Last year when on a cycling trip to Paris I stumbled across a triathlon in the elegant town of Chantilly. It looked a pretty big event, with the town, which is normally famous for horse-racing, filled with triathletes.
It was a glorious day, and in fact I enjoyed the vibe so much that I got waylaid over there and arrived in Paris quite late that evening.
One thing for sure, I decided at that moment that I would take part in that triathlon.
Triathlon is something I haven't done in years. I used to do it regularly as part of a club, in the days when I hardly had any responsibilities and could spend all day training for the three disciplines.
Also in those days you could do a triathlon, have a pub lunch and still have change from £20!
Nowadays you have to remortgage your home if you want to do more than two or three a year! Plus, when I ride a bike I like to ride near others – whether it's elbow to elbow in a race, side by side chatting, or following someone's wheel.
None of that is allowed in an age-group category triathlon, and I am not good enough to race as an elite.
So all those factors mean that nowadays I seldom do triathlons. But for this August Bank Holiday weekend I was willing to come out of retirement!
I would remove the panniers for the race, but I did keep the rack on
This was was my third day of cycle touring through Northern France and had seen me travel from Calais, through the area of the Somme – Abbeville, Amien, Compiegne and now Chantilly. It had been fun.
On the Friday evening, the eve of my race, I went to register, and there was already a sense of occasion with the hoardings up and the advertising stands as well as buoys in the water, and the transition set up.
The staff were a mixture of French and English, and the competitors were mainly French, though many people had made the trip over from the UK.
Triathlon kit to get you through
This race was part of the Castle Triathlon Series, and I am guessing the Chantilly round was the pièce de résistance in terms of location, as well as Anglo-French relations.
The following morning we were greeted with a buoyant atmosphere in the castle grounds, which was good as the weather looked grim. We'd had a storm the previous day, so everything was a bit damp and the skies still looked threatening.
As mentioned, I was doing this triathlon in the middle of a cycle touring trip to Paris. So, not having the resources to travel with two different bikes, I could only race with what I had – my cyclocross bike with the panniers.
Of course I would remove the panniers for the race, but I did keep the rack on!
I felt slightly self-conscious in transition when I found myself next to some very serious looking athletes from Belgium with their lean and mean speed machines.
I wondered what I was getting into – literally
But in fact, people were on all types of machines. Some were on chunky mountain bikes, while others were on bikes akin to shopping bikes - I kid you not.
Of course there were people on specially made tri bikes, including a Team GB elite triathlete. It was an all-comers race.
The briefing and photo op out of the way, we entered the water and got into position ready for the off.
When I got in I realised what everyone had been squealing about. “Dégueullasse” was the word being repeated - disgusting!
And it certainly was.
The first thing that struck me was how shallow the water was. It was probably only 1m40 in depth – shallow enough to stand up in if you wished.
However the other salient thing were the conditions underfoot. We were standing in slime. Plus there was all sorts of bird poo floating on the water surface!
I wondered what I was getting into – literally!
At the gun we were away – or at least most of us.
Tri extras to make you smile
When I began to swim and my arms immediately got entangled in the reeds under water. Crikey how was I going to get anywhere?
It took a couple of minutes before I plucked up the courage to even be able to put my face in the water.
There were a couple of us who hesitated about swimming. Once I got going the lifeguard in the canoe stuck close by to me as they had obviously clocked me as someone who would struggle.
Swimming through all this was disgusting.
The water was so murky, the reeds were getting caught around my hands and feet, as well as going in my face. It was quite a shame how somewhere that looked so regal and pristine had the most disgusting stretch of water in its lake, and there we were swimming in it.
My swim was a constant struggle to find a weed-free area to do front crawl. A couple of times I tried to move towards the middle of the lake, but the lifeguard shouted at me to keep into the side to avoid a collision with the oncoming swimmers who had passed the turnaround point.
So I had to just fight my way through the water.
That, and the prospect of swallowing this gunk made me quite tense and nervous in the water, which in turn made me feel more tired, and I swam even more slowly than my usual slow pace.
Even with my pannier rack on this heavy cyclocross bike I still managed to speed along past a number of riders on road bikes
After what seemed to be an eternity I somehow managed to complete the swim and do the very long run (or in my case walk) up the steps back to transition.
To my horror, my watch showed it had taken me almost 40 minutes of thrashing around to cover the 800m swim.
By the time I left transition on my bike we were almost at the 50-minute mark! Others in my wave were already well into the bike section.
I must admit that while in transition I did stop and chat to a spectator, and I also had to seek out my gilet and arm warmers from my pannier as it wasn’t a very warm morning. Then a marshal stopped me because my number wasn’t visible under my gilet so I had to put it back on under my vest.
That must have been the slowest transition in history!
After all that, the bike was straight forward! I already knew some of the course, having reccied it on my ride into Chantilly from Compiègne the previous day.
Even with my pannier rack on this heavy cyclocross bike I still managed to speed along past a number of riders on road bikes.
This was probably the nicest part of the race, which took us along a fast flat road around the woods of the castle grounds, as well as out to Senlis and other villages.
it was one of the prettiest runs I have done in a triathlon
Over the two 11-mile laps there were only a couple of drags and windy sections. The rest of the time we could really motor along as local folks stopped and cheered us on.
I knew that I was somewhere at the back of the field because of my disastrously slow swim, and my leisurely transition, but as I overtook quite a lot of people it was good to know that I was not in last place.
However, it was difficult to know how far up the field I had moved, given that my Sprint Plus race was happening concurrently with other triathlon distances, and even those in my race who I overtook may have been on their second lap anyway.
Onto the final part, which was one of the prettiest runs I have done in a triathlon. We were taken all around the castle grounds and up to the horse museum and racecourse. It was quite undulating and did include running up the steps twice, but that was still more pleasant than swimming in a bog!
Along the run people cheered us on. There were lots of Bravo, Allez, Courage Serpentine (pronounced serrponteen by the French), as well as a few well dones and looking goods.
By the time I crossed the finish line, to more cheers from the spectators, the sun had come out and I felt quite upbeat.
Given that things had been so slow for me in the early part of the race and there wasn’t much to contest I had taken the run at a relaxed pace and enjoyed the landscape. But it still didn’t stop me from wolfing down four pieces of ginger cake some chocolate bars and a coca cola.
After all, I had been “racing” for over 3 hours! And I still had another 30 miles to ride that day to get to Paris!
I will definitely be back for the Chantilly triathlon in the future. It’s not that the swim is something I really want to experience a second time, but my desire to make a decent account of myself in this race is much stronger!
Chantilly is a very pleasant town which I would recommend visiting, and time-permitting, Senlis and Compiegne are also worth the trip.
As for the triathlon, just keep in mind that Chantilly may be regal, but the swim is very bog standard!
Castle Series Triathlon
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