Leeds Castle tri

Regular readers of my reviews (well, that’s probably just Graham) will detect a certain amount of self deprecation when it comes to my own triability.  It isn’t actually intentional, I’d like to say it’s more an honest and often humorous view of being aware of where I come in the pecking order. So. It was with some surprise that I found myself at the starting line of the Leeds Castle triathlon last Sunday.  This was a world championship qualifier for Edmonton 2020 and I think I am on record as saying that I’m really not fond of these qualifiers and if you’re not actually going for qualification, then you should find a race more appropriate. I have podiumed twice in my tri-career. A third place in the Last of the summer tri and then a third place in the Steelman middle distance.  Neither were (obviously) plagued by talented female triathletes although Sarah Vickers did actually win the Steelman. So world champ qualifiers are not my favourite events but if one of us is making the journey then I may as well take part. 


Anyway. Leeds Castle.  It’s not in Leeds. No, it’s in Kent. Near Maidstone.  Bit of a pain to get to and how anyone copes with the hell that is the M25 on a regular basis, I have no idea.  This weekend made me very glad to live in Yorkshire.  


So we rocked up on Saturday afternoon. The castle and the surrounding grounds are beautiful, as, in fairness, is Kent once you get off the bloody motorways.  It’s a gem of a castle, with a 900 year old history. We were staying at a small hotel on-site for low stress and minimal faffing on the Sunday. No registration on Saturday was the first shocker followed by seeing a small post-it pinned up on the (closed) registration tent door…’No wetsuit, water temp 25 degrees’ was the second.  Well, it was the hottest day of the year but only a week previously we’d been swimming in Gaddings and it was 14 degrees. Is the weather really that much better down South? The wetsuit is my friend I was starting to feel a bit nervous, having previously been heard saying I wasn’t really bothered about the race, it was just for fun.  Ha, is any race ever just for fun?


So we went and checked out the castle.  As beautiful inside as out. Catherine of Aragon’s bedroom was something else and there is a more recently created marble bathroom that was amazing.  It’s still used and if you’re getting married you can actually sleep there (although not in the Queen’s bed).  


Sunday morning comes quickly enough.  Not really sufficient sleep due to the peacocks, geese and various other birds waking up early. Porridge pots downed, we headed off to registration.  The pesky post-it was still there (I’d hoped perhaps maybe it would have dropped 6 degrees overnight….). 


I’ve decided that I’m going to start a Facebook page ‘overheard at triathlons’ – a bit similar to the ‘overheard in Waitrose’ one.  I do know not to listen to anything other than the race briefing on race morning but it’s bloody hard. And at a world champs qualifier you hear some absolute corkers.  My highlight was a pair of ladies discussing the Lausanne race later this year and playing one up-manship. I’d have loved to record it.


Anyway….really well organised. Setting off in waves.  A very good briefing. The complicated looking swim route (on the map) looked slightly less complicated in real life.  Woman standing next to me was standing at the 20 mins or less sign so I legged it backwards. Whereupon another woman was being all self deprecating about her own swim…..to be followed up with ‘well, I’ve decided not to qualify this year, I’m having a year off, after all, I did Rotterdam, Gold Coast and Lausanne this year…..’.  See what I mean about not listening to anyone? 


Did I mention, the swim was in a Moat? Yes that’s right, a moat.  So we line up for the start and have to run into the water (wishing I’d practiced this a bit) without my wetsuit on – a series of firsts here. I think my aforementioned swimming prowess in races may have to be adapted.  It’s different without a wetsuit. I swam hard at the start and completely failed to get onto anyone’s feet, the leading pack was just gone in seconds and ended up swimming the first lap in no man’s land. Caught up with people at the turn and managed to draft nicely for lap two.   The moat was as warm as a swimming pool but it tasted absolutely vile.


Out and into T1, headed out onto the bike, an out and back route along the A20.  Undulating enough for people who don’t do hills very often to struggle so I felt pretty good and overtook quite a few people.  It felt strange to be doing a shorter distance and to not be panicking about nutrition or pacing (quite as much). At the turning point, we were straight into a headwind which maybe explained my ‘flying’ on the outward leg.  Hey ho. Saw a few accidents, ambulances out not really what you want to see. Unlike other qualifier events, I would say there were a few more normal participants, I even spotted a mountain bike. 


Into T2.  Hot as anything now, almost wishing I had my drink hydration pack but heck it’s only 10km.  Paula Radcliffe says there is no need to drink anything in 10km. 2 laps and I’d been silently planning on doing a PB on this course.  I’ve been doing lots of interval stuff since Windermere and I was really going to go for it (relatively of course!). Had a solid first km and then came face to face with the first hill.  Hmm, lots of people walking up it. Really? At a qualifier? Clearly not the people going for qualification! Kept on and then faced up to hill number 2. Seriously? So yes, a hilly ish off road course.  Not a course for a PB and I’m not just making excuses. Of course, I think I possibly run slower downhill than I do uphill so that might be something to do with it. There was also a third hill. It was hard!  The heat, the grass, my ankles rolling around. But it was also beautiful. Great views of the surrounds and the castle. Lots of water on offer and lots of support. Saw Andy on the end of my first lap and started to worry he’d finish before me (his wave was 30 mins after mine).  Not the hottest race I’ve done, after Embrun, that honour goes to Liverpool in 2014 I think. A solid run given all the conditions and a good finish. A bit stingy with any food at the end – i.e. none.   


And then, a sweaty 5 hour drive home via the hideous M25.   I did try to make it into the marble bathroom for a quick shower but no such luck. A well organised race in a gorgeous setting.  Hard work and definitely not fast and flat but there was a certain satisfaction in having ticked off my first (and only probably…) non wetsuit swim.  No nasties in the water, no mechanicals or punctures. Yes, a good race. Worth the trek? Not sure. 


Time was 2.58.  Might sound a bit slow but the fastest lady overall was 2.30. 34 swim – v slow but that was as fast as it got. Bike 1.23 – pleased with and run 56, pleased with – it was hilly!  This girl can, and did. Now looking forward to end to end of Italy in September. Yikes.