Blenheim Triathlon 2014

I entered the Blenheim Triathlon several months ago after seeing it on Channel 4 and liking the idea of competing in a mass event. All of the other triathlons I’ve entered have been much smaller in comparison.

The venue was also a big draw with transition being in the courtyard of the palace. Other than some of the events that finish close to Buckingham Palace, Blenheim looked pretty spectacular.

The only negative I heard of were the 400m climb from the swim to T1. I guess the fact that the event was 75 minutes from home was also a negative as was the cost. However, I could live with those.

As a mass event, the triathlon was spread over 2 days with about 20 waves per day. Wow! A few weeks before the event, I found out that my wave time was 1:55pm. I was quite surprised it was so late but did like the idea that I’d not need to leave home before dawn!

On Saturday evening, I got all my kit together. I felt quite unprepared but my checklist meant that I had all I needed. I’d recently purchased a bike rack which fitted both cars so made sure I knew how it fitted.

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Having packed my kit, I was ready.

I got up at 7am on race day and my first dilemma was what to eat. I’m used to a pre-9am start for triathlons and yet my wave time meant I’d have another 5 hours to wait. I opted for 2 breakfasts in one (toast and shredded wheat) and to supplement this with energy gels later in the morning with enough, but not too much, hydration.

Originally, I’d planned to leave at about 9am but, rather than have to wait around, decided to hit the road when I was ready. That was 8:20am.

Having not used the bike rack before I was a little concerned about how secure it was and stopped to check the straps a couple of times. Each time, they’d become slightly loose.

The journey up was uneventful. Traffic was light and the weather absolutely beautiful for a day sightseeing at the Palace. It was definitely warm, sunny and a massive improvement on the previous day which had seen storms and severe downpours.

On arrival at the venue, I parked and un-racked the bike. I’d decided to leave everything in transition including my wetsuit until the last minute and carry a small rucksack with me. At registration I picked up my timing chip and neoprene ankle strap.

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As I headed for transition, I saw Ali and we chatted for a few minutes before I got to transition.

In the race pack which was posted out about 10 days before the event, you receive a security wristband and 2 labels. One label is affixed to the bars of the bike. The other to the helmet. The wristband is worn from arrival at the venue until departure and gives access to transition.

Transition is not closed which means you can come and go at will. That meant I could use it as my basecamp.

As I was in wave 16 and I’d arrived early, there were few bikes on my rack. Bikes are racked by arrival. Each wave had a rack with bikes being racked facing alternate directions. The sooner you arrive, the closer to bike in/out you are. Space between bikes is minimal and it was a bit of a squeeze getting my bucket and rucksack between my and my neighbour’s bikes.

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Having set up transition, I headed out to recce the swim assembly. I knew Teri was already at the Palace and had already done her recce. The venue was busy but not as busy as I’d expected.

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The bank down to swim entry was pretty steep and I was pretty glad we’d not need to run up that. My timing was pretty good as I got to swim assembly as a wave were preparing to start. The lake was massive and there was quite a headwind to swim into. The 750m course itself was marked out with 3 striped buoys and these looked pretty easy to sight. However, the course had a kink in it and as the wave set off, there was quite a spread across the lake of those that stuck to the line to the first two buoys and those that took a straight path to the 3rd buoy. I’m not sure which the better option was.

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Having seen the lake, I headed back to the competitor village and met up with Teri, her husband Tim and their daughter Emilia. This gave me chance to redeem the £5 for being a BTF member.

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We then all headed to relax for a while on the grass and watch the world go by. Before long, Nick and his wife walked by. We all chatted for a while before realising it was probably time to head to transition to collect our wetsuits. Transition was busier with more bikes racked and competitors competing.

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I double-checked my transition set up, left my deck shoes and collected my wetsuit and goggles. As it was warm, too warm, I was going to carry my wetsuit but then opted to put it half way on. It wasn’t a wrong decision.

My plan was to watch Teri and Nick’s wave which had a start time 1 hour ahead of mine and then just chill on the hill.

This plan worked well and Tim, Emilia and I watched Teri’s wave leave. With all the competitors in her wave in red swim caps, it was impossible to distinguish who was who on the pontoon.

Once Teri’s wave had set off, Tim and Emilia headed off to find a position to see her on the bike and run. I chilled and watched the safety briefing of the next wave expertly delivered by the ‘team leader’.

As I waited, I spotted Ben from Try Tri and we chatted for a while.

As wave 15 headed to the Pontoon and into the water, my wave, wave 16, were called to swim assembly for our briefing.

We were told that the bike/run course was wet in places and the wind would be problematic during the bike section. The 38lb pike was also mentioned as was the climb from the lake to T1. We were also reminded to hydrate regularly.

After a hug with another random competitor (as instructed in the briefing!), we headed onto the pontoon and into the lake. The pontoon was moving from side to side a fair amount and it felt a bit odd as we walked along it. Once I’d reached the end, there was a decision to make; sit down and shuffle in or pencil dive (no head first dives). I opted to do the pencil dive. Good choice in hindsight.

It took me a moment to acclimatise to the water temperature which was a very reasonable 18-19 deg C.

