Big Weekend in Leeds

For the second year in a row, the eyes of global triathlon were on Yorkshire for a weekend, and once again we turned out in force to welcome the world to our town. I had a terrific couple of days supporting friends and teammates.

On Saturday, all the events were taking place within the confines of Roundhay Park, so I rode up there, getting soaked in the process, to watch the racing. First up were the Gotri events designed for first time triathletes. The Gotri brand has been a hugely successful initiative in Leeds, as Triathlon England has wisely used the publicity of the elite race, and the fierce popularity of the Brownlee brothers, to draw in new participants to the sport.

I have been involved in delivering Gotri training sessions this year: at Armley Sports Centre in the spring, and at Roundhay Park in the last few weeks. We’ve helped people get over their nerves, familiarise themselves with open water, and banish any doubts that they could be triathletes too. At a recent familiarisation session, we had 22 swimmers, and only three of them had ever been in open water before! By the end, they were all splashing around like dolphins.

The race itself was great, and I managed to catch up with several of the new triathletes after the race, proudly wearing their medals and their Gotri t shirts. More converts to the sport! Marvellous.

Next up were the Youth and Junior races, and it’s always humbling to see these kids flying around the course. Aged 15-18, there aren’t any slow racers. This was the national championships so none of them had come for a fun run. In the still falling rain, the racing was intense, and the speeds ferocious.

We then enjoyed the National Aquathlon Championships, with our very own Katie Purcell going in the ladies’ race. Katie is training for bigger goals later in the year, but had decided to treat this as a training run. As a coach, I thoroughly approve of her new wetsuit with its bright pink sleeves – I could pick her out in the water from miles away! I just hope that nobody else gets one, otherwise it won’t work anymore.

She had a good swim, but then found herself struggling with asthmatic breathing in transition. She did exactly the right thing and just relaxed: no need to panic, sit tight and get the breathing under control before hitting the road. It did the trick and, although she’d lost a couple of minutes there, it meant she could enjoy the 5km run, and she still finished 6th in her age group.

Sunday was a completely different proposition, not least because the sun was out, making for an altogether more pleasant spectator experience. Today’s races – sprint and standard distance triathlons – would again start in Roundhay, but the run route brought them into the city centre for the finish. I rode into town early with Zoe, and we established a noisy beachhead behind the barriers on the Headrow with other friends from Wakefield Triathlon Club.

Keeping our eyes peeled for Wakefield vests, we did our best to encourage as many people as possible. Steve Denniss came through looking strong and smooth. He had started in an early wave, but even taking that into consideration, he came gliding through sooner than we’d expected. Even though the standard distance is a bit far for him these days – he’s training for the World Sprint Championships later this year – he looked great.

The initial trickle of fast early runners thickened into a steady flow of athletes. There were waves starting every few minutes up at Roundhay Park so, by the time they reached us a couple of hours later, they’d all become intermingled and mixed up. We cheered everyone, but made a special effort to deafen the Wakefield competitors. I also enjoyed seeing Michael Hemsworth bound through. He injured himself at Camp Woburn earlier this year, fracturing his shoulder blade when he came off his bike. His recovery has been incredible, prompting rumours that he is part werewolf. He’s remained positive and sensible with his return to training, and it was great to see him finish this race – maybe not as fast as he’d originally planned, but wonderful fortitude to complete.

At one point, we had a welcome visit from Jodie Stimpson, who was passing by with her family. She's injured at the moment, so was looking for a good spot to watch her friends in the elite race in the afternoon. This didn't stop Bev from grabbing her and introducing herself. Jodie was very gracious, posing for pictures and complimenting us on the volume of noise we were generating.

Despite having a sore throat and a bit of a headache after three or four hours of shrieking and bellowing, I had a bloody marvellous morning. From the faster guys to the determined finishers, everyone received the full force of our cheering. I’d decided to ride home to watch the elite races on television, but before I left, there was one more athlete to cheer.

It was a very pleasant surprise to see Dave Ebsworth going by in the standard distance. Dave lost his leg below the knee last year in a motorbike accident, and I first met him a few months ago when he attended the Gotri sessions we ran at Armley. He was relearning how to swim, as well as building up his stamina. In April, we did an indoor triathlon, and he aced it. I must admit, I thought he was aiming to participate in the Gotri on Saturday morning, but here he was in Leeds, less than 500m to go to complete an Olympic distance triathlon. Absolute monster.