Written by Lee Dale
In 2013 I watched my friends complete the Hever Castle triathlon and this inspired me so I set myself a goal to enter a triathlon in 2014. The Hever Castle Sprint Plus was my first attempt and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere at Hever and felt the Castle Triathlon Series events were well organised and welcoming. When I realised this year I wouldnâ€™t be able to compete at Hever Castle, I decided that Iâ€™d try another of the Castle Triathlon Series events and a work colleague had recommended Chantillyâ€¦
I was told it was a beautiful place and most importantlyâ€¦it was a flat course. Iâ€™m not the biggest fan of hills if Iâ€™m completely honest so I planned to make this my first Olympic Distance triathlon and as it was held over the August Bank Holiday I thought I could make a nice long weekend â€˜breakâ€™. I used my best influencing skills to rope in a friendâ€¦ It went something along the lines ofâ€¦â€™How do you fancy a little road trip to France, to the horse riding capital, French food, gorgeous wine, nice spa hotelâ€¦ oh and a little triathlon on the Sundayâ€¦ itâ€™s flat, I promiseâ€™.
My friend, Sue, willingly agreed (kind of)â€¦. I knew I was going to be in trouble if it wasnâ€™t as flat as Iâ€™d promised and I prayed the guy whoâ€™d given me this information hadnâ€™t been brought up in the Alps and thus had a very different definition of the word â€˜flatâ€™.
When we arrived in Chantilly we were overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the ChÃ¢teau. Driving on the cobbled road past the ChÃ¢teau entrance and alongside the Racecourse and the Great Stables, it was just awe-inspiring.
Our event was not until the Sunday but we ventured down to the ChÃ¢teau on the Saturday morning to familiarise ourselves with the transition area and most importantly from my perspective, the swim. After a spot of sunbathing whilst watching a few of the Sprint Distance swim starts and figuring out which buoys weâ€™d be heading for on Sunday we felt relatively confident that we knew where we were going so decided to begin our pre-race fuellingâ€¦.. of gaufres and crepes!
Whilst the event isnâ€™t as large as Hever, the atmosphere around the grounds was great. The weather across the weekend was fantastic but we knew we were in for a challenge the next day with 35Â° and bright sunshine forecast so the challenge was to stay well hydrated on Saturdayâ€¦no beer or wine allowed!
We were scheduled in Wave 3 at 9:20 on Sunday and, keen to get set-up and organised without being rushed, we arrived at the ChÃ¢teau for registration around 7:15am with the mist and dew still covering much of the grounds. There were some friendly faces greeting us at Registration where we were swiftly given our race packs, timing chips and free Speedo towel. In transition we set ourselves up near to the bike and run exits. I heard the voice of my work colleague a few rows over, introduced him to Sue and quickly pointed the finger of responsibility at him for the recommendation! We headed down to the Swim start early and watched Wave 2 head out and I could feel my nerves and adrenalin building in anticipation of the swim. This coupled with the intensifying heat and already being zipped into my wetsuit made for a rather warm and sweaty race briefing. We were greeted by the familiar voice of Brian Adcock, who delivered the race briefing in French and English and we were reminded to cycle on the rightâ€¦hmm I had forgotten about that added element of the cycle! We were then introduced to Patrice from the FFT who explained that penalties would be handed out for any infringements of the rules and the penalty would be paid by running an extra 300m loop near to the transition area. Dressed in black and white stripes, akin to an American Football referee, and ready to brandish yellow and red cards at any moment I was keen to steer clear of these French officials. Briefing complete, we jumped from the bank into The Grand Canal in the Gardens in front of the ChÃ¢teau and waited on the start line.
Our swim was T-shapedâ€¦.we would swim straight out for approximately 300-400m, through a 2 buoy gate before then turning right. The claxon sounded and it was the usually flurry and brutality of a mass open water start â€“ arms and legs everywhere and everyone vying for position. Iâ€™d lined myself up with the gate and tried to keep left out of the way so I could find my rhythm and stay out of the melee for as long as possible. In the most part this worked and when I reached the gate and turned right I began to settle into my swimming. The 180Â° turn at the end buoy was frantic as the field was still quite bunched together at this point and I managed to get a punch in the face and a trailing leg in my gut from what I could only fathom was the tallest man in the world.
