Blenheim Palace Triathlon Review – Saturday 4th June 2016

I wasn’t sure where I stood with Triathlons this year.

I’d dipped my toe in last year but my swimming still left a lot to be desired. I still struggle immensely with getting my face in the water.

So when the Blenheim Palace Triathlon registration popped in my email inbox I had a moment of indecision. I completed the Super Sprint last year at both Blenheim and London and I remember coming out of both events thinking that it was too short and over with in a flash. For the amount of travelling that needs to take place to get to Blenheim if I was going to enter then it would need to be the sprint distance. Which gave me even more cause for contemplation, I mean I could manage the bike and run no problem but the swim distance (750m) just seemed like unnecessary torture. With running back at the forefront of everything this year I also wasn’t sure how much time I would have to devote to training for a triathlon.

The long and the short of it is that I eventually talked myself into it.

My long-time friend, and another Blenheim returnee, Rob was back for more too. With our relay legs of the Lakesman Triathlon (him – 112 mile bike and me – 26.2 mile run) coming up a few weeks after the event we thought it would be good training for both of us.

I was still swimming so I had a fairly good base going in to the start of training and biking wasn’t going to be much of an issue as I was doing an 8-10 mile round trip every time I went to work. Running was by far going to be the least of my worries as, by the time Blenheim rolled around, I would have plenty of 10k’s, half marathons and a marathon under my belt as well as being well into training for the Lakesman.

In actuality, by the time I hit the hardest part of my swimming training I had dropped half a stone and had four months of PT work behind me and everything suddenly seemed to become a lot easier. I had always had shoulder mobility issues before but now I felt a lot stronger and a lot more flexible. Even though I was still struggling with the whole face in the water issue I was finding that, despite this, I was getting a lot faster.

So, by the time Blenheim rolled around I was a lot more confident. After five hours, and a few changes, on a train after working a night-shift (my own fault, I forgot to book the day off) I arrived in Oxford. I was soon in the hotel trying to get my head down for an hour and catch up on some much needed sleep.

Rob arrived at the hotel not long after and we caught up to grab something to eat. He’d spent the day at Legoland with his family (including his brother in law Gary who was also taking part in the sprint distance) so he looked more shattered than I was to be fair. After some food and catch-up I was back in the hotel room and settling in for the night to watch a bit of wrestling before sleep. Next thing I knew I’d woken up at 1:30 having fallen asleep with the TV still on. I had a feeling I might not get back to sleep and would end up being wide awake but luckily it wasn’t long before I was asleep again.

I woke up to the sad news that Muhammad Ali had died. I’ve always been a big Ali fan so it wasn’t the best news to wake up to but, given his condition the day before, it was expected. Coincidentally I had actually considered taking the Ali biography or the Neil Armstrong biography on the train with me but given how tired I was and how heavy the books were I opted for a lighter read instead.

“Outrun the people who stop because of despair.”

With our wave not starting until 11am I headed down for breakfast and tucked away my usual pre-race fry-up (I’m such an athlete).

Blenheim tri2
We’ve just registered and racked our bikes for literally no reason…spot the Tardis hoodie (it’s bigger on the inside).

We were soon at Blenheim Palace and getting ourselves registered and sorted in transition. Despite the fact that we’d rocked up fairly early at 9am it was surprising how quickly our start time arrived.

blenheim tri3
Ready to go…

Upon entering the lake it was colder than expected and I found that my breath was immediately taken away. I spent much of the time before the start trying to compose myself and get my breath back.

The swim leg started and, predictably, everyone started passing me. I wasn’t too worried about this as I had a time of 30 minutes in mind for the swim and I knew that once I was on the bike and the run leg I was naturally going to catch some people in my wave up.

I finished the swim and started the long run to the transition area and even managed to get my wetsuit off on the way up this time (an improvement on last year that’s for sure). I was pretty confident that I’d done alright on the swim time wise.

Rob was just leaving transition as I was arriving at my bike so obviously, being the alpha males that we are, we fist bumped. Not long after I was on the bike to start the first of three laps of 20km’s around the grounds of the palace. Again I had a time goal of around 45 minutes which would mean staying in and around 15 minutes a lap. I took the first lap relatively easy as I got used to the course again but laps two and three were hit hard and again I was fairly happy that my time was good.

With just my forte, the run leg, to go I was in and out of transition fairly sharpish. As soon as I started running I realised that my legs were going to want to go a lot faster than I had planned to. I completed the first lap in just over 13 minutes and, with a lap to go, I caught up with Rob (I found out later he’d had a puncture towards the end of the bike leg) I was going to run with him to the end but he told me to carry on so off I went. With my sprint finish geared up with 400m to go I was soon over the line to complete the sprint distance. Just before I crossed the line I heard the commentator say “Here we have Steve Claringbold, big finish from Steve…he’s come all the way from Carlisle for this event.” I was given my medal and was being ushered out of the finish area but I knew Rob wasn’t too far behind me so I did a little bit of stretching and overplayed catching my breath in an effort to hang around the finish line to see him in. Two minutes later Rob was over the line and we’d both finished and not long after that his brother in law, Gary, crossed the line too. Everyone home safe and a sprint distance triathlon in the bag.

blenheim tri
The end…

I grabbed the results on Monday morning and it read as follows:

Swim – 26:09

Transition 1 – 8:01

Bike – 46:06

Transition 2 – 2:44

Run – 26:55

Overall – 1:49.55

My overall position was 2747 out of 3917. My swimming position was 3834, bike position was 2177 and run position was 735.

The take home for me was that work obviously needed to be done on my swimming and transition from swim to bike if I was to gain any more time at this distance. But then I already knew that. Time wise though I finished pretty much exactly where I thought I was going to. I was quicker on the swim than I thought I would be and I was chuffed to finish so high up position wise in the run.

I’m still not sure where I stand with triathlons. I don’t know whether I want to keep doing them and keep trying to step up distance wise or not. I always enjoy them when I’ve done them and if you’d have told me at the start of last year that I’d have four in the bag and I’d also have stepped up a distance I don’t think I’d have believed you. If I was to get a few more sprints under my belt and then step up a distance the next one for me would be Olympic distance. That consists of a 1.5km swim, 40km bike and a 10km run. It seems like a hell of distance but then I’d have said that about sprint distance last year so who knows?

But for now, I’d completed Blenheim for another year and it was time for the long trip back home to Carlisle.

I spent a lot of time on the train reading ‘The dirtiest race in history’ by Richard Moore. The book is about Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m final. It’s thoroughly well researched and utterly captivating. Definitely a book you can’t put down once you get into it. Five out of the seven athletes to toe the start line ended up testing positive or were found to be involved in the use or supply of performance enhancing drugs. Only Calvin Smith (USA) and Robson da Silva (Brazil) left that race behind them as clean athletes.

If you’re interested check out ESPN’s documentary on the 100m final at ESPN 30 for 30.

Next up was the small matter of marshalling at the Epic Swim in Keswick, I was also taking part in the 500m distance swim and it was the day after Blenheim. I totally got my dates mixed up and thought it was a week later.

Never mind, I’d just have to zip up my wetsuit (and man-suit) and get on with it…

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