Distance: 2km swim, 80km cycle & 20km run
When the big day finally rolled around I was feeling pretty okay about the whole thing. I ate my well planned and balanced breakfast, put my bike together, picked up my race pack and found a good spot in the transition zone, which was already occupied by an alarming number of elite looking rides and their riders. It was only when I pulled on the last sleeve of my wetsuit that I suddenly felt that I might need to loose my breakfast and had to whip it off again to rush to the porta-loos.
My bike numbered and ready
The Sussex Triathlon Festival, which thankfully is far more low-key and relaxed than the name suggests, took place in the grounds of the little known Ashburnham Place. Home to the Ashburnham family for over 800 years until 1953, when it fell into the hands of a clergyman who donated it to the Ashburnham Christian Trust. It’s now a secluded religious retreat, surrounded by 220 acres of lush, SSSI designated parkland.
The main house is a squat brick building guarded by a pack of stone greyhounds. From the front it’s pretty modest as far as english manors go, but at the back it’s had many, many extensions some better than others which has made it a bit of a sprawling mess, but it certainly has character.
There were three different triathlons held on the day, a sprint, a standard and a middle also known as a half ironman which makes it sound a whole lot more impressive. I attempted the latter.
Having borrowed a pop-up tent, my one-man support team and I arrived the evening before race day, mainly as an excuse to wander around the usually closed grounds but also to have a long hard look at my biggest fear, the lake. Which looked undeniably beautiful in the evening light, vegetation cascading down its banks and water lillies dancing across its surface.
Pop-up tent: 5 seconds to pop-up, an hour to pop-down
Pre-race M&S dinner
To my surprise it looked equally serene the next morning, inviting almost…
Despite my increasing nervousness the atmosphere at the start was great, the briefing was casual but succinct and before I had time to think about it I was in water and even chatting. It wasn’t until I noticed the commotion up ahead that I realised we’d actually started.
Then the adrenaline kicked in and I swam and swam, for what felt like forever. Swimming for me is scary, I’m relatively new to ‘real’ swimming and still haven’t quite got my head around the motions much less the breathing. Never the less, this swim felt fabulous, possibly helped by the picturesque setting.
The lake T1, in a bit of a muddle
Finally out of the water the first transition went well, I freed myself of my wetsuit with reasonable grace, ate half a banana, stuffed my jersey with bars (the raw fruit and nut kind) and clattered my way to the you-may-mount-your bike-here-but-not-before line.
T1, the art of getting out of a wetsuit
The familiar leg shock was increased ten-fold by the manor’s driveway which is one hell of a hill leading out onto the main road. Hills were defiantly the theme of this ride, for the next 3 hours or so I was either going up them or down them, mostly up them. However, all four laps of the ride were beautiful, hills and all. It took us on a wooded and winding course east then north up and around the estate before finally reaching the top and turning south downhill, back past the entrance. The views at the top were breath taking, rolling down over fields and hedges until finally reaching the sparkling blue sea. Each loop was different as other riders joined and departed until finally on the last loop I was all alone… apart from the nice people in orange vests.
As the entrance to the driveway appeared for the last time I gratefully turned into it, flew down the glorious hill and ran stiff and straight legged to my transition spot which I didn’t have too much trouble finding for once. The second transition is a piece of cake compared to the first, running on the other hand was more of a challenge.
T2, coming in for the run
The run was hard, my legs were tired, I was tired and I could have eaten more on the ride, but niggles aside I stumbled into the first loop of four on the 5km course. The run went though the grounds this time, looping around two large lakes in a figure of eight. It was something in-between trail running and cross-country, which is my favourite kind of running, and although lots of people had run the route before me it felt untrodden, quiet and rather serene. Water stops were every 2.5km which were much appreciated as it was hot. Other than that I don’t remember much, I’m not sure if I was in the zone or just incapable of thinking about anything but the matter in hand. Either way I remember seeing my support team asleep under a tree and the glorious taste of sugary sweet lukewarm coke, I remember chatting to a nice chap about something interesting and I remember the finish, which was on a hill.
Then with a high five and a whoop I sat down and felt sick for a while.
All in all it was a great, the spot is beautiful, the organisers and fellow partakers lovely, there’s hills and woods and pristine open water and I got to have a rare sneak peek at Ashburnham Place and it’s grounds. Highly recommended, anyone want to join me next year?!
Celebratory chips on the beach!