put my wetsuit on. I’m used to pebble beaches, so I made the beginner mistake to take my wetsuit down onto the sandy beach and started to put it on there. BIG mistake! I could feel the sand grains in every single nook and cranny of my body. I got worried about chaffing. I had lubed my arm pits and neck plenty, but that’s not where the sand was giving me a natural peeling (I leave the rest to your imagination). I figured there was nothing I could do, so I went for a little test swim to see what the water was like. It was amazing, quite simply.
With 30 min to go, we were all marched across to the starting area, our timing chips got tested, accompanied by the sounds of a samba band. It was all a big party, although it all kind of disappeared into a blur as we were told to get into the water to float our wetsuits. Everyone has to have been into the water for safety reasons. I tried to figure out where it would be best to be positioned on the beach to get around the first buoy and not get tangled up in the famous washing machine. I decided on a spot on the far right. The very last nervous minutes ticked down and I wasn’t the only one who chewed nervously on their lower lip.
Apparently, the start was a sight to behold. You be the judge of that. Somewhere, a cannon went, I think. The only thought I had was ‘Here we go then, nice and easy. No pressure, just focus on technique. Try and find someone to swim with.’ While everyone else rushed into the water, I started my Garmin and walked in until the water was high enough for a little dive in and get going. Five strokes, one sighting, five strokes, one sighting. Except I couldn’t really see the yellow buoy that was somewhere out there. I knew I had to aim for one of the islands and the current would drift me to the buoy, all under control then. I felt alone and had a free swim. Hoorah! I had escaped the dreaded washing machine. Until that is, I got to that first buoy. There was a bit of argy bargy there, I got dunked and dunked back. Balance restored and on I paddled. All of a sudden the swim went a lot quicker without me doing much. I zoomed along. My Garmin is set to a 15-min alarm, which I usually use for progression runs and it didn’t go off until I nearly reached the second buoy. Oh!
Turning around the second buoy I realised the value of dark tinted polarized goggles. My pair of polarised Zoggs Predators had been nicked and so far my new Predators with the orange polarised lenses have been fab. But swimming into the bright sunlight, I couldn’t see a thing. I tried to hang onto a group so I had some orientation. Suddenly, out of nowhere: BAM! I got a really hard knock onto my goggles. I felt like my eyeball had been catapulted to the back of my head, while my goggles still sucked on it the other way. For a short while I thought I was blind on one eye. The feeling was horrendous. I closed the eye that I knew I could see out of. I could see, phew! But not very well and the odd sucking feeling remained. I wished that big rock to come close so I knew it was 50m to the beach. And finally, there it was. One lap complete. I felt good. So lap 2, here we go!
First things, first though: I took the goggles off and put them back on. All better, phew! I also noticed that my buzzer hadn’t gone off for the 30 min warning. Wow! 1.9km in under 30 min. I jogged over the beach and walked back into the water, ready to tackle lap 2 with a big smile on my face. The second lap went much the same as the first: sight for the island. Turn the first buoy and then put the hammer down. Turn the second buoy and see nothing. Thankfully, at this stage, I had caught up with another group and was just looking for bubbles in the water, trusting that they were able to see something or could at least hold the general direction. Finally, I came past the big rock after what seemed the longest 300 m ever. 50 to go, my hand touched the ground. A 200m beach run is not the kindest thing to finish with after an hour or so of swimming. But I took my feet in my hands and off I dashed to the finish. Usually, I am appalling at running fast out of the water, but this worked. I crossed the finish line, found the stop button of my Garmin somewhere under my swim hat. I’m elated. I just swam 3.8km. The longest I have ever swam.
Lots of smiling faces around me, everyone telling excited stories of their swims. I check my watch and my smile gets bigger. It says, I’ve done it a long while under an hour… I did not expect that. The current helped massively. Over all, the swim was exceedingly fast. The fastest swimmer did it in just over 41 min. In the end, my time was 57.24 min which meant I finished 38th female overall and 11th in my age group. More things to be cheerful about. I walked back to find my friend. I found him still staring out into the harbour trying to spot me coming out of the water as it was nearing the time I had expected to swim.
I walked back to the B&B in my wetsuit like 1800 other people did that evening with a big smile on my face and looking forward to the Greek food that was waiting for me for dinner. Day 1 of the Long Course Weekend and my July challenge were a success. Tomorrow would be another day with the 70 mile bike ride.