Race Report: Leeds Castle Standard Distance Triathlon 2018 – by Jess

I’m going to begin this blogpost with a piece of really exciting news: I’ve qualified for the 2019 ITU Standard Distance Triathlon World Championships! This means next year I’m going to pull on a GB tri suit and represent GB as an age-grouper in Switzerland!

How? Well, the beauty of triathlon is that they let regular people like you and me compete on the world stage by splitting us into five-year age brackets over the different distances. To qualify to represent GB in your age group you have to be a member of British Triathlon and come within 115% of the winner of your age group’s time in a “qualifying race”. Each qualifying race has 4 qualifying spots, then there are roll-down places based on your finishing time. Leeds Castle Standard Triathlon was an ITU qualifying race. As I did pretty good compared to others in my age group and my time was within 115% of the winner of my age group’s time, I got selected to join the GB team!

It’s funny how things turned out, because I hadn’t planned to do the Leeds Castle Standard Triathlon last weekend. Being still relatively new to triathlon, I had originally planned to do the Leeds Castle “Sprint” Triathlon on the Saturday, but when I found out that the Taylor Swift concert was going to be the Friday before the Leeds Castle Sprint Triathlon, I knew I had to cancel either Taylor Swift or the Sprint Triathlon. Cancelling Taylor Swift wasn’t an option, but thankfully there was an option to switch to the Leeds Castle Standard Triathlon, which was on the Sunday. What I hadn’t fully appreciated was that the Leeds Castle Standard Triathlon also happened to be a qualifying race for the ITU world championships. It didn’t fully register with me because I never thought there was any chance I could qualify, but Clinton said that if I was doing it, I might as well register an intention to qualify, so I did! Best decision ever made.

On to the event…

Race day: 24 June 2018

Clinton and I woke up at 4.30am on race day and by 5.15am we were registered. Leeds Castle is a stunning historic moated castle in Kent. When we arrived at the transition area, there was mist rising above the moat that surrounded the castle and it was like a scene cut out from a movie.

I knew there would be a strong field of triathletes looking to qualify at the international level and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a teeny bit intimidated by them and their shiny bikes and disc wheels and their pro looking wetsuits! But I kept my head down and just reminded myself, this is my first standard distance – no expectations, no pressure, try to enjoy it!

Swim (1.5km)

The swim course was in the castle moat and follows a star shape passing beneath the arches of the castle building. Visibility was poor, and it was quite congested. I spent most of the swim having someone on top of my feet, or me being on top of someones feet. That meant getting into a rhythm was tricky.

The swim didn’t go as well as I had hoped, and the improvements I’d been making in the pool didn’t transfer fully across to open water. I went into the water at the back of the first female group but I couldn’t keep up with them and I came out of the water in the second group. I also managed to do an extra 150m in the moat, which wasn’t ideal, and I knew there was some work to do on the bike and the run.

T1 (swim to bike)

Transition was slightly better this time and I managed to improve my transition time from 10 mins down to about 3 mins. I had a slight wobble when I was trying to clip into my bike, and I ended up on a patch of grass on the side of the road, but luckily didn’t fall! My second attempt at clipping in was much smoother and before long I was riding out of the castle grounds onto the A20.

Bike (45km)

Leeds Castle Standard Tri 2018 by SussexSportPhotography.com 09:47:13

The bike was the least scenic part of the course and most of the bike route was on the A20. The ride itself was mentally challenging as it was my first time racing in cleats. Being a novice I had always opted for flat bike pedals but after doing the Barcelona Ironman 70.3 and realising that I was the only person not wearing cleats, I knew I had to step up for this race.

It wasn’t an easy decision to swap for cleats though. I knew that parts of the bike course would be closed due to roadworks and I’d be diverted down narrow country lanes full of pot holes. Naturally I questioned myself again and again over my decision to wear cleats. What if I need to stop on the bike and I don’t unclip my shoes in time? But it was also really exciting, it was going to be my first ever standard distance race and I knew that with cleats I could cycle so much faster.

Bike ride

On the ride itself I really struggled to drink. My cycling has been limited the last couple of weeks due to work issues and needing time to recover from Barcelona Ironman so I’d only practiced cycling on closed road circuits. The idea of having just one hand on the handle bars while going at 25-30km an hour out on the open road really terrified me. Thankfully I still managed to take a few sips from the bottle, but it wasn’t quite enough and thirst was definitely on my mind the entire ride!

Aside from the minor drinking issue, I was really happy with my performance on the bike. I did 27km/hour which was similar to the kind of time I would get in the velopark circuit. Given that this was out on the road and not in a safe “controlled” environment, I was really pleased with my performance. The only downside was that due to the roadworks and the diversions, the distance actually came to 45k not the standard 40k Olympic distance, so that added about an extra five minutes to my overall time.

T2 (bike to run)

T2 was decent. I wasn’t that quick and took about two and a half minutes, but still, an improvement to my previous triathlon!

Run (10km)

The run was pretty tough with plenty of steep hills, but to be honest I think that actually worked to my advantage as running is my strongest discipline. I fell into about 4.30/km pace on the run and just spent the whole race overtaking people.

10km Run

A couple of guys wearing GB suits overtook me, but that just gave me more fire and I ran hard to keep up with them. I saw Nienke along the way, which again pushed me to go harder as I knew she was already on her second lap! I tried to pass everyone I could see. As this was a world championship qualifier, every position made the difference. I didn’t think I would actually qualify, but I knew I’d kick myself if I’d missed the qualifying time by one or two minutes, so I dug deep and carried on running hard.

Leeds Castle Standard Tri 2018 by SussexSportPhotography.com 10:34:32

I had a very strong finish and crossed the finish line with something like 43 minutes for the 10k off the bike, which placed me 6th overall in my age group and secured me a place in the ITU World Championships in Switzerland 2019! I could not have asked for any more than that!

Post race

After the race, we met up with the other Tritons, Nienke, Lucy and Richard. At the award ceremony we found out that Richard had come 2nd in his age group! Clinton also managed to set a new PB with an incredible time of 2h36!

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To sum up, the Leeds Castle Standard Triathlon was an amazing experience and I’d recommend it to both experienced and beginner triathletes.

I still can’t quite believe I qualified for the world championships! I’m so inspired and amazed by the achievements of the Brownlee brothers and the idea of wearing a GB tri suit and competing for GB is like tapping into a dream. I thought I’d missed the boat by picking up the sport only a year ago, but triathlon has shown me that I am capable of more than I ever dreamed I could do. Thank you Tritons (and Clinton) for supporting me the past year! What a journey it’s been so far… and it’s just the beginning!

Jess

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Race Report: Leeds Castle Standard Distance Triathlon – by Clinton

What a beautiful venue! The view was honestly stunning as we walked down the drive to the main castle. We could see the sun was just rising and there was a low mist hanging over the moat surrounding the castle that would be the focal point of the race. The race village was sat right next to the moat and castle and we could see the large red inflatables dotted in the water.

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Leeds Castle Triathlon sat nearly a month after the Ironman 70.3 we did in Barcelona, and it was definitely a challenge to rest, refocus, train and then attempt to taper for this race. We both did the Olympic distance race, which was also an ITU qualifier, so we were expecting there to be a strong field of athletes.

This was Jess’ first race ever with clipless pedals and she was understandably nervous, especially when we realised the out-and-back cycle course would now include two diversions with the potential of having to stop for traffic multiple times.

Swim (1.5km): 0h24m @1.31/100m

The swim was a two lap course with multiple turn points throughout. Out to the castle, left to the far bank, behind the castle, through the archway (!), around another, to the far right bank, repeated twice.

I went out quite fast but almost immediately a pack of 10-15 swimmers disappeared into the distance, I settled into my own rhythm as best I could. I was quite happy with my time which was 4 seconds per 100m faster than the swim I did in Barcelona (1.35/100m) but I was disappointed to be dropped off the back of the lead pack quite quickly. I’ve been listening to some Tower 26 podcasts and take out speed has been mentioned so often as the time to establish your place in the first few 100m. Something to practise I think. On the way out, I saw Jess lining up ready to start her race. She shouted something about loads of people being ahead of me to help my motivation I think. On to the bike.

Bike (45km): 1h24m

This bike route was out and back on a straight section of an A road. Perfect for a personal best or that should be the case – in reality, it was a bit more hilly than expected – with rolling but reasonably long hills and an exposed (windy) course. There was also the addition of two diversion sections that took us off the main road onto some sections of narrow, pot-holed and occasionally treacherous road, I was just glad I didn’t meet any cars on this section. The sections of diversion added some kilometres to the total of the ride so overall was 45km.

As usual there were quite a few competitors who passed me on the bike. This is always the case for me because my swim is correspondingly faster.

I planned nutrition with 3 gels + water to make up a 500ml bottle and I intended to drink the whole thing during the bike. This wasn’t a problem and actually I could have done with more as I felt a little thirsty pulling into T2.

For Jess, this was her first ever cycle with cleats – and did amazingly well! Luckily not having to stop in any of the difficult sections. There was only a brief encounter with some turf just after the mount line, but let’s not mention that.

Talking of things to mention, as I was coming into T2, as I took my left foot out of my shoe and placed it on top of the shoe (like the pros), but as I was taking my right foot out, the other foot slipped off the top of the shoe and the shoe itself swung underneath and got caught under the pedals / bike. I nearly went over the handlebars, but somehow managed to get off the bike in one piece. My bike survived, but my shiny new cycling shoes now have a large unsightly scuff mark. This is definitely something I need to practise!

Run (10km): 43m34s

Running off the bike! This was the second time I’ve had this feeling of lower back pain, and hamstring pain, I think it’s mostly fatigue and the effect of trying to stay aero. This is still a new position for me and on turbo sessions I have felt it hard to stay disciplined and stay down.

I’d heard a rumour that the run course might be a bit hilly. Unfortunately this was the case, and there were two steep grassy sections where I felt like a snail as I crawled up them. There were a couple of slower runners just ahead and being able to reel them in really helped with my motivation on these sections. I kept thinking to myself I’ve done a half ironman this year, a 10km should be easy.  It was also quite rough underfoot – the path was off camber at some points and mown turf. I actually really enjoyed running on it for the most part because of there being less impact compared to tarmac- it would have been a really lovely 10km training run, but not that conducive to being a fast PB time.

There were water stations throughout the 5km course that we completed twice. I didn’t drink much but the sun was really kicking out some heat so the water stops were welcome relief to cool me down every few kilometres. Straight into the open top of my cap.

Summary:

I was happy with my time overall – my previous best for an olympic distance triathlon was 2h50mins so 2h36 was quite a significant improvement. I was able to improve my run time by nearly 10 minutes and my swim by 2 minutes. The biggest area for improvement remains the bike! Which is unsurprising really given my preference for running and swimming.

This was Jess’s first ever Olympic triathlon and was gutted to miss out on sub 3hrs. She had a smashing run at 43 mins and came 6thin her age group. Given the competitive field this is such an admirable achievement.

It was really great to see a number of tritons on the course – Nienke (4th in age group), Rich (13th overall, 2nd in age group), Lucy and Stu.

I would recommend this course as 10/10 for beautiful course, although I wouldn’t say it has great personal best potential due to the hilly nature of the run!

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