Long Course Weekend – Swim (Iain)

The last time I visited Wales was eight years ago. I went down with my girlfriend (of the time) and a couple of friends. Our plan was to climb Snowdon. My two friends decided to run it, so my girlfriend and I walked and we agreed to meet our friends at the top.

We started walking and we soon came to a break in the path. It wasn’t clear which way to go so we choose the right hand path. After a short distance there was a sign that said “Crib Goch route”. I hoped Grib Goch was Welsh for ‘easy route’.

We weren’t confident about our choice but as there was another couple ahead of us we thought “lets follow them as they look like they know what they are doing”. However, the route started to get steeper and steeper until we were on all fours climbing a vertical wall -and, when we got to the top, we realised we’d climbed the wrong mountain. It wasn’t Snowdon. It was its partner, which I found out afterwards is called Grib Goch. It turned out Grib Goch was Welsh for, well… Grib Goch.

The only way back was down the vertical path we’d just climbed or along a ridge so narrow you couldn’t stand up on it. Either side of the ridge was a huge vertical drop. A fall on either side would lead to death.

Luckily, we made it across. Mostly on all fours while holding on for dear life.

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It was the first and last ridge walk I’ve ever done.

Once we made it to the top of Snowdon my friends asked how we got on. My girlfriend replied that we’d got lost and had ended up rimming – confusing the term for ridge with something a whole lot different.

My friends laughed and then asked –

“Did you enjoy rimming?”

She replied: “I loved it. I want to do more rimming when I get back to Scotland”

I didn’t have the heart to point out her error. It was too funny.

My mistake. I should have pointed it out. She went to work the next week and told her friends and clients that she’d spent the weekend in wales rimming with three guys.

I’ve always wanted to come back to Wales. A couple of years ago I watched a TV show about the Tenby Long Course weekend. At the same time I saw an episode of Grand Designs set in Tenby where a couple renovated the lifeboat house. The race was the perfect opportunity to revisit wales, do a fun event and check out a cool house. I just hoped it wouldn’t involve ridging or rimming.

The swim was amazing. It takes place in a sheltered beach cove surrounded by the town. It comprises two loops of a triangle with an Australian exit. When viewing the course from the town I thought the hardest leg would be the middle section and the easiest would be the last. I was wrong. The easiest was the middle and the hardest the last.

I also thought the sea looked flat calm. It wasn’t. There was enough of a swell to keep the swim exciting/interesting/terrifying.

My sighting was good and according to my GPS I swam the same-ish route on both laps.

I was confident of beating Andrew as I’d swam in the sea more often him and I assumed he’d probably be slightly cautious.

If you do race it then I’d advise:
– Try to start near the front as there’s a lot of people taking part
– The course is setup for the whole weekend so you can have a practice swim at any point.
– Practice sighting. The markers are quite far apart so use landmarks instead. I used the house from Grand Designs.
– Book somewhere to eat for afterwards as the town’s mobbed with hungry swimmers.

I’ll write in my next post about the bike and run…

Tenby or Not Tenby – Part 4 (Andrew)

Sunday (Run)

On Friday, fireworks explode as you walk down to the surf. Today, a samba band plays as you walk from Pembroke Castle in a parade to the start line at the end of the High Street. Yesterday, we were at a car park and a man in a fluorescent tabard said “You might as well go then”. I think Saturday needs to get its act together…

The start of the Wales half-marathon is impressive. Arguably, more impressive than the marathon we’d watch start two hours earlier in Tenby.

The marathon runners start in the centre of Tenby, run to Pembroke and then come back via the half marathon route. The start is crowded with a couple of narrow 90 degree turns. The start for the half marathon takes place on a wide street, the main street of Pembroke, and has music, a parade, and something Tenby can’t top – a huge castle.

Also Pembroke has Constance Brown’s cafe/chippy, which is almost as old. We’d discovered it on Friday when we popped over to see the castle. Constance opened the cafe in 1928 and was still serving chips there over 80 years later at 102 years old. She’d died at 104 but the cafe hadn’t changed. Neither had the prices, which was handy when we were looking for a cheap and quick lunch.

Originally I was going to run the marathon but that was before I was successful in the Norseman ballot. Now, with four weeks to go, it would be stupid to try and run and marathon and then Norseman a month later. It was the right choice as, while the first few miles were fairly flat, the next 10 were more up and down than a nodding dog.

I’d decided to keep a steady pace, Iain decided to run. Within a mile he was gone and, with him, my chances of beating him this weekend. I didn’t want to try and keep up, I had a plan and was sticking to it. Instead I listened to Hamilton, the musical and kept a steady pace. A pace which would, I’d soon find out, overtake Iain.

