The north Leeds beauty spot was teeming with the first few ‘waves’ of mixed ability enthusiasts including myself, a first-time triathlete who had barely dipped his toes into open water before today.
After zipping up my wetsuit and donning my bright red cap, I knew a 1.5km lap around Waterloo Lake’s surprisingly mild waters in the very first 7am wave of 120 swimmers lay ahead before a 41.5km bike ride and 10km run.
I splashed some of water on my face to try to get used to the cold, walked on to the blue carpeted pontoon and lowered myself into the lake as a few hundred spectators watched on.
‘Hang back, don’t get involved in the so-called washing machine,’ I thought. A klaxon sounded and I tried to get into the front crawl rhythm I’d learned in the pool, but my tight, buoyant wetsuit felt restrictive.
Amid the flailing arms, kicking legs and white spray I froze about 200-metres in, struggling for air. I couldn’t get my rhythm, I was out of my depth.
I took some time, coasted in breaststroke and went back into front crawl but my heightened awareness prompted repeated panic as hundreds swam around me. Nevertheless, I slowly but surely made it around and grasped dry land what seemed like an eternity later.
Exhausted, I jogged to the swim-to-bike transition and took my time. I had a swig of water and devoured an energy gel and snack, and soon boarded my bike. The worst was over, surely.
Sweeping up from Roundhay Park I turned at Oakwood and tried to pass a seemingly slow rider. My back wheel went from under me on the damp road but I landed on my feet, rescued my bike and soldiered on. There was a reason that rider had slowed.
The largely downhill ride on closed roads from Roundhay through Moortown and Meanwood was breathtaking as I settled into my stride alongside an international field of amateurs.
I was riding alongside a Pierre, an Iker and a Rodrigo as well as Grahams, Kerstins and Jonathans. The Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds was a global event at all levels, and it was amazing to be a part of.
Unfamiliar riders urged each other on as we U-turned outside the Town Hall and re-rode the route from Roundhay in reverse before heading back to Leeds again at speed.
With a slight feeling of cramp in my left calf where I’d hurt myself during my earlier fall from the bike, I approached transition two at the old Leeds International Pool site and slipped on my running shoes. Nearly there.
A short tow on to East Parade followed as I took on the energy gels I’d stashed up my long sleeved top, and I then joined the circuit of a five-lap course around the city centre.
I crossed the Millennium Square straight, glancing over at the parallel finishing line as the grandstand began to fill – not for the stars, but for average Joes like me. It was 9.15am.
Leeds’ trademark Tour de France-style welcome was emerging, parents and children clapped us on, holding out their hands for high-fives and making a world of amateur triathletes feel like stars in their own right.
The streets of the city centre were lined, the atmosphere was palpable and the Brownlees were nowhere in sight.
I dug deep as my calves, quads and hamstrings continued to tighten and made it across the line exhausted, proud of my adopted home city and delighted.
Leeds earned another world-class sporting event after its Tour de Yorkshire and Grand Depart exploits, and the city’s early efforts alone showed its place on the global stage was thoroughly deserved.
Thanks to the generosity of readers, friends and family Jonny’s triathlon challenge has raised around £600 for the A Million for Maggie’s campaign to help build a new cancer centre at Leeds St James’s Hospital. To donate click here.