Set amidst a backdrop of Lakeland fells and cascading waterfalls, Buttermere is arguably one of the most iconic settings in the Lake District. Add to this a crystal clear lake, a technical road bike course including the notorious Honister Pass and spectacular running trails, and you have all the essential ingredients for a classic triathlon.
In the days preceding the event a typical Lakeland 'Indian summer' had set in with driving rain and gales battering the area, making the task of setting up the course quite challenging in itself. Anyone arriving at the venue early must have been wondering what they were letting themselves in for. But race day dawned with light winds and clearing skies.
Lining up in the men's field was local Alistair Robinson (Keswick Bikes). Although competing in only his second triathlon Alistair spends most of his time competing in Europe as a full time cyclist. However, the course favours a good all rounder and it was going to be interesting to see what effect the 1.5k lake swim was going to have on his cycling ability.
A FRESH 13C
Sourmilk Gill and the many other numerous waterfalls emptying fresh rainfall into the lake ensured the water temperature stayed a fresh 13c. In the women's race, national age-group aquathon champion Rhiannon Silson (Arragon's Tri) was clearly focused on the event after being forced to drop out on the run last year due to injury whilst battling for the lead.
First out of the 1.5km swim was Tim Ashelford (Leeds and Bradford tri) closely followed by Silson, who sped through the 200m run from the lake and exited T1 in first place overall (26:05).
Next was Ashleford in 27:06 then Viky Begg (Glasgow Tri) in 27:19 who set off in hot pursuit of Rhiannon. Exiting T1 in 12th position, Robinson was 5mins off the pace and had a lot of work to do to catch established triathletes such as last year's 3rd place finisher Mark Ryan (Carlisle Tri), David Francis (Hartlepool Tri) and Kie Jackson.
The 44km cycle starts with a few undulating miles along the shores of Buttermere and then it's into the punishing ascent of Honister Pass with its 25% gradients. Following a chilly swim, climbing Honister early on is an ideal way to warm up, but maybe not appreciated by competitors at the time!
In the lead at the top of the pass was Jackson, followed by Ryan then Silson still holding 3rd place overall. Powering up the slopes was Robinson, being local he knew the climb well and moved into the lead on Whinlatter Pass, the second major climb of the day to build a 4min lead into T2 in 1:54:00 after a 1:22:24 bike split.
With a tough off-road 13k run to follow, Francis was next in 1:57:50 followed by Jackson in 1:58:30. A similar battle was unfolding in the women's race with Silson holding onto the lead in 2:11:10 followed by Begg in 2:13:42. Closing the gap steadily after a 6min deficit in the swim was Glasgow team mate Lee Vernett in 2:16:43 posting the fastest bike split of 1:43:46.
WET, BOGGY AND HILLY
The 13k trail run is a circular route around the shores of Crummock Water. Described as 'a relatively flat route with a great combination of off-road running terrain' is perhaps a Lakeland way of saying 'wet, boggy, technical and hilly'. After a few kilometres of 'easier' running through Lanthwaite Woods, the sting in the tail comes at the 9k point with two short consecutive climbs at Rannerdale.
Good technical running ability is needed on this route as Robinson found out in the early stages, tripping on a rock and landing face down in a bog. Powering through the run, Francis was gradually closing the gap and with 2k remaining was only 50m behind Robinson. But coming into Buttermere village Robinson retained the lead and crossed the line in 2:56:30 followed 40secs later by Francis after posting the fastest run time of the day of 59:20. Brian Fogarty (Tri Clan) finished third in 3:02:40 the only other runner to post a sub 1hr run, testifying to the toughness of this 13k route.
Posting a 1:18:18 run split to Vernett 's 1:18:20, Silson ensured the gap remained and cruised across the finish in 3:29:28. Vernett was second in 3:35:03 followed by Melanie Dugan in 3:41:27. First MV40 was Kevin Pritchard finishing fourth overall and leading local club Tri Lakeland to the team prize. First FV40 was Niki Rushton (Chorley athletic and tri club) in 3:45:34.
A big thank you to the National Trust for use of their land and to Suzanne and her staff at Croft Farm Café for great tea and cakes.
Full results can be found at www.highterrainevents.co.uk.