Ten Top Summer Triathlons

Spoilt for triathlon choice this summer? Here are the races we'd go the distance for


Posted: 19 November 2009
by Ruth Emmett

Ironman 70.3

WHEN June
WHERE Wimbleball, Somerset
DISTANCE Half-Ironman (1.9K/90K/21.1K)
SWIM Lake BIKE Road RUN Road/grass
www.ironman.com/events/ironman70.3

Don't be confused by the suffix: in 2006, the World Triathlon Corporation declared all their licensed Half-Ironmans would now be known as Ironman 70.3s. The name changed but the distance didn't, and serious triathletes still flock to Wimbleball each year, lured by the chance to qualify for the Ford Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. The best 100 triathletes in Wimbleball earn themselves a place for the American race, which could ultimately open a door to the prize of a place at the Ironman World Championships finale in Hawaii.

The triathlon starts with a swim in the flooded river valley of Wimbleball Lake followed by a bike ride that circles the Exmoor countryside via Bredon Hill Farm to the north and Wilsons Farm to the west. The watchword here is hilly: be prepared for some uphill slog. The hills continue for the run, a three lap off-road course over undulating terrain.

MUST-KNOW Don't be tempted to get in any last-minute swimming practise in the lake: the organiser's contract with South West Lakes Trust forbids it and you could be disqualified.
FROM THE TOP "The beauty and ruggedness of Exmoor make this both one of the most challenging middle-distance events, and one of the most stunning. It's a must do race." - Joe Beer, triathlon coach and author of Need to Know? Triathlon

Bala Middle-Distance Triathlon

WHEN June
WHERE Bala, Gwynedd
DISTANCE Middle Distance (2K/78.5K/20K)
SWIM Lake BIKE Road RUN Road
www.wrecsamtri.org.uk

The Bala Half-Ironman is not for the faint-hearted. This is a tough race set in some of north Wales' most breathtaking scenery. The triathlon starts with a 2,000m swim in Bala Lake, where Llyn Tegyd, Wales' answer to the Loch Ness Monster, is said to live. The cold choppy water makes this section of the race particularly challenging and there's no respite on the epic 78.5K bike ride through beautiful Snowdonia National Park - the second largest national park in Britain and, unfortunately for cyclists, one of the hilliest too. A 20K run around Bala Lake concludes with a climb into the foothills of the Arans. Clearly hill training, both on foot and bike, is a good idea before this event.

MUST-KNOW The weather in Wales is notoriously wet and wild so the water temperature in Lake Bala is low even in summer. Dip your toe in so you know what to expect.
FROM THE TOP "It's on record as being one of the hardest triathlons in the UK and I couldn't disagree, but the picture-postcard surroundings of Bala make all the pain worthwhile. The race has become a Mecca for the Runner's World Pirates triathlon club. With so many of us at the race, the support is fantastic." - Daniel Benson, Bala finisher and Editor of www.cyclingnews.com

Cotswold Sprint Triathlon

WHEN September
WHERE Cirencester, Gloucestershire
DISTANCE Novice/Youth (400m/20K/2.5K), Sprint (750m/20K/5K)
SWIM Lake BIKE Road RUN Road
www.triferris.com/cotswold

Held at the picturesque Keynes Country Park near Cirencester, this is about as placid as a mass competitive endurance event can be. A swim in the clear lake of Cotswold Water Park offers the ideal bridge between pool training and open-water events: try this event if you're still a little unsure in your wetsuit.

A flat cycle along country roads - where the only distracting noise is likely to be birdsong - is followed by a lap or two of the lake.

MUST-KNOW This year the first Cotswold Women-Only Triathlon will take place in the same location on June 8.
FROM THE TOP "I like this triathlon because it's non-drafting, which makes it harder for swimmers to get away at the front. Another reason I like it is because I have won it!" - Michelle Dillon, Winner of the 2007 London Triathlon

Nokia Royal Windsor Triathlon

WHEN June
WHERE Windsor, Berkshire
DISTANCE Sprint (750m/30K/5K), Olympic (1.5K/42K/10K)
SWIM Lake BIKE Road RUN Road 
www.humanrace.co.uk

Seven-time winner of British Trialthon's event of the year award, this triathlon is practically a regal institution in its own right. Very few events boast such a grand backdrop as Windsor Castle and the race makes the most of the surroundings with a swim in a stretch of the River Thames and a bike ride that takes racers through some of Berkshire's most charming villages. The flat course throughout guarantees a fast cycle section before the scenic run past some of the town's most arresting historical English architecture, including  Eton High Street and Eton College.

