Rob Bullock went and did the Mega sprint Triathlon at Stourhead … check out his mega blog, and get signed up for next year!!
After completing the inaugural 2017 Immortal 10K race around the beautiful grounds of Stourhead I decided I’d challenge myself with my longest Triathlon to date. I knew it was going to be my greatest physical challenge since I took up running and triathlons but I didn’t realise how close it would come to breaking me.
The race was at 1700 so but I arrived at 0900, nothing like arriving in plenty of time. Nic (my wife) and Jake (my son) were running in the 10K and Jasmine (my daughter) was running in the Junior race so there was no point going home between all the races. Compounded by the fact that it was BHAM’s second year anniversary and there were lots of BHAMmers and, more importantly, loads of cake as cooked by Nic, Laura and, of course, Brian’s Brownies! I had to be strong to turn down all the delicious treats.
Sitting watching all the races start and finish only served to ramp up the nerves. I did get to walk around the beautiful lake with Jasmine and take loads of photos which Nic later enjoyed putting on facebook and tagging all you Immortal runners in.
Once registration opened I got my pack from the very organised, very friendly race HQ with loads of stickers, bracelets, instructions and even a bright green swim hat. Luckily the instructions were clear as I’m sure I had more stickers than items to stick them on. So dragging my bike and box of kit over to Transition 1 (T1) I started to set up my kit. Mentally rehearsing when I run into T1 what’s the quickest way of changing and getting back out again remembering to put my helmet on first etc. It would have been really useful to have Jake help carry all my kit but the rules state athletes only in T1. Looking around at the bikes my looked like a Ford Fiesta sat in a car park of Ferraris and Porsches.
At 1645 with everything arranged, kit prepared and wetsuit half on it was time to walk to the start line. Now one thing I hadn’t really prepared for was the uphill 650 metres slog from exiting the lake to T1. This was the hill that the 10K runners had moaned about at the end of their race, for me it wasn’t part of my swim, obviously, wasn’t part of my cycle, again obviously or even part of my run, just a bonus little gift from Immortal to the tri-athletes. I left my trainers at lake side to slip into to run across the gravel and onto T1…but more of that later.
After Nic squeezed me into my wetsuit which wasn’t as tight as one chaps who hadn’t warn his for a ‘few’ years and his wife was furious sweating trying to get her man into the rubber suit. Now I’m not going to lie or boast. I would consider myself a fairly strong swimmer. I swim twice per week for a mile each time…in a pool; how different can it be in a lake? The swim brief was delivered and I couldn’t actually see all the buoy I had to swim round or hear the brief but I thought I’d just follow the crowd, simples
So at 1655 we were told to enter the water and swim to the start line. The depth of Stourhead lake, in case you were wondering, is very variable. I was out of my depth treading water at the start line but the 2 people either side of my were stood up…now I know I’m relatively vertically challenged but really?
I found myself in the middle of the pack but again, I’m a strong swimmer, I’ll be fine. When Mr. Immortal (Steve) started the race all hell broke loose and I’m not exaggerating. I’ve never known a period like it. I couldn’t see where I was going, I couldn’t catch my breath with the splashing, I couldn’t get into any rhythm, there were just arms, legs and bodies everywhere. I felt people climbing over me, pulling me back, kicking my face, holding my arms and I’m sure I was punched and pinched multiple times. It felt like a war. I’m writing this blog as honestly as I can, if my wife and children weren’t at lake side and I didn’t want to fail in their eyes, I might have swam out. All I could think was I haven’t even swam 100 metres of the 900 and I’m knackered, I can’t breathe and I can’t swim properly how am I going to manage the rest of the course? It was a case of mind over matter and just keep going. At the first buoy all the competitors are trying to turn 90 degrees around it and swim of in a different direction, again brutal!
You get the idea of what the swim was like so I’ll move on to the other ‘interesting’ bits of the swim. The water was OK actually. I was expecting it to be cold but it wasn’t that bad. The clarity in place was OK too, a bit like a tropical Azure blue in some places but in others, hmmmm, have you ever considered what duck poo tastes like or looks like underwater? Well I know. You know when you’re asked how something exotic tastes you say ‘Chicken’, well duck poo doesn’t taste like that at all. I could explain to you exactly how it tastes 48 hours after but I’m sure that clarity will fade.
After exiting the water after the Battle of Lake Stourhead and being interviewed by Kate Adie I went straight to my trainers which I’d strategically placed for the run to T1. Another thing I hadn’t considered was where my blood was, strange. As soon as I bent down to put my trainers on the world started to swim. I was wobblier than a plate of jelly, I knew if I didn’t sit down I’d fall down. It wasn’t me I was worried about it was the spectators I was either going to fall or throw up on!
