From picking up running a few years ago, then being talked into getting a bike for a sportive, then finally giving up resistance against learning to swim to do a triathlon, at some point the day was going to come when I popped my tri-sports cherry. Blenheim Palace Triathlon came well recommended and held in high esteem by past participants so it seemed a good choice to be my first.
I was told it was a big deal and that no other tri afterwards would compare in scale of organisation. That certainly bore out in first impressions when I realised that the run course crosses itself and the bike course using a bespoke bridge. Very impressive.
Then when entering into the transition area and being passed from marshal to marshal, every one well drilled and knowing their job, the feeling of tight organisation continued. I wasn’t allowed into transition without my helmet fastened and strap tension fully checked by bike officials.
I was glad to tap into the wonderful accumulated experience of the Perrys and Andy Scott, who showed me around including the swim start off the end of the pontoon into the lake.
So after donning the wetsuit and lining up feeling surprisingly calm, it was my wave’s turn to plop into the water. We were told that the water was 14°C which resulted in a collective but muted gasp from participants who actually knew what that meant. I shortly discovered that it’s pretty cold and my few open water swims in training were more like 17/18° which felt decidedly tropical compared to this.
The water was clearer than I was used to, which meant I could see something of the bottom most of the time. Most of my apprehension disappeared due to the sheer number of canoeists ready and waiting to be with you within seconds of a roll onto the back and a raised arm. I now realised that 4 open water swims in training had given me plenty enough experience to know that I was going to be perfectly OK, if a little slow, making it to the other side of this lake.
After a 500ish metre swim to the end buoy, then an almost full turn back to the left to complete another 250m to the boathouse, I was greeted by lots of helpers again, desperate to help with any kind of problem whatsoever.
The 400m combined jog and reorientation up a fairly steep hill into transition was a bit tough and made sure I wasn’t completely fresh getting on the bike. The only problem of note I encountered all day happened coming out of the first transition. My leg knocked a pedal while pushing the bike and the chain came off. No panic ensued, just a calm stop at the mount line, a reapplication of the chain, then off I went, knowing the bike leg was my strongest and the place I needed to push to make up lost time.
The bike course was exhilarating. Quite undulating with no rise large enough to really take it out of you, and a few points to negate the marshals’ orders and speed up down the hills and sweeping bends rather than the demanded slow down.
The 3 laps ended pretty quickly without incident but with quite a few shouts of ‘on your right!’ as oxygen-starved competitors weaved and wavered across the paths. I managed to get a Manx Missile style sprint past the crowds which generated enough of a cheer to please me.
Back into transition and an easy swap of shoes only showed slight onset of hamstring cramp just at the right time to stretch them out on the run.
5.5km came and went very quickly around another beautiful route. I slowed a bit too much at the end to swallow some of the atmosphere and bask in the occasion but it was worth it. The first triathlon completed with no issues. I could get used to this.