OK, putting aside my performance what did I think of the sparke helmore triathlon overall. Well here goes:
Course. Swim. Brilliant. A little bit of a pain having a start a k and a bit from the transition and bag areas but the benefit of the straight 1.5k swim along the shore to the beach makes that minor inconvenience fade to nothing. Nice cool, but not cold, water. Clear and fresh. Well timed so we were just on the outgoing tide so there was a touch of a tailing current but that was all. Loved it.
Ride. Unique amongst every mainstream tri I've heard of. A really short course, only about 6.6 k per lap and 6 laps. So keeping count was really important. Also the course is super hilly. I reakon I spent about 25% of each lap standing, climbing. I'm not going to say a hilly course is good or bad. Personally I hated it but that probably says more about my climbing ability, or lack of, than the merits of the course. That said, I was disappointed that there was virtually no opportunity to employ 'normal tri techniques of getting down on the bars, getting up to speed and holding it. Instead, with the tight little course, lots of tight corners which often had cyclists three abreast going through them it didn't really feel like a triathlon, it felt like a bike race with a run and swim tacked on.
Run. Like the ride course, the run felt cramped, axis if the organizers simply didn't have enough room to squeeze everything in and so created quite a tight little course that coiled in on itself, wound in and around transition areas, crisscrossed other paths.
Personally I found it difficult to establish a rthymn on this course and never really settled in. On the other hand, this might also have been a reflection of my almost total collapse after the ride. But I think there was more to it that my personal issues. Some quick research I've found it difficult to find too many other 'big' events that require 4,5,6 laps of ride or run courses and I suspect I'm not alone in feeling these tight little courses a bit of a pain.
Overall course design. I've pretty much said it all. The swim course was brilliant mainly for being utterly different to the ride and run. A lovely, open and straight 1500m, a real delight. The ride and run suffered precisely the same problems. The courses were to small, too stop/start, and didn't allow the rider or runner any chance to settle into the event. The amount of energy I had to put into simple tasks like checking my lap count was a distraction I could have done without.
Organisation. Entry was dead easy, registration well organised and the transition areas well set up. The materials describing the event were OK but not great. I assumed there would be a bag check area, and guessed right, but the website and other materials didn't state there would be one or (obviously) where it would be, when it would open, close etc. Also, the course maps were just OK, but didn't really make clear precisely how some of the courses and transition areas would mix and mingle, making the first lap of the run in particular a bit of a voyage of discovery.
Finally, the portaloos ran out of paper, again. (Yes I had spare).
Conditions. I've tacked this bit on the end because it's not really fair to be critical, or positive, of events outside the organizer's control. Basically conditions on the day were mixed. The swim association brilliant. The water was cool, not cold, could have been clearer but it certainly wasn't soupy, and there was an ever so slight tailing tide. The ride was truly awful. The roads were wet and the wind was both strong and unpredictability gusty. Combine this with the very technical course and tight lap and there were lots of slow descents, crowded corners, spills and thrills. Hardcore cyclists might have loved it, I hated it. By the time of the run it had all settled down to be very nice. Some good sun but a gentle cool breeze, the rain was gone, the roads pretty dry and all in all not a bad time at all.
So score? Trying to put aside my personal bias I'd give Sparke Helmore 2012 three stars. I might do this event again next year but it will never be an 'A' race for me again.