Friday, July 19, 2019

Wales Long Course Weekend

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No, don’t worry, I haven’t gone all Ironman… But with a few folks I know doing the long course weekend in Tenby I thought I’d make a weekend of it and travel down to take part in the sea swim and the short sportive cycle ride (Coach wouldn’t let me do the full 112 miles what with Dambuster and then Shropshire ITU qualifiers in the next two weeks). It was, my coach agreed, a good last chance for a race-pace blow out before the taper.

All Friday we kept expecting to hear the swim had been cancelled (I’m sure those of you resident in the UK don’t need me to describe just how appalling the weather was in the South West that day), but as we finally neared Tenby in the late afternoon the rain cleared and wind dropped a few knots (although still damned blustery!).

After a delay and then an announcement that the 3.8km sea swim was being shortened to 2km (I’m still not entirely sure why – water temperature wasn’t that bad – maybe it was tides?) we were herded into a waiting pen to hear the race briefing.  Except… down the far end of the pen we couldn’t hear a thing. Was it two laps or three? What was the starting signal? Which way round the buoys?!

Down to the water to acclimatize and there were 700 swimmers – some doing the full long course weekend, some there like me for the longer swim and some just doing a shorter 1-lap swim – all ready to go.  The water was indeed cold, but I had been pouring water down the front of my new Zone3 Vanquish wetsuit for ten minutes or so before, so it was reasonably nicely-sealed already.  This was only my second swim in the new suit, but I have to say I love the snug fit and super flexible shoulders. More on this in a Gear Review soon.

Back out of the water and suddenly the hooter went without warning (apparently, there was a countdown, but few heard it!).  Seven hundred bodies went rushing into the water – it was without doubt the most violent swim start I’ve ever experienced. I had my goggles kicked clean off my face before I even reached the first buoy – luckily I had worn two swim caps and the goggle straps were UNDER the top one (top tip!). A quick flip onto my back and I replaced them as best I could mid-thrash.  I found a rhythm quite quickly and just focused on being strong but efficient.  The water was too murky to be able to draft easily – every time I thought I’d caught a pair of feet, I ended up climbing all over the guy and so had to go round.  And sod’s law also came into play – on the last leg of the rectangular(ish!) course we were headed back into the beach when the clouds parted and strong sunglight spilled out onto the water. 

It must have been quite a lovely sight for the spectators – but for the swimmers it meant there was absolutely no chance of effective sighting as we were swimming straight into the sun! Nothing for it but to follow the splashes ahead and hope they weren’t too far of course.  I manage to head-butt one of the rescue surf boards at one point (that hurt) but eventually made it to the beach where I made up a place or two by leaving it till I literally had no water left to swim in before trying to wade into the beach.  There was a 200-250 metre run around a rock before starting the second lap, so I got my goggles off and tried to re-adjust before plunging back into the water.

It was a good theory spoiled in practice by me getting hit by an incoming wave on re-entry and losing my goggles AGAIN! Doh… Still, at least the field had spread out and I was able to get back onto the course and concentrate on my stroke.  The second lap was reasonably uneventful; I was side-by-side with another chap for most of it, with a third guy trying to break through in the last leg.  We had the same sighting issues coming into the beach, but at least I had a better sense of where I was this time.  Out of the water and there was another 300 metre or so run uphill to the finish line.  I could see a guy ahead and I managed to pick him off just at the line – a bit cruel, but it’s a race, right?!

My time for the 2km (plus the runs, of course!) was 30:44.  I was pretty pleased with that although less pleased when I saw the winner had done it in 24-odd minutes.  Jeez, was he born with fins instead of feet?  After the swim I could hardly raise my arm; my triceps and lats were killing me! I’m not sure if this was down to the new suit, fighting the waves in the sea swim (I’m not used to swimming against currents) or just really pulling hard on my stroke (I was making a conscious effort to get the maximum power out of each pull)…  Either way, it was job done and time for a large portion of fish and chips overlooking the now serene bay at Tenby.

