Castle Cholmondeley Triathlon – June 2015

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Push Nutrition

Photos by Laura Kimberley, Dave Sherman and www.peachysnaps.com 

Part 1, by Dave Sherman

In July 2014 I completed my first Triathlon – a Super-Sprint event at Castle Howard in York consisting of a 400m open-water swim, 22km cycle and 4km run. I’d entered it as a new challenge with very little Triathlon specific training – something different from the runs and cycles I’d taken on so far – and even though I’d found it incredibly tough – finishing in 1h32m54s – the event organisation had been brilliant and the venue stunning. This time I’d be heading to Cheshire to bump up the distance by taking on the Sprint Plus – an 800m open-water swim, 44km cycle and 8km run… it was time for the Castle Series Castle Cholmondeley Sprint Plus!

Now whether you’re taking part in a marathon, obstacle race or triathlon you’ll always have your event staples such as; race village, portable toilets, on-site catering, registration set-up, volunteers etc… and it’s amazing how some companies are absolutely brilliant with bringing these elements together and how some really can epically fail. Thankfully with the Castle Series it’s clear they’re well practiced in managing the tough logistics involved and especially so with the added challenge of hosting a multi-discipline event, then putting on a variety of distances (ranging from Starter-sprint right up to Half Ironman) and then just to top it off, including a whole host of kids races on top of that! Leading up to the event the pre-race event info was brilliant with regular updates on the lake water temperature (so we’d know whether wetsuits were likely to be optional) and although I received a number of emails leading up to event day, they were actually useful and offered great pre-race advice rather than the usual event spam.

We’d decided to camp the night before the event and after a long drive we arrived at the campsite situated within the Castle grounds and right next to the lake we’d be swimming in the following morning. As there weren’t any staff around to guide us into a particular place we pitched in a spot we liked the look of, and as we were hammering our pegs in a man in a Castle Series T-shirt (Ian) came to check we were registered and impressively he didn’t even flinch when I threw a barrage of questions at him (what time does the race village open, are there plenty of loos) etc… The campsite had a huge kid’s play area next to it so my daughter went to play with some of the other kids in there while we finished pitching our tents, and once our tents were up Vijay and I took a wander into the adjacent event village to check out the site. It was eerie just how empty and quiet the whole area was with hardly any people around considering how busy it would be the following day, and the main focal point was definitely Castle Cholmondeley (pronounced ‘CHUM-lee’ – crazy northerners!) which stood forebodingly on top of a hill overlooking the event village, an early warning of how hilly this course was going to be! A few guys were in the lake for a final bit of open-water practice, but as tempting as it was to jump in the lake for a twilight swim, we headed back to the campsite to relax in preparation for the following day…

SONY DSC

The following morning I woke up feeling like absolute hell! Despite great weather leading up to the event, it had flooded it down throughout the night and even though our tent had kept us nice and dry, as a light sleeper the rain had kept me awake most of the night so I’d had a rubbish night’s sleep and was starting to think camping had been a terrible idea! However the fact we were waking up next door to the event village more than made up for that and it was great being able to jump out of the tent, make use of their on-site portable showers and be there and ready for registration without the need for a long drive and the usual panic about traffic and roadworks making us late! Registration was incredibly simple – just show your text or registration email and pick up your race pack, coloured swim hat (to show which wave you’re in), high 5 trial pack and free Speedo towel and you’re ready to go – and as we passed into transition we were pointed in the direction of our designated aisle and told to set up at the next available space. After racking our bikes, arranging our transition area and pulling on our wetsuits we headed down towards the lake…

