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How to succeed at Blenheim Palace Tri
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Thursday 2nd June 2016

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Are you racing at the Bloodwise Blenheim Palace Triathlon on 4th-5th June? Make sure you have the best race possible with our guide to the second largest triathlon in the UK.

Blenheim Palace, the gift of a grateful nation to its saviour John, Duke of Marlborough, is also a gift of a venue for triathlon. Loads of space for parking, a competitor village and a gorgeous view or vista at every turn. There's a lake that, basically, just says "swim in me", a transition area that's the Palace's front yard, a closed cycle circuit that offers plenty of interest and yet is not overly physically challenging and a run route that you will actually want to go back and walk around afterwards -- all of this makes the Blenheim Palace Triathlon a paradise for a novice triathlete.

It isn't entirely snag free, however, as the swim start is at the bottom of the hill from transition and you've got a 400m uphill run back to transition, while on the bike course there are a handful of cattle grids, although all these are covered for the race, and you'll definitely want to stay on the road rather than going alfresco if you want to avoid trouble.

Vital facts

Race dates June 4th and 5th 2016
Future dates TBC
Location Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, near Oxford
Race distances (advertised): Supersprint and Youth races: 400m lake swim, 13.2k bike, 2.9k run. Sprint and Sprint Relay races: 750m lake swim, 19.8k bike, 5.4k run.
Series / Qualification / Championship Status N/A



The Bloodwise Blenheim Palace Triathlon is now in its twelth year and is well established as an event in its own right, rather than just as a feeder for the AJ Bell London Triathlon. Run over two days and with over 5,000 participants in 2015, it now ranks as the second biggest triathlon event in the UK (London, obviously, being the biggest). Based in the lake and parkland surrounding Blenheim Palace - what other triathlon takes place in a World Heritage Site? - this is a novice-friendly event with an interesting, but not overly taxing, set of conditions.

The swim

Swim assemblyIf you had the money and could ask anybody to build you a lake to swim in then you would probably ask them to copy the lake at Blenheim Palace... The swim route starts from an assembly area to the left of the Vanbrugh Bridge which is approximately 250m down the hill from the transition area (although the walk is longer than this) so you will need to allow time. Almost the whole distance is over grass which will be fine if it's dry but could be "slippery when wet"...

It is an 'in-water' start which you reach via a floating pontoon and so you may have to spend some time in the water before you start. While you almost certainly won't need a neoprene cap you may benefit from two ordinary caps but do remember to put yours on first, then your goggles and then the official cap on top.

Deep water startThe swim route is, basically, a straight line down the lake and then a left turn for the shorter 400m swim or a longer 'out' leg and a turn back for the 750m swim. It couldn't be simpler! The water is crystal clear with lots of small fish in the shallows - this is a very clean lake! There were no obvious signs of weed at either the entry or the exit.

The swim exit is by the fishermen's boathouse and based on past years this uses the same floating sections to make a large ramp. Once out of the water the area is rather limited in size, you run through a shower that's only one person wide, and the steps that lead up to the path are both shallow and narrow so it's worth taking care rather than bounding into them as a stubbed toe at this point is probably not a good idea.

You now face a long (400m) uphill run to the transition area. The first section is over a gravel path (which will be matted) before you reach the Water Terraces when the path levels out and you turn right into a service yard before entering transition through an arch. We ran this section with a Forerunner and the elevation trace is available on Garmin Connect through this link.

The bike

The entire cycle route is within the grounds of the Palace and its Park and should, apart from official vehicles, be entirely traffic free. We used a Garmin Forerunner to trace one lap of the bike and you can see the course profiles on Garmin Connect through this link. One loop of the bike course is represented by lap one on the Garmin trace.

Downhill to the bridgeAll the bikes on the course should be going in the same direction, although two sections do also have runners coming towards you on the right-hand side of the road. The road surface is of good quality but remember; this is a private road and is, therefore, not as wide as a normal two-lane road and, because it runs through parkland and woods, may have the odd bit of loose gravel on corners. There is also no pavement or kerb stones at any point, the grass runs right up to the tarmac. If you leave the road and go onto grass you will be giving up almost all your grip - unless you are a cyclo-cross rider you may well experience some serious slip and slide... ...and that's if it's dry! If it should be wet, then you can pretty much assume that going on the grass means that you will fall off! But at least it should be softer than the tarmac...

An experienced road cyclist could hammer this course at very high speed with no worries at all. However, there will be a lot of inexperienced cyclists and a lot of very inexperienced triathletes out there so you do need to take sensible precautions and look ahead to make sure that those you are approaching from behind are not likely to stop or swerve when you approach or pass them. These cautions aside, we would far rather ride a circuit like this than take our chances on the open public highway - any day!

You exit the transition through the main gates, mount on the tarmac and then immediately drop down the slope to the Vanbrugh Bridge. Remember, this section is all two-way traffic - the runners are coming up the hill towards you. There is also a pedestrian crossing point just before the bridge to be aware of.

Once over the bridge the cycle route bears left and you are into the park proper. The road rises very gently between open pasture on the right (mind the electric sheep fencing...) and woodland on the left before branching left again and making a short descent into the woodland. From this point, approximately 2k into the ride, you will begin to climb up through the wood to the highest point on the ride. This is not a steep climb but inexperienced riders may be caught out by the sudden transition from down to up and fail to select the right gear quickly enough.

