The Long Read: End of an era for the Banbury Triathlon story

Annie and Brian Bulter have organised their last Banbury Triathlon after 21 events NNL-180521-121650001
Annie and Brian Bulter have organised their last Banbury Triathlon after 21 events NNL-180521-121650001

There were mixed emotions at last weekend’s Banbury Triathlon as organisers Brian and Annie Butler said farewell to the event they have run for since 1997.

During a sun drenched morning at the Woodgreen Leisure Centre around 250 competitors safely completed one of four races ranging from first timers to seasoned athletes.

Kim Shaw, the Queen of Banbury Triathlon NNL-180521-123336001

Kim Shaw, the Queen of Banbury Triathlon NNL-180521-123336001

The idea for the Banbury Triathlon actually began in 1996 with an unofficial race organised by Brian and friend Jim Stanners.

He said: “We were both in the fire service and the fire service had a triathlon series throughout the country and we were travelling to up to Glasgow to take part in a race.

“We decided that Banbury, having the open air pool that it has, deserved its own race and we wanted to put something on for the fire service.”

The triathlon was also open to the public as well as being part of the Fire Service Triathlon Series and from the outset was a big hit attracting 180 competitors to the first event and, at its peak, 350.

Dozens of bikes in the transition area of the Banbury Triathlon NNL-180524-093353001

Dozens of bikes in the transition area of the Banbury Triathlon NNL-180524-093353001

Annie said: “Back in the early days of triathlon, in the late 90s, there weren’t that many triathlons around and the council were very good then at advertising the pool.”

Over the years the event has seen thousands of competitors but a few still stick in the mind of Brian and Annie.

Brian said: “ In the second year we did it we had motorcycle marshals and one was a fire service colleague. That year we had the Japanese national champion taking part.

“He recalls the story of going down the hill to Milcombe, looking in his mirrors doing 45mph and seeing this Japanese guy in his sunglasses on his push-bike charging behind him telling him to get a move on.”

Greater Mancheester Fire Service take part in the Banbrury Triathlon NNL-180524-093106001

Greater Mancheester Fire Service take part in the Banbrury Triathlon NNL-180524-093106001

In addition to all round fitness there is a technique involved in transitioning from one discipline to another where crucial seconds can be gained or lost, a fact seemingly lost on early triathletes.

Annie said: “In the early days competitors unused to triathlon would come in after the swim, go to the changing rooms, have a shower before going out on the bike.”

The quest for time-saving during transition also lead to one memorable disqualification.

Annie said: “We had someone disqualified once for nudity in transition. They stripped off totally during transition which is against the British Triathlon Federation rules.”

Rachel Slade and Gareth Williams from Bloxham,  completed their 13th Banbury Triathlon NNL-180521-122331001

Rachel Slade and Gareth Williams from Bloxham, completed their 13th Banbury Triathlon NNL-180521-122331001

The event has always embraced the novice athlete and over the years competitors and organisers have evolved into a genuine community where encouragement and enthusiasm abound.

As the final competitors were crossing the line Brian said: “It’s quite emotional. It’s only when you start thinking about it you realise it’s the end of an era.

“For myself it’s been a great journey. It’s quite a sad one really.”

Annie added: “I am emotional, I didn’t think I would be.”

Everyone of the 250 competitors in last weekend’s Banbury Triathlon has a story to tell. Whether it be personal achievement, a sponsored race for a well deserved cause or their very first triathlon their motivation was fuelled by a different source.

One triathlete, announced over the PA as ‘The Queen of Banbury Triathlon’ is Kim Shaw.

No stranger to the event Kim has represented Great Britain at European and world level.

Together with her husband John the Banbury natives took part in the 1996 unofficial triathlon.

Kim said: “I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve done more or less every one. We’ve probably missed a couple when we were racing.”

John, who is no longer competing, added: “Annie and Brian both compete so we were all in the same club. Hopefully Team Cherwell will take over the running of it.”

Competitors came from far and wide with fire crews from Manchester and Humberside taking part in the Fire Service Series.

Bloxham pair Rachel Slade and Gareth Williams competed in the 1997 race and this years was their 13th.

Not content with a swim, a 20km bike ride and a 5km run the pair cycled to the event and cycled home again, albeit ‘rather slowly’.

“Rachel said: “Conditions were perfect, weather wise. The potholes were awful.”

Gareth said: “Over the last 20 years the traffic has got worse. Time was when Sunday morning were quiet.”

As important as the competitors are the event’s dedicated team of volunteer marshals.

Former firefighter Rodger Bryan, 74, has marshalled at every Banbury Triathlon.

He said: “I’m going to give it a break. If Annie and Brian are handing it off to someone else then someone else can do my job.

“I’ve bossed the traffic on that roundabout for 20 years. I’ve enjoyed doing it.”

For a full breakdown of the results click here.