It seems strange to say this considering how much I’ve struggled with swimming over the past year, but open-water swimming is finally starting to grow on me and as I walked along a floating pontoon towards where we’d jump into the lake for the swim start, part of me was looking forward to just getting on with it! This is partly due to my training as in the weeks leading up to the event I’d been making use of swim sessions in a local adventure centre’s lake to practice wetsuit swimming, sighting and breathing in open water, but also because I’ve discovered that the buoyancy offered by a wetsuit really does make open-water swimming so much easier! Admittedly once in the water the excitement quickly faded as the water was dark and murky and I’m still not a fan of the initial open water churn as the race starts so once the starting horn blew it took me a couple of hundred metres before I settled into any kind of rhythm, but once we’d got going and I’d settled into a flow the distance flew by, and it wasn’t long until I was out of the water (thankfully with a hand from a couple of Marshalls as my legs had gone like jelly!) and wobbling towards the transition area to collect my bike…

Dave - Wetsuit

One thing I’ve often seen commented online about the Castle Series’ cycle routes are that they’re NEVER flat and easy, and as we headed out of the castle grounds into the surrounding country lanes it wasn’t long before we encountered the first of quite a few climbs… Admittedly none of the climbs were too extreme so I was rarely out of my saddle apart from the odd occasion when I chose to stretch my legs or push myself to increase my pace ready for a climb (although I later learnt over the entire 44km we’d covered 1,339ft of elevation!) and thankfully the lanes were generally in great condition and offered a few good chances to really dig in and get some speed up – especially on the downhills where I clocked a max speed of 35mph on one particular descent! The number of different distances had confused me a bit when the pre-race maps had been sent out, but thankfully the routes were well sign-posted with marshalls standing at crucial points to direct riders, and after two 22km laps I headed back towards the transition area for the final section – an 8km run through the castle grounds.

Dave - Bike

The previous evening as I’d looked at the hill-top castle I’d worried how much climbing would be involved in the run, but thankfully, as with the cycle, once we got going there were only a few slight inclines and it turned out to be a great run! The route consisted of a 4km loop which we’d tackle twice for the Sprint Plus (Super Sprint triathletes would complete one loop while other distances either completed more or were re-directed at a split point along the route) and it travelled from the event village out into the woods and castle ground, then behind the castle and finally downhill in front of the castle to the event village again. The course also ran alongside a few farmers’ fields, some filled with sheep but one containing a couple of horses who took great joy in running alongside the triathletes as we passed, and a water stop located halfway round the course offered water or pre-mixed High 5 energy drink. At the end of the 4km loop the final downhill led to one very stressed marshal was directing participants which direction to go by shouting “Left for another loop! Right for the finish!” – a few signs pointing people in the right direction here would’ve been a great help and my partner who was watching by the finish line spotted a few people run in the wrong direction before realising their mistake and having to double back. After completing my second loop I headed onto the finishing straight and through the finish line – Castle Cholmondeley Sprint Plus Triathlon DONE!

After crossing the line I was handed a race medal and a bottle of Vita Coco coconut water, and helped myself to some snacks and a drink from a huge table had been set up with every kind of post-race snack you could ask for including cakes, fruit, chocolate and plenty of cups of full-fat coke (essential for after an open water swim apparently as it kills any lake bacteria you may have drunk!?). As I passed out of the finish area a marshall removed the timing band from my ankle and I made my way to where a computer had been set up allowing competitors to view their results broken down into splits. I found out I’d finished in 2h30m54s broken down as a 20m16s swim, 1h28m49s cycle and 36m52s run and on checking the Castle Series website that day I learnt my swim had taken slightly longer than the field average (as expected) but my cycle and run had both been above average and although I’d finished almost 36 minutes behind course winner Lewis Ecclestone’s time of 1h55m11s, I’d finished 29th out of 95 competitors overall which I was happy enough with considering it was my first time completing this distance!

Not long after I’d finished my Sprint Plus event, the female winner of the Gauntlet (the Half Iron distance race) Lucy Gossage crossed the line in an amazing 4h31m. Lucy’s an honorary member of my triathlon club and a multiple Ironman winner and we were fortunate enough to interview her recently (click here to read our interview: http://trekandrun.com/features/an%20interview%20with%20lucy%20gossage.html) and the fact an elite endurance athlete at Lucy’s level takes part in smaller scale events such as this one shows just how great these events are.