I found some space on the long stint down to the far buoy at the other end of The Grand Canal and settled back into my rhythm. I could hear lots of whistles being blown and, paranoid that there was a black and white striped referee stalking me armed with a yellow card, I kept sighting to make sure I hadnâ€™t strayed off course (this would not be uncommon for me!). The 180Â° turn back towards home wasnâ€™t as eventful and I was pleased to be heading back to the comfort of dry land. It was relatively easy to stay on track on the swim for home as we were close to the waterâ€™s edge and it was great to hear the support from those lining the banks of the Grand Canal. I was gratefully helped out of the water by the outstretched hand of a member of the Speedo team and was quickly out and running, dodging a rather unhappy looking swan and climbing the steps, and more steps, and some more steps to the Terrasse des ConnÃ©tables â€¦home to the Transition area. I quickly found my bike, thanks to my discreet Minion towel, and was out of T1 on 2 wheels. The route in and out of the estate and transition was a dirt path/track so was not great with a road bike and I quickly realised that speed here was not a great idea. After leaving the estate through a set of gates we were on the tarmac and yesâ€¦I went straight onto the left-hand sideâ€¦ goldfish memory! Luckily I quickly engaged my brain and moved onto the correct and right side of the road before I was greeted by a car heading straight for me.
Although the quality of the roads in places was not the greatest, the cycle route around the ForÃªt de Chantilly was beautiful and Iâ€™m pleased to sayâ€¦it was flatâ€¦I knew Sue wasnâ€™t going to kill me! There was great support around the route from passers-by with cries of â€˜Allez!â€™ and â€˜Bravo!â€™ being shouted. With the heat beginning to build I was consciously forcing myself to take on fluid and began counting down the kilometres back to transition. Shortly after the 35km marker I was surprised to see a road signâ€¦ â€˜Chantilly, 10â€™â€¦I was sure the cycle route was 40km. Whilst it was only an additional 5km I think this affected me mentally and I found the last part really tough and struggled to push for home. Back into T2, I just wanted to get my runners on and get to that finish line. I started running and thankfully the initial part of the run was shaded under the trees. My legs felt heavy and tired but I kept telling myself that I would settle into my running after 1-2km and pick up pace. That didnâ€™t happen!
It was so hot and there were so many people struggling with the heat and walking, by this stage there was a mix of Olympic and Gauntlet competitors. Ordinarily I wouldnâ€™t bother stopping at water stations but I just needed to cool down and kept tipping water over my head. I was struggling to increase my pace, I knew I wasnâ€™t going to reach my target time at this stage so shifted my mind-set to â€“ â€˜letâ€™s just get this done!â€™
At around 4km the run moved onto the outskirts of the Chantilly Racecourseâ€¦ there was no shade and I could see how far I had to run and the little dots of other competitors on the far side of the Course â€“ it felt like miles (it probably was). At this point I ran past our car and just wanted to get in it and go home. I was encouraged to keep going by an older French guy doing the Gauntlet â€“ hats off to him! How could I even contemplate stoppingâ€¦ I was only doing 10kmâ€¦ he had another lap after thisâ€¦ stop whining Lee! I kept going and picked up the pace (a little) when I turned at the end of the racecourse, heading back in the direction of the ChÃ¢teau and the finish line.
All around the run course we were encouraged by tourists and supporters and I even heard someone shout â€˜Go on Haveringâ€™â€¦ I have no idea who the guy was â€“ but thank you! When I got back into the English Garden and was running alongside The Grand Canal I knew I was nearly home, the crowds began to increase, the cheers and then I could see the finish line in front of the ChÃ¢teauâ€¦ I found my pace at that stage and was directed to the right when the course split. I was over the line and doneâ€¦ and no penalties! I knew Sue would be cursing and struggling with the heat too so I grabbed some water for her and started trotting back along the run route to find her. When I saw Sue we grabbed hands and I ran with her and assured her she was nearly done. I think if sheâ€™d had the energy she wouldâ€™ve punched me. When we got within sight of the finish line a dreaded official in black and white stripes started shouting at me in Frenchâ€¦when I looked at him blankly, he translated and told me â€˜donâ€™t run with her!â€™ Not wanting Sue to be penalised or DQâ€™d, I knew I would most certainly get a punch then; I ran around in the opposite direction and met her at the Finish line. Weâ€™d done it! Now time for the Champagne!
I finished in a time of 3:14, a long way off what Iâ€™d aimed for but I learnt a lot that day and Iâ€™ll be back again to smash that time. Chantilly is such a beautiful place, the course is great and well-organisedâ€¦ I might even contemplate the Gauntlet.
To find out more about the ChÃ¢teau De Chantilly triathlon and the other races in the Castle Triathlon Series, visit: www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk