The Brownlee tri at Harewood House is my special end of the season treat. Having done it for the first time last year, I know it’s well organised, in a good location, friendly, and a fun and challenging course. Plus, if you’re lucky, you can meet a Brownlee or two. I managed to get a snap with both Alistair and Jonny again this year.
There are two distances raced at the event – sprint and super-sprint, with waves going off in age-group order. I was doing the sprint with its slightly long bike and run with a start time of 11:50, meaning I could wake up at a reasonable time and drive down, with plenty of time to set up.
I picked up my race pack, complete with temporary number tattoos (I do like a proper race tat) and hung around registration to see my pal Tove who was racing along with her husband Roger and their friends Jon and Annabel who I had met at the Leeds triathlon.
After racking my bike in transition and enjoying a friendly chat to the other ladies near me in the racks, I went for a look around the ‘Race Village’ and spotted Alistair over at the kids’ triathlon area. There were loads of youngsters running and cycling around a grass track, winning medals and certificates and getting them signed. Alastair was great, chatting to them all, asking how fast they’d gone, if they were having a good day etc.
I held back until there was a break in the stream of youngsters crossing the line and got a photo. I took great pride in shaking Ali’s hand and saying thanks for all the joy they have given me, watching them racing. “And disappointment too,” he deadpanned, obviously referring to Jonny’s stumble into silver in the World Series, but I shook my head. Ali – always the competitor.
After that encounter I got set for my race, wriggling into my wetsuit and walking down to get the briefing by the lake. I took some deep breaths and did some stretches, even though I wasn’t feeling particularly nervous. I really wanted to have a relaxed swim here, after a bit of a mental melt down in my last tri.
The chap doing the race briefing was brilliant. A nice young Yorkshire lad, who gave all the info we needed, with a bit of humour, a smile and loads of encouragement. I didn’t realise at the time, but it was only elite triathlete and Brownlee training partner Mark Buckingham. Just another small thing that adds up to a great event.
Anyway, onto my race. A walk along the wobbly pontoon and then a brief chance to get into the water and acclimatise before the start. The lake temperature was 15C, so I had a bit of a gasp as I went in, but I soon warmed up. The shallow silty water sucked at my feet, so that I felt like I was sinking into slimy carpet.
One hand on the pontoon and the hooter goes to start. Given the state of the water, I opt for a mix of breast stroke and heads-up crawl to reach the first buoy, but after that I knuckle down, get my head in and start counting strokes to keep going.
I manage okay on the swim. At first everyone has struck away from me, but I catch a few stragglers as I round the top of the lake and head back towards the swim exit. I don’t feel fast, but I do feel strong and reasonably calm on my swim. I even bully myself through the thick black water around the buoys and find clearer patches towards the finish.
Up the ramp and off towards transition which is up a grassy hill. I help the girl ahead of me to un-velcro her wetsuit and pull her zip down. “I’m dizzy,” she says. As I reach my bike and step completely out of one leg of my suit, I realise I am too. I stop and grab onto the racking to reset my horizon before tackling the second leg. I should have sat down, as I struggle to get it over my chip.
Helmet on, and away with the bike up to the top of the grass and then a run towards the mount line, which I know, and have been warned, is at the bottom of a hill. It’s a tough push on the first lap, only made slightly easier on subsequent laps because you know it’s coming and can carry a bit of momentum through it. The couple cheering at the Macmillan stand behind Harewood house are a welcome sight to mark the top of the hill on each lap.
I take it easy around the first lap, reminding myself of the route which includes a nice mix of sweeping downhills and some sharp turns together with a couple of straights and a steep climb before you come round to the start and another hill. I am either braver or heavier on the downhill sections, as I close the gaps on some of the women in front of me. But I’m still cautious, not wanting to overtake on some of the sharp bends.
Some walk the steep hill, marked by a gate with a sign saying “It’s Yorkshire. Dig in.” I drop to the lowest gear and take it section by section each time. Push on to the lighter coloured patch of tarmac. Push on under the bridge. Push on again to the top, where Tove and Annabel are cheering me on.
On the second lap my lower back is niggling on the right hand side around hip level. Thankfully with a mix of uphills out of the saddle and downhill cruising I manage it, but it has me gritting my teeth at times on the flatter sections. Then I spot a para-triathlete cycling with a prosthetic leg, and I shut myself up.
Still I’m relieved to climb the steep hill for the last time and enjoy the cowbells and crowds as I peel off back towards transition. I take the dismount gingerly, coming to a stop before dismounting, but once off the bike the pain in my lower back eases off.
Just the run to do now and I’m soon off down the grassy tracks and into the woods. Encouraged by the smiles and shouts of the triathletes heading back saying what a lovely course it is, I try to get my legs moving. My plan had been to run hard, but my legs don’t really want to know, and as there’s a good bit of uphill in the first section, it’s more of a shuffle.
Still, I keep moving forwards, keeping a lady in my sights who I have seen stop and stretch a couple of times. It is a lovely course on trails through the trees with a couple of sharp descents and a ford that I splash through laughing.
On a steep and long uphill, I catch up with the lady I’ve been tracking, who I learn is called Christine and who doesn’t want to be caught by her husband who set off in the wave after hers. We chat and run together a bit, and realising we were in the same wave, I tell her she has to beat me.
But at a steep downhill, I turn off my brain and run down putting a gap between us. My legs finally get the message and from here to the end I feel like I pick up a bit more of my usual pace.
With shouts of encouragement to the other runners heading out as I pass back along towards the race village, I remind myself to enjoy the moment as I surge for the line arms aloft. With medal, water, T-shirt and goody bag swiftly collected from the team of enthusiastic volunteers, I hang on to see Christine finish and offer my congratulations.
Another triathlon completed, and after a funny old year in terms of not really training and feeling the fire in my belly for any events, it’s some satisfaction to be able to do that. I’d been out and active for just under 2 hours and 30 minutes. I hadn’t looked at my times to compare, but when I did, I was slower in every aspect than last year, but I don’t mind. I turned up, did it and enjoyed the whole event – the atmosphere, the race in a lovely location, meeting two sporting legends.
I stayed at the finish and got a massage to ease my back before meeting up with my pals. We all agreed we’d be back again next year. I had a good chat with a guy who had been in Cozumel, supporting his brother in the age group race and watching the thrilling emotional finish of the world series with Alistair helping Jonny over the line. Towards the end of the day, I finally spotted Jonny and managed a stupid grin for a photo just before he was whisked away to present the prizes.
Those boys have been responsible for three of my best days in 2016 – racing on the same course at the Leeds triathlon and then cheering them on to first and second place in the elite race; watching the Olympic triathlon with my best tri buddy after a sunny day cycling at the coast, and today, getting to meet them and say thank you, while taking part in a brilliant race.
As I finally got home and hoiked all my kit back up three flights of stairs, I was still buzzing. I sent a thank you message to my PT who got me started on this road, first to running and then triathlon. Even slow and steady, I’m happy to be part of it and so, so very grateful for the amazing experiences it’s brought me. As I said to Christine as we were running together, I hope I can still do this when I’m 80.