I have to admit that every now and then I think to myself ‘maybe Triathlon isn’t for me…’ I love running and always will, but I’ll have a really rough swim or a bike session where my legs feel like lead part way through and the struggle makes me question whether I’m expecting too much of myself and should I stick to just one discipline at the time? However events like this remind me why I love the sport and why I’m going to keep challenging myself and pushing up the distance to see what I can achieve. Later this year Team Trek and Run will be taking part in the Castle Series’ Château De Chantilly and Hever Castle Sprint Plus events but I have to admit I’m already contemplating taking on one of Castle Series’ Gauntlet events in 2016…

SONY DSC

Part 2, by Vijay Algoo

First things first – a tri suit is the least complimentary piece of clothing I have ever and will ever wear! I can only apologies for everybody that saw me on the day and for any pictures you may see of me from the event. As you may realise a tri suit doesn’t leave much to the imagination and I have been told that only the most slender of people can look presentable in one. If, like me you have curves (or more fittingly “rolls”) in all the wrong places it will not be all that flattering. The only good thing about it is it may push me into trying to lose weight if I ever wear one again!

Well, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the Cholmondeley Castle Triathlon. This was my first triathlon, I had signed up to one a year ago but the swim was in the sea and was cut due to poor weather so it became a duathlon. Since then I have been trying to get onto a triathlon and this was my first opportunity to do so. I think one of the main things that stand out about the Castle Series events are their location and Cholmondeley did not disappoint. The first thing I noticed once I arrived and looked around was how stunning this venue is. The picturesque lake, the event village and transition area in front of the Manor House, the whole thing looked spectacular. When we arrived we set up camp close to the lake, we could see all the floats and bouys in lake and surmised what distance the markers were for and how far we would be swimming. Seemed to be a straight out and back swim from what we could see (which it was). This, however, was the only part of the route I would know before I set off for my first triathlon so I had no real idea what to expect for most of the route. Closer to the time of my wave I started to get myself together, sorting out everything I would need to put into the transition area and making sure I had not forgotten anything, especially anything mandatory. I have heard triathlons are pretty strict with several things you need to have at different points of the race and not having the correct gear can end in disqualification. It was this that was the only thing I was nervous about. At the time fear of disqualification was my only worry, which was probably because it stole my focus from the triathlon itself. Once I had left my transition bag, bike and helmet into the transition I went back to get into my tri suit (again, I apologise) and then into my wetsuit. After I was in my swim gear and feeling like I was wrapped head to toe in a man-sized condom I headed over to the start area in front of the lake. I had missed some of the briefing, mainly about the route, although the part I did hear failed to sink in. It was however a very detailed briefing and any questions we had were answered at the end of the briefing to clarify or recap any bits we needed. After that we were into the lake. As well as being my first triathlon this was my first “competitive” open water swim and my first time swimming in a wetsuit, so I just followed what everyone else was doing and tried getting myself psyched up for the race.

SONY DSC

Everyone from my wave spread out across the start line. The lake was very shallow at the start line which may be normal but I have no point of reference to judge. The air horn sounded and we all got going, at first there was the expected mess of people all trying to space out until the group split into the differing speeds but this was all done rather quickly. I tried to spot a few people at roughly my speed and attempted to use them to pace me. This didn’t go as planned as I really struggled to get into a rhythm with my swimming and found it a more difficult swim than I had thought it would be. I don’t know if this was because I was swimming in open water, if it was because I swimming in a wetsuit for the first time, not as good a swimmer as I thought I was or because I was wading through gallons of goose poo??