Beware casual ridersEverything that goes up should come back down and this hill is no exception with a lovely long, fast descent back into open parkland with the Palace appearing on top of the hill to your left. At the bottom the road bends to the right immediately after another cattle grid, this has been a trouble spot in the past when the roads have been wet but should be no issue at all in the dry. The road then kicks up slightly, curving back to the left and through a junction where there is a cattle grid on the left and a gate on the right.

The route continues bearing left to pass the Pleasure Gardens where there is the only 'sleeping policeman' on the circuit, this is just outside the station. You are now heading back to the Competitor Village area and the Palace itself with one more cattle grid to cross (uncovered, this is the bumpiest of them but on race day you probably won't even notice it under the covers) and then you turn left into the main drive where you will, once again, have runners on the right-hand side of the road coming towards you. The cycle route sweeps right past the main visitors entrance and then left in front of the Palace where you will either turn right and start another loop or stop before turning left into transition.

The run

You leave transition through a gate on the right-hand side at the front which brings you across the grass by the (dry) moat and then over the bike course on an access bridge before tracking round the outside of the coach park and then heading up the main drive. At this point you will be on the left-had side of the road with cyclists approaching you on the right-hand side. Dead ahead will be the finish area but you have to go a fair distance yet so you bear left and head out for the Woodstock gate.

Runners at BlenheimJust before the gate, actually more of a ceremonial arch, the road drops away to the left and starts to track round the edge of the upper lake, also known as the Queens Pool. Down here are a couple of estate houses and then the route turns hard left and starts to trace its way back down the far side of the lake towards the Vanbrugh Bridge. This section is a long uphill drag which will definitely be noticed on the second lap!

Once back to the bridge you will be kept on the left, there are cyclists coming down the hill towards you, as you climb back up to the front of the Palace and then start either your second lap or run straight on to the finish. We ran the route with a Garmin Forerunner and you can get the trace off Garmin Connect through this link. The trace for lap 3 represents one loop of the run with lap 4 being the extra bit down to the finish.


Transition at BlenheimThe transition area has to be the most imposing of any event you have ever raced - basically you are in the main entrance courtyard of the Palace itself... Even the transition at Windsor, which is in the shadow of the Castle and rates as a spectacle in its own right, would probably take second place in terms of grandeur. That said, it's still a transition area and the clash between the modern; alloy poles, gaudy signs and even gaudier bikes and the traditional; the statuary, formal gardens and the golden stonework of the Palace does tend to jar a bit!

The transition surface is carpeted gravel but it will be well worth bringing a small towel or mat to change on - an old bath mat is ideal. If you use a brightly coloured one it could make your bike easier to find - although the rows are well signed - and it's perfectly legal. Remember, flags, balloons, windmills, etc, tied to the racking or your bike are not allowed, think smart here!

Other information


Blenheim Palace is a massive tourist attraction. If the weather is good then expect there to be a lot of people there who have not got the faintest idea what a triathlon is, how fast bikes go or where runners will be headed. And the parkland is an ideal area to walk dogs... Be aware that, despite designated crossing points, the whole circuit is pretty much open season for someone to walk out in front of you. We are not saying that it is a dangerous venue -- far from it, it would be hard to think of anywhere that has the potential to be as safe as the Blenheim Palace Triathlon for novice triathletes -- but you will also be dealing with the unrestrained general public so do be aware that they can do stupid things.

If it rains then it's a pretty exposed site and the car parks can turn into a bit of a quaqmire. Remember to take some warm dry kit just in case and if it looks like rain use a bin bag to wrap your kit in while it's in transition.

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Have Your Say
Re: How to succeed at: Blenheim
Posted by Foxley
Posted at 14:31:21 26th May 2010
Reply to this

The Garmin links would be more useful if they included metric units.
Re: How to succeed at: Blenheim
Posted by Foxley
Posted at 14:32:03 26th May 2010
Reply to this

Spoke too soon, just seen the link to convert to metric!
Re: How to succeed at: Blenheim Triathlon
Posted by Alberry
Posted at 18:37:09 7th Jun 2012
Reply to this

Looking forward to my first race - excited and nervous in equal portions. Thanks for this great description - really helps to visualise the course. I just a have clear vision of the finish line, beer tent and a bath!
Re: How to succeed at Blenheim Palace Triathlon
Posted by e1Pete
Posted at 10:52:16 29th Apr 2014
Reply to this

The cycle leg descriptions does not match the Garmin route except for the first 7 k. The description says that at the end of the lap you pass in front of the palace turn right and head down the hill to the bridge again for a second lap. The Garmin route does a switchback in front of the palace then does a smaller loop around part of the lake to the north before passing in front of the palace in the opposite direction to the finish - none of htis is in the description.

The Garmin route is nearly 10K so assume the distance is correct - but the description misses all the last part out.

Can you clarify please?
Re: How to succeed at Blenheim Palace Triathlon
Posted by e1Pete
Posted at 10:58:57 29th Apr 2014
Reply to this

Oh I see now - one lap is cycle and one of run all mashed together.