The Windsor Triathlon was one of the ‘must do’ triathlons during the 1990s. It was one of the qualifying triathlons for the World Championships and usually attracted some of the big names of the time. A 1.5K swim in the Thames, a relatively flat, and for the most part traffic free, cycle and a lumpy multi lap run that took in the castle. Also, for a couple of years at least, the car parking was in the grounds of the Eton School playing fields.
Bikes had to be racked on the previous day, this meant either getting a hotel, camping, or driving home and back (The latter is not to be recommended, I did try it one year.). The race started at about 5.30 am and there were usually about seven waves, starting with the ‘military only’ wave; I was usually in wave 2 (Old Blokes). The swim was against the current for the first leg, then turning into the flow and flying back to the finish. To get the best swim against the current meant swimming near to the far bank. This presented two problems: one was grounding, the Thames is not very deep at Windsor and pulling handfuls of mud does nothing for the stroke; the other was swimming close to the expensive boats moored along the bank. The smell of bacon being fried every time you took a breath was not motivational. Negotiating the turn buoy could also be a problem. If it had rained the night before the current could be very fast, especially for a poor swimmer like me. Moving over towards the middle of the river towards the buoy could get quite difficult. On one occasion the current was so fierce that no matter how fast I rotated my arms, the buoy was moving further away. To get across I had to swim close to the bank for about twenty metres past the turn and then make a dash for the centre, hoping to get far enough across the river before the flow got me back to the buoy.
A regular competitor at Windsor was the legendary Patrick Barnes. Patrick was not a member of Coventry Triathletes, but anyone racing triathlon in the 1990s will remember him. Officially, he was a member of British Airways Athletic Club, and was still training at the Concord Gym until just before his death in 2008 at the age of 93. He was something of a character, he only took up triathlon after he retired from British Airways at the age of 65 and was a regular competitor at most open water events in the 1990s, always winning his age group.
I remember him at Windsor in, I believe, 1997 or 1998, Patrick was in his 80s at the time and was given a wave, and a lead canoe, all to himself. The distances for each of the disciplines were also modified to suit his ability. Spencer Smith won the event that year, another legend from the early days of the sport. Spencer was quite a well-built athlete and at that event he lapped me twice on the run, four laps of the town if I remember correctly, and I lapped Patrick twice on his 5K run (The event was Olympic distance, but Patrick ‘ran’ 5K).
Patrick did not drive, he had lost his licence in the early 1990s following an accident, and used to bring his bike on the train, sometimes carrying it through London on the tube and totally ignoring people trying to push past him. For his early races he used a bike with a basket on the front handlebars. He also raced at the Terrapin Triathlon, one of the early races that took place at Market Bosworth. On one occasion there was a long queue for the toilets (some things never change). Patrick just ignored it; he walked to the front and just took the next available cubicle, no one challenged him, it would have been a waste of time. Jo Ryley, owner of the water park along with her husband Nigel, told me that she eventually asked him to stop training there as she was afraid of him drowning.
Windsor, at the time, also ran a special wave for people weighing over 20 stone, I think it was known as the Clydesdale Wave. Several Americans ran it, most of them American Football Players including one known as ‘The Refrigerator’.
Coventry Triathletes regularly had a presence there, I crossed the line one year and the announcer, recognising the spots, said that there had never been a Windsor Tri without someone from Coventry Tri competing. I managed to get three punctures there one year, the last about 100 metres from the finish, and I just picked up my bike and ran with it. I raced Windsor three times but then its popularity led to an increase in the price, and it became a lottery to get a place. As can be seen from the photograph, Tri-suits were not generally used at the time, and I had not started shaving my legs.
I remember seeing Yvonne Murray and Jez Smedley racing there for Cov Tri, and Dawn O’Shea also competed there as an ‘Elite’ athlete. Dawn was an incredible athlete in all disciplines before her cycling accident. She was knocked off her bike in a ‘hit and run’ incident. As far as I know she was the only member of Coventry Tri to achieve elite status. Dawn carried on for a while after her accident, running for Northbrook with husband Rich, but I have not seen her for a number of years.
Yvonne was the person that persuaded me to join the club, we were about the same ability and used to train together from the Kirby Corner track. Along with her partner Jez, she competed regularly for the club until they moved to Nottingham, where they joined TFN. She has had a few health issues since then and I lost touch with her and Jez when I stopped doing the National Relays at Nottingham.