MUST-KNOW The swim portion of the event takes place on the outer edges of the Thames. The water can be quite shallow in places so you might end up running through it.
FROM THE TOP "I always think of the Windsor Triathlon as the start of the 'big time' season. Organiser John Lunt must have a direct line to the man upstairs, as the weather is always fantastic, and a superb atmosphere is guaranteed." - Steve Trew, triathlon coach and author of Triathlon: A Training Manual

TIMEX Women-only Triathlon

WHEN July
WHERE Dorney, Berkshire
DISTANCE Novice 200m/5K/2.5K), Sprint (400m/20K/5K), Challenge (800m/30K/7.5K)
SWIM Lake BIKE Closed roads RUN Closed footpaths  
www.humanrace.co.uk

This event at Dorney Lake near Eton has two great selling points: it is only open to the fairer sex, and it is also one of the few courses in the UK to offer the option of either individual or relay entry. Individuals can chose from three distances, while the relay sees two or three women teaming up for the Challenge distance. The race starts with a swim in Dorney Lake, the rowing venue for the 2012 Olympic Games, before a bike section on a traffic-free circuit around the lake, and a run up and down the side of the lake.

MUST-KNOW This is the perfect race if friends and family want to support your first foray into the world of triathlon. Both the bike and run legs of the race are multiple laps, so they'll have plenty of chances to give you a huge cheer every time you pass by.
FROM THE TOP "There's a great sense of camaraderie at this race and the slick organisation, flat-as-a-pancake course and friendly atmosphere are great for first timers." - Lisa Buckingham, triathlete and co-author of Triathlon Made Easy

Club Relays, Pace Setter Events

WHEN August
WHERE Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham
DISTANCE 500m/15K/5K
SWIM Lake BIKE Closed roads
RUN Closed roads
www.pacesetterevents.co.uk/national-team-relay.php

Voted Event of the Year 2007 by the British Triathlon Federation, this relay at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham is one of the most sociable and fun ways to compete in a triathlon. The event revolves around teams of four passing the pressure on to each other as they take turns to swim, bike and run a course described by its organisers as "a mixture between competition and chaos." Every triathlete has a chance to try their hand at each discipline, so there is no 'cheating' by mixing people with a particular strength in one discipline.

The swim, which takes place in the purpose-built Olympic-sized rowing lake of the National Water Sports Centre, is followed by a 15K bike ride and a 5K run, both of which take place on the flat closed-road circuits of the Sports Centre. Each triathlete completes the course, then tags their team mate to follow in their footsteps. Around 300 teams compete in women's, men's or mixed categories.

MUST-KNOW This might not be the best triathlon to attempt with close friends: the events all take place in closed areas where team mates can see - and heckle - each other throughout the race.
FROM THE TOP "I like this event because this club relay triathlon is a rare opportunity for members of a club to actually race as a team, aided by fantastic organisation at a brilliant venue. It's also one of only a few fully inclusive event that allow disabled triathletes to take part as well." - John Muddeman, British Triathlon's Events Organiser

Southwater Relays

WHEN September
WHERE Southwater, West Sussex
DISTANCE 400m/18.5K/3.8K
SWIM Lake BIKE Closed roads
RUN Closed roads
www.a2tri.com

This relay in West Sussex is a relatively small and welcoming event organised by the
Amphibians 2 Triathlon club. Each team member completes the race in turn, beginning with a 400m lake swim followed by an 18.5K bike race around the grounds of the park. Drafting is strictly forbidden and draftbusters will be on patrol to implement a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. At the end of the first lap runners must collect a tag to gain entry to the designated handover pen, where each member tags the next racer in their team. Teams of three can be single-sex or mixed.

