The future appears to be orange (and blue) for the triathletes of North Wiltshire as the area's newest club gears up for the busy and demanding 2016 competition season.
Chippenham Tri's members will race over thousands upon thousands of kilometres collectively across a range of distances between now and the end of September, with the most hardy of the bunch booked in for full Ironman events that comprise 140.6 punishing miles in the water, in the saddle and, finally, on foot.
The success of Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonny in winning gold and bronze respectively at the London Olympics has transformed the sport's profile in this country. It is now one of the UK's fastest-growing activities, with Sport England reporting a 38 per cent rise to 13,400 monthly participants last year.
It has not taken long for the bug to catch on in Chippenham, with the fledgling club going from sharing a lane with a handful of swimmers at Corsham to an ever-rising membership of more than 50 in just over two years. The driving force has been Great Britain triathlete Chris Maxwell, who established the club as a subsidiary of Chippenham Harriers (running) and Chippenham Wheelers (cycling). He now combines his own gruelling training regime with a coaching role that sees him pass on his expertise to people of all ability levels, not forgetting his “full-on” day job as an environmental health and safety manager for Boeing and running a coaching business with his wife.
“I spotted that there was a need in the Chippenham area,” said Maxwell. “You had Bath Amphibians and Swindon Tri but not another club in between. We already had a strong running club and strong cycling club in the town but people were dabbling in triathlon. Essentially, we thought about whether we could use the existing clubs and work together and have it as a free membership – if you are a Harriers or Wheelers member then you'd go into the triathlon club – and it has very quickly caught on.
“First of all it didn't seem like a lot of people were interested but securing regular standalone swimming pool time at Colerne was key to kick-starting it because that is something that is like is gold dust in this area. Once we got that, people were a bit more confident and we were able to set aside a couple of lanes for beginners, who might have been put off by the idea of swimming alongside a swimming club.
“I think a lot of people come from either a running or cycling background, less so the swimming. There are probably only a couple of people in the club right now that swam as a kid. That is always challenging when you haven't done it as a child. Once you have ten people doing it, talking about it and the kit is at races then it just snowballs and it is such a growing sport at the moment.”
The distinctive club colours Maxwell mentions have had an undoubted impact in spreading the word, although he admits he had minor reservations about the colour scheme to begin with.
He added: “It comes from the Harriers' blue and white and the Wheelers' orange. Yes, it is quite brave but there are a lot of black kits out there and it is very noticeable and it does stand out. We had one lady who got in touch after the Cotswold 113 race, when she was cycling behind an orange and blue kit, so it clearly works – even in a race situation.”
The triathlon standard distance, and one conquered by Alistair Brownlee in 2012, involves a 1,500m open-water swim, followed by a 40k bike ride and a 10k run. Those distances rise to 3.8k, 180k and 42km respectively for a full Ironman, with the super sprint (400m, 10k and 2.5k) offering a route into competition for novices.
With plenty off effort – in the mind as well as the body – Maxwell says his club-mates have proved it is possible to get from one end of the scale to the other remarkably quickly.
He said: “People come to us and can hardly swim a length, so it is amazing to see the progression. They string that together and then maybe complete Ironmans on the back of a year of training. People in the club have also represented Great Britain in their age group and it's great.”
A total of 23 Chippenham members made their debuts in either triathlon or duathlon during what Maxwell terms a “defining and inspirational” 2015. Gemma Collings, Claire Frances, Peter Blake, James Hutcheson and Michael Partner all completed Ironman events and Peter Cusick, Richard Schofield and Neil Lewis competed at either World or European level. The club also came a fine 33rd at the Triathlon England Relay Championships in Nottingham.
The spirit in the club lifted Maxwell, who was tempted back into the sport in 2012 after completing a duathlon in his country's colours, to such an extent that he himself enjoyed his best-ever season. The 43-year-old dad of three fulfilled a dream when he raced in a British vest at the World Championships over the Olympic distance, finishing 31st in his age group, and qualified for this year's Europeans in Lisbon.
With fellow members Neil Perry, Jason Cuthbert and Peter Blake working towards British Triathlon coaching qualifications, firm foundations are in place for another successful season. There is a real focus on youth too, with a dozen Tristars, including Maxwell's twin sons, racing for the first time this season at Calne in May.
