The Castle Howard triathlon was already in full flow when we turned up on Saturday to register. The best bit about coming up to the course the day before was being able to watch Bailey Matthews finishing his race. Bailey is a 9 year old boy who has cerebral palsy, who despite this, competes in triathlons. He’s won a Pride of Britain award as well as an award at Sports Personality of the Year in 2015. Watching Bailey cross the finishing line was pretty emotional, with plenty of adults having a tear in their eye. He is such an inspirational boy.
We had arrived quite a long time before I was able to register. Thankfully though, the sun was shining and it gave me a chance to catch up with the lovely True Start and Threo guys. The atmosphere was like a festival as all the junior races were finishing. I realised there was a massive run up a hill from the lake to the transition area when I saw little kids heads bobbing up just above the railings. Having looked at the start list I knew some big names had entered (including one of the people who had beaten me at Cholmondeley Castle) although I am still learning who is who.
Race morning. This was the first race I have turned up to this year in a t-shirt and no tracksuit. The weather conditions were almost perfect, really mild, dry and hardly any wind. I set up my stuff in the transition area and headed down the big hill to the lakeside. The water temperature was 24 degrees, making wetsuits optional. The event organiser strongly recommended a non-wetsuit swim but I think only one person out of the 100+ athletes took his advice! All males and females started together, which made for a particularly brutal start. I exited the swim and started the long 400m run up the hill. I figured if the 7 and 8 year old kids from yesterday could do this run, so could I!
Starting on the bike, I had no idea what position I was in but had a feeling I was quite a way back so picked up pace as soon as possible. I quickly caught a couple of females which was promising, including Suzie Richards. I have never met Suzie before but have heard a lot about her, mainly that she is incredible at tough hilly courses and is the Slateman champion. I didn’t really expect to be passing someone of her calibre at this point, but my joy was only short lived as I realised I had gone past her on one of the few flat parts of the course. As soon as we hit the next hill she went past me again. As it turns out this bike course was much more undulating than I had anticipated, with no massive climbs but very few flat sections. I managed to get ahead of Suzie again just before we got to transition, with my legs burning.
Starting the run I was told I was in third place, which surprised me slightly. I knew Suzie was right behind me and was determined for her not to get ahead. Having never done this run course before I hadn’t anticipated quite how brutal it was. It was all off road, with barely any gravel and mainly farmers tracks and mud. I had to really concentrate to make sure I didn’t twist my ankle. This uneven surface combined with constant hills and down hills meant it was really tough to get a quick time. I really felt for the gauntlet competitors who would have to do it all twice! To my astonishment I ran past another lady into 2nd place about 3km in. This gave me a brief boost, but I still didn’t know how far behind Suzie was or far ahead the leader was.
The route was only one lap, with constant twists and turns, and trees in the way so I couldn’t tell who was behind me or how far. At about 4km in I felt a blister developing, but I tried to put that to the back of my mind, I had a race to finish. Just after the 6km mark one of the marshals said the 1st lady was just 200m in front of me. Errrm, what?! That wasn’t something I was expecting to hear. My thought process at this point was that I still had 4.5km to try and catch her now. Not long after, I caught and passed Hannah Drewett who had beaten me at the previous Castle race.
Despite all the relative success I’ve had since starting triathlons, knowing I was winning a race filled with high calibre athletes was a new experience for me. I just had to put this thought to the back of my mind though and concentrate on winning the race. I didn’t know how far Hannah or Suzie were behind me, and didn’t know if they were going to catch me on the finishing line. Then all of a sudden the finishing line appeared and I could hear the commentator over the tannoy saying “and we have the 1st lady!”. On reflection I could probably have slowed down and enjoyed the moment crossing the line a bit more rather than ploughing down the poor kids who were trying to sponge me down with water. But I just didn’t want to get beaten on the last section.
I had just won my first elite Castle Triathlon race. Me! I think the commentator and my family were just as surprised as me as the commentator pronounced my name wrong and my boyfriend barely had his camera ready to take a photo of me finishing! Waiting for me in the finishing enclosure, with a big hug, was Helena, the co-founder of TrueStart Coffee. It’s great to have such a personal relationship with people like Helena, rather than just a business one.
After the kids sponged me down, I again headed to the Threo stall for an ice bath. I also got to celebrate with Felix and Laura. These events are so much fun, and being able to meet other True Start and Threo Ambassadors just made it more special.
I also have to say a massive thank you to my coach, Mitch and physio, Ed Kirby. Without their combined help help there is no way my body could have endured such a tough race.
There’s only way to finish this monster blog, and it’s to say I am now a proud owner of a Castle Triathlon winners trophy!