I tend to base my race choices on the quality of the medal. A while ago, I saw an amazing medal shaped like a pirate owl and immediately added it to my wish list.
The Owler Triathlon had several distances and formats on offer this year. I opted for the standard distance triathlon, but they were also hosting the National Championships for the half-iron distance.
Unfortunately there were some changes to the logistics ahead of race day. Conningbrook Lake where the swim was to be held had Blue Green Algae making it unusable. Instead, the race organisers arranged an alternative swim venue at Lydd Lake. This meant that there would be a split transition and our kit would be transported to to the finish line at the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford. The bike course would also be different to account for the new venue and it would be longer at 45km (instead of 40km). We decided to register on Saturday, so that we could see the two venues and understand how things would work on race day.
The standard distance race began at 10am, so it made a change to have a lie-in! As soon as we arrived at the venue, we noticed people from the earlier waves standing up and walking in the water. It was quite a funny sight to see people upright and we realised the water must be very shallow in certain places.
Laying out my kit in transition, it was strange to not have my trainers or visor in front of me. Instead, they would be waiting for me 28 miles away at the Julie Rose Stadium.
Swim- 1500m?- 42:20
We were told in the briefing that there was a sandbank running through the lake, but it was swimmable and we would be disqualified if seen standing up and walking. We filed into the lake over the pebbles and thick mud. It was a sudden start- the klaxon was sounded as soon as I got into the water and I just managed to start my Garmin in time.
I made my way towards the first buoy and soon came across the sandbank. The water was very shallow, but I was able to keep swimming by altering my stroke. It did feel like I was dragging my fingernails through mud!
The buoys were spaced quite far apart which made it feel like a long slog between each turn. The sun was in my eyes on the back straight meaning that I struggled to see the second buoy. I glanced at my watch at the halfway point and already knew that this course was not an accurate 1500m.
We passed over the sandbank four times during the swim, each time I tried to swim over it as quickly as I could without becoming beached! Finally I finished my second lap and turned to the exit. I sank up to my knees in the thick mud as I stood up and needed a marshall’s help to pull me out!
I looked at my swim time as I ran into the transition area and was disappointed to see 42 minutes. I usually swim 1500m in 28-29 minutes, so I knew this course was much too long.
Transition 1- 4:31
I took off my wetsuit, goggles and hat and put them in the blue sacks we had been provided with. After getting ready for the bike, I realised I’d left my towel out. Tearing open the bag, I also scraped the skin off my thumb which started pouring blood everywhere! The second time I’ve cut my hand in a race!
Bike- 45km- 1:47:49
Out onto the roads of Lydd and past the airport, my ride got off to a great start. I tend to get into a game of cat-and-mouse with another rider, which is always fun when we pass each other every few miles. This time, I kept overtaking then being overtaken by the same woman, up until we reached the roundabout at Brenzett. I got held in the traffic and she whizzed off through the junction.
I was riding alone for some time after this. Occasionally I wondered if I was on the right route, when I didn’t see anyone ahead or hear anyone behind. The country lanes through Ivychurch and Newchurch were quiet and completely flat- I was keeping a good speed and enjoying the ride.
At about 25km, I turned right and the hills began! Shifting from my big ring to my smaller ring, my chain became jammed and I ground to a halt. I got off and tried to figure out how to fix it. Panic started rising up as I realised I couldn’t release the chain from the front derailleur- I thought my race was over. I’d passed a marshall at the turning, so I walked back and asked if he could help. I was wary of asking for assistance as it can mean disqualification, but fortunately he was able to help and fixed it fairly quickly. Thanking him, I got back on my way.
The hills were tough and much steeper than I’d expected! I lost momentum after stopping and found it a struggle to get going again. The ride seemed to go on forever.
I didn’t realise at the time, but others had been effected by another problem on the bike course. The direction signs had been removed and several of the faster riders (including Glen) had gone off course by several kilometres. Fortunately, the signs were back in place by the time I passed through so I wasn’t effected.
The final part of the bike course was on the same roads as the run course. It was already busy with runners from the earlier waves, so it was quite tricky navigating around them on my bike. Some runners didn’t seem to be aware of the bikes around them, so I took a very slowly and called out as I overtook.
Transition 2- 2:32
As if by magic, my running shoes and visor were waiting for me in position 324 in the stadium. I must admit I wish I’d opted for the aquabike, so that I could finish my race there and forget about the run!
Run- 10.5km- 1:10:46
The run route took us out of the stadium into Conningbrook Country Park and around the lake where the swim should have been held. The course was on gravel tracks and grass, then out onto tarmac country lanes where the bikers were still coming in.
At 1km, I saw Glen headed back into the stadium, he shouted “it’s not pleasant out there” so already I was dreading the next 9 kilometres of running! He went on to win his age group and place 5th overall, despite the signage issue on the bike route.
My legs were still stiff after the Spitfire Scramble the previous weekend, so I ran/walked much of the course. There were several feed stations which had jaffa cakes, flat coke and cold sponges! The sponges were so refreshing- I carried two with me and used them to clean the blood and grease off my hands. The marshalls and other competitors were very friendly, always encouraging me to run whenever I started walking.
I just wanted to be done with this race, I felt exhausted and knew that it would be a slow finishing time. The only way to get to the finish line any quicker is to run, so I willed myself to run the last kilometre.
Finally back into the stadium, I crossed the finish line in 3:48:00 and got that owl medal! It was a tough race which hadn’t gone smoothly for me. My time was about 50 minutes slower than usual but I was just glad to have finished.
Glen got the shuttle-bus back to collect our car from Lydd Lake whilst I waited with our bikes and bags. I’ve read some mixed reviews of the Owler, but ultimately I think the team at Trispirit Events did a great job of overcoming challenges to provide a different swim venue. It wasn’t ideal but it meant that we still got to race a triathlon, rather than a duathlon. The stolen bike signs were completely beyond their control and fortunately the riders were directed back onto course as quickly as possible.
Photo credit: Pit Stop Crew
Have you ever been effected by stolen signs on a race course? What’s your favourite medal?