Ironman Long Course Weekend 3rd-5th June

Long Course Weekend 3rd-5th June – Ironman Swim & Bike Courses

Julian Hodge

The Long Course Weekend was the official training weekend for the forthcoming Ironman Wales in September. I had entered the 3.8km sea swim and 112mile Sportive. Fellow WCT member Jeannie Fry also came along for the 112mile ride.

After arriving in Tenby on the Friday afternoon, it was time to get down to the South beach with its sandy beach and picturesque views over to Caldey Island. The wind was moderate but there wasn’t any real waves so all was looking good.

Iron Man Long Weekend

With clear blue skies and golden sands it could have been anywhere in the world. We were told before the event that this was starting at 6:30pm, as this was the same tide state for the Ironman race on the 11th September! With the sun beating down while listening to the race brief, it started to get a little warm while wearing a wetsuit. No one seemed to be hesitating in getting into the water to feel the temperature (14C) before the start and it felt great just to cool down! With the aim of 90mins for the two 1.9km laps, I was feeling good and not worried about the 1hr cut-off for the first lap

Everyone back on the beach, the countdown started and we were off. This was my first real mass start race so it was good to get into the pack just for the experience of trying to swim through a sea of bodies. I noticed there was a bit of a left to right current as was having to swim overly to the left of the target buoy. It felt strange not having a waters edge to see that speed you’re going at unlike in a river or lake. The first buoy felt ages to get to and knowing it was probably out around 750m I kept thinking by how I felt I should be at the lock gates by now (i.e. 1km)! Finally getting to the first turn point, the mass of bodies wrapped round the buoy and down parallel with the beach. After a short time, I noticed I felt good and in a comfortable stroke. Now there also weren’t many people around me. I started to notice just how many jellyfish we were swimming with and yes they were stinging the face a little but only just noticeable. A quick proper lift of the head had showed I had swum a little wide but nothing major and was in line with the next turn buoy. After turning back in head back to the beach, in no time I had gone wide, 100m +, Idiot!

Ironman Long Weekend

Started heading back in the direction of the finish, sighting roughly every 10 strokes as was annoyed with myself and didn’t want to make the same mistake again. But after a while I started to think that the beach just wasn’t getting any closer as a canoeist shouted to head right as there was a strong current pulling everyone from the start/finish. Looking left, I noticed a load of bopping heads so I knew I wasn’t alone! In fact, I was managing not to be swept any further away but for ages it was like swimming in an endless pool and had to work harder than any swim I’ve ever done. I was determined I was going to get out at the finish line! Finally, the beach started to get closer as I broke out of the main current flow, got to the beach shattered and too late to beat the cut off! 1.9km lap in 69mins, pretty rubbish on paper but in reality the distance swum to get out of the rip was a hell of a lot more and with a dead right arm and shoulder ache I was feeling it!

From the beach, I could see the extent of what had happened. What looked like a fun swim turned into a disaster with lots of people ending up to a mile off course! It was dangerous as people were so spread out, the canoeists and safety boats couldn’t possibly have got to all swimmers, if they had got into trouble and hopefully no one had problems out there. Loads of people were walking along the sand after being swept way down the beach where they had been only able to get to the shore rather than swim back.

The rip came in apparently half way into the lap so the faster swimmers missed the worst of it on the first lap and finished the second one but most were at least 30-40 min over their normal IM swim.

There are no results for the swim as of yet but they will make interesting reading! The UK’s no.1 rated OW swimmer was taking part – £500 to anyone that caught him or he kept the money. It was said he was aiming for 40mins for the 3.8k! He did it in 56mins! That’s a big difference for an Olympian!

Saturday morning came and it was time for the Wales Sportive. After a restless night with my shoulder hurting every time I moved, I didn’t feel that fresh! And no, it wasn’t alcohol induced, as I hadn’t had a drink! Honest. The weather was hot and sunny with a moderate breeze that gradually got stronger as the day past.

The sportive was either a 40mile, 72mile or 112mile route. The 112mile route consisted of a 72mile lap followed by the 40mile lap. With both of us entered into the 112miles, we had to start at 7am, soon after the race briefing, we were off and on our way to Pembroke. As I hadn’t cycled this far in one go before, I was thinking not to go off too hard as it’s going to be a long day. After about 14 miles, I started to get pain in my lower back ignored it as best as I could. Within no time, I could feel my legs had no real power in them anymore (Bideford Tri déjà vu), my lower back was cramping up and I knew the hard swim against the rip had taken its toll.

The first 40 miles or so was generally undulating with a few noticeable climbs but amazing views of the Pembrokeshire coastline and long sections to get on the aero bars!
As I was thinking that this wasn’t too bad and started to think I may have wrongly advised Jeannie to take the road bike, the business end of the course started, you know the bit where it hurts. Constant hills, up and down, some steep, some long. At this point, I knew that I would be stupid to do the full 112miles today as on the climbs pain in my back and shoulders were too much to put up with. I was only using it as a training session as the following week I’m off to the Windsor Olympic Tri. I was determined to finish the 72miles so just took it even easier on the steepest hills, took in some of the views and practice of the sharp winding descents.

Getting back to the car after finishing the 72miles, I was annoyed not to ride the extra 40miles as the second drink station was in the car park I was in and could see people coming in before their next lap but knew I had made the right decision as I had to get someone to help me put my bike in the car because of my back. Jeannie finished the full 112miles, was pleased she had brought her road bike and is looking forward to it again next year.

Drinks stations were not great as there were only 3 for the whole of the 112miles, which was not enough; one only had water for a drink when electrolyte drink was needed in the heat.

There was a lot of traffic in a few places. I would have said that was as dangerous as the course itself as you needed to be careful in places especially on some descents. It’s going to be closed roads I think for the race in September, which will help a lot especially if it is wet!

Some of the views on the courses were outstanding. Running off that bike leg though is going to be……er……interesting! To be honest, it is the swim that worries me a bit at the moment, as the swim this time was practiced on the same sort of tide the race in September will be. I don’t think the aid station issues of the sportive will be a problem come September as apparently they’ve already stated that they will be every twenty km.

The swim and bike courses hideously tough with some stunning views but manageable with the right training I hope! That swim and bike mixed with a hilly marathon will make Ironman Wales on par with or maybe the hardest of all the Ironman races.