Vijay - Wetsuit

Whatever the reason I changed swimming styles a couple times but managed to get to the end of the swim with no major issues. After the event I spoke to a couple people about the swim and they also said they found the swim more difficult than they thought too, whether this was true or just to make me feel better I can’t be sure. Once being helped out of the water by the event support staff I made my way over to the transition area to get ready for the cycle. Getting out of the wetsuit was probably more of a challenge than the swim and I’m sure people would have been amused to see me rolling around on the floor trying free myself from my latex cocoon as quickly as I could, as not to waste time. Once free of my wetsuit was a quick towel down on with trainers and helmet and off for the cycle. This, I knew, would be my most challenging part of the race. I do not cycle often and again have never done this for a race. I set off okay, straight onto the open roads around the castle grounds. The roads seemed to be well sign posted for the route and all splits on the route for different distances had a helper stationed to give direction. Not long into the ride I realised I hadn’t taken my bag in which was my tyre pump, bike tools, puncture repair kit and everything I was supposed to bring on the ride in case anything went wrong. I knew I couldn’t go back at this point so I was trying to be mindful of any hazards or pot holes on the roads. These cautious thoughts rapidly left my mind once I hit the first thing even resembling a hill! This I was not ready for and found really difficult. Nearer the beginning of the cycle I was counting down each distance marker and the end seemed a lifetime away. Fortunately after a while I seemed to get into the rhythm of the cycle and from around half way I just zoned out and went for it. This made it go much quicker and before I knew it I had just 1km left and was back in the castle grounds which gave me quite a boost. So I sped round the paths and into transition happy my weakest discipline was done. This time in transition was much quicker. No wrestling with swimwear or rummaging through bags. Just straight in, dropped off the bike and helmet and off for the run. For the beginning of the run my legs felt like jelly from the preceding swim and cycle which took a bit of getting used to. We set off around the grounds for the run and although I was getting the hang of running with “jelly legs” any time I tried speeding up my legs just wouldn’t agree to my request. Near the beginning of the run we ran by a chapel, the thought had crossed my mind to go in and request my last rights, fortunately I didn’t and although being stuck at a slower than desired pace I got into a rhythm shortly after this.

Once I had my rhythm I could really enjoy the run, which was great. It was pretty flat going with great sights on the way round, including being raced by a pair of galloping horses in a neighbouring field and running passed a field full of resting (but still mean looking) bulls. At this point I was able to speed up briefly as I glimpsed a man running in a red tri suit behind me and I didn’t want to get caught up in an impromptu bullfight or a Pamplona themed chase. It didn’t seem long until I was near the end of the run as I came running up to the castle of which the event was based which again looked amazing and then it was a couple hundred metres sprint downhill to the finish where the crowd was gathered and then the relieving beep of the ankle tag across the finish line confirming I had completed it. The medal was given, pictures were taken and then I tucked into the table of complimentary snacks in the finishing area. All in all it was really fun, yet still very challenging event, set in a spectacular location and great way to pop my triathlon cherry. I would recommend it to you all and if this is representative of the whole castle series it seems they have a number of great locations of which to have a great race.

SONY DSC

Part 3, by Angela Thomson

The relief of having the finish line in my sights was one of a gratifying feeling. I relaxed into my run for the first time, until I see my last opportunity to satisfy my competitive nature. There in my grasp was a male competitor that I was sure I could pip at the post, one last surge of energy, I passed him and fell through the finish line. Grinning away to myself I silently questioned why I had the need for one last challenge, as the probabilities of him actually competing in my wave was slim. My reflection on the event and my journey through it started there.

Never having competed in a triathlon before this was the unknown. Although I had asked questions and spectated at a previous event, taking part for the first time was daunting. I had booked a camping pitch for the night and arrived at the venue to an unusually unmanned campsite. Atmosphere was family orientated and welcoming. The swimming lake was just behind the campsite and the heart of the event was a reassuring stone’s throw away. The logistics of campsite to venue were impressive.

Tent up and relatively organised, I made my way out of the campsite to find some food. With the excitement of the journey truly spent I focused my thoughts onto the next day ahead. It wasn’t long before the realisation of the challenge hit me when I had to drop my car into 2nd gear to climb the hill and there ahead was the bike route markers. Suddenly I felt out of my depth as, due to recent circumstances I had not trained or even researched Cholmondeley Castle area or event. The one and only triathlon I had spectated was all flat around London and I stupidly drew a correlation between that event and the one I’d choose to compete in. The name Cholmondeley Castle should have given me a clue, who builds a castle on flat ground!

