A beau­ti­ful set­ting, spec­ta­tor-friendly mid­dle dis­tance course and plenty of deer are high­lights of the 220 Triathlon Woburner. One reader told us how his race went


It’s 350m into the 1.9km swim of the 220 Triathlon Woburner. I’ve an­other red buoy com­ing up for left turn num­ber three in Woburn Abbey’s lake. Get­ting to here has been one of my eas­i­est mid­dledis­tance race starts. Vis­i­bil­ity is about a me­tre and I’m al­ready in a de­cent rhythm. I swing a left at the buoy with only two other ath­letes around me. And then, all of a sud­den, the world dis­ap­pears...

In a split sec­ond, my adrenaline­fu­elled brain as­sesses the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Is my swim cap cov­er­ing my eyes? Nope. Are the reeds mask­ing my gog­gles? Hap­pily not!

I lift my head to sight the last of the left turn red buoys, take a breath, a stroke and thank­fully the world flashes clearly into view. I plunge my head back into the dark­ness and con­clude that the first three morn­ing waves of swim­mers have kicked up enough mud to kill vis­i­bil­ity in this part of the lake.

Now I’ve had to con­tend with nu­mer­ous ad­verse tri swim con­di­tions in the past. I’ve dealt with rough seas at 70.3 Wey­mouth, cramped up in the cold wa­ters of Exmoor Lake and have even swal­lowed diesel-laced dock­lands water in Lon­don. But I’m not sure I have the nav­i­ga­tional skills to con­tend with swim­ming in the dark!

A lit­tle panic sets in, my pace slows and I’m sight­ing the buoy ev­ery sec­ond stroke, and curs­ing the fact that I didn’t spend more time prac­tis­ing sight­ing in the pool. I ex­e­cute left turn num­ber four and start head­ing into the heart of the lake. My trep­i­da­tion turns to sheer joy as the water clears and vis­i­bil­ity is re­stored.


With 11 years of rac­ing on these dis­tinc­tively-iconic grounds, and with the Abbey it­self as a back­drop and wild deer roam­ing the park, Hu­man Race’s Woburn Abbey Triathlon has been build­ing in pop­u­lar­ity year-on-year. There are sprint and Olympic-dis­tance races, as well as ju­nior triathlons and scootathons for the kids. The mid­dle-dis­tance 220 Triathlon Woburner it­self was in­tro­duced only three years ago, and is al­ready at­tract­ing a range of triath­letes of vary­ing abil­i­ties and mul­ti­sport ex­pe­ri­ences. The week­end also raises money for tri for life, so we’re do­ing good things for char­ity as well as rac­ing!

Stand­ing on top of the hill over­look­ing the swim start, it’s easy to un­der­stand the ap­peal of the event. The panorama re­ally is special. On my left, the Grade 1listed Abbey over­looks tran­si­tion and, as I sweep my eyes right, I can see the large lake, and then the run course slop­ing gen­tly down be­hind it, un­til it dis­ap­pears into the dis­tance be­hind a tree-lined path.

It’s race morn­ing and I wake, rested, at 5:30am, de­ter­mined to get to Woburn be­fore the ac­cess road closes at 7am. A black cof­fee and pain-au-choco­late have be­come my sta­ple pre-race break­fasts, with a ba­nana and water to fol­low. I’m feel­ing ex­cep­tion­ally calm, park up and head into tran­si­tion to feel the ex­cite­ment mount­ing. There’s a buzz of ac­tiv­ity.

The ref­eree an­nounces over the Tan­noy a fi­nal call for the first wave, and fa­mil­iar but­ter­flies swarm as the day’s rac­ing be­comes real. I rack my bike and or­gan­ise my gear just the way I like it.

Speak­ing to my fel­low ath­letes, I’m amazed to discover that of the 10 or so ath­letes near­est me, only one has com­pleted this dis­tance be­fore. Ev­ery­one else is try­ing the chal­lenge of mid­dle-dis­tance rac­ing for the first time. Steve, a fel­low Woburner, in­forms me that he’s a vet­eran Olympic-dis­tance com­peti­tor, but was drawn to the Woburner by an ad­vert he saw on Face­book. “I guess you could call me a vir­gin again,” he chuck­les.

I soon find my­self stand­ing on the bank of the lake with 30 or so mid­dle-aged men in wet­suits. There are two min­utes un­til the race start. There’s the usual arm-swing­ing, leg-stretch­ing and head-bob­bing, warm-up rou­tine while lis­ten­ing to the fi­nal in­struc­tions from the race of­fi­cial. A quick joke to try and set­tle the nerves, and we’re in the lake.


The course in the lake loops around the out­side, be­fore cut­ting back in on it­self, with two right turns, and back to the start. At the end of the first loop, I sneak a look at the course in the mid­dle of the lake and I’m happy to see I’m not bring­ing up the rear – a very real fear of mine on the swim.

