Katie finished her first triathlon sponsored by Fund Her Tri UK on 05/06/2023 at Blenheim Palace Triathlon.
My mother has been an indomitable athlete all her life but particularly since she took up triathlon in her forties and subsequently got into ultra running. While she successfully indoctrinated us into running a long time ago, the complexity and kit of the triathlon, combined with my longstanding apathy towards cycling, has always rather put me off.
When we found ourselves in Chamonix supporting her attempt at the UTMB, we quickly bonded with the equally indomitable Bianca, Co-founder and Chair of Fund Her Tri UK (who was supporting her husband Alan at the same event). Before I knew it, she was talking me into the Blenheim Palace Triathlon, complete with the offer of a sponsored place.
FHT UK aims to remove financial barriers to first-time female triathletes, and their generosity gave me the push to give it a go. I always knew I would, but this was a decade or so earlier than I expected!
Training for my first triathlon
I had such good intentions about training and managed some practice transitions, but work piled up and made it pretty challenging to find the time in April and May. I actually performed two completely separate shows, in different cities, in the seven days before the event!
One super sprint practice on Hampstead Heath later and I was driving to Oxford for a weekend away with my mother/expert crew. If I was a little underprepared, I was certainly in very good hands.
Swimming: tough beginnings
As someone who doesn’t like to be underprepared, nerves really got to me as we assembled for the swim. The gorgeous weather and supportive atmosphere of the all-female wave certainly helped, and I tried to visualise a successful swim.
Visualisation really helped me in the triathlon - it’s something I do before a show and it worked just as well here. Talking through what I was going to do before each section and the steps of transition made me feel a bit calmer!
But back to the swim. I struggled to get my head in and ended up doing breaststroke for most of it, with occasional flashes of front crawl. Honestly, it was really tough going, and some panicked breathing meant I didn’t pull off the sighting that I’d practiced.
Afterwards I heard that a lot of experienced triathletes found it tough and my time wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared, only three minutes over my plan. And it was very gorgeous!
There’s a long walk back up from the lake towards the palace, which helped to counter some dizziness. I found the path was tough underfoot and I was in no mood to run, but, once I got to the transition zone, it was quick and simple - and the red carpet in front of the palace certainly created a sense of occasion.
Unexpected joy in the bike leg
To my astonishment, the bike was my favourite part!
I famously hate cycling and was very scared of my borrowed race bike. In training, I always felt a bit wobbly and underconfident, but after a minute or two at Blenheim I was having a whale of a time. I might put this down to not having gormless pedestrians and off-lead dogs in my path.
It was really fun, with a great atmosphere. I trudged up some hills and had to stop once to prevent my helmet actually flying off! I must also confess that I didn’t do any gear changes or drink water as I just don’t trust my balance - maybe one day!
Transition was very quick and I just about remembered to swap my helmet for my running cap, which I was very glad of in the strong sun.
A tough - but great - run
I hate running on grass. I hate running up hills. And I hate the pollen this year that seems unnecessarily vicious. But apart from that trio, the run was very good!
This was definitely the most comfortable, as I just treated it like the final section of the half marathon and my body knew what to do. Having come in under my expected time on the cycle I was determined to get a decent run time and finish under two hours, so I really dug into keeping a consistent pace. I was very grateful for the water station!
Quite unexpectedly I burst into tears at the finish line, partly because I was so out of breath and partly because I realised I’d finished well under two hours.
With a very busy few weeks, much less training than I’d hoped for and the challenging swim, it felt like a massive achievement and it was pretty wonderful to be met at the finish by my mother, absolutely beaming.
I’ll definitely be doing another one, after a lot more open water swimming practice... And maybe learning to use my gears!
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