“It’s impossible not to love triathlon!” says festival founder Lord Shaftesbury

We speak to the man behind the Grand Shaftesbury Triathlon and Run Festival about ultramarathons, the Brownlees and why he's expanding into tri


Following the recent news that a new triathlon festival is being planned for Dorset next May, we decided to find out more from its founder, Lord Shaftesbury.

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A keen ultrarunner, he set up the Grand Shaftesbury Run Festival on his family estate in 2012. Here he tells us why he’s decided to add swim and bike into the sporting mix…

220: Can you tell us about your running background?

I’m a keen runner, though I picked it up fairly late. I remember enjoying cross country in my school days, but I got increasingly unfit through my teens and early twenties, and then I had a feeling of concern as I was approaching thirty and feeling very unfit.

At that time I was living in New York and decided I should set myself a challenge, so I decided to get in shape for the New York Marathon. Actually in the end my training regime was completely hopeless and I ended up semi-injuring myself doing all the running, but I came back [to England] in 2008 and ran the London Marathon.

And it was that process of training for the marathon and increasing mileage and all that which really got me hooked on running, and I got quite inspired by someone I met just before the London Marathon, who was off to do one of these ultramarathons in the Gobi Desert.

It was at a time when I was feeling quite proud of myself for getting close to being able to run a marathon, and I felt quite small against this guy’s endeavour of running 250km across the Gobi Desert.

Why did you decide to launch the run festival?

That love for ultramarathon running and particularly being in places which are very out of the way, very scenic, on trails that you would never otherwise be, inspired me to set up a run at home where we have the great fortune of having a beautiful estate in east Dorset, surrounded by an area of outstanding natural beauty.

It was an obvious realisation to me that it would be great to open up the estate and get people down and start creating a trail running race around the estate, which is what we did in 2012. We developed the run initially as a half marathon and a 10k circuit, and it’s very much grown from there.

And why did you decide to add triathlon into the mix?

It’s been a long term goal. We’ve got this fantastic lake in the park at home, and it felt like a natural evolution to start to use it and incorporate it into the races. I wasn’t sure whether it would be suitable, and partly I wanted to build the experience with the run and really get that nailed and then see if we could expand.

I just happened to meet the guys from TryTri who had experience in running triathlon events and swimming events, and it was one of those fortuitous timings, coming together with the right people, so this year – 2014 – we decided to give it a road test and had an aquathlon just to see what the possibilities were.

We had about 50 people down during the run day and they all swam it then did a 5k run and it went really well, which lay the foundations for what we’ll do next year, which is a full day of triathlon.

Do you follow triathlon closely?

I wouldn’t say I’m an absolutely religious follower of triathlon, my real passion is for the ultramarathon running, but I follow enough to know about it . Especially with the Brownlee brothers being so successful it’s almost impossible not to love it, being a Brit!

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The Grand Shaftesbury Triathlon and Run Festival will be held on 15-17 May in Wimborne St Giles, Dorset. Tickets are available now from trytri.co.uk