Sid Adcock gives a worm’s-eye view of being an aid station volunteer at the Chantilly Triathlon…
Every triathlon depends for its success on an army of supporters – marshals, paramedics, police, administrators – who ensure the health and safety of the competitors.
Attention to detail is paramount, even down to the provision of water at strategic points around the route. It was in this latter capacity that my wife and I were co-opted to assist with the Chantilly Triathlon, one of four races in the 2011 Castle Series.
At the end of August in the cool of the early morning, we took up our station at a trestle table in the Forest of Chantilly, some 60 miles north of Paris. Behind us was a wall marked the boundary of the Chantilly estate and in front of us was a large wood.
Between the wall and the wood was a table was a 25 litre container of water and a pile of polystyrene cups. We had filled a number of cups with the water and we now sat, wrapped up against the chill of the morning, awaiting the arrival of the first of the runners. A paramedical team had parked their vehicle in a small clearing just a few metres further along the track and sat huddled together chatting quietly among themselves in French.
Altogether, there were some 750 French and English competitors taking part. Earlier that morning we’d watched the start of the race as the first wave of swimmers entered the water of the lake just below the Chateau. It was a tremendous sight, with the fantastic turrets and pinnacles of the chateau forming a backdrop to the event, and a flight of stone steps running down from the building to the water.
Around the lake swarmed a host of competitors, together with their friends, supporters and well-wishers, while out on the water a line of brightly-coloured buoys marked the course for the swim. On the water around the course were marshals in canoes, standing by to rescue any swimmers who might run into difficulty.
Excitement mounted as the start of the race approached and then the first wave was off, with every competitor thrashing through the water as if his or her life depended on it. Within a few minutes the leading athletes had completed the swim and were heading up the stone steps to the transition area.
Stripping off their wetsuits as they mounted the steps, and without so much as a pause for breath, they leapt onto their bicycles and sped away along a route that would take them out of the grounds of the Chateau and through the local French countryside.
As it would be a while before they returned to the transition area and set off on the run for the final stage of the race, my wife and I had plenty of time to make our way to our water station in the woods.
We’d been sitting for some time at our table, doing the crossword and half- dozing as the sun climbed higher above the trees, bringing a welcome degree of warmth to our limbs, when suddenly, to our right, came a pounding of feet and a rasping of breath. We jumped up as the leading runner breasted a small rise in the track and bore down us like and express train.
“Water!, water!” we shouted, pointing at the cups on the table, but he merely ignored us and thundered past with his mind’s eye fixed on the winning post some 5km distant. This pattern was repeated as several more runners swept past and then, when but a few metres from us, a French runner gasped “De l’eau?”.”De l’eau?” My wife held out a cup which he grabbed as he went past and downed the contents without stopping. A few yards further down the track he cast the empty cup aside.
By now, with the runners coming thick and fast, we had grasped the bilingual nature of our task. “Water, water”, my wife shouted, holding out a cup as the runners approached. “De l’eau, de l’eau”, I added.
Soon we were hard at work filling fresh cups from the container and offering them to the grateful competitors as they toiled past. To demonstrate our versatility, we would reverse roles, with me shouting “water, water” and my wife calling out “de l’eau, de l’eau”. Every now and then, when a slight pause in the proceedings allowed, we would race along the track picking up the forest of discarded cups that now littered the route.
Eventually, after what seemed and age, the stream of runners reduced to a trickle until only the stragglers were left. They were more than grateful for our service, often pausing to regain their breath while they drank the water, and even stopping for a brief a chat before tackling the final stage of the race.
Finally, no more runners came and, after waiting a while to ensure that no-one still remained out on the course, we made our way back to the area around the lake for a well-earned break. We can’t wait for the 2012 this year’s event to come around so that we can have an excuse to visit the location again…
The 2012 Chateau de Chantilly race takes place on 26 August. More on the Castle Triathlon Series was be found at www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk.