If you haven’t heard of the Markel Castle Triathlon Series then we have a treat in store for you. It is an iconic series of events held in stunning locations. It features five rounds, plus an evening series at Hever Castle, with three in the UK, one in Ireland and the other in Chateau De Chantilly in France, but not in that order. The Cholmondeley round this weekend, on Sunday 23rd June, is the second event in the main series and features a range of events to appeal to all ages and abilities. In this article I focus on the event specifics to start with and later on talk about my preparation and expectations for the day of the race.
The races distances are as follows:
- The Cholmondeley: Olympic distance (1500,/44km/10km.) Solo or relay
- The Marquess: 800m swim, 44km cycle, 8km run. Solo or relay
- The Gothic: Sprint distance (400m, 22km, 4km.) Solo or Relay
- The Chestnut: Children aged 13-15
- The Oak: Children aged 11-12
- The Cedar: Children aged 8-10
- Junior and Children’s relays over Chestnut, Oak and Cedar
As encouragement to get your whole family involved there is an automatic 15% discount applied to any booking which includes two adults and one to four children (15 and under.) You don’t even need to worry about your little nipper and car traffic, as all of the children’s races take place wholly within the castle grounds and they swim in the same lake as the adults. The children’s races are every bit as exciting as the adults and are marshalled and timed just as professionally as the adult races. The kids will need to bring cyclo cross or mountain style bikes for their races.
The races are timed to give a full day of action for those that hang around. The adult races are all set off between 8am and 10am. The courses are then reset over lunch and the children launch into action from 2pm.
Did I mention the beginner friendly approach that they use for the waves? You can state whether you want to be in a competitive wave or not when you sign up. If you elect not to be then you will be set off with some like minded people who are just looking to finish the event and aren’t quite so serious about the whole thing. The sprint event even includes a women only wave.
This section only discusses the adult courses and focuses on the Olympic distance, although if you look at the maps below you will see the children’s courses marked out too.
The reports, at the time of writing, are that the lake is a balmy 18 degrees Celsius.
The swim is similar to those at other Castle Triathlon Series (CTS) events and is held in a nice calm, and hopefully warm, lake with a number of distance markers. Expect some weed in the lake, even if it has been dredged but it shouldn’t be anything that impairs your performance. The Olympic distance triathletes will effectively do two lengths of the lake to bring them up to the 1500m before staggering up a covered wooden ramp. This is followed by a 20m run up a bank and then 100m across flat grass to the transition area.
The bike is two laps of a relatively flat course which will be well marshalled, signed and you may even see the odd police officer about making sure that everyone is behaving - motorists and cyclists. A quick wave of the map shows there to be approximately 700ft of rolling ascent/descent per lap, so 1400ft for the Olympic and Marquess distance athletes as they do two laps. Don’t forget to abide by the highway code, wear a suitable helmet and not to draft others.
The run is all within the castle grounds and the Olympic distance runners get to do an extra hill on each lap to bring the distance up, before finally being directed down the 100m finishing straight to glory and medals.
Please don’t take my word for the routes and regulations. If you are taking part or coming to spectate then make sure that you get the latest information directly from the horses mouth at http://www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk/en/race-admin-copy3/
Personally I really like the CTS approach to courses as I am a big fan of two lap courses. The biggest reason for this is that you get a lap to suss it all out, identify where you are going and settle in. You then get to use this experience to improve the pace on your second lap while freeing up some of your concentration so that you can start thinking about your next transition.
Here are links to the official maps:
On the day
You really do need to make sure that you get to the start nice and early, allowing at least an hour before the start of your wave. Below I discuss my approach to the event day, so feel free to use any of the tips that you feel will work for you. Do remember not to try anything brand new on race day though. Give everything a good shake down in training, including your nutrition and fluid intake.
This year I am camping onsite the night before and, while I don’t relish the thought of a cold night in a tent followed by a plunge into a cold lake, I feel that this will give me the most relaxed race morning. I am in the slightly daunting “elite” wave of the Cholmondeley Olympic distance race. In this case “elite” just means all of those athletes that ticked the box to be in a competitive wave, so there will be a massive variety of abilities. Personally I am under no illusion that I will actually win anything, but I wanted to be racing against the faster people during the bike and run sections. I was very pleased to see that the second wave gives us a twenty minute head start, so they shouldn’t catch me up on the swim. My swim is by far the worst of the events for me, and I have on occasion been known to come almost last out of the water out of all the waves in a multi wave event.
In the morning I normally plan to eat breakfast around three hours before my allotted start time, which in this case means a 5am breakfast. I probably wont quite achieve that, but as long as I get the cooker on and I’ve finished eating by 6am then I am still well within safe parameters for my stomach. My breakfast will be the same breakfast that I always eat i.e. a massive bowl of porridge with dairy free milk, dried fruit and agave nectar.
I stop taking on fluid two hours before the race starts to prevent needing a pee break during the run. I am always amazed at the number of people that stop for a pee. In an event such as this a brief stop can lose you 10 to 20 places. Either plan it right, or consider just relaxing and letting it flow towards the end of the bike section. You can always jump back in the lake afterwards to rinse off. Of course if you have done this then you will need to remember not to give any family members an immediate post race hug, as they wont thank you for it.
I will most likely be wearing a wetsuit in the swim and I will have applied liberal amounts of Bodyglide first to the back of my neck to prevent chaffing and secondly to my lower legs and fore arms to help me to get out of it quicker in T1. As soon as we are allowed in the lake I will be in there, bobbing up and down and swimming about. This is vital to acclimatise yourself to the conditions and to limit any chance of cold shock when the klaxon sounds. You need to swim around and get your head under. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it is now, just get it out of the way before the race starts. Personally I have been doing a lot of open water swimming in far colder waters, so I will be more relaxed than normal at this stage.
Once I am out of the water and onto the bike I will start to take on a gel or two as well as fluids. I will already have these mounted on the bike so that I don’t have to think about them and I can just consume as required. Remember that you cannot win a triathlon on the bike, but you can definitely lose it. Make sure that you pace yourself to go as fast as you can without impeding your ability to run afterwards. If you haven’t figured out what this pace is for you yet then you will need to pedal at a pace that doesn’t feel quite as fast as you would like, and don’t worry if a few people overtake you. Do give it some rice/welly/oomph (you know what I mean), but do so sparingly and relax when you can. If you are more experienced, then I am undoubtedly teaching you to suck eggs. Certainly ease off within the last mile or two and start to plan your transition to the run.
I love the run. There, I’ve said it. You get off the bike, your legs are wobbly and they still want to go around in circles. Your brain probably gave up much earlier and you are going from marshal to marshal, or sign to sign. Take it easy for at least a few hundred meters until your body starts to get the idea. Now you can start getting up to pace. Go as fast as you think you can to keep one pace for the entire length of the run. Again a few people might be a bit keen and overtake you, but you will see them again later. As the run goes on what started as a relatively steady pace will start to feel harder and harder. Your job is to push harder and harder and keep running at the same speed. Keep it going right to the end and if you have the legs for a sprint finish then you have probably got your pacing wrong. You can work on that for next time. Now it is time to collapse/rest/grin, whatever you have the strength to do. Well done. You have just finished a race in one of the hardest sports in the world.
Afterwards I will be compiling my pictures and writing up the day exactly as I experienced it. This includes things that I got wrong and things that I got right as well as letting you know how well the event was organised and if there is anything that I think the organisers could do better. Do drop by this time next week and see how I got on. If you fancy joining in then you can find out more about the entire series as well as how to enter here: www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk
Why not join me at Hever Castle in September for the dauntingly entitled GAUNTLET! A half iron distance race in epic surroundings. The swim route alone looks amazing.
Sorry for the lack of pictures in this article. I promise that there will be many more in the event write-up. In the meantime if you want a feel for the series then check out my post event write-up from last year’s Hever Castle round.