I found myself at the front of the swimmers close to the buoy nearest the pontoon. Not sure of whether that was good or bad. I’d normally position myself further back from the line but the closer to the line I was, the less distance I’d have to swim.

The start horn went off and I almost didn’t hear it. I started my Garmin and was off.

The wave was full of male swimmers and we were tightly packed at the start. It was a battle of flailing arms and legs. I succeeded in not being kicked in the face. Just.

The leg to the turn seemed very long and I followed as straight a course as possible. I sighted often. There appeared to be quite a few swimmers around including a few doing breaststroke. It was a little difficult seeing the buoys over the swimmers at times.

The water wasn’t very clear. Marginally better than a Lakeside which I was very surprised at as I’d expected it to be crystal clear.

I got to the 3rd buoy and battled to get around it due to several swimmers being bunched together. Another opportunity to be kicked which I fortunately avoided.

Once the buoy was rounded it was a case of working out where to swim to next. Another large striped buoy gave it away.

I was expecting it to be a short leg to dry land but that didn’t appear to be the case. To pump some blood into my legs and make sure they weren’t like jelly when I stood up I did a series of hard flutter kicks. After swimming so far lying horizontally (not that far really – 30 lengths of a 25m pool), getting vertical can be a challenge. I didn’t want that to be the case.

The exit had a submerged pontoon which you swim onto and then get onto your feet. Very nice exit compared to many. I swam onto it, got up and was helped by a marshal as the bank was quite steep.

Now for the tough 400m run/walk/crawl to T1. One word – nasty. Although I walked for about 30 seconds I tried to jog as much as I could. Not easy but I knew that if I didn’t, it’d take all afternoon. The sooner I crossed the finish line and got out of the sun, the better. My wetsuit was down to my waist with my goggles and swim cap in one of the arms.

Having made it up the hill and run between a well-populated spectator area, it was time to prepare for T1 which was 100m away.

I found my bike easily due to be cyan towel and red bucket. My wet suit was off fairly quickly. I decided not to wear the gel finger-less gloves as I didn’t want sweaty hands now the sun was beating down. Having put on my sunglasses and helmet, I stepped into my race belt, slid the number around to the back and put my bike shoes on. I was ready to un-rack my bike but spent a moment making sure my run-gear was ready for T2.

Then it was time to go. My racking position meant only a short run to ‘bike out’. The mount line wasn’t far so I stopped, composed myself and got on the bike. Having decided that the day was about enjoying the experience, I didn’t want to rush.

Clipping into the pedals was dreamy. So much nicer than Cotswold where my cleats were full of gravel.

The first bit of the bike course was downhill with lots of spectators. A good opportunity to enjoy some speed. It didn’t last long.

The bike leg for the sprint distance was 3 laps. That meant 1 lap to recce the course and then 2 more laps to enjoy or endure the scenery. As the course is undulating with a section of nasty climb which meant getting out of the saddle. Endure was the order to the day.

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The bike leg was largely uneventful. The crosswinds were interesting but less of an issue than Cotswold Super Sprint.

Having completed the 3 laps, it was time to head into T2 and out on the run.

T2 should have been quick but wasn’t. It was just a case of racking my bike, swapping helmet for cap and bike shoes for running shoes. However, I didn’t transition very quickly. In fact, it took over 2 minutes. Oh well.

The run leg consists of 2 laps and it really wasn’t a pleasant experience. Picturesque. Hot. Undulating. Slow.

I resorted to a few walk breaks as I could feel my quads cramping up. The run was a killer and I really didn’t enjoy it much. The weather was a huge factor. Too hot! I’m not a fan of running in heat.

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I crossed the line and picked up my medal. Pretty good! Much better was the cold (plastic) glass of (alcohol-free) lager. My word that was good.

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Having picked up my bike and equipment from transition, I headed back to the car park and bumped into Teri, Tim and Emilia who were just about to leave. Teri had done really well and had beaten her expected finish time by 15 minutes. Well done Teri.

My finish time was 1:44:51. Pleased with going under 1:45.

Splits are shown below.

Stage Time of Day Elapsed Time Position
Swim 14:11:16 00:16:17 2129
T1 14:16:38 00:05:22 1709
Bike 15:03:31 00:46:53 2702
T2 15:05:42 00:02:12 1775
Run 15:39:50 00:34:09 2973

Getting out of the car park was the major challenge of the day though. The queues were very long.

Overall, a good event. Very well organised. Good marshals. Lovely location. Challenging course in the heat. I doubt I’d do it again though. Far more triathlons to explore.

The only real issue of the day was almost losing my bike off the bike rack on the way home as one of the retainers broke. Fortunately, it was secure enough on the other retainer and strapping. I’d envisaged seeing it fly off the back of the car and end up driven over by a HGV. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

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3 thoughts on “Blenheim Triathlon 2014

  1. Great effort, James – well done! Your bike rack sounds like a bit of a nightmare – I hope you put in a complaint about it as it doesn’t sound very safe and secure.

  2. Pingback: Tri 70.3 week 4 – mid-week review | Triathlete In Training

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