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Tenby – And Ironman Wales – Is Just Too Tempting For Lionhearted Lucy

Lucy Gossage – the queen of Tenby – insists there is nowhere quite like the Pembrokeshire town that hosts Ironman Wales.

When the consultant oncologist from Nottingham decided to spend more time on her medical career and less on being one of the world’s top long distance triathletes, it was feared she would not be around to defend her crown this autumn.

Instead, the lure of Ironman Wales 2019 today (Sunday) – highlights of which will be shown on S4C on Friday, September 20 at 8.00pm – proved too hard to resist.

Gossage will be back this year to try and make it a hat-trick of wins in the women’s title after victory in 2017 was backed up by another triumph in 2018.

Dubbed “Iron Town” by no less than the New York Times, who despatched a correspondent to see what all the fuss was about, Tenby’s charms have always been apparent to holidaymakers, honeymooners, and recruits to stag and hen expeditions.

But it seems triathletes also can’t get enough of the place and Gossage says: “I have shivers down my spine remembering the last time I ran through that gorgeous town.

“I’ve only ever had fun in Tenby and each time I go back the buzz around triathlon just seems to get bigger and bigger. The level of support you get from people cheering you on is also incredible and unlike anywhere else.”

The difference for 39-year-old Gossage this year is that after putting her medical career on hold to become a full-time triathlete – and then a spell when she combined both – her work now takes priority.

It means she swims, cycles and runs for fun – but concedes that only a certain type of person can consider Ironman Wales as light relief with its swimming 3.9K in the Irish Sea, cycling 180K and finishing it all off with a 26.2 mile marathon run.

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She breezed through last year in nine hours, 52 minutes and 38 seconds.

Last year’s men’s winner was 32-year-old South African Matt Trautman, who finished in 8: 53: 21.

“I found being a full-time athlete harder than most people realised. I’ve enjoyed triathlon much more since going back to work,” says Gossage.

“But people shouldn’t do Ironman unless they really want to. Doing an Olympic or sprint triathlon is a big challenge – and can be just as tough because you’re going faster – but Ironman is a huge commitment and takes a lot of sacrifices.”

That is a sentiment that will be echoed by every one of the near 3,000 athletes taking part in the ninth edition of Ironman Wales – both elite professionals and club performers.

There is plenty enough agony to go around, but the ecstasy is there, too, according to veterans of the event such as former Cardiff and Wales rugby international Andy Moore.

The 51-year-old has done Ironman Wales an impressive four times and says: “The one thing you learn at the end is that you must have been pretty stupid to enter in the first place. It is tough, very bloody tough, both mentally and physically.

“But if you like a challenge, then this is a very personal one. It is you against your body in an extreme mental battle. You learn a lot about yourself over the 13 or so hours it takes you to complete the three sections.

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“I have never been a great swimmer, but the first phase is possibly the easiest. The trick is not to use your legs too much because you need them for the cycling and the running. But 3.8K is 152 lengths of a normal leisure centre pool.

“The quicker you can get out of the water, the sooner you can get started on the leg work. The cycle ride is one of the toughest on the circuit and ‘Heatbreak Hill’, coming off the seafront in Saundersfoot is exactly that.

“The support you get there often gives you an adrenalin rush and you can push hard to get to the top, but then there is an even longer, slower drag that is a killer. It’s the same on the run – four laps of a pretty tortuous route.

“Each time you complete a lap you get given a wrist band. This leads to some sever cases of wrist band envy as you see runners with more than you.

“But however hard it is, I promise you it is a special feeling when you reach the end.”

Spectators seem to think so, too. Thousands will line the roads around Pembrokeshire for an event that has been estimated to be worth £3.7m to the local economy.

Ironman Wales Highlights – Friday September 20 – 8.00pm on S4C

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