Catterick Sprint Triathlon – Sunday, 18 June 2017

Race Report below from Lesley Bennett

Feeling that cycling was not sufficiently challenging I went in search of something else which would take up even more of my valuable time.  Having looked into it I came to the conclusion that I should spoil a perfectly good bike ride by having a swim beforehand and then following it up with a nice run.

The result of this conclusion was that, early in January 2017, I found myself looking at the list of forthcoming events on British Triathlon’s website and the Catterick Sprint Triathlon jumped out at me.  It seemed like a friendly event, welcoming of complete beginners and had good reviews from previous events.  So, after a brief e-mail exchange with the organiser I found myself signing up.  This gave me six months to get up to speed in all three disciplines.  My cycling was already quite strong, running was improving but still a work in progress, but my swimming…….oh dear, my swimming!  So I signed up for private swimming lessons just to improve my low confidence in the water, these were very successful and, although I haven’t yet mastered front crawl, I can do a pretty decent breastroke……….all proper stuff, you know, with my face in the water and everything!

I kept my entry under my hat for quite a while until strava friends started noticing that my athletic endeavours had started to look like a triathlete in training that, along with a recent purchase of a tri-suit, meant that my secret was out.  A week before the triathlon Nicola Matthews confided in me that she had also entered the Catterick event and we thought that there was a good possibility that Nikki Renton would also enter (which she did.)

So, the day of the event dawned and what a stunning day it was.  Blue skies without a cloud and really quite hot.  Jonathan (hubby) and I stayed overnight at the Premier Inn which was literally around the corner from the Catterick Leisure Centre where the event was based.  I had registered the day before so only had to get myself there to set up my transition area (I had good practice at this at the Ponteland Go-tris).  I always do these things very early but I’m glad I did, no last minute panics for me.  When I was all set up I wandered along to where Nicola and Nikki should have their bikes racked but there was no sign of them.  I was starting to get worried in case they didn’t get there in time, but luckily all was well and we were all ready to go.

After the race briefing, I headed to the pool to get ready for my 400 m swim as I had an early number (9) and was off at 8.20 a.m.  Nikki and Nicola were 33 and 34 and I could see them standing in line waiting to start as I completed my swim.  I did find the lanes quite narrow and I didn’t think there was much discipline when it came to passing other swimmers.  I expected it to be more like in the Go-tris when you tap the swimmer in front’s foot and they let you past at the end of the lane – but here it was more like a free for all.  However, I held my nerve and swam quite well.  I did get held up towards the end of my swim but managed to get past number 7 without causing too much havoc.  Leaving the pool and running into transition complete strangers were cheering me on, as they did for everyone, and that made me feel really good.

So, on to the bike leg.  I was a bit slower in transition but I wanted to make sure that I had everything just right before I set off on the 10.5 mile bike.  I did a recce in May with Jonathan so already knew the bike route and what delights lay in wait.  On leaving the leisure centre there was a very slight gradient as you left Catterick and then a steep, technical descent with a T juntion at the bottom.  This is where the fun starts and you meet the first of the two hills which are named after the organiser’s children!  ‘The cheeky one’, a short, very sharp hill reaches 20% at one point.  There is absolutely no way of carrying any speed into it at all and you just have to keep pedalling!  I didn’t see any other cyclists on that hill and rode up without any problem but that sort of hill is one of my specialities.  I think Nikki passed lots of competitors on ‘the cheeky one’  who were amazed that anyone could actually cycle it!  I overtook a lady just shortly afterwards and then was overtaken myself by number 24, who was really flying.  After ‘the cheeky one’ the road continues upward but at more civilised gradient, then about a mile and a half later you meet ‘the one that goes on and on and on’.  This hill is just over a mile long and averages about 7% with a 10% kick near the top.  After that the road flattens for a while before another technical descent to a T junction, then it’s rollers all the way before a long, high speed descent back into Catterick (I clocked 35 mph before the 30 signs!).  I was doing very well timewise, until a combination of parked and oncoming cars meant that there was no room for me and I just had to stop.  Disaster!  Spitting fury at the time I’d lost, I made my way back into into the Leisure Centre as fast as I could pedal!

The run – well probably the less said on that subject the better!  I don’t know where my legs went at this point but I don’t think they were with me.  Following my Go-tri experience, I realised that I had started my runs far too fast so I kept my pace very controlled leaving transition and out onto the course.  The only trouble was I kept going at that pace and just couldn’t speed up.  The run was 4.5 km and it was the longest 4.5 km of my life!  The course was two laps of a flat course along a cycle track.  As I passed Jonathan cheering me on, I gave him something closely resembling a death stare (less resembling and more death – Jonathan)….so he knew things weren’t going well.  At some point on the run I saw Nikki and later Nicola returning on their bikes and all I could think of was ‘must go faster, mustn’t let Nikki and Nicola pass me on the run’.  I did see them both on the run and we all shouted encouragement to each other.  I made it back first, followed by Nikki and then Nicola.  We all met up with Jonathan at the finish and had a spot of recovery time sitting on the grass by the finish watching other poor souls returrning from their runs or heading out on the second lap.  Nikki and Nicola both did fantastically well and I don’t think my performance was too shabby either – well done ladies!

