With the 2020 “season that wasn’t” essentially in the rear view mirror and thoughts already turning to 2021, now is the time to begin a series of articles about a range of events, from sprint to Ironman, which have become members’ favourites over the last few years as the sport has evolved from a provincial small town only endeavour to a commercial powerhouse encouraging mass participation in much the same way the running “boom” did in the 1980s. This article is all about the Leeds ITU weekend, one of the most popular sprint/standard races in the UK and part of the world triathlon series since 2016.
Opened in 1872 and set in 700 acres of land, Roundhay Park is situated to the north of Leeds City Centre and over the years it has played host to U2, the Rolling Stones and Robbie Williams plus, more amusingly, the first Red Bull Soap Box race. Therefore it is a perfect venue for a mass participation triathlon, with plenty of parking from the time you arrive on the Saturday afternoon. From here, you collect your race pack, rack your bike in the secure transition area overnight (so probably not the best event to bring latex inner tubes for) and enjoy the variety of shops selling tri suits, package holidays and much more. Hotels and hostels are plentiful in the city centre including the Easy Hotel, Premier Inn and the Russell Scott Backpacker’s Hostel which includes facilities for those bringing their own race day breakfast, plus a Brewdog pub 400 metres away set in a fine old building. Shut eye, up at 5am and then it’s on with the show……..
The swim is one or two laps around the lake in Roundhay Park. As the event has grown in size and stature, the organisers have increasingly separated the participants into age and gender waves, which reduces the size of the “wake” generated as the swimmers set off for the long opening straight to the first buoy. It’s worth noting that the lake is prone to early morning fog, particularly for those starting at the crack of dawn for the standard distance event, indeed the swim has had to be shortened on more than one occasion due to the lack of visibility (although luckily the sound system always has thumping club “choonz” playing as you exit the water for that extra post swim energy shot). Fortunately, the event is in June which means that anyone considering this race will have plenty of time to swim the Eccleston Delph or Carr Mill Dam prior to the race weekend, and the organisers also offer an acclimatisation swim on the Saturday afternoon for a small fee.
The bike and run courses are still to be confirmed for 2021 with early indications being that the race will double back to Roundhay Park. However, the former is likely to be similar to previous editions and as such you leave the park on a slight incline and a mini roundabout, cheered on by a crowd so deep and raucous you could easily be riding down the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Tour de France final day. From here the course swoops downhill to a left hander then into a residential area until you reach the hairpin turnaround point. It is usually quite chilly on the outward leg as the morning sun struggles to poke through the Yorkshire clouds, but the action heats up after the halfway point as the temperature rises and the course trends uphill on the run back to the transition area. Be aware that some over excitable people often try late passes prior to the dismount line and this has caused accidents – in 2018 and 2019 an ambulance was stopped half a mile from the end of the course. Much better to change down a gear or two to keep the leg cadence high for the run into transition, the changeover and the best part of the race, the run through the maddening crowds!
The city centre finish in Millennium Square (shown below) is not expected to feature on the 2021 race route. However, with the event finishing in Roundhay Park, parts of the old course are still expected to be incorporated into the new route, which in itself is novelty as the initial steep climb out of the park is followed by a run around the perimeter then a downhill blast onto a circuit around the local roads where the local kids have been known to hand out jelly babies! It remains to be seen how the event will feel different with an out and back route or even a circular as opposed to the “point-to-point” of previous years, but with the range of food and drink stalls on offer you won’t be short of post race refreshment/hydration (interpret as you wish – the chips and donuts always seem to sell out as does the 54 Degrees North lager beer, from the Black Sheep brewery in Yorkshire).
For 2021 there will be a range of Tri Star events for junior athletes as well as an aquathlon comprising a 1000m swim and 5k run around the grounds of Roundhay Park which will hopefully be of interest to runners wanting to experimen with open water swimming, and a Go Tri which will be popular with first time triathletes.
It is to be hoped that June 6 (the provisional 2021 date) is not a season opener and that a shorter event such as the Splashworld or West Lancashire triathlon will be available as an early season tune up prior to the grand trip along the M62. No-one really knows what to expect from the 2021 season after a 2020 which was impossible to plan from one week to the next. But if you are short of motivation, looking for a great value event with carnival atmosphere and want to race the same courses as Vicky Holland and the Brownlee brothers, there is no better short distance option than the Leeds ITU weekend. See you on the start ramp in Yorkshire!
Venue: Roundhay Park, Mansion Lane, Leeds, LS8 2HH
Distances: 750m/20k/7.5k sprint, 1500m/40k/10k standard, with Go Tri, Tristar and aquathlon options new for 2021
Entry fee: £90-100 depending on distance and date of entry
Expected participants: 3000
Challenge rating: 3/5
Atmosphere/experience rating: 5/5
2021 link to enter: https://leeds.triathlon.org/2020/