The Wales Sportive
The next morning was the Wales Sportive – a 112 mile route that I believe is the same as Ironman Wales.  After seeing off the guys at 8am I did a little gentle run and then had some breakfast before lining up for the ‘baby’ 40-mile Sportive at noon.  I say Sportive, but in truth I knew I was going to treat it more like a Time-Trial. I had the TT bike, but to avoid ridicule left the aero wheels and ‘cock lid’ at home, opting instead for my usual training gear.

Fellow TBAS athlete and damned-good cyclist, Gavin Lancaster was also doing the 40-mile ride, so we agreed to work together to get out front and hammer the course.  This we duly did for the first ten miles or so – filtering into, and overtaking, all of the 72 and 112-mile riders we came across (the 40 mile route was apparently the ‘hilly’ part of the 72-mile loop).  Then I as peeled off for Gav to take the wind on one stretch, he called me to “I’m not getting any draft off you mate!”.  Oops.  Gav is a LOT taller than me and he was on a road bike – so with me being a short ass down on my TT bars, he was getting no respite from the seriously strong winds. Sorry mate!

We got to a hill about 15 miles in and I powered on up. I thought Gav was on my wheel but as I crested the top he was nowhere to be seen.  I had a dilemma; do I wait or do I push on?  I decided on the latter – although half expected Gav to catch me anyway. I hope he didn’t mind.

It was such great fun blasting past all the knackered 72 and 112-milers. I perhaps should have felt guilty, but I’m sure they took some comfort from seeing the blue race number on my back (indicating I was a wimpy 40-mile cyclist) as I flew past.  The bike position felt great and I felt strong.

By 50km I was beginning to pay the price for going out hard, and I noticed it was definitely becoming more difficult to get my HR up above the low 160s.  The course was seriously hilly with little or nothing in the way of straights where you could just hunker down and apply power – everything was a dive or a climb. One particular climb was a 16%-er out of Wiseman’s Bridge. Bloody hell that hurt! I was seriously wishing for a set of Di2s so I could change gears on the TT bike from the bull-horns. I ended up grinding up the hill in the 23 ring on the back, just because I was scared I’d lose momentum and topple off if I tried to change gear!

A bloke at the top shouted “well done” as I powered past a group of slower riders. “That’s insane!” I replied, only for him to say, “Yeah, only one more of those to go!”. F*ck! Now I have to say a big hats off to the Ironman / 112-mile riders who did that hill twice. How the hell you run a marathon after two of those climbs is beyond me.
Eventually I made it back into Tenby and up the hill to the final finishing chute.  I think I must have been announced as the first of the 40-milers as I got a massive cheer as I got close to the line. I even might have smiled and waved! I’m still waiting on the official time, but according to my Garmin it was around 2hrs 4 minutes for the 42 miles (my Garmin says 67.88km). That’s only a 32.7km/h average speed, but with 1,139 metres (3,736 feet) of climbing you perhaps get a feel for the nature of the course!

For me it was the highlight of the weekend (I wasn’t allowed to run the marathon or half-marathon on Sunday, for obvious reasons, so did a brick session). I loved flying past people and not getting overtaken once in the whole 42 miles – a novel experience!  It’s just a shame you’re not allowed to ‘win’ a Sportive! ;-)

Gavin was second in the 40-mile event a few minutes later, with a good gap to the third rider. Nick Ballard, a training buddy, did the 112-mile in a great time as did Sam Hayward (who went on to clinch the overall female win for the Long Course Weekend with a stonking marathon run on Sunday).  Lots of happy faces all round.

For me it’s now about preparation for back-to-back racing at Dambuster and then Shropshire.  I’d dearly love to qualify for the ITU AG World Champs in Auckland, but I know it’s a long shot this year.  Auckland holds a special place in my heart, as it was while swimming in the rooftop pool of the Langham Hotel in Auckland in September 2009 that I decided I would start training for my first triathlon. Two years later I was in Beijing. I’d love to make it Auckland three years later…


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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs