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  • Writer's pictureEmmelia Potts

The Leeds Castle Olympic Triathlon

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Transition for triathlon
Leaving the transition with a bike and smile in hand

So the past two triathlons had been interesting, but in the spirit of not completely destroying my confidence, I decided to leave the 70.3 distance triathlons behind for a bit and do an Olympic one where hopefully I would not be last and would have a confidence boost. After all, there are only so many times you can come last in a sport before you think you are totally pants at it and should give up!

The day was not destined to start off overly well with a late night, sleeping through my alarm and as a result not having any time for breakfast. I arrived at the venue with minutes to spare for registration

"You are late and can not sign in now," A woman said

" I am so so sorry but I am only two minutes late I can be at the transition well before it shuts, I am quick" I replied

After a few minutes of arguing with her and wasting more time, she eventually let me through. I cycled down to the transition as quickly as possible before it shut to find the man closing the gates.

"HANG ON!" I shouted "One more please" flashing him a coy smile and cheeky wink.

Checking everything over he let me in and wished me luck.

I was under the impression from the grumpy women at registration that I had ten minutes to set everything up, get my wet suit on and get to the start line. Rushing around like a blue-arsed fly I threw my kit at my bike, hurled my empty bag at the bag drop and dragged my wet suit on.

Maidstone Harriers
Harriers Assemble!

"Hi Emmelia!" some of the Harriers stood behind me giving me a rather quizzical look as to why I was rushing.

"Hey! I've only just made it through registration and now we have to be out of here in a second and I am worrying I have not got everything and just Ahhhhhhh!!!" I said

"Calm down it is the men going now, you've got ages until we start" Sarah replied.

Thank god for teammates! It was lovely having familiar faces there to chill me out, reassure me and put me at ease, a new but very welcome feeling!

After a more relaxed set up I chatted to the team and eventually trundled over to the start line to watch the second wave of men set off into the mote of Leeds Castle. It was here that I saw a number of very very serious triathletes. Some of the men has GB tri suits on under their wetsuits being pulled up, looking around me there were a number of women around me also with GB kits on. "Uh oh, so much for the confidence boost!" I thought. It turns out that a GB suit means you have qualified for some serious race in Europe not that you are an Olympic athlete, but not knowing this at the time I thought I was in some Olympic qualifying race or something!

The majority of men went off at speeds I had only ever seen on TV, though a few were breast-stroking and taking their time which made me feel a tad better. Race brief completed my wave of women was taken to the start line. I wished the other Maidstone Harriers well before being pushed off to the water's edge, it was nice to have people in your corner for the day that were also competing and knew what you were going through.

The Swim.

My first beach start before a swim and I stupidly put myself middle - front of the pack after a cracking swim session the week before. In my mind doing 4k in just over an hour meant I was capable of being up the front. However, I forgot that these people would be quicker and the general race pace would be something I was not used to. I found this out fairly soon on.

The gun went off and I was forced further forward by the hoards of women behind me. Everyone was a little bit keener than I was used to! It was a frenzy once in the water. Women grabbed my feet, elbowing my face and I got smashed by a hand in my nose once. "Help," I thought "this is not fun, I am going to get killed". However, I had nowhere to go, I was penned in. The woman behind was forcing me to keep going and the two on either side of me were so close I could see their breakfast in their teeth.

Tiering from the max effort for 100m I had to find a way out of this hell or I would be tired before I had even started. I put the brakes on slightly coming up to the first buoy, huge mistake three women behind me kept going, fighting for custody of the buoy and swam right over the top of me. At first, I could feel my legs sink and my kicking become useless then my hips became heavy and then my torso was submerged with what felt like a baby elephant sitting on top of me. When my head went under I knew I was in trouble. The problem with being submerged is no one knows you are there and it is hard to get back up to breathe. Doing this odd doggy paddle thing to try and get my head through some women's crotch and into oxygen I could just not break the surface. Therefore, in the last attempt at life, I head-butted the woman above me full-on in the stomach to get back to the surface. Fortunately, she did not seem to notice bar a quick leap to the right, but this gave me enough space to breathe.

Gasping for air whilst trying to keep up with everyone I was a little shaken, to say the least. In a way, I am glad it happened at this race rather than Iron Man as I know what to expect but I was so worried about drowning. Having women on top of me is not something I wish to relive. The rest of the swim was fairly straightforward. I got left behind the fast pack and had to take my time on my own around the rest of the course. With no one to draft I definitely felt like I had to work this time around a swim course. The course was fairly technical compared to what I was used to. Zig-zagging around the mote, in between walls and through stone arches I really had to focus and pay attention to my sighting, with only one swim into a wall I managed to leave pretty unscathed.

Triathlon swim
Leaving the Leeds Castle moat

Leaving the swim my legs felt ok, whoopie!!!! I dashed down to T1, whipped my wetsuit off and made a trip to the portaloo (note to self wee in the swim if you can its saves time!). I have heard of people weeing on the cycle whilst still moving if they are under pressure for a position...this was not a bit of me even if I was going for first place! I took my time in T1 making sure I obeyed the rules learnt from Harrier's practice as this was a serious race where people gave you penalties, and let's be honest I am already bad enough without needing hours of penalties added on!

The Bike

Seeing as my legs felt fresh and I was not as light-headed for once I got on my bike and decided to smash out the cycle as in my mind the route was pretty flat being a local and all, not my best idea. The route was not hilly but it was not as flat as you think in a car. Beasting out the first few miles my legs decided to die very soon on. Heavy-legged and demoralised from people overtaking I slowed down, yet again, there is a theme forming here for my triathlons! I thought back to the morning, I wish I had had breakfast and a decent nights sleep then maybe I would have felt fresher and more up for a cycle today.

The undulating roads made it tricky to have any rest of the legs on the downhill as they were not steep enough to warrant stopping peddling, however, the uphills were long enough to take it out of your legs. Thanking my lucky stars there was no headwind though I trundled on at a semi-decent pace and even overtook a couple of men in the wave previous. I made a note to drink and eat every 5 minutes even though it was a short race, just to get myself into the habit. This seemed to work as I kept going at a steady pace the entire way around, even if that pace was slow in comparison to most.

The plus side to this event was I figured out my small cog on the gears for the downhills so I could keep cycling to gain momentum downhill, this made the uphills feel a lot easier dropping down a mass of gears with the extra ones now at my fingertips. Having never used my small cog gears before I felt like I had opened a new realm of speed and I started to utilise this. Peddling downhill! I never thought I would see the day I wanted to go faster without wetting myself!

On the home straight I noted a few women still behind me and overtook another couple of men. The wave of older men that went off after us all over took me I am pretty sure, but knowing I was not the last woman and was overtaking people in the wave before filled me with such a massive amount of confidence for once on the cycle leg of a triathlon. Being a new feeling to me I was determined to not be the last woman into T2 so I drank and ate more and really got a shift on.

Arriving back at T2 was amazing. The last stretch of the bike leg was through the stunning castle grounds on a hot and beautiful day with large crowds cheering you on, not because they knew you were last and they were sympathy cheers but because they thought you were doing well! A new and odd feeling, but rather nice!

The Run

By this point in the morning the heat was yet again getting high (why is it always hot for the run!?) The run was two laps around the outer hilly grounds of the castle. Spurred on by the crowds and people supporting the Harriers logo I set off far too eagerly and paid the price on reaching the first hill, which was pretty steep even by my standards!

Running triathlon
Enjoying the run in the sun

No shade, and lots of hills it was clear to see a lot of people (including myself) struggling to reach any sort of pace. Therefore, in the spirit of just trying to enjoy the event and get my confidence up, I took my time. Slowing the pace down a tad, chatting to people and stopping to talk to marshals from Maidstone Harriers I eventually began to ignore the heat and hills and enjoyed myself. The only problem was bar energy gels I had still not eaten all day and I was starting to flag. There was no food on the pit stops on the run either, fainting was a high possibility. Feeling light-headed I tried to entertain myself around the course by being chatty to take my mind off impending passing out.

The support was amazing around the course. The photographer would cheer you on up the hill he was snapping on, the marshals greeted you at their stop with beaming smiles and high fives, and the runners were for the most part chatty and shouted well done if they overtook you and the loop split had a decent crowd cheering everyone on. I might not have performed like an elite athlete and the GB suit holders but I certainly felt like one!

Rounding the corner off the last water stop the finish line was in sight, a nice gentle jog to the finish line and I was met with a hefty OCR-like finishers medal, a lovely t-shirt and more fruit than I could shake a stick at. I stood by the box of fruit scoffing a few bananas, a couple of apples and all the snacks in the finishers bag. Happy I had finally eaten I trundled over to my teammates who had all done so so well.

Welcoming the final teammate over the finish line and watching the awards I felt like I was a part of something. I was not just the idiot that rocked up to triathlons to give them a go and always came last. I was part of a team and that meant tips, tricks, a calming presence and a lot of support on the day. For the first time, I actually enjoyed a day of triahtloning.

Finish of the triathlon

I did not come last in the women, granted I was nowhere near the top half but I was not last! Result! My swim and run times were okay. Once again it is the bike that lets me down...guess what I will be practising most over the winter!

Lessons Learnt:

- Sleep well the night before!

- Set multiple alarms!

- Eat something! Anything!

- Do not rush around the transitions panicking you will forget to do something

- Do not get cocky and go off really early in the swim you will get squished if you can not keep pace.

- If someone swims on top of you, head butt them, and they will soon move over.

- Team GB tri suits do not mean they are Olympic athletes, just that they are very good and have qualified for other good events.

- Keep sighting during the swim or you will crash.

- Wee in the swim, not in T1 to save time.

- If you were on your bike you are a vile human that should be put down.

- Using both sets of gears on the bike opens you up to a whole realm of new speeds and makes hill climbs feel much easier.

- Do not rely on an event to provide food on the run leg, be self-sufficient.

- Hills are not much fun after a cycle.

- Support really does make all the difference.

- Being part of a triathlon team is the best decision I made on this venture.

Organisation 9/10

Fun 6/10

Difficulty 5/10


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