Ro & Tobs have been racking up the Tri’s getting ready for Ironman 70.3 Stafford, a couple of weekends back they headed to Blenheim Palace, and here’s the race report from a Tobs.
Having been foolish enough to sign up for the IronMan 70.3 Staffordshire race on 10th June at the start of the year, Ro and I suddenly realised that the opportunities to get used to swimming outdoors prior to early June might be in fairly short supply in balmy Somerset. Consequently we went looking for a triathlon that might offer some much needed practice in advance of Staffs. Pictures of triathletes frolicking in the picturesque lake at Blenheim convinced us that it might be a goer. Throw in that an old friend only lives 5 miles from Blenheim and so could offer us a bed for the night before (error number 1) and the deal was done…we signed up for the sprint distance (750m swim; 20km bike; 5.6km run).
Of course catching up with an old friend almost inevitably involved imbibing large quantities of alcohol. It was at about half midnight on Saturday morning with my third glass of brandy in hand that the thought occurred to me that this might not be the best race prep ever (error number 2). Oh well, I contented myself, at least the forecast if for cool and overcast conditions (error number 3).
Later on Saturday morning brought the inevitable groggy head, still that ultimate hangover cure, bacon sarnies, were on hand to settle the queasiness (error number 4) and the weather was indeed cool and grey. With a 12:50 start for me and a 15.10 for Ro there seemed to be no rush…after all, every triathlon tells you to be there 2 hours ahead of your race start and you then inevitably spend one and a half hours hanging around whilst the butterflies build to stomach churning proportions…so we headed over to Blenheim Palace in what seemed like loads of time (error number 5).
Blenheim was a truly stunning venue with all of the parts of the triathlon taking place in its grounds, the swim in the lake by the house, the transitions taking place in the open ended square formed by the main part of the palace and the two wings and both the bike and run elements looping through the undulating grounds, around the various bodies of water and over the bridges. It was also huge…with over 2500 competitors taking part on the Saturday and a similar number on the Sunday. Consequently we found ourselves parked the best part of a mile from the actual event because there were so many cars there. No worries, lets leave the bikes and go to register and check out where everything is…(error number 6).
The event surroundings were like a festival with a kidsduathlon and funfair, bands, numerous food stalls and plenty of stands selling all sorts of kit. Families had obviously come to make a day of it with picnics and groups everywhere. Amusingly, dotted amongst these were various tour parties of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks wondering why there were toned (and some less toned) bodies in lycra in their photos rather than English gentlemen in tweed jackets and cravats.
Having registered and sussed out where the transition was located and watched a swim start, I suddenly realised that I had less than half an hour to get back to the car, collect my bike and kit, rack it, wriggle in to the straight-jacket that is my wetsuit and get to the start…a frantic rush to achieve all of that would have to be my warm up. And warm up it did, as the zipper closed on my wetsuit the sun broke out, the thermometer rose above 25 degrees and the sweat started running down my forehead…was it nerves, was it the heat or quite simply the alcohol from the night before leaving my system?
The cool water of the lake was a blessed relief after the sun and for once the pandemonium of the mass start in deep water wasn’t too bad (no Rob Bullock style traumas this time). As I passed the giant floating duck I managed to get in to a good rhythm and pulled clear of most of my wave. I exited the water in about 5th place in wave and had the usual good wobble with the blood rush as I stood up and contemplated the prospect of a 500m run to transition which commenced with the first 200m up a 20% slope…not an easy thing to run up at the best of times let alone if you are wearing a tight neoprene catsuit and busy trying to undo it whilst running.
Transition led to the usual frantic search for where I had left my bike, necessitating ducking under barriers only to retrace my steps and then suddenly I was running down to the mount line and accelerating down the hill and over the bridge. It suddenly occurred to me in my hurry (a) I hadn’t put a water bottle on the bike nor (b) put on sunscreen…oh dear.
The bike route would be best described as rolling with one significant hill and another climb, all on narrow estate roads congested with traffic like a London cycle superhighway in rush hour. I spent much of the next half hour shouting “On your right!” as I threaded through the traffic – a hairy prospect when you are on your aero extensions without quick access to your brakes!
The bike was going well as I finally managed to get on top of my breathing and was overtaking a lot of people whilst not being overtaken myself (with multiple waves out on the course at any one time it is always difficult to work out how you are actually doing against your competitors). Gradually rising nausea made me realise that last night was about to wreak its revenge in the heat of the day…I fought it like a true man but its power was unstoppable and so at the top of the climb on the third and final lap my bacon sandwich made a guest reappearance to be promptly deposited at the side of the road where it spent the rest of the weekend cheering on the triathletes and serving as a wise warning to the young of the perils of alcohol.
Relieved to get off the bike at last, I had a quick swig from my bottle in transition to rinse my mouth out and try to get some liquid in to the body that was quickly becoming a desiccated shell. Cruelly, the run immediately starts with a climb over a temporary bridge which takes you up and over the bike route…not an easy task when your legs think that they are still attached to pedals and are trying to spin at high speed.
The run is a two loop affair around one of the lakes during which I spent much of the time enviously watching the ducks and swans enjoying splashing in the cool water. The drink station at the far end presented some slight relief and the chance to pour a couple of cups of water over the throbbing nuclear explosion that had replaced my head. Finally, with a tongue that now resembled a loofah sponge I turned in to the finishing straight and was promptly told by my legs that if I had any thoughts of a glorious “Chariots of Fire” style sprint finish, I would have to think again…
I’m pleased to report that Ro had a significantly less dramatic race, doing incredibly well in her first open water swim race but being stymied on the bike to a certain extent by the amount of less experienced riders on the bike course.
The final results actually didn’t turn out that bad in the end:
Ro – 1hr 33min 01 sec – 13th in age group (out of 227).
Splits: Swim 16.03; T1 5.19; Bike 39.57; T2 1.46; Run 29.57
Tobs – 1hr 14min 50 sec – 33rd Overall (out of 4138); 3rd in age group (out of 456)
Splits: Swim 11.32; T1 4.44; Bike 32.53; T2 1.11 ; Run 24.31
If anyone is interested, we can highly recommend the event as it’s genuinely for all abilities, in a truly stunning venue and very family (and dog) friendly with a great festival atmosphere. Just don’t out on the lash the night beforehand!