Another week, another race.
Blenheim first captured my attention in 2016 when I was driving home from my sisters wedding with Chloe and saw signs for the race from the A34. We decided to take a detour to watch some of the racing and the stunning location, beautiful weather and incredible atmosphere meant that we both immediately put this race on our to-do lists despite the hefty £120 price tag.
We arrived at the site in plenty of time, which meant we could head straight to transition and rack our bikes before heading back to the entrance to meet my Mum and Chloe’s parents who had all come down to support us for the day. Blenheim is great for spectators as the swim, 3 lap bike and 2 lap run all pass the same central area meaning that you can see all 3 sports without moving very far. It also has an amazing festival-esque atmosphere that I haven’t seen matched at any other race in the U.K.
We pointed out the key areas of the course that they could see us and headed back towards transition, before saying our goodbyes. I tried to go for a warmup jog which proved difficult, weaving through the thousands of competitors travelling in the opposite direction to me to try and find some more open space. I managed to find a field that was largely empty on the other side of a mini-train that runs around the site, but by this time I needed to go back to transition to put my wetsuit on, so resigned myself to the fact that I would need to rely on some dynamic stretching to warm up properly.
After a tough-mudder style pre-race chant in the swim pen (Hoo-rah!), our mixed ability/gender wave of about 200 people (including Chloe) jumped off the pontoon into the waters of the lake. This was a great temperature (I would guess around 17-18 degrees), and there was a nice 100m swim to the very wide start line to get warmed up. I postitioned myself at the end furthest from the pontoon as I thought this would be the straightest line to the single turn bouy, however the kayakers were actually moving the bouys around as we got in the water. This meant that my end of the start line was actually a bit further back and probably pushed the swim distance up a few meters – in hindsight somewhere in the middle of the line probably would have been best.
I was caught off guard by the start buzzer whilst discussing this with the person next to me, but quickly managed to find my rhythm. Compared to Eton, this swim was amazingly calm and uneventful, as the wide start line meant I wasn’t near any other quicker swimmers to clash arms/try to draft with. I spotted one guy in a sleeveless wetsuit pulling away from the rest of the pack on my left, but realised he would have to take a slightly longer line to the turn bouy which was about 600m into the swim. I kept my pacing even and beat him to the turn with some clear water between us so he couldn’t cling on to my draft, and kicked a bit harder to get back to the boat house for the swim exit first out of the water.
I got my arms out of my wetsuit quickly, if not smoothly – for the 2nd time I got my zip pull-string caught down my left sleeve after telling myself it wouldn’t happen again. Thankfully the transition at Blenheim is famously long which gave me a bit of time to fight it off my wrist while running up the infamous (but actually not bad) hill to T1.
T1 was much smoother than it had been at Eton, and I actually remembered to put my race belt on this time. Progress! Running on the carpeted cobbles of the palace courtyard pushing a bike was difficult but having no other competitors on my row to crash into made it manageable.
My mount went well and I was up to speed quickly on the downhill out of transition. For this race I fitted some clip on tri bars which I intend to use for my other non-drafting races this year. I had used them on the turbo trainer on Wednesday and done a bit of playing around with them on the road outside my house, but this was my first proper ride with them. This was a high risk gamble that luckily paid off, and I could really feel the benefits on the fast downhills and flats of the course without feeling like I couldn’t control the bike. As much as the “nothing new on race day” advice is a cliché in tri, people probably say it for a reason.
I spent the entire bike leg trying to avoid the people cycling 2/3/4 abreast on the very narrow closed road round the palace grounds – sorry to anyone I shouted at to keep to the left! However, anyone entering this race should go there knowing that 60% of the entrants are first timers, and will therefore weave wildly and unpredictably over the road in front you and may come very close to riding you off the road into a tree. It’s not surprising that all the trees have crash mats strapped to them.
I passed Chloe at the start of my third lap and shouted something vaguely coherent and encouraging. I was still expecting some super-bikers from my wave to pass me at any moment, but as I rolled into T2 I realised that this hadn’t happened.
I had decided that this would be a C-race for me, and didn’t taper for it. This meant I was going into the day with reasonably tired legs from a big week of lots of running. I had felt strong up to this point, however my stride felt heavy as I got out on the course. The steep up and down over the bridge out of transition felt like a mountain. A long downhill of about 1km made my impact with the ground feel hard and gave me blisters for the first time in my On Clouds. And very similarly to Winchester and Brighton before that, I got a familiar stitch at the half way point. I struggled round the rest of the run but still wasn’t passed at any point.
Post-race I proceeded to devour some salty chicken noodles and coffee which brought me back to life, along with the compulsory pint of Erdinger. I didn’t rush to check my results until a few hours later, when I pleasantly discovered that I had got the fastest time of day 1 (with 2000 competitors still to race the following day). I was subsequently beaten by 6 people on Sunday to finish 7th/4736 overall and 2nd/416 in my age, but not before I managed to grab this great screenshot…
I am currently sitting in a tent in Wales writing this, because tomorrow is Llandudno sprint tri – my second attempt at worlds qualification. I have been working hard on my run and bike for the last 3 weeks, and I’m feeling fit and rested. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.