At mile 10, I saw him. I felt strong so poked him in the back then ran away. He didn’t follow and I had a clear lead for the last three miles, which were largely downhill until a vicious wee kick up  half a mile from the finish.

And then – a cock up.

There was a red carpet finish. I thought the start of the carpet was the finish line as it was marked with a gantry. I sprinted. I crossed the line. I stopped. I got told off by a man in the crowd who said “You’re not finished yet – it’s another 20 metres!”

Luckily, Iain was still behind me, so I was able to sprint again and finish in 1 hour 48 minutes.

I grabbed a quick selfie with Tenby’s mayor at the finish line – “Can I have a mayor selfie?” I asked, in what I think is the Debrett’s acceptable style for asking for a selfie from a mayor – I was presented with a medal in an alleyway and I was done. Weekend over.

Looking back

The Long Course (Long) Weekend is a cracking weekend. Each event is well run. The swim is in a beautiful habour. The bike ride is varied and challenging. The run is on closed roads with some great open views across south west Wales. If you get a bed & breakfast in town then you’re only minutes from each start and finish line. But…

… if you live in Glasgow or anywhere outside Wales, then check how long it takes to get there. Wales is deceptively far away. And it’s no surprise that it’s national emblem is the dragon because while you drive through it you will definitely think “Boy, does this drag on!”.

Tenby or not Tenby – Part 3 (Andrew)

Saturday (Bike)

I’m rubbish at reading instruction. That doesn’t mean I read instructions and end up doing the exact opposite of what I’m asked to do. It means I’m rubbish at even glancing at instructions. I give them a quick look, check there’s nothing I need to know, then forget about them until the night before race day.  Then I panic.

This time the panic was over whether we’d actually be able to get round the 112 mile course before the cut off time for the second lap – the course involves a 66 mile circuit and then a 56 mile lap of part of it again.

We were given a 9:45 a.m. start time however the cut off was 1:30 p.m, which meant we’d need an average speed of c16 m.p.h. to make the cut off. And we’d need to make that speed despite a lumpy course and a 25 mph wind. Oh, and it was raining. And it was misty.

We didn’t make it.

Not that I minded. After four hours of cycling through the rain, the mist, the wind and up and down every valley in south west Wales I was glad to finish. I wasn’t too tired so could have gone on but I wasn’t keen to use all my tolerance for bad weather now rather than waiting for Norseman. If Norseman is bad, let it be bad, but at least let it be one of the few times I’ve got to cycle in it. I’ve got enough bad weather over the years that I don’t need to try an train in it to adjust. I know what it’s like to have cold hands, a wet body and a face so scrunched up from the elements that you looks like you’re trying to lift an oil tanker with your mind.

For what we could see, the course was nice and varied with plenty to see. It starts in Tenby, heads through Pembroke before a long but not too steep climb out to the coast where you cycle through dunes and pass beaches that, for this ride at least, were buffetted by strong waves and spray. Returning to Pembroke you then cycle through high hedges as the wind and rain swirls around you like midges. There’s some fantastic closed road sections where you head downhill among the hedges and feel like a pinball in a tunnel as they tower above you. The last third of the course has the majority of the steepest hills. A sharp climb up a valley  and through the town of Narbeth before returning along the coast with 18% plus climbs at Wise Man Bridge and Saundersfoot.

I ride with Iain for most of the route but start to edge ahead when we get to the final climbs. With only a few miles to go I stay ahead and, because I’ve not read the instructions, I get the finish all wrong. I didn’t know that riders would be redirected to the finish line if they missed the cut off. I thought I’d taken a wrong turn and almost stopped before the finish line to wait for Iain to check where we should go but I was through the finish line before I knew and relieving a medal I didn’t feel I deserved. I’d not finished the race. However, it turned out I had, by missing the cut-off we’d finished the 66 mile race instead, and still received a medal.

In the end we’d missed the cut-off by 24 minutes. Not long given the circumstances and the fact we’d not raced to try and beat it. But, even if we’d made it, I’m not sure I’d have gone out again. While I don’t read instructions, I do read the weather and the forecast for the afternoon was for heavy rain and gales and I was happy to miss that.

Tenby or not Tenby – Part 2 (Andrew)

Friday (Swim)

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There’s no water, which is a problem when you’re swimming.

We’re one hour away from starting and the tide is out. We could jog to the first buoy and walk half the course. However, as the beach is flat, it didn’t take long for the water to rise and for me to take off my trainers and put on my goggles.

By the time we start, as fireworks explode to our right blanketing the start in smoke, we actually have some water to swim in, which is good, as there’s 2000 people behind us in wet-suits.

The start area is crowded. Somehow we ended up near the front of the pack. The swimmers aren’t separated into different groups so it’s everyone for themselves as we’re herded into a big pen on the beach. It’s good to be near the start because even with only a few hundred around us the water is crowded for the first 10 minutes. Everyone is turning, kicking and trying to find their rhythm. 2,000 people means 4,000 legs and 4,000 elbows to avoid.

