Saturday, 2 June 2007

My First Team Sprint Triathlon

Well the day of the Blenheim Triathlon was bright, sunny and clear, and we knew we were on for a good day. Our race we scheduled to start at 11am, and at the appointed time, our team's swimmer entered the lake water for the 750 metre swim. The temperature was allegedly "pleasant" at about 18 degrees, and our man completed the course in a storming 20 minutes. He then scrambled ashore, dashed 400 metres uphill to the handover point (called Transition), and handed over his timing chip to the powerfully attractive cyclist - me!

I took my cue and jogged the bike out of Transition, to begin the three laps around Blenheim Palace grounds that would see me doing 20km in about 40 minutes. By this point it was approaching noon, and the heat was really starting to build. I passed a chap in a full polar bear suit twice, and both times, everyone was shouting encouragement to him. As everyone knows, polar bears prefer the cold, and aren't brilliant in twenty-something degree heat.

After three laps, it was back into the Transition area, where I handed over to our runner, who had the unenviable job of a 5km run in the midday heat! He did a great job, of course, and within another 20 minutes we were joining him at the finish line, our first Team Triathlon complete!

In all, we completed the whole course in 1 hour, 29 minutes, 25 seconds. We were 40th out of 121 teams! (Our other team were just ten minutes behind us, and have sportingly agreed to buy the drinks).

We had a great time, in a fantastic setting. It was hard work, definitely, but very good fun. And the atmosphere is brilliant.

At the final count, we should have raised over £1000 for our two charities - with your support! So thanks again for your sponsorship, and if you fancy giving a triathlon a go, we're already planning next year's event, so get in touch :)

For those of you who don't know much about the mechanics of a triathlon, read on...

The organisation required for a triathlon is massive and impressive. The heart of it is "Transition", the key area, where competitors leave their bike and other bits and pieces. Between each of the three events (swim, bike, run), competitors come back to Transition to drop off their wetsuit, pick up the bike, and ultimately drop off the bike before the run. Transition is a large and well-organised area, and really busy. At Blenheim, there were 12-15 "racks", about 150 metres long, where every competitor had to find a spot to rack their bikes, and other equipment.

The Blenheim Triathlon is apparently the second largest in the country, with over 3,000 people racing. This requires some major organisation, and the event was scheduled in "waves", with staggered start times. So there were fresh competitors starting the event every twenty minutes from 10h00 until 14h15. That meant that there were people running in and out of Transition the whole time, some with bikes, some with wetsuits, and some with neither. There were also people leaving after their "wave", or arriving in preparation for one later in the day, so you can imagine that it was a bustling area. Despite that, it just about ran like clockwork. Of course, Transition is the point where you can gain or lose time, and people are desperate to get in, and get out, so every now and again there was a bit of shouting!

The first event is always the swim: at Blenheim, 750 metres in the lake! If you think about it, that's not just 30 lengths of a decent-sized swimming pool, it's a mad scramble amongst lots of other people, where you could be a long way from the safety of the banks if you are in trouble. Oh, and it's a lake, so none of that temperature-controlled water you might find in the swimming pools! Everyone was in wetsuits for the swim and some people didn't much like the water temperature.

After the swim, it's a short jog back to Transition to drop off the wetsuit, and collect the bike for the second stage. Race marshals were on hand, ensuring that everyone had their helmets secured before they could leave Transition - "for safety reasons" (rather than just plain spite). The bike ride took about 40 minutes, and was three laps around the course. Due to the speed of the leading or following riders, it was possible to catch up competitors from the previous wave, or be caught by those in the following one! Fortunately for morale, it was difficult to tell which was which!

After the bike ride, it's back into Transition, to drop off the bike, and set off for the run (leaving the bike helmet behind, usually!). The other important thing to do is to change the race number from the back of body to the front - apparently required by The Rules, and once again the race marshals were on hand to penalise those competitors who didn't comply. Amusingly, triathletes have realised that the tried-and-tested method of using safety pins to attach race numbers didn't really help this from-back-to-front transfer, and some bright spark invented the "race belt". It's an elasticated strap that holds the race number, and can be simply turned about the body. Clever stuff, and yours for just a few pounds. Yes, really!

Last, but not least, is the run and the dash for glory at the finishing line. Presumably by this point most people are quite knackered, having used three completely different muscle groups. Either way, it's a trot to the finish and the promise of a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

And that, pretty much, is a triathlon as we experienced it. It was tremendously satisfying, and great fun. So much so that some of our team members are now thinking about doing the whole event (swim, bike, run) next year.

There are some pictures available online:

But none of us :)

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