F3 Events regular and established triathlete Hayley Lucas gives a detailed report on The Fugitive - a summer multisport festival hosted in Marlow by F3 Events.
The Fugitive is a fantastic middle distance race designed for anyone who might be trying the distance for the first time or looking to get some practice competing with other experienced athletes.
The 2021 edition was a Covid-Secure race and started with a socially distanced queue lined up next to the Thames. At the start line, a volunteer scanned our start chip and off we went - a few running steps to the edge of the river and plop you’re off! The swim leg is 2km, or 2 1km loops. This ended up being slightly longer for us amateur athletes without perfect sighting. Most amateur athletes seemed to have done more like 2150 meters, so come prepared to swim at least 2k comfortably.
The course starts with an upstream swim followed by a much quicker downstream return keeping the buoys on your right the whole time. The upstream portion was quite challenging following a period of rain, but don’t burn your arms out on this portion, remember there is a whole race ahead of you! Once you’ve completed the second downstream return, you climb out of the river on a ladder. If you’re close to another swimmer it’s worth a little sprint to beat them to the ladder so you’re not waiting for them to climb up ahead of you.
It’s a quick trot back to T1 in Higginson Park. If you time your wetsuit stripping well, you can be in and out of transition within less than a couple minutes. The bike out from T1 involves a bike-a-run across the field to the mount, perhaps 300 meters or so.
The bike course starts through the neighbourhood behind Higginson Park, with a slight gradual climb out of Marlow (the only way to get out of Marlow is via a climb), you’re then into a very fast portion of the course. Take advantage of the steady downhill portion and then the relatively flat road into Henley. It’s a good opportunity to stay nice and aero and get the legs warmed up. Once you hit the roundabout at Henley, you turn right onto the A road for a short portion. This bit of the road is always unpopular with cyclists. The road is joined quite harshly and you will feel a good bump every 10 meters. It does not last, just power through this section.
Turn right off the A road at the junction and you start the 3 loop portion of the bike course. Up through lower Assendon into Pishill back down through Nettlebed and the A road. I would highly recommend taking in the views of the rolling Chilterns hills & farmland during this portion of the bike. The area is truly stunning and it makes you feel very lucky to be out racing, even if you do have a long way to go. The road quality through Lower Assendon and Pishill is a bit poor, but this is all part of the race. If you’re local to the area, you know that this is just part of cycling in the Chilterns. Sometimes the roads are fresh tarmac, sometimes you wonder if you should have brought a gravel bike. Fortunately this route is somewhere in between. A bit lumpy with a few big potholes to watch out for, but no off roading. In the lead up to Pishill there is a slightly deceptive uphill gradient. It’s gradual so you may not notice it visually, but it is an incline. As you come out of Stonor and turn the corner at Pishill, you’ll see The Crown pub on your left. This is where the real Pishill climb starts. It’s not a steep climb and not too long, but don’t expect to fly through this part of the course. Take your time and spin the legs in lower gears so you don’t burn your quads out.
Once you climb Pishill, there is a flat section of the course (with a slight descent) through Nettlebed until you hit the A road again. This is the section of the course where you can really pick up some speed. The downhill ends with a sharp left turn back into Lower Assendon to start the loop again.
After completing three loops of the climb & descent you head straight past the turn into Lower Assendon back towards Henley and then left at the roundabout for the return to Marlow. There is one hill on this return shortly before the end of the bike course, but you’ll be rewarded by a nice downhill to rest your legs as you come back into transition.
The 5km run loop begins with just under 2km of hard packed trail following the Thames. It’s a stunning start with views of rowers & the church along the river. The path is open to walkers so you have to be mindful of dogs, children and any one who might not see you flying towards them. Despite the fact that it’s a trail, you will not want trial shoes for the run - even when it rains. The course never gets too muddy for road shoes, although you shouldn’t expect a 20k personal best if it has been raining in the days leading up to the race - the trail will slow you down a bit. At about 2km you get back to tarmac paths. Between 2-3.5km there is an uphill section. Some people would call this a hill, I think of it as a slight incline. It really depends on how much experience you have running hills. The run course finishes by returning back through the suburban neighbourhood that the bike course finishes in, so you may see some competitors coming by on bikes. Most of the course is on pavement from there with the exception of a couple short sections on the grass verge. At 5km, you run through the transition area, past the finish shoot and repeat the course 3 more times (4 laps in total). This part of the run course is very uplifting, with spectators cheering you on to the next loop!
The race has a great atmosphere even in the Covid-secure conditions. The volunteers are very friendly and supportive and there are some great photo opportunities (from the professional photographers) on the run course by the river. Parking was free and very easy - right next to the transition area so you didn’t have a long walk to or from the car. I would highly recommend the race to anyone looking to get a middle distance in either as their A race or as a practice for bigger races later in the season.