Oh well, I was here and although there was insufficient training, I knew that I could mentally make my body do this. After a night of rain hitting the tent, sleep was broken but I felt nervously good. First wave went off at 8am and although it felt cold I could hear the water temperature being broadcast over the speaker system at a pleasantly surprising 19 degrees. I watched the first wave set off for their half ironman distance “The Gauntlet”. I noticed some swimmers already swapping to breast stroke only 100 or so meters in. Only having swam 2 open water sessions (one of which was a complete disaster) I didn’t think too much about it, these guys must be experienced competitor’s to even think about this distance. I happily walked away blissfully ignorant to reality of what I was about to put my body through.

Registration was well signposted and a smooth procedure. I had my number, chip, free towel and some promotional energy packs. A fellow member of our Tri Club was on hand to explain the procedure and tell me what I needed to take over with me. Equipped with my bike shoes, trainers, race number on belt, helmet and a few gels we headed over. Racking our bikes we realised how late we were, 10 mins left to put our wetsuits on and get over to the lake. There was our warm up, running back trying to avoid the previous wave running us down as they whizzed past on their bikes. We quickly put our suits on and ran to the swim start. We missed the briefing but I asked the man next to me and he explained where to head for. We stepped into the lake which had the strangest bed, I can only explain it as half a meter of wood chips or bark like material. No one else seemed as befuddled as I did, so I decided not to let my inexperience show and dipped myself under the water to climatise myself (something I had just been told 5 mins previously) and off we went.

Swimming is not my strongest attribute and open water fails me further, but I started well. Breathing was ok and I had a good momentum going. I could see where I was going and all was fine until a fellow competitor hit my head as he was swimming, I managed to get back into the swing of things and he hit me again. I had to move away from him and searched for an opening at which point I completely lost it. Breathing was not controlled, which threw everything out, and there I was, breast stroke. I was alternating with front crawl and breast stroke until we turned in the opposite direction heading back. I heard a female voice saying “we have got to do it all again now” I took comfort in her words as I was just as fearful of completing the 2nd half. I wasn’t alone with my struggle back. As the competent front crawlers over took me, me and my fellow breaststrokers battled on. Getting back in seemed a lot harder than swimming out and at one point I was backstroking in an attempt to get some oxygen in. It seemed to take ages getting to the finish and as I saw the two marshalls offer a hand to pull me out I gratefully accepted and held out both hands. I needed the help.

Transition was easy, just follow the one in front, I wasn’t running as I was still in shock at how awful my swim was. I told myself the swim was behind me now focus on familiar territory, the bike. I managed a jog and started taking off my wetsuit. I found my bike , wetsuit off, shoes on, gel in hand and off I went, as I was clipping in my shoes I realised I had forgotten my race no, not sure how strict these events are, I decided to take a chance and ride without it. In no time we were out on the open road and I felt great. As I overtook my first man I realised this is where I could make up for my appalling swim and decided to count how many I overtook. It’s not a reliable figure as there were different races and courses that were all integrated but I had an idea of who was in my wave and who wasn’t due to different coloured race numbers. I’d lost count 20mins into the ride as I’d counted as many people as minutes, and was satisfied that I had enough distance to somehow pull myself back. The course split pretty early into the ride and I had to ask what direction I should be cycling, as the marshal wasn’t sure, she pointed me to the left and I asked the man behind me if he was doing the sprint plus (as I was); he confirmed we were on route so I knuckled down and off I went. The wind could have been easier but I kept positive knowing that the wind will be behind me as much as it is in front of me. We reached our first substantial climb. I got my gears ready, looked to rider next to me and said “it’s a big one” I was prepared, hills are my strength and up I went. Thoroughly enjoying the first lap and on entering the 2nd I felt like a pro, I knew the course, knew the hills and still felt amazingly strong and positive. Whizzed round the 2nd lap faster than the first taking strength from confidence.