I was so relieved and delighted that I had managed to finish my first sprint triathlon.  Although I was very disappointed with my run which was very poor, the swim was quite good with the bike was absolutely the best bit.  I should add that the Go-tri events were a vital part of my preparation for this event, without them the sprint tri would have come as a terrible shock to the system.

All in all I really loved my day at Catterick and it was a bonus to be joined by Nikki and Nicola

Below we now have an additional view from Jon, Lesley’s husband who was supporting for the day…….

The Catterick Triathlon – A Husband’s Tale

I suspect few of you will have any idea who I am, nor what this is about.  So, for the record, I’m Lesley Bennett’s husband and I was acting as her official support entourage for her first ever sprint distance triathlon(technically the swim is a bit short as was only 400m, rather than the usual British Triathlon Federation’s 750m, but the distances for the other disciplines were standard with a 20km bike, 5km run) and thought some of you might like to hear about it from the other side of the barriers.

Before I start I should get a couple of things out of the way: the first is that I’m immensely proud of Lesley for having taken this on, getting through all the training and preparation and giving it her absolute best on the day.  The other, and you can boo and hiss if you like, is that I’m not a triathlete – I’m merely a cyclist – so I must ask your indulgence, and forgiveness, when I write many odd, or, occasionally, flagrantly inaccurate things about disciplines that I don’t take part in myself.

With that out of the way, I’ll start at the beginning … or I would if I actually knew when this started.  The first I knew about it was over the winter whilst Lesley was still very much recovering from the surgical procedures that had been necessary to put the wrist she broke last June back together again and there was an exclamation that she’d found the Catterick Triathlon and was thinking of signing up for it.  Just because.  I thought it would be a great challenge for the year – something tough, but achievable by putting in a decent chunk of hard work.

And so the training began: training on the turbo during the coldest periods, running with the Ponteland Runners and some regular swim coaching.  Over the weeks, the power numbers and confidence in the water went up whilst the mile times went down.

We even managed to sneak in a recce of the bike course, disguised as a trip to a wedding do.  This, it turned out, was a good move: the course isn’t flat and has a couple of very decent climbs in it, one of which is around the 20% mark at points and it would be very easy to go blow your legs to bits before you’d even reached the run.

Before long, it was the Big Weekend.  We’d arranged to stay overnight in the Premier Inn that’s about 200m from the leisure centre around which the event is based so, having taken rather too long on my own training ride on Saturday morning, we made our way an hour down the road to be greeted by bright sunshine and a baking hot car park, followed by the coldest air conditioned reception that I’ve ever walked into.

One slick check-in process later and we were up to our room to dump our bags before heading out for Lesley to register herself on Saturday evening, rather than waiting for Sunday morning.  We found that the leisure centre was pretty much already set up for the event – the only thing missing were some additional barriers, which could only be added after the road was closed off on the Sunday morning.  We even had the, very friendly, Race Director introduce himself to us and he answered a couple of small queries that we had between us, before Lesley and I wandered off in the direction of the transition area.  We spent a certain amount of time there working out the layout and locating Lesley’s bike rack position before bimbling off into the sunset.

Or, at least we would have done, had I not misread the breakfast times for the hotel.  They do, indeed, to breakfast starting at 0630 … on weekdays.  At the weekend, this shifted to 0700, which was going to be too late given the time of the pre-event briefing and Lesley’s early start time.  The solution was a return to the hotel via the conveniently located Tesco where we bought a number of spectacularly unhealthy breakfast items.  And some fruit salad.

The next item on the agenda turned out to be an extraordinarily average dinner at the Brewer’s Fayre.  I’m only actually impressed about two things: that I didn’t go for the very sad looking £10 ‘chicken night’ all-you-can-eat buffet and the chocolate based ice cream sundae that I had for dessert.

I then spent the rest of the evening with not much to do, whilst Lesley made got things arranged so she was prepared for the following morning’s early start, after which it was time to sleep.

15 seconds later the alarm went off, the birds were singing, the sun was shining and it was 0530.  Feeling like I’d been through the tumble dryer (I don’t sleep well in unfamiliar hotel beds), I kept my eyes shut and hoped that it was all a dream.  Apparently it wasn’t, because Lesley arose and began to get herself ready and breakfasted.  Using my position as ‘supporter without portfolio’, I managed to put off getting out of bed until 6am, which still felt like much too early.

