“The Aquathlon Series” as organised by Full Steam events was new this year. It utilises the same facilities as the #RaceStrong Triathlon Club Sunday weekly open water swim at Papercourt Sailing Club, near Send, just off the A3 in Surrey.
It was a beautiful end of summer evening as we pulled into the car park and wandered into the club house for registration. This was the third attempt at getting myself to the series race: the first two just didn’t happen for one reason or another, so I was happy to be there and predisposed to have a good time.
The facilities on offer are excellent – including plenty of parking, free nutritional goodies and post-race hot shower and bar facilities.
There was a fairly genial crowd of about 30 bodies (turns out it was 16 senior racers including 2 juniors) that faffed around in true pre-race style of hurry up & wait as the race marshals put the buoys in the lake. After setting up transition (thanks for the hair-band and talc guys – you know who you are) it was time for a fairly perfunctory pre-race briefing.
All but one of us (known amongst the competitors as ‘speedo-guy’ – who incidentally was wearing my spare swim hat and goggles) zipped our wetsuits up and made our way to the water, (which was a pleasant enough temperature if clad in neoprene – a touch brisk otherwise) and ‘warmed up’ for five minutes whilst some Olympic standard faffing was done by the organiser who suddenly bolted off from the safety boat for an unknown reason, leaving us in the clutches of his evil henchman – “kayak-girl”.
The Swim (750m)
Without much further ado and only a little treading water (in fact just a shout of: “Get back behind the line you! 5..4..3..2..1..GO!” as mister organisation jogged back towards the speed boat) we were off in a mass start.
Two groups of swimmers formed up fairly quickly: those who were adept at open water swimming, and those that weren’t so much. I was happily ensconced in the middle of the second group, which had more than enough room to not swim over each other and a reasonable buoy to sight as we splashed towards the far end of the lake, turning 90 degrees right across the lake and then another right angle back towards the boat house. Ironically I found the massive red buoy much more difficult to spot on the way back in than the smaller yellow pyramid shaped ones, but soon enough we passed it and hobbled up the pebbly boat launching ramp into transition.
Not quite the last one out of the water, but I wasn’t far off.
The Run (5k, Off road)
Ripping off the wetsuit and throwing on some shoes, it was off around an off-road course that wended its way up the south east side of the lake, then followed a fairly circuitous but well-marked up & back path back through heavily wooded trails to re-join itself for a second loop before arriving back at the club house. There were plenty of friendly marshals at all the right points to point us in the right direction where required.
The run course was reasonably even hard pack underfoot, so standard trainers would have been as effective as the cross shoes I had chosen – although if it was wet the cross shoes would have been worth their weight and time penalty for tying proper laces rather than elasticated ones.
The main criticism of the run – and the only criticism of the race in general amongst the competitors — was that it was dusky twilight by the time we got to the second lap, and the run thorough the heavily wooded trails was treacherous at best – leading to at least two runners tripping over tree roots obscured in the half light.
Arriving back at the club house, there was free water and recovery powders / drinks for all and a generally friendly atmosphere and bar.
The race organiser has assured me that the next one will be done either earlier in the day to avoid light issues (or possibly on the weekend depending on the vagaries of the relationship with Papercourt sailing club). I have some sympathy as balancing the lack of available light against entrant’s work commitments can’t be an easy task.
Whilst I’m the first to admit my finishing times aren’t going to set the world afire, none the less the event was extremely enjoyable, and am looking forward to doing the series next year – mainly due to the convenience, location and price.