Trainers on and wetsuit pulled down to my waist I was trying to work out if I could run or not but as soon as I saw the race photographer I knew it was run time. Never underestimate the healing power of a camera with a pretty girl behind it, I don’t know whether Mr. Immortal strategically placed his photographer there or not but that was what I needed. Go time.
Rule 1 of T1 is helmet on before touching bike so the helmet went on and chin strap fastened. Then I took off my soaking wet trainers, ripped off my wetsuit only to discover the timing chip bracelet I was wearing on my leg wouldn’t fit over my wetsuit…put my wetsuit leg back on, took off my young offenders leg bracelet then took my wetsuit off again, must remember to get home before my curfew!
Running with a bike is quite straight forward if you have the right technique of running holding bike seat in one hand and leaning it side to side to steer. What is a little trickier is running in cycling cleats on smooth roads. Managing to navigate that little obstacle successfully is was time to start the 30km cycle. Not usually my strongest discipline of a triathlon but I’m usually pretty steady.
Now I’m not blaming my bike but some people had clearly spent a little more than me on my second hand bike. Full aero, full carbon and Gucci aero helmet and the sound of that man and machine combo approaching you from behind is a more than a little disconcerting. It sort of sounds how I would imagine a Gruffalo sounds. The cycle was beautiful but a little hilly. I heard a rider say to another rider as I was overtaking them that they were saving themselves for the upcoming hill…wow that was useful information. It was a beast! At some points I was down to 9 kph which was a real shift after doing 67 kph only a few minutes before. I felt like I was becoming close friends with King Alfreds tower as whichever way I turned I could still see it; I swear it kept moving or was a mirage.
I thought I was doing OK on the bike…until I got into T2. There were so many bikes racked up I thought I must be the last one in. In fact, what was more demoralising was as I turned the corner to come back into the grounds of the house, bearing in mind we’d all started at the same time, a runner was running beside me to the finish line! Bugger, guess I’m not winning this one Like I thought I was going to J.
Next fancy dress change was quite straight forward cycling shoes off and running shoes on. Again I forgot to set me watch for the run. I don’t think I’ve accurately tracked any of the disciplines today, oh well that’s the point of the offenders bracelet I suppose.
The run was well planned and marshalled with a bit of road and a bit of trail, just the way I like it. Being a BHAM! Runner this was the strongest leg of my race. I actually got to overtake people here. It was nice seeing someone in the distance and then moving up to and then past them. One lady called Lucy (Names were on race numbers I’m not a stalker) had her number pinned to her back not on a tri belt. I must have been behind her for what felt like about 6 hours because I felt like I knew her…intimately. I overtook Lucy, aged 23, works in IT, like running and long walks in the country, GSOH just before a stile in the grounds of the house. For the first time in the race I knew where I was as I’d been stood here taking photos of the 10K athletes in the morning. So head down time to expend what little energy I had left.
The finish was a 900 metre climb culminating at the front of the house. The road was lined with supporters which was fantastic. Some supporters were a little…can’t think of a kindly word, a little unobservant. Standing in a groups in the road meaning you had to wend your way through groups of chatting people. A little selfish as people were still competing but nothing was going to sour my finishing feeling. As we came through the gate house arch there was a runner about 30 metres in front of my or, as I like to call him, my final ‘target’. I managed to overtake him just before the finishing funnel and crossed the line in 2:32:17.
In the finishing area I grabbed my cool Immortal T shirt and glittery Roman Centurion helmet medal and was immediately met by Nic. The emotion of finishing an event you’ve been building yourself up and worrying about for months is indescribable; it was the same finishing my first half marathon. I won’t attempt to put my feeling into words I’ll let you try and do that for yourselves when you achieve your personal feat, whatever that may be; 5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon, Full Marathon or even a Triathlon.
If you’ve read this and thought to yourself that you’d never do a open water triathlon then you may have misjudges the slant of the blog. It’s an experience one which I’m sure, on reflection, I’d repeat a lot wiser and more prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for and probably the worst moment of the whole experience was getting home. We had no food in the house as Nic was that unconfident I’d finish due to being hospitalised or broken she hadn’t organized a Tesco delivery…oh well Chinese for one please!
I may not have won the race but I did win the award for the tightest calves at Stourhead 2018…I’ll take that!
A huge thank you to Nic, Jake and Jaz for their unwavering support and the England’s for staying to the bitter end to cheer us on.