With all of the triathlon stuff in the car, we drove around from the hotel car park into the area that Tesco had bade available for the event and parked ourselves up next to everyone else who was extracting bikes and other kit.  Whilst Lesley attended to things like sun cream and making sure that things were in the right bag, I put the wheels back on her bike (always important), double checked that the skewers were tightened properly and that the brakes were working before setting the tyre pressures and giving the bike to Lesley and asking her to give it a quick ride around the car park to prove that the gears were right (you know what it’s like – you set them perfectly on the workstand, but as soon as you actually try to ride the bike, it all goes awry.)

With no further excuses available, we headed across to the event HQ.  The day’s first hurdle was the bike check.  Actually, that’s not quite right: the first hurdle was that you had to attach your number to both your bike and your helmet before even approaching the bike check.  Having applied the two stickiest labels in the known Universe, the brakes were checked again and Lesley was free to wheel herself around to transition, whilst I carved a path through the unsuspecting spectators to reach the outer fence so that Lesley could pass me any bags and unwanted kit.

It was now coming up 7am and, as there was nothing further for me to help with, and that it would be reasonably pointless for me to stand around during the briefing, we’d agreed that I’d head back to the hotel so that I could have breakfast and check-out, before returning to yell encouragement.  As I was messing around at the car, I spotted to other Ponteland Tri suits wandering around cladding Nikki and Nicola, who’d Lesley had said were also going to be competing.  I took the opportunity to introduce myself so that they wouldn’t be surprised at some random bloke shouting at them by name: I also passed on some insider information about te bike course, specifically the very steep hill near the start.

One breakfast later and I was up to the room to pick up all the remaining bags, which consisted of more than I remembered.  Particularly fetching was Lesley’s handbag, which I was now going to have to carry across from the hotel into Tesco’s car park.  I made a sharp exit.

Having survived the journey, I returned to the spectator area around transition just as the first competitors were set off.  As it was early, finding a vantage point was very easy, so I picked a spot and … waited.  During this time, the lady next to me started to chat, telling me that it was her daughter’s first time competing in a triathlon (she was normally a competition swimmer) and that she was just 14 (the youngest ever competitor in the event).  I nodded, sagely I hope, whilst she explained that she was really nervous about the bike ride, because that’s the part of the event where the spectators lose all sight of the competitors for an extended period.

And then the first of the swimmers emerged from the pool to applause from all and sundry.  The commentator on the PA even mentioned him by name (although I’ve completely forgotten it).  Then the lady’s 14 year old daughter came sprinting around to the bikes, to still more applause.  More people started to emerge and I knew it wouldn’t be long before Lesley materialised.

It wasn’t.  To much cheering from all around, she came running out of the pool and began to get herself ready for the bike.  This is where the time spent yesterday and earlier in the morning began to pay off: she knew where everything was and where she was going, unlike several people who struggled with the concept of following the big arrows and one lad who had to leave his bike by the side and run back to get his number belt, without which he was not allowed to begin the bike ride.

The one thing I noticed is that you could really tell who was competitive and who was just out to complete the event as a challenge: the competitors, like Lesley, ran from the pool exit to the bike and then out towards the line where you could actually start riding, whereas others would walk/jog (and, in one case, gently saunter whilst waving at the crowd).

As I’d promised Nikki and Nicola that I’d yell at them too, I remained by the transition area.  By this time, I had been joined by a couple from the North East, the lady of which had ridden the 64 mile Cyclone sportive the day before (and been broken by the first Ryal).  This was her longest ever bike ride, as witnessed by a spectacular white/red tan line arrangement, which she was comparing with one of the lady triathlon official’s razor sharp lines.

It wasn’t long before Nikki and Nicola appeared at the exit of the pool, line astern about a metre apart.  The crowd cheered and I yelled some personalised encouragement.  Nikki was quicker out onto the bike, although not by all that much and, two minutes later, everyone I knew was away out cycling and there was nothing for me to do for the next 45 minutes, or so.  I spent some of it gently cooking in the sun and cheering on some of the other competitors – it seemed the right thing to do.  After about 10 minutes of this, there was a bit of a lull and it felt like the right time to have a wander around, if only for a small change of view.

It didn’t take me long to work out that there wasn’t much to do so, after a few minutes I simply found a spot on the grass with a small amount of shade generously donated by a nearby bush and, following the example of the lad close by, lay down and rested.  This lasted for all of about 10 minutes: the strength of the sun was such that I, as a novice sunbather, was struggling with it.  As a tactical diversion I applied a bit of additional sunblock before having another attempt at resting.