But the swimmers quickly become spread out. The swim course at the Long Course Weekend takes in two laps of Tenby harbour in a rough anti-clockwise triangle along the coast, back through some fishing boats, before turning back to shore for an Australian exit, which is not an upside down exit, but a short run along the beach before returning to the start for a second lap. I don’t know why it’s called an Australian exit. It should be an Austrian exit as you’re surrounded by land.

I’ve not swam 3.8 km this year. The longest I’ve swum is 2.5 km. It’s also a sea swim and the last time I swam in the sea I was sick after drinking too much salt water. I wasn’t looking forward to this but, while choppier than it looked, the conditions were good, I was able to settle into a rhytmn and I had the advantage of being near the start and getting the benefit of the tide. How can the tide be a benefit? Well, as it was coming in, those at the back has to swim further than those at the front who get the benefit of splashing through the first few meters and having more of the beach to run up for the Australian exit.

It’s not enough of an advantage though to beat Iain. As our GPS showed later, he was able to swim in a straightline, I, on the other hand, made at least three breaks for the open sea. My sighting is so erratic that for one leg of the swim it looks like I’m drawing a staircase on the GPS map.

I finish five minutes behind Iain. The second lap feels easier than the first though at one point I spot one man clutching the anchor rope of a fishing boat with an expression which said “I will only release this for death or a rescue boat – and I will gladly accept death than swim another meter!”

I know how he felt after needing the rescue boat myself the last time I tried a sea swim. It was at the Weymouth Half in September 2014. The organisers had promised a calm swim but the wind was in the wrong direction and the water was choppier than a hyperactive lumberjack. It was impossible to swim over the waves, instead I had to duck under and try and swim round while trying not to drown or get pushed back to shore. By the second lap I was vomiting from drinking too much salt water. By the final 400 metres I’d called over a canoe twice to give me time to hang on while I vomited over my wetsuit. The third time I called the canoe I knew the swim was over. I was too weak to keep fighting and I just needed to get back onto shore.

That’s why I was nervous about this swim. I hadn’t swum in salt water since and I knew I needed this swim as good preparation for Norseman. I needed to know I could swim the distance and that I could swim in the sea.

So, while I was feeling tired towards the end of the swim, I was also feeling happy as I knew the distance was okay and I’d overcome my nervousness about swimming in the sea.

Then I found out that Iain had finished ahead of me. And that I needed to win the run and the bike if I was to have any chance of beating him in competitions this year.

Tenby or not Tenby: the Long Course Weekend part 1 (Andrew)

I’ve only been to Wales three times (excluding the Deva Triathlon’s bike leg in and out).

The first time I’d booked a room in an 18th century inn near Cardiff. It was lovely. Or at least I think it was – I never saw my room. They’d double booked me and the previous resident hadn’t left. They were very apologetic as they were completely sold out. They tried to find me another room but all they could find was an ex-council house in a room so small it had a sink above the bed to save space. If you want to find out what it’s like to brush your teeth while tucked up in bed then let me know and I can point you in the direction of “Sheila’s B&B”.

The second time I was in Wales I ran down a mountain. I was taking part in the Three Peaks Challenge and we’d reached Snowdon on hour 21. It took two hours to get to the summit so we had no choice but to run as fast as we could down the mountain to complete the challenge. I’m not saying I’m a hero for performing such a, well, heroic feat but, if you want to use that term…

The third time I was in Wales I faced another mountain. I was having dinner and ordered the Eton Mess. The Eton Mountain would have been a better name.  It wasn’t a plate of food, it was a clear out of their freezer.  A mound of meringue, a field of strawberries and more cream than a cat who’s actually got all the cream. I didn’t need a sink above my bed that night, I had no teeth left after all that sugar.

But, in all the times I’ve been to Wales, I’ve never realised how long it takes to drive through it. It’s around 130 miles from Chester to Tenby on the south coast but, four hours later, you’ll still be driving through a series of road signs that look like my texts before auto-correct fixes them.

Wales is a long way away…

Last weekend, I had my fourth visit to Wales for the Long Course weekend – though, as it starts on a Friday, it should be called the Long Course long weekend…

The Long Course weekend does what it says on the tin. It’s a weekend where you can take part in a long course triathlon (Ironman Wales) but over three days rather than one. It also offers shorter distances too each day.

We were due to take part in the 2.4 mile swim on Friday, the 112 mile ride on Saturday and the marathon (for Iain) and the half marathon (for me, as I didn’t want to run 26 miles a few weeks before Norseman) on the Sunday. But things didn’t quite go to plan as not only is Wales a long way away, it’s also quite hilly…