Race tips: Helvellyn Triathlon

Racing in the Lake District this weekend? 2013 victor Richard Anderson offers a helping hand up the tarns with some useful advice on how to finish strong

Athletes scramble up a mountain during Helvellyn Triathlon

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Lake District, home to some of the country’s most brutal climbs, the Helvellyn Tri has built up a reputation as one of, if not the, most testing triathlon challenges in the UK.


Both Brownlees have conquered the course, in 2007. Although Jonny was too young to take part, his father was happy for him to go around with a timing chip as a training run, completing it in 3:45:47 and slotting in between the fifth and sixth finishers. 

Older brother Alistair Brownlee won it in 3:28:14 to set a new course record, which stood for four years. But it’s the reigning champ who’s our guide: Rich Anderson, who posted splits of 20:01mins for the swim, 1:50:15 bike and 1:26:35 run, to finish first in 3:39:48. Over to him…

The swim 

“Helvellyn’s notorious bike and run legs often attract single-discipline specialists such as fell runners and cyclists,” says Richard. “For those targeting a high finish, the swim is a good opportunity to put time into these experts.”

The bike climbs

“The ‘Struggle’ attracts the headlines, but it’s not the only challenge that lies in store on the bike. The Matterdale climb is tough and, coming at the start of the route, it’s easy to get carried away. Matterdale to Ambleside is (relatively) flat and fast. If you have the choice, ride your TT bike or attach clip-on aerobars as time lost on the climbs from extra weight will be regained here.”


“Unless you plan to walk up the ‘Struggle’, you need to think seriously about gearing. While you might be able to grind your way up the 20% ramps with your normal ratio, consider fitting a larger sprocket at the back. The descent from Kirkstone Pass is technical and lined with drystone walls. Don’t take risks and use it as a chance to recover before the run.”

Run kit 

“The route up and down Helvellyn is a serious fell run in its own right, not to be taken lightly. Take the time to put on socks in T2 and wear fell running shoes. The upper slopes can be very exposed, so consider a windproof top over your tri-suit. An emergency kit bag is compulsory, but don’t carry unnecessary weight, take enough water and lightweight waterproofs.”

Run techniques

“Accept that you won’t be able to run all the way to the top of Helvellyn. On the really steep sections it’s both faster and more energy efficient to power walk. The final stretch up Swirral Edge is a rock scramble and I suspect not even Alistair Brownlee ran up this part. It’s important that you maintain concentration on the descent. Descending fast and safely is a skill and should be practised prior to the race.”

Key facts 

Date – 7 September 2014
Location – Jenkins Field, Glenridding, Cumbria
Distance – 1.6km swim, 61.2km bike, 14.5km run
Course record – 3:27:50 (Martin Cain, 2011)
Starters in 2013 – 634
Finishers in 2013 – 610
Highest elevation run point – 1,489ft
Highest elevation bike point – 3,118ft
Age of the youngest competitor – 17yrs (Jonny Brownlee, 2007)

(Main image: Jason Newsome)


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