After about 40 minutes had gone by, I’d had more than enough and headed gently back towards transition.  This time I parked myself close to the point where the runners would be heading out on their first lap and, a couple of minutes later, the first couple of riders began to roll in, including the 14 year old youngster who went off on the run like an absolute rocket.  The minutes ticked by and I was beginning to wonder where Lesley was, when her distinctive silhouette (to me, at least) appeared and I could breathe again.

She ran into transition, racked the bike, changed her shoes, slurped some fluid and ran past me to begin the last part.  I’ve no idea whatsoever whether she heard me, or not: she was in the Zone so there wasn’t much by way of a reaction.  I applauded a few more people on their way out onto the run before deciding that the best place I could now locate myself was across the car park to the point where the bike and running routes kind of converged.  This would give me the best chance of seeing both Lesley on her two running laps, but also Nikki and Nicola as they came in on the bike and on their running laps too.

The event organisers had, helpfully, placed a marshal on this point as there were two running lanes and two cycle lanes to get everyone into the right place.  It was working well – the young Lance Bombardier was doing a sterling job of alternately directing traffic and yelling encouragement.  He made very sure that it was encouragement when his Sergeant Major, who was competing, rode past – at some speed, it must be said.  This spot turned out to be an excellent one – everyone came past it in full flight, although there were the odd hiccough, for example the lad who came down on his bike only for his chain to fall off right in front of us.  Survey says: check your equipment before the event!

Shortly after Lesley had returned to the car park at the end of her first lap, Nikki came back in on the bike, with Nicola nowhere in sight.  This is, I think, where things started to get a bit interesting for Lesley.  By the time she’d come back around to where I was standing on her second lap, I was treated to a sunglasses melting stare.  It was so intense that even our young Lance Bombardier, who’d cheered pretty much everyone on (including ¡Arriba, arriba! ¡Ándale, ándale! for anyone who looked like they were really suffering), was stunned into silence.  I was still wondering whether I’d be needed to carry Lesley to the finish when Nikki came into sight.  I have no idea if anything was communicated between Lesley and Nikki as they passed each other (they were running in opposite directions down the same path): I assume the Stare had gone as Nikki appeared completely unscathed from the encounter and even managed a ‘thanks’ as I gave her a shout.

Somewhere in all of this, I’d managed to miss Nicola coming in on the bike, although I did give her a yell as she came round on her first lap of the run and then, again, when she came back in to begin her second lap.

By this time I felt it was time to move again: it wouldn’t be that many minutes before Lesley came back, this time to finish.  I took my leave of my vantage point, and the Lance Bombardier, and headed towards the finish point, taking care to keep off the run route where I could so as not to be in anyone’s way.

A couple of minutes later and I could see Lesley approaching: it looked like hard work by this point.  She came across the finish line, obviously pleased to have finished, but, unsurprisingly, also very tired.  Once she’d had her electronic timing tag removed and medal draped around her neck, we made our way into some shade around the back of the arrival tent, from which I nabbed her a bottle of water to go along with the recovery drink.  Another couple of minutes later and humanity had been restored, just in time for us to see Nikki come across the finish line.

The two girls had a happy few minutes chatting about their mutual experiences: it seems that my warnings about the ‘cheeky’ hill on the bike route had not gone un-heeded and Nikki had passed quite a number of people who were walking up, whilst telling herself that I’d said it was only short and that she should keep going.

During the conversation Bikki spotted Nicola incoming and we all headed back to the finish line to cheer her back in, giving all three the chance to share their experiences.  The overall feeling was that it had been a very well organised, friendly and, above all, very, very, hot day.

Once everyone had recovered a bit, we found a quiet spot where I took a group photo and we could continue to recover until transition was opened up to those who’d finished (there were still swimmers coming out of the pool at this point).  As we stood around we spotted the live results tent and made our way there: the live results system gave everyone their split, and overall, times pretty much as soon as they’d finished.  We then spent the next 20 minutes trying to keep out of the way of the increasingly large number of people who were also trying to get their results from the system.

Eventually, transition was opened up and everyone headed in their own directions.  Lesley went into leisure centre to get changed (I presume Nikki and Nicola did similar, but I lost sight of them), after which we packed up all of our stuff and wheeled back to the car, where I gently packed Lesley’s bike into the boot and slung the other bangs onto the back seats before settling in for the hour’s journey home.

All in all, then – a grand day out for all concerned: the organisation of the event was slick, the weather a tad warm and everyone taking part came back looking happy (tired, but happy).  So, if you’re looking for a triathlon that’s reasonably local, but with the odd challenge, then I’d thoroughly recommend the one at Catterick.

And, finally, a huge WELL DONE to all three of the Ponteland ladies did fantastically well, especially, of course, Lesley who, glutton for punishment that she sometimes is, is taking part in the Ponteland Triathlon…