The rest of the swim plays out like a training set, with two swim­mers over­tak­ing me and me do­ing the same to two oth­ers. Af­ter 46mins of patches of reeds and dark­ness, I exit the swim proud to have con­quered the Woburn lake.

Thank good­ness tran­si­tion is close. De­spite ap­ply­ing co­pi­ous amounts of anti-chaffing lube to my an­kles, I can’t seem to pull my wet­suit off my legs smoothly. I must look like a dis­tressed rock­hop­per pen­guin. I bounce around at­tempt­ing not to fall over un­til I get both limbs free from their rub­ber bonds. Bike shoes on and I’m at the mount line.


A ma­jor draw of the race in­cludes a cir­cuit of the grounds be­fore head­ing out. This is bril­liant. I’m able to set­tle in on the bike, make sure my nu­tri­tion and drink are ac­ces­si­ble and get my cy­cle legs go­ing. Fin­ish­ing the ini­tial lap, it’s out onto the roads of neigh­bour­ing set­tle­ments into quintessen­tial­lyEnglish sur­round­ings, with late­sea­son cricket matches tak­ing place on vil­lage greens.

Sadly the road sur­face is any­thing but smooth. The re­cent rains and ve­hi­cles on the roads have scat­tered end­less grit and stones all over the tarmac and I see a road­side punc­ture within 400m!


I race down two fast yet short de­scents on the way to Tingrith, and then into the cen­tury-old vil­lage of Ever­sholt. The Bed­ford­shire course un­du­lates be­fore hit­ting the home stretch back to Woburn, and the wel­come sight of rolling hills filled with wild deer.

I stop to help one triath­lete who’s for­got­ten to load any spares at all (a mis­take I’m sure he’ll never make again), then it’s eat, drink, re­fuel and re­peat the cir­cuit again, twice. Af­ter 3:44:14 of rid­ing, noth­ing

beats the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of com­ing down the fi­nal and fast de­scent into tran­si­tion, spin­ning my legs to pre­pare my body for the 21.1km of run­ning ahead.


The run start is a slight down­hill out of tran­si­tion and it feels like a god­send. I’m able to take my foot off the gas, but still keep a happy 5:30min pace. I speed down an­other hill and turn right onto an­other unique fea­ture of the Woburner, a closed foot­path that takes me out past an un­seen lake that’s truly a sight for my tired eyes. It’s usu­ally closed to the pub­lic we’re told at the race brief­ing, but by rac­ing we get to see the beau­ti­ful Woburn Abbey ‘ev­er­greens’.

The looped na­ture of the outand-back run course – with four laps of 5.25km to com­plete – is bril­liant for my rac­ing psy­chol­ogy, as it helps me break up the ef­fort and makes ev­ery­thing feel more man­age­able. I also get to see all the com­peti­tors and share the ex­pe­ri­ence. Steve from tran­si­tion passes by on the other side, with a pained ex­pres­sion. “Cramp,” he grunts, but soldiers on.

I’ve hy­drated and fu­elled as per my pre-race plan, but I too be­gin to cramp af­ter 11km of the run and I walk it out at the be­gin­ning of lap three. The kilo­me­tre-long wall of sup­port­ers from tran­si­tion out to the gates comes alive and I can hear en­cour­age­ment from ev­ery di­rec­tion. ‘Come on num­ber 100!’ It’s enough to get me shuf­fling for­ward again.


I stum­ble through the next 10km, putting in as much ef­fort as I can with­out ini­ti­at­ing the cramp again, and com­plete my fi­nal loop. In a fi­nal twist of dark hu­mour, the fin­ish line is right on top of the high­est hill on the Abbey grounds. I tell my­self I can run this and get at least 10 strides up when my body in­forms me that I ac­tu­ally can’t.

Thank­fully it flat­tens out 100m be­fore the line, and I re­trieve my pride and break into what feels like a sprint, but I must look like a wounded buck limp­ing across the fin­ish line to fin­ish in 142nd place out of the 183 starters.

I re­mem­ber to ring the ‘bell of love’ that’s hang­ing across the fin­ish line, a unique way to end what’s been a qui­etly-de­mand­ing but per­son­ally-ful­fill­ing race. Ring­ing that bell feels like both a per­sonal and pub­lic cel­e­bra­tion of an amaz­ing achieve­ment. Okay, so I crossed the line in 7:15hrs, well short of my mid­dle-dis­tance per­sonal best, but the rolling hills en­sure that this cer­tainly isn’t a PB 113km course.

I im­me­di­ately ask my­self, would I race again? You bet I would. There’s great sup­port through­out, it’s well or­gan­ised, has an amaz­ing triath­lete spirit and ex­ists in a beau­ti­ful wilder­ness set­ting. And now a week af­ter the race, my legs have pretty much for­given me and I’ve just seen an early bird Woburner of­fer for 2019 on Face­book. I might just see you there in Septem­ber.

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