MUST-KNOW New rules mean that no-one will be allowed to remove their bike until the last competitor has finished. This is to leave the transition area unobstructed for all waves, so if you are a fast finisher, you might face a bit of waiting-around time.
FROM THE TOP "Southwater Relays caters for all levels of ability. The natural amphitheatre surrounding the lake makes for an excellent view of the start, changeovers, swim, run and finish. It's a fun day even though the competition is fierce." - Richard Stannard, gold medal winner at the 2006 World Championships Aquathlon

London Triathlon

WHEN August
WHERE London's Docklands
DISTANCE Super Sprint (400m/10K/2.5K), Sprint (750m/20K/5K),Olympic (1.5K/40K/10K)
SWIM Dock BIKE Closed roads
RUN Closed roads
www.thelondontriathlon.com

The London Triathlon is the daddy of them all. Kicking off from the Docklands' ExCeL Centre, the 10,000-competitor event is the world's biggest triathlon and one of the few events held in the capital that's big enough to prompt major road closures. The Olympic-distance course winds past some of London's landmarks, including Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the London Eye.

With a choice of three distances on offer, every ability is catered for, which perhaps explains its huge appeal to novices, with around 50 per cent of competitors each year taking part in their first triathlon. Another draw is the London Triathlon Expo, a massive exhibition in the ExCeL centre.

MUST-KNOW In such an enormous venue with so many competitors around, it pays to practise your transitions in detail. You are not allowed to go up the stairs at T1 until you've removed your wetsuit so make sure you take it off as you exit the water and know exactly where you left your bike.
FROM THE TOP "The London Triathlon is one of my favourite races. It's a great course, always has a competitive field, and gives me a great buzz to be racing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd." Tim Don, the World Triathlon Champion in 2006

The Vitruvian

WHEN September
WHERE Rutland, Leicestershire
DISTANCE 1900m/85K/21K
SWIM Lake RUN Tarmac path/grass CYCLE Road
www.pacesetterevents.com/vitruvian.php

The Vitruvian has proved so popular in the past that they have expanded the race limit to 1,000 for the first time this year. But there is no time for sitting on your hands, though: after British Triathlon chose the Vitruvian as the site of the Mazda Middle Distance National Championships, it's expected that places will be quickly filled.

You certainly need to be in good shape for this course: the 1,900m swim kicks off from the lake at Whitwell Harbour and sees competitors complete two laps. This is followed by a 85K bike ride which involves climbing the notorious Rutland Ripple twice, amounting to nearly 1,000m of climbing. Take note: drafting is allowed, but if you spend longer than 15 seconds in the slipstream of another competitor you might face a time penalty. The 21K run then takes competitors for two laps around the lake, using the attractive and historic Normanton Church as a boundary mark.

MUST-KNOW After the first lap of the swim, competitors must exit the water and run back round to the right side of the jetty ready for lap two: be prepared for some discontinuity.
FROM THE TOP "The beautifully picturesque course of The Vitruvian makes this great long-distance race one of the best on the British Championship circuit." - Hollie Avil, World and European Junior Triathlon Champion

Blenheim Triathlon

WHEN June
WHERE Woodstock, Oxfordshire
DISTANCE Super Sprint (400m/12.9K/2.6K), Sprint (750m/19.3K/5.2K)
SWIM Lake BIKE Road RUN Road
www.theblenheimtriathlon.com

The Queen Pool Lake is the setting for the swim while the undulating cycle and run sections take place in acres of serene parkland. There are two distances to choose from and with around 4,000 competitors, the race can feel like a scaled-down version of the London Triathlon - with far fewer people, much less pollution and less chance of embarassing yourself on television.

MUST-KNOW Be prepared for one last challenge as you near the finish: the run culminates with a stretch across Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge before an incline that more than one competitor has described as "painful."
FROM THE TOP "The race has always had a unique feel. You can't fail to take good photos of athletes with Blenheim Palace, a beautiful lake and hills in the background. It's one of the few races that manages to bring together a massive range of age-groupers and elite triathletes on the same day and on the same course." - Oliver Freeman, Double European Junior Triathlon Champion



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