Angela - Bike

Before I knew it we were heading back into the stunning grounds where I actually had time to take in the scenery and appreciate the support on the way in. Energy levels were dipping so I knew I needed another gel. By this time I’m off my bike and back to the racking, I was looking for my shoes and belt number a third of the way in as before, but everything looked so different. There were more bikes and I just couldn’t find where mine should go. I was frantically walking up and down but I was so disorientated, minutes had passed and still I couldn’t find my stuff. I decided to walk down the other end and there it was!

We came in at different ends but I just had lost all of my coordination’s. Now feeling pretty low about losing so much time, put on my trainers and belt, grabbed a gel and headed out. My legs were so heavy I was unsure I could make the 8k. I made myself run, telling myself to deal with the run in 1k sections. I forced the gel down my neck and did what I could. I felt like an old carthorse just plodding. I am a confident runner and know what I am capable of but I’ve never ran after a hilly 44k bike ride, in fact I’ve never ran after a bike ride and on reflection, I did push the bike and I was feeling it! 1k passed, 2k passed and everyone else seemed to be going as slow as or slower than me so I took confidence in the pace being acceptable and focused on finishing. The first water station was in front of me, I took a cup but didn’t want to stop through fear of not starting again and could drink out of a cup and run at the same time. Bottles would have been much easier to cope with. Ahead was a 4k marker, I was surprised to see that as I could not remember seeing the 3k marker and believe me I was looking for it. The route split shortly after and there I sank as I see the 3k marker, I knew it was too good to be true. The gel was kicking in by now and although it still felt slow I was nearly half way around and the finish was close. Running through the 4k and the route split again, right to finish, left for another lap, left I went. By now I was truly exhausted, not really taking in much apart from the woman in front of me and the man to my left. I was going to stay with them as they looked as exhausted as me, my pace was slightly faster and as we were coming round to the drinks station for the 2nd time I knew I needed to stop. The lady and man overtook me as I drank, I finished, threw my cup and regained my position overtaking both the man and the woman. There it was the bogus 4k marker and shortly after there was the 3k marker, only 1 more kilometre to go, oh the relief. In no time we were on the grass and the spectators cheering on the finishers, I see a man in front of me and hearing the support gave me one last surge of energy and I sprinted past him through the finish line.

SONY DSC

I absorbed the atmosphere for a while, stretched, had some fluids and headed back to the tent, exhausted thinking to myself I’d bitten off more than I could chew there, choosing that distance, unexperienced with zero training, but I’d finished and was pleased. When we were back the tri club member asked if I wanted to get my times. I said I wasn’t really bothered but decided to take a walk over to watch the prize giving. As we were walking I heard a man call out an age category then my name “2nd place goes to Angela Thompson” I looked at the others bewildered and said ”that’s me, surly not, I did crap”, a man actually laughed out loud when he heard me. We hurried over and got a print out, and there it was 2nd in my age category and 10th female overall. In all fairness there were only 27 women that competed in my distance but I was more than happy to boast about my placing. I am a bit of a numbers person and like to know my average speed. I was wearing my watch for the bike so had an idea what speed I was riding, and on the flat I was averaging out at 21-22 mph – there were lots of hills and wind so my overall speed at 17mph was satisfactory. Now my run, I had no watch and guessed at 10 minute miles, it’s all I had there was no more to give so I was ok with it, to my astonishment I ran a 7.50 min mile that felt every bit a 10/11. The human body never fails to amaze me and I think that from this event I’ve learnt there is a much stronger link with the brain and performance than we give credit for. Would I have pushed it harder on the bike if I didn’t have the watch to satisfy my speed? I was talking to people on the bike route whereas on the run I was too exhausted to waste oxygen on small talk. Its food for thought!

To discover more, please see http://www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk/the-series/cholmondeley-castle/

SONY DSC

Comments are closed.