Sunday 29th May was the Blenheim triathlon – my 3rd attempt at the sprint distance, including September last year at Blenheim (later in the year then because of a Covid postponement).
It’s a 750m lake swim, 19.8km on the bike and 5.4km run. In addition, there is a nasty 400m uphill run from the lake to transition after the swim.
The day was cool and overcast as my friend and I arrived at Blenheim about 7.45am for a 9am start – unreasonably early for me. Collecting the race pack was easy and we set up in transition in the very grand setting of the palace courtyard.
Apart from the marshal insisting that the bikes were racked the wrong way round, everything was slick and the rest of the marshals were very helpful in terms of information on the various entrances and exits from transition. The wrong-way bikes were addressed by swapping places with the people on the opposite side of the racking.
We got to the swim start with about 10 minutes to spare – it is a bit of a walk from the car park to transition and from transition to the lake. The pre-race instructions were both jolly and clear. The swim start used a ‘time trial’ style with everyone in two lines walking to the starting ramp with a couple of seconds between swimmers entering the water.
That’s good in avoiding the ‘washing machine’ scrum of a mass start in the water, but doesn’t give any time to acclimatise to the lake before starting to swim. Luckily, the water was 18.3℃ (65℉) so it wasn’t a major issue (wetsuits were compulsory) but much colder could have been a bit of a shock to the system.
The swim is 750m and I didn’t swim well (my swimming is not good at the best of times). To begin with, I forgot almost everything I’ve learned in the pool – undoubtedly, I would have benefitted from more than two open water swims so far this year. I improved a bit as the swim went on but was a minute slower than I was last year. There was no barging or blocking on the swim (possibly because most people were simply gliding past me) and having others in the water made navigation easier so I swam in an almost straight line for once.
Quite a few people walk up the nasty little hill from the lake to transition but I ran (slowly) as I took my arms out of the wetsuit. My friend had a great swim and was in transition as I arrived (and provided a very good marker to help find my bike). Usually, I struggle to get out of the wetsuit but this time it was still nicely wet on the outside and peeled off reasonably well.
It was still chilly and I considered putting on a long sleeve cycling top, but didn’t. The first few hundred meters were a bit cold but the tri-suit soon dried and I warmed up.
The ride (19.8km) is certainly ‘undulating’ and mostly on paths rather than roadways, all in the palace grounds. Although people were pretty good at keeping left and not drafting, bits where overtaking led to 3 bikes abreast were a bit snug. It’s 3 laps of the route and I had a lot of fun although it was hard, being just my third ride outside this year. I was 35 seconds slower than last year.
It was rather nice to see all shapes and sizes of competitor and bikes with straight bars, mudguards and one with a rear bike rack, in addition to a few ‘elites’ with time trial bikes and tri-bars.
I had swapped my clip-in pedals for pedals with toe clips. The thinking was that the little I might lose on the road would be more than made up for by having only one change of shoes and easier runs from and back into transition. It worked well and my second transition was fairly quick.
The run is 5.4km (two laps) and, again, not flat – slight ‘jelly legs’ to start with, but it went pretty well. My running this year has mainly been training for July’s 100km ultra marathon so speed has not been a priority – and there is no doubt that running faster does need faster training sessions. Despite that I took the best part of 2 minutes off last year’s run time.
I was 3rd out of 35 in my 65-69 age group with a total time of 1h 37m 17 seconds (a little quicker than last year, mainly thanks to a faster run). Last year I was 6th out of 34.
My friend and training companion had a very good race – an excellent swim, a strong ride and (considering he has hardly run at all this year because of an ankle ligament issue) a cracking run.
My splits were:
Swim (750m): 19:02 minutes
T1: 5:58 minutes (including the run to get there)
Ride (19.8km): 41.14 @28.82kph
T2: 1:46 minutes
Run (5.4km): 29:17 @ 5.25m/km
I was 16 seconds/100m slower than the average of all swimmers, 2.84kph faster than the average bike speed and 12 seconds/km ahead of the average run speed. A nice simple event, no need for nutrition or fluids during it and no aches or pains afterwards.
I was in the top 1/3rd of all competitors (nearly 3000) and top 40% of all men.
It’s a very good event, well organised, good marshals, a very picturesque setting (both the ride and run loop around the lake) and it feels good, all being in the grounds of the palace. It’s fairly expensive, in my opinion, but is a very good introduction to triathlons with open water swims. This year (in the name of sustainability, I guess) the medal was a bit less impressive than last year’s and there was no finisher’s t-shirt – boo.
I enjoyed it but I’m not sure if I’ll do this event again – it might depend on how my attempt at an olympic distance triathlon goes in September (I’ve got to improve my open water swimming) as Blenheim offers only sprint and super sprint distances.
If you are thinking of doing the race, I wish you every success with it.
Interesting stuff this week (Just one – it’s a short week)
1. African wise words: If you heal the leg of a person, do not be surprised if they use it to run away