Back in September 2018 Family Fund were chosen as charity of the year for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and three intrepid fundraisers decided to brave deep silty sludge, last minute route changes and lots of hill with a Sprint Triathlon.

Julia, Fran and Rebecca were all thinking of doing a challenge to raise some money. Julia wanted to do open water swimming, Fran loves to cycle and Rebecca is brilliant at running, so they put their heads together and thought, why not try a sprint triathlon distance as a relay, to raise money for Family Fund? Why not do it somewhere lovely too, say Castle Howard, which holds one of the Castle Series triathlons each year? A stunning setting, easy to get to and the location of the Brideshead Revisited Sprint Plus. Keep reading to find out about each leg of the journey

The swim - Julia

Those in the know had warned me – “the lake at Castle Howard” they said – “it’s horrid!”

Ignorance is bliss so I trained and got myself into my local lake in April, got used to cool water and weeds and felt I was ready to do my best round an unknown 800m loop. I didn’t bother with the practice swim the day before – probably a good thing in some ways!

The plan always was to be at the back of the marauding ‘washing machine’ that is triathlon swimming. I waited my turn to drop into the water – and into knee-deep, silty sludge. Better than last year apparently when there was no water on top of that for many metres! Having dealt with that to get to the start line out in the lake, one hoped for a moment to acclimatise – but off we went. Face into the water – very dark, murky-green with a distinct aroma (and taste as I later discovered) of muck-spreading.

From then on it all went a bit pear-shaped in some ways. After about 100m I managed to get into some form of regular swimming, but all the months of coached crawl technique had evaporated! No way could I put my face in for any strokes at a time, so breaststroke it would have to be – and in a wet suit - that isn’t easy. At 200m a fellow competitor was clinging to a safety canoe and the temptation to join him was significant! However, Fran and Rebecca were waiting in transition and no way was I going to fail them, or our charity or those who sponsored us. I gradually settled into a stronger rhythm and found myself surprisingly quickly at 400m, having braved a few longer face immersions; the water now a more acceptable, very opaque shade of cabbage.

Rounding the half-way marker, I set course for home. Some crawl returned and I even passed a few who had set off fast and paid for it – again, always my plan; I just did not want to be last out of the water! On reaching the last marker the safety crew were really encouraging so I headed for the slipway to get out – through yet more knee-deep, sludgy silt. The advantage of breaststroke was it kept me above it nearly to the water’s edge, but still had a few feet to wade through (I had silt in my toenails all day!).

I had made it through the black lagoon….only to be faced with a 200m (seemed much longer!) uphill run to transition and the handover. I walked; briskly– and not all the 15 swimmers behind passed me either (a quiet woohoo!) - until I got to Fran in transition and handed over the timing chip. Fran shot off to do great things on a bicycle and I recovered thanks to moral support from Rebecca, a bacon butty and some hot chocolate!

NEVER again in that lake – but I have been mulling over the concept of an aquathlon – swim and run – I gather they may do that at my lovely, clean local lake! Please feel free to shoot me however…..!

The Cycle- Fran

First up a MAHOOSIVE shout out to Julia for taking on the swim leg of this triathlon only a couple of months after she first swam in open water. This was the moment she would realise that swimming is actually a contact sport!

I’ve got to say it was very nice indeed to wave her off when the klaxon went (usually the moment I am wondering why, WHY, I entered another crazy race) and wander back up to my bike (racked in transition) with Rebecca. Suspicions that the water quality was not that great grew as the first competitors arrived in transition and several promptly threw up next to their bikes. Poor Julia! When she arrived - yay! - at our spot in transition we quickly swapped over the timing chip which was our baton for the day and I set off (after realising belatedly that walking round a muddy field in cleated shoes didn’t make for the easiest clip-in on the bike...doh!). 

The bike route had been two laps up until the night before the race when unexpected gas works in the area prompted the organisers to revise the route and it was announced at the briefing it would now be a slightly longer four-lap route of about 48k. As I never got round to recce-ing the route anyway (oooops!) this wasn’t a problem for me - but obviously was for other competitors who realised this meant they would be climbing ‘The Hill’ four times not twice. Now the trouble with listening to other competitors talking about ‘The Hill’ means it instantly assumes the gradient of the North Face of the Eiger in your mind… so it was with some trepidation I set off. 

Apart from some dodgy road surfaces (LOTS of fellow-racers suffering punctures, and I was enormously thankful to the great god Gatorskin for my fool-proof tyres) the bike route was FAB and I can highly recommend this course - lots of short punchy climbs and some fabulous long descents. It was over almost too quickly and I felt positively envious of Rebecca when I handed her the timing chip and she set off on the run round the fabulous grounds. What a setting! 

In fact I loved it so much I’ve signed up for the whole thing next year! I did try to persuade the others that it would be fantastic to do another in this series ...maybe the one at Chantilly Castle? a relay but so far they seem a bit reluctant (indeed Julia is still at the ‘never again’ stage!). 

The run - Rebecca

So, I appreciate it was only five miles, HOWEVER, it felt a lot longer than five miles! It was hilly and very sweaty (there are photographs to prove it). All I can say it I was extremely grateful for the fact that I did not have to swim through a swamp and ride the Wolds before I started! 

On a positive, this was the first race where I’ve managed to overtake people, definitely an advantage of doing a relay! The grounds were beautiful and the atmosphere was great.

I can’t say I have signed up to complete it again next year like Fran but, there is still time…..


3 hours, 7 minutes and 46 seconds and a nice medal each – a respectable time for those of us new to triathlons even as a relay team, and a great experience overall – with much needed funds raised for Family Fund. A grand day out!

This amazing triathlon trio have raised over £700 to support families raising disabled and seriously ill children and young people across the UK and we couldn't be more grateful! 

Find out how you can try something new, push yourself and show your support.