The Iron Town of West Wales

When a New York Times feature dubs a West Wales seaside community "Iron Town", you know there must be something special in the water.

In Tenby's case, it's usually hundreds of triathletes as they take the plunge into the swimming leg of the latest gruelling challenge hosted by the Pembrokeshire tourist haven.

The success of the town's two big draws - the Ironman Wales and Long Course Weekend Wales events - over the past decade prompted one the world's most famous newspapers to send a correspondent to find out more about the swimming, cycling and running revolution.

The scribe discovered that not only has Tenby become a global mecca for world class multisport athletes, the town now claims to have more triathletes per capita than anywhere else on the planet as a result of residents buying into the sporting upsurge.

The article's "Iron Town" headline was no real surprise to the locals who turn out in their thousands to line the streets and shout their support.

Nor will it have shocked the athletes who enjoy the unique atmosphere which makes Tenby one of the favourite venues on the world circuit.

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Tenby's triathlon transformation started when the Long Course Weekend launched in July 2010.

As the event prepares to celebrate its 10th edition next month, local triathlete Gareth Rees, president of the Tenby Aces Cycling Club, explains how it has helped transform the local sporting landscape.

Rees says: "The Long Course started pre-Ironman and both those events have had a massive positive effect on the area through an increase in membership of local clubs and attracting athletes from outside the area to come training down here with us.

"What stands out for me, probably in the past two or three years, is that initially when Long Course and Ironman came, we would see that influx of people around the time of the event and possibly holiday times, but now you are seeing these people down here all year round.

"Certainly, when out on the bike now, you're seeing big groups of people down here specifically to train on the course. It's more of an all-year round thing now than it was before.

"As a club we embraced the triathlon, around the third year of the Long Course Weekend, because Tenby Aces was just a cycling club. Since then our membership has doubled."

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The beauty of the Long Course Weekend is that competitors can do as much or as "little" as they like.

Each of the three disciplines have a variety of distances as well as junior options. Participants can pick and choose between the disciplines they wish to tackle.

There truly is something for everyone - from those who choose only to take on the shorter swim on the first evening to the hardened triathletes who contest the full distance in each of the swimming, cycling and running challenges.

Rees says: "There are lots of different options which is nice. I know the first year, in my build-up for Ironman, I did the full swim and the full bike on the Long Course but only did the half-marathon.

"That option is one you don't have with Ironman, so that's really good. If you take the bike, for instance, people come in and do the 40-mile route this year and then they'll build up next year to the 70 and maybe the full one the following year. They are using those varied distances to build up."

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Completing the entire Long Course Weekend isn't for the faint-hearted. Of the 1,000 competitors endeavouring to earn the coveted extra medal for completing all three long course challenges last year, only half walked away with the coveted hardware.

For those taking on the full Long Course challenge this year, the event starts on the evening of Friday, July 5, when the swimmers take to the water at Tenby's picturesque South Beach to tackle the 2.4 mile course.

After what will hopefully be a good and well-earned night's sleep, it's on to the Wales Sportive cycle which covers 112 miles of the beautiful, but dauntingly undulating and exposed, Pembrokeshire countryside.

The weekend is rounded off on Sunday by the 26.2 mile Wales Marathon, which has now established itself as an event in its own right amongst the distance runners.

The Long Course Weekend has been a shot in the arm, not only to the area's economy, but, equally, to the physical health of its population.

Town Council clerk Andrew Davies says the benefits to the town are wide ranging.

"It's been a tremendous boost to the town," he says. "Not only on the weekend itself, but it has increased sport tourism to the area, no end.

"A lot of people are visiting the town at other times of the year to practice the course and to train.

"Visitors taking part will come to the town at other times outside of the season to practice the swim, practice the cycle course and the run. It's certainly increased sport-related tourism to the town.

"It's also done a great deal to improve the health of the town as well. The number of people who are now involved in cycling clubs, running clubs and so on has markedly increased since Long Course Weekend started.

"The number of children participating in the junior events they put on is phenomenal. They want to emulate mummy and daddy who are taking part."

Davies says the Long Course Weekend is particularly inclusive. "They can pick what discipline they want to do, they can pick what length run they want to do, what length cycle ride.

"It allows participation for a wider range of people because they can pick and choose. For example, they can do a 10K or a 26-mile run.

"Even if people don't compete themselves, the townspeople get out and support all the athletes taking part in the event.

"Every person in town knows at least four or five people who will be participating in it. We've even got some of the younger members of the town council taking part in it."

And it's not only Tenby that's joining in the triathlon revolution. The Long Course Weekend's Haverfordwest-based organisers, Activity Wales Events, have established a series of hugely successful multi-sports events across South West Wales and beyond.

At this rate the, New York Times may have to dispatch a team of correspondents across the length and breadth of Wales to keep pace with Wales' triathlon revolution.

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