Maxwell, whose wife Michelle is an ultra runner and experienced run coach, said: “I think the club could well grow even quicker. We now have three coaches in training and are starting to talk about another swim session. The Tristars will also start to grow rapidly as they talk to their friends.
“The government have made a lot of healthy lifestyles and fitness and I think triathlon works well because of its variety and the different aspects. I always thought starting a club had potential but it's got to a point where it is beyond my expectations and that's fabulous."
Worth a tri? Chippenham members have their say...
Social secretary Sarah Ellis will complete her first season of sprint triathlons this year: "I’m originally from Chippenham Harriers running club but did some open water swimming at the lake, fell in love with it and was persuaded to get into the sport. Last year, I think were only three women in the club and over the course of the year we have had more and more join, which is really encouraging. I’ve gone from training three times a week to six times a week. It is a case of 6am morning bike sessions on the turbo trainer before you go to work and when you’re coming up to races, you are
training twice a day. You get a rest day once a week if you’re lucky. Although triathlon, historically, is a selfish sport because you leave your families behind for a period of time, we do try and involve them through the Tristars and social events."
Neil Perry has been a triathlete for seven years and is now working towards his Level 2 coaching badge: "I’ve decided not to compete as much but get into the coaching side of things and put back into the sport what I have learned. Because the club has grown so much, we need to keep building it. Having a local club and having some talent within it will help people get into the sport. What we found was there were a lot of triathletes in the area but they didn’t have anywhere to go. People went to races on their own but now we have come together as a club. Some people like smaller clubs with a few friends but we want to have a structure of doing things properly."
Sam Kelly-Harding came to the club from Chippenham Harriers and is aiming for her first triathlon event: "I wanted to up the ante from my training with the Harriers and I have done two duathlons, both last year, and if I can stop getting injured and learn to swim better then I’ll do a triathlon. I’m not in it to win because that is never going to happen but just want to keep fit and keep things under control – I have chronic fatigue syndrome and the sport helps very much. The level in this club is really high but that doesn’t scare you because they also welcome people like me, who just plod along. It’s a very social club. It’s a great network too because if you need any help, advice or kit then you are able to access it within minutes. It’s brilliant."
David Tucker completed his debut event a year ago and is now gearing up for Ironman Wales in Tenby in September: "I lost a load of weight and I really wanted to do something with it. My sister did a triathlon a couple of years ago and so I signed up for one before I could actually swim. I completed one in June 2015 after starting in April and can’t wait for Ironman Wales now. First up, I’ve got a sprint event in the Oldbury White Horse in Calne, which is the first one in the local area and was the first one I ever did. I want to do it and smash it and see how much improvement I have made in a year. The time is the proof of the pudding. You can have the best tech in the world but if you don’t put the work in then you’re not going to complete it."
Personal trainer Claire Frances is aiming for a European qualification at June’s Wimbleball half Ironman: "I’m a runner and got into triathlon three years ago, when I was injured but could still cycle and swim. Triathlon is kind on the body and it’s good to balance it out. I started with a sprint tri at Cotswold Lake, I’ve done three half Ironmans and in September 2015 did Ironman Wales and finished in 14 hours. I was delighted. It has become an addiction. That feeling of crossing the line and the sense of achievement is amazing. I think I’d be lost without it. Triathletes just ‘get it’. I know lots of people whose partners don’t and it is nice being with like-minded people, even though we are all different."
Peter Blake is a club coach who completed two Ironmans – in Bolton and Tenby – within seven weeks in 2015: "I decided to to get into swimming and then started a bit of running with the target of doing the Corsham 10k and Bath and Bristol halves. I was inspired by one of the club’s founder members, Dave Moxham, to do triathlon and went on to 12 sprint distances in total in 2014 and, in 2015, focused on two Ironman events. This season is to drop the distance down to Olympic distance and I’m finding that extremely hard. Being a more senior gent, I have got the stamina but don’t seem to have the speed so there is a lot of training focus on that on all three fronts. Everybody goes through that period of anxiety at the beginning, it doesn’t matter what level you are at. For me it was a phobia of sea swimming, but once you get into the flow of it and get over that finishing line then it is very exciting."