The 13th Vitruvian Triathlon (middle distance) was at the weekend, with just shy of one thousand competitors running, jogging, or limping their way across the finish line on the shore of Leicestershire’s Rutland Water. Each year tickets sell out quicker and quicker. Registration for next year’s event opens this week, but if anything like last year, may have already gone by the time of writing. Two competitors can boast having competed in each and every event since its inception, and the event has earned a number of awards from different publications and bodies.
Hundreds of triathlons of all distances and difficulties are run across the UK each year, with potentially thousands more a short journey across on the continent. So why is it this race has found a place in the heart of triathletes?
The Vitruvian Triathlon doesn’t take place in a famous City on the other side of the world. Entrants don’t need to be invited or wear special kit. Anyone can sign up and race, and as such there is a broad range of abilities out on the course. And yet, it is an event which sits right at the top of so many triathletes lists of races they must run. What makes the race so special, and so successful? What makes a great race?
The Vitruvian Triathlon is not just a race, it is a party. A spectacle. At 5am the nineties house starts blaring across the flat waters of the reservoir, and the energy of the event only rises throughout the day. We are all used to competing in tucked away triathlons, secluded from the public. Rarely do we get much attention from the wider community surrounding a race when outside of a major city, but this is an event anyone can enjoy. A crowd begins to form by the end of the first bike leg with spectators drawn in from the busy campsites and water sports centre surrounding Vitruvian HQ; a cafe which runs a barbecue from beginning to end. Joining the friends and family who don’t mind waking up at 4am quite so much for this race, they form an enthusiastic audience, encouraged to cheer competitors by live commentary from the race organisers.
The course itself exploits this concentration of spectators. The course brings competitors right back to within meters of the finish each lap, so while the pain begins to build, they are never far from the boost of support. Their name and club blare out from the PA each time they pass, so far from feeling like a number in the crowd, the triathletes receive a level of personal encouragement usually reserved for the pros. By bringing competitors right past the finish line four times after the swim, the spectators always have something to watch, and anyone racing can experience the lift an audience’s enthusiasm can bring in a way very few amateur events can replicate.
The Vit attains a level of professionalism far beyond its competition, thanks to the largest extent to its army of volunteers. Anyone who has run an event, or is a member of a club that does, knows how difficult it can be to bring in marshals. I lose track of the number of potentially exciting races have been called off by the lack of support, but there are no problems for the Vitruvian.
Late night registration on the Friday, followed by an excruciatingly early start on the Saturday dampens no one’s spirits. Lead by the charismatic Mark Shaw of PaceSetter Events, The Marshals feel like they are part of something special. In team kit, after a slap-up group meal the night before, they carry out the essential safety and administrative tasks for the event with the same level of enthusiasm as they support the triathletes.
None of this goes to mention the most important thing, the course itself. While there is an excitement and glamour to competing on the closed roads of a big city, the Vitruvian Triathlon has its own very strong appeal.
The beautifully clean and sheltered waters of the Rutland reservoir provide excellent swimming conditions for good times, and the abundance of canoeists put even the most nervous open water swimmers at ease. The bike leg is fast and frantic, with clear roads winding out through the English countryside, treating riders to stunning views over the water before the gruelling ascent of ‘The Rutland Ripple’. And the run, skirting the water’s edge before crossing the Rutland Dam ties the course together. The whole way out and all the way back, the finish line is in sight. The music is just about audible drifting across the calm waters, calling the runners back and encouraging them to push themselves for faster times.
Each section of the Vitruvian Triathlon feels connected to Rutland Water. Competitors are participating in the same three disciplines as at any triathlon, but here there is a genuine feeling of synergy between the sports, anchored around the reservoir and finish line on its bank. As competitors cross the line, they aren’t finishers, they are Vitruvians. Finishing the event makes triathletes feel as though they are part of something special.
It’s not hard to see why many consider this one of the best triathlon events in the UK. At every turn, The Vitruvian Triathlon pushes what we expect in quality for a triathlon event. While many races can begin to merge together, this one stands out above the others. They understand that as important as a pretty course is, the ability to bring triathletes and spectators together in a way that builds an overriding feeling of support and energy is what builds a truly unforgettable experience for everyone involved.