Arundel Castle Triathlon – Olympic Distance

It’s 3am…….yes that’s right, 3am on Sunday 26th June.  My alarm has just gone off.  This can only mean one thing.  Time for the Arundel Castle Triathlon.

As regular blog readers will know, triathlon involves a lot of getting up early in the morning.  I have complained vociferously about this in the past; however on this occasion I didn’t mind getting up early.  It has been over 9 months since I last competed in a triathlon and I was keen to dust off the cobwebs and get out on the course.

Breaking with tradition, I had actually packed up my gear and put it all in the car the night before, so a quick breakfast and it was out the door and on the way to Arundel.

In 2015 and 2014 I competed in the Arundel Lido Triathlon, which is a pool swim of 800m, then a 40k bike and a 10k run.  Having not enjoyed the pool element of the swim, I was pleased that the same organisers also run Arundel Castle Triathlon, which is a river swim of 1500m, a 40k bike and then a 10k run.

The bike course is different from Arundel Lido.  Flatter and faster.  The run is still super hilly, although rather than undulating hills it is one big drag uphill and then a fast downhill after, although you do this twice as it is two 5k laps.  As for the swim, this is in the river Arun, one of the fastest flowing rivers in the country.  The fast flowing nature of the river is the reason we had to start so early.  The triathlon kicked of at 5:15am, which was “slack water”.  In other words, there would be little to no flow at that point, as the river is tidal.

Arriving in Arundel I parked in transition and quickly got my stuff organised.  I spotted Curry on the way in, and also quickly met up with Dempo, who were both competing with me at this event.  Curry is a Grazing Saddles teammate, but this would be the first ever triathlon for Dempo.

Fielding a whole bunch of “rookie” questions from Dempo, such as “which part of the bike is the front” and “is it OK to swim backstroke”, we were all into our wetsuits and then off to the rivers edge.

This is Dempo

Dempo was swimming in the first wave, due to the fact that he is actually part fish.  Have you seen that film Waterworld?  Well if you have, then that is Dempo.  He has competed in numerous endurance open water swims and his place in the fastest wave of swimmers was well deserved.


Curry and I were swimming in the second wave, so as soon as the first had gone off we were into the water and strategically made our way to the back of the bunch.  I had completed a grand total of 1 swim training session in the preceding 9 months, so was not too confident of a good swim time. 

We had been warned that there was a lot of “debris” in the river, such as seaweed, bits of floating wood etc so as soon as the klaxon sounded and the thrashing upstream began, we quickly swam into a good old bunch of seaweed.

Unfortunately this slowed down those in front, and I found myself swimming into the back of a lot of people.  I probably should have started a bit closer to the front of the pack, but in all honesty I wasn’t bothered.  The group soon thinned out and I was into a rhythm, swimming as fast as I dared on the back of almost no training.  

The floating seaweed rafts continued as we went upriver.  It seemed like forever to get up to the buoy, turn around, and head back to the swim start where we would exit.  As soon as we turned downstream I realised why.  Whilst this was supposed to be “slack water”, there was still a bit of current and it was a joy to swim back to the start with this helping me.

Exiting the water post swim


Hauling myself out of the water it was a quick jog into transition to jump onto the bike.  I had managed the swim in around 34 minutes, which is way off pace for 1500m, but as I had done almost no swim training I couldn’t really complain.

Just out of T1.  Feet still not in shoes!

Entering transition my triathlon pedigree showed through, as in less than a minute I was out of my wetsuit, helmet on and jogging towards the bike mount area.  As soon as I reached this, I jumped on my bike and started pedaling away.  My shoes were already clipped into my pedals so it was just a simple task of slipping my feet into the shoes and off I went.  Well I say simple task.  Due to the shoes deciding to velcro themselves shut it took me about 2 minutes of messing about at a very slow speed to actually get my feet in.  So much for a speedy transition.

Due to all this messing about Curry slid past me on the bike, with a hearty “come on Snooky”.  I thought he was probably in front of me after the swim but it was good to see him as we cycled out of Arundel and up our first little hill towards Crossbush.  I was determined to put in a good bike time so as Curry started to slow up the hill I overtook him and concentrated on a good strong start to the bike leg.

As the bike leg continued onwards I felt good.  My legs felt powerful, my heart rate was in check and I was overtaking quite a few people.  This was a new experience for me, as usually I am the one being overtaken.  My main aim was to try and keep a steady pace and leave enough in the tank for what I knew was a hilly run.  

On top of a hill, with people actually behind me!

During any bike leg of a triathlon, when things are going well my mind always wanders.  On the same day as my triathlon, my friend Mick was competing in his first Ironman event in Bucklers Hard.  I was thinking of him, and his extremely long, tough day ahead.  At the same time I was remembering my Ironman, how it felt and the elation of crossing the line.  Triathlon is a strange world.  Unless you have done one it is very hard to explain, but you feel a connection with every triathlete worldwide.  I was wishing Mick every luck as I sped through the Sussex countryside.

As the kilometres clicked by I made sure to keep hydrated and took on board a couple of energy gels to make sure I had a bit in the tank for the run.  In just over 1hr 20 minutes the 40k was up and I was back off the bike running into transition for the second and final time.  Again I managed a super fast transition, and in less than a minute I was running out of the transition area and off on a 2 lap 5k run around Swanbourne lake.  

Yes that’s right, I run in sandals

I knew this run would have one very sizeable hill in it, but only when I got to the hill for the first time did I appreciate its relentless nature.  Running is not my strong point, and my legs felt a bit crampy as I started to climb the very steep hill.  I was determined not to walk, but inevitably my pace slowed and I was overtaken.  I managed to keep up a slow jog and made it to the top of the hill on lap 1.  It was at this point, about 15 minutes into my run that I started to feel really good.  I knew I had a long downhill before making my way round the lake for lap 2.  Upping my cadence (steps per minute for the uninitiated) I flew down the hill for the first time and overtook somebody.  Yes readers, that’s right, I actually overtook somebody on the run leg of a triathlon.

This was the first ever time this has happened, and to say I was pleased was an understatement.  I knew I would be at least 55 minutes on my 10k, which is hardly Mo Farah pace, but to overtake somebody was sublime.  Most importantly I still felt good, so made the conscious decision to up my pace for the second lap.  This increase in pace felt OK, so as I got to the hill for the second time I powered my way up and felt much stronger than the first lap.  Throwing everything into it I flew down the hill into Arundel, then ran the final kilometre of the run in under 5 minutes (good pace for me) and was absolutely delighted to cross the finish line in 2:57:50, under 3 hours and almost 30 minutes faster than my previous Olympic Distance best.

Needless to say I was more than pleased.  Dempo was finished well before me (no huge surprise there) and Curry crossed the line shortly after I did.  I also bumped into an old friend from a previous job, who had finished in the top 20.  Superb result Andrew!

Almost over the line



So all in all a good day of competing.  Not bad for an old man who had only done 5 weeks training.  Having had a chance to reflect on this triathlon it is now clear to me that I must be fairly fit.  For those of you who have read my blog from the start, you will be aware what a great feeling this is for me.  I went through injury, self-doubt and sheer panic as I blundered my way towards Challenge Weymouth last year.  9 months on from that my fitness has stayed with me enough to be able to do a sub 3 hour Olympic Distance triathlon on very little training.  To say I am chuffed would be about right. 

Spurred on by this success, I have booked a half Ironman in September.  Only 11 weeks to go till that event, so as soon as this is published it is time to write a training plan.I’m really looking forward to the race and hopefully beating my previous half Ironman best time.

TTFN

Snooky








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