Race recap: Castle Howard Olympic triathlon

It’d be fair to say after recent events, I was a lot less prepared than I’d have liked to be for yesterday’s triathlon- the Castle Howard Olympic triathlon. I like to respect events, and turn up adequately prepared for them, especially big, new ones like my first Olympic distance triathlon, but I didn’t feel like I was able to adequately prepare as I’d have liked to.

My plan evolved to three simple aims in the end: survive the swim without getting pulled out, enjoy the bike leg, and empty the tank with whatever I had left on the run.

The organisation from the Castle Triathlon Series guys was great, from entering to registration on the day. There was a detailed briefing available beforehand, as well as frequent updates on important things like water temperature. On the day, the event was well staffed, with loads of marshalls and volunteers, so registration was easy (and included a cool Speedo towel for us- nice touch!), and racking bikes and stuff was done with minimal faff. Once I’d racked my stuff in transition, prepared my ‘cockpit’ on the bike with nutrition & squeezed myself into my wetsuit, it was down to the jetty for the well-organised pre-race briefing.


Swim- 50:45 (1500m. Ish.)
The swim was definitely the part I was least prepared for. The water, mercifully, was warm (around 18 degrees), so the worry of the cold was removed, but a lot of unknowns still lurked. I waited and set off towards the back of the pack, and apart from a few slaps from the gent I was swimming next to, the swim out to the turnaround point was quite uneventful. The return leg, however, was nightmarish. The water suddenly became very shallow, to the extent that my hands were hitting the bottom on each stroke, and was very murky and full of weeds, which repeatedly attacked my face. It sounds stupid now, that I panicked about weeds in my face, but it was very real at the time: I felt like I couldn’t see or breathe, and that my wetsuit was suddenly far too tight. I tried to keep in mind what coach Rach has taught me though, and after a little break and some breaststroke, I managed to keep going, and not get swum over too much by the speedy men of the next start wave who caught me at the end. With a helping hand out my the Speedo marshalls, I was unzipping my wetsuit and on my way for the 300m uphill run to transition- skip this videp to 1:16 or so, and you’ll see a familiar looking Team Bear trisuit and yellow swim cap skip past! I was disappointed with my swim, but I at least survived and didn’t get pulled out, which I thought was a very real possibility.

 T1- 3:32
Not much to say here. Laid all my stuff out sensibly, so it was quick to do. Cutting my wetsuit legs helped massively with getting it off quickly, and then all that remained to do was work through the pile of kit: socks on, bike shoes on, HRM strap on (took time to put on but I was relying on it to pace the bike), number belt on with number to back, shades on, helmet fastened, pick Bella up and away!


Bike- 1:51:07 (45km)

Once the swim was out of the way, I felt like I could relax and enjoy the bike. With a heart rate monitor on, I was able to pace it properly, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Howardian Hills- the Castle Triathlon were right when they said the course is tough but well worth it.


The bike course was well marshalled, and apart from the odd incidence of drafting, uneventful. Hundreds of very nice TT bikes zoomed past me, but I just focused on the job in hand- not working too hard, taking on fuel as best I could despite feeling really sick, and tackling the climbs sensibly without going too hard. That said, we came to the last big climb that we were warned about in briefing, involving a couple of tight bends at 16%, and I couldn’t resist getting my head down and passing four blokes stood up and grinding their way slowly up the climb 😉

I really, really enjoyed the bike leg, and could really feel the progress I’ve made through winter- the only tough part was reminding myself not to ride too hard and to save some legs for the run!

T2- 5:15
You know all the tri advice tells you to remember where your stuff is in transition and you think ‘Pah, what kind of idiot would lose all their stuff in transition?’. Well, it’s easier than you think. This is possibly the only criticism I have of the race organisers- it would have made a lot more sense for racking to be done in number order, not just randomly within each wave.

Guess who wasted 5 minutes in T2 running up and down trying to find their shoes for the run? Turns out Amphibia Sport bags are popular and you shouldn’t rely on one to be a landmark for your stuff! Another moment of feeling pretty stupid. Still, my legs felt familiarly awful like they did during the winter’s brick sessions, and I was on my way to finish the race off on the run.

Run- 56:15 (trail 10km)

I quite soon began to feel the effects of not having been able to take on all my planned nutrition on the bike, and really was suffering, but I told myself to just get on with it- the Team Bear #sufferbutNEVERsurrender motto was at the forefront of my mind. The route was an undulating off-road run, with some steep climbs, but beautiful scenery to reward us. 5km eventually arrived, and telling myself it was just a parkrun left to go, I convinced myself I could make it, despite being desperate for a wee. I emerged from the final trail section onto the finishing straight, and was immediately deafened by yells of ‘GET HIM!’ about the man in front- so I summoned up the most painful sprint finish of my life.

Overall- 3:46:53
I had hoped for a slightly faster time, but given the problems I had on the swim, the nausea and the long bike leg (45km instead of the usual 40km), I’m proud of toughing out the race, and know I have lots to work on for my next race- time to fix the last niggles from my crash, get more swimming done (especially OW), and bump up the running. Oh, and practice so I make less idiot mistakes in transition….


Opinions on the race
Overall, the organisers put on a great race in a beautiful setting- it was very well marked and marshalled, with ample staff to ensure it ran smoothly, and plentiful well-executed aid stations. Apart from the minor issue I had in transition, I had a great first experience of Olympic distance racing, and found them to be welcoming to seasoned racers and total novices alike.

James and I did initially bristle at the £5 admission charge for adults even if they were supporting an athlete, but we couldn’t complain in the end, when it included our car parking, spectator entertainment & a ride on the Estate Manager’s boat for James to watch the swim leg at close quarters- and all this was half the price of a normal adult ticket into Castle Howard.

Castle Triathlon Series kindly provided me with a free entry so I was able to race this event, on the understanding that I would write an honest blog about my experiences. I was not paid to write this or given any content to include. Apart from the video, all photos are courtesy of boyfriend and Sherpa extraordinaire, James.

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