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Brownlee brothers triathlon inspires hundreds of competitors
ONE thousand people took part in the inaugural Brownlee Triathlon at Fountains Abbey at the weekend. Hannah Chapman donned her wetsuit, borrowed a bike and laced up her running shoes to join the competitors.
WATCHING the Brownlee brothers take gold and bronze medals in the Olympic triathlon last year was one of the many highlights of London 2012.
It's hard not to admire anyone who can run a ten kilometre race in less than 30 minutes after swimming 1,500 metres and biking 43 kilometres.
The popularity of the Yorkshire-born brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, has helped to spark a growing interest in the sport, and when it was announced the pair were to hold their own event over a “super-sprint” distance, many first-time triathletes signed up to give it a go.
Among them were half a dozen past and present members of Northallerton Hockey Club, who were keen to get a taste of a triathlon.
I only entered the event at the end of August after being talked into it by some of my more enthusiastic club-mates.
After initially arguing that it would involve far too much rushing around for my liking, I was persuaded to take part when I discovered, much to my surprise, a real enjoyment of open water swimming.
As we arrived at Fountains Abbey on Saturday, it was easy to be intimidated by the scores of more experienced competitors, with their specialist bikes, high-spec wetsuits and talk of personal bests.
The distances involved were not too much of a worry – a 400 metre swim, ten kilometre bike ride and 2.5 kilometre run should be achievable, even for a first-time effort.
I also wasn't too concerned about my time (within reason). My aims for the day were twofold – not to drown in the lake and not to crash the bike I borrowed off a friend in place of my three-decade-old bone shaker.
The races were split on age grounds into waves of 50 competitors, but the organisers allowed our hockey team into the same wave, despite our differing ages.
Once in the lake (cool but not too much weed) we were soon underway and my plan to keep out of trouble at the back paid off. My steady front crawl got me round the course in just under 11 minutes and as I wobbled out of the water and up the steep grassy slope to the transition area, I was announced over the PA system as “leading my age group”.
I was the only 30-year-old in the 35-44 section, so if I wasn't first in a field of one, things would have been going very badly.
After a fight to get my wetsuit off which cost me roughly two minutes, I was away on my bike – by far my least favourite of the three disciplines.
The route involved paths around the Studley Royal estate, plus some public roads which were still open to traffic. My biggest obstacle turned out to be a dithering 4x4 driver.
Safely back into transition after two laps, and with both my aims achieved, I settled into a steady run along the lakeside, and finished amid the spectacular ruins of Fountains Abbey, cheered across the line by family and friends, and most of the hockey ladies, who were long-finished.
All proud of our efforts, some happier than others with our times (1hr 2mins for me), we swapped stories of our respective races – slipping bike chains and accidental nudity in transition among them.
The Brownlees spent their day meeting competitors, giving interviews and signing copies of their book, in between taking part in their own challenge.
The brothers had been due to go head to head on the course, but with Alistair suffering from an ankle injury, Jonathan was left to race against a three-man relay team, which included Alistair on the bike.
“It's been fantastic to see 1,000 people enter, turn up and complete the event,” said Alistair. “And there'll be another however-many who've turned up to watch.”
Jonathan, who won the challenge comfortably, added: “We're just looking at getting people into the sport. Getting people fit, and appreciating being outside and in an inspiring setting like this.”
The pair are planning to expand the event for next year to include children's races and different distances for adults, and I think it's safe to say that many of those of first-time triathletes, myself included, will be back for more.
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