East Grinstead Triathlon turns 30


From humble beginnings that could be charitably described as ‘experimental’, the East Grinstead Triathlon will be celebrating its thirtieth instalment this May. EGTC member David Pawsey describes its long and colourful history…


With the explosion in triathlon in the last decade it could be hard for some competitors to imagine a time when the sport was just finding its feet. The latest British Triathlon figures show that in 2013 there were 993 events held around the UK. 

From huge 10,000+ competitor events like the London Triathlon to small, local club events with less than 100 entrants over a range of distances, triathletes are spoilt for choice nowadays. In the main, regardless of size, these races are extremely well organised with efficient transition areas and bike racking.

But it wasn’t always quite like this. Back in 1986 a group of sporting enthusiasts in East Grinstead, West Sussex decided to put on a triathlon. Little did they know the challenges they would face and the impact the race would have for years to come. 

The class of ‘86

According to Martin Darlison, now head coach of East Grinstead Triathlon Club, the race was originally the brainchild of Dirk van der Starre, who was manager of the King’s Leisure Centre (which has served as EGTC HQ for the past 30 years) at the time.

Dirk served as the race director while local swim teacher Eve Savage was responsible for the pool-based swim. Experienced road racer Bill Wates took responsibility for the bike section while Martin himself arranged the run. 

“There was no standardisation of distances in triathlon at the time, so we thought we would go with some round figures; a mile (1.6km) swim in the Kings Centre pool (64 lengths) seemed like a good idea, an oft-used 40km bike circuit around some brutal local countryside would keep everyone happy, and finish with a 10km run as two laps around a residential part of East Grinstead.

“Little did we know that this would later become (almost exactly) the standard distance triathlon we know today,” Martin says. 


However there were still several challenges to come. To start with the enthusiasts needed to form a club in order to register British Triathlon Association to get the race sanctioned. However, East Grinstead Triathlon Club was slightly short of members.

“As the minimum membership was seven we had to make up a name for the seventh person as there were too few of us to form a club,” Martin admits.

Despite a slightly unorthodox start to the event, the race managed to attract 80 entrants from sports clubs and some of the other very few triathlon clubs in the south east of England. The race itself could be described as near unrecognisable by today’s standards.

Martin recalls: “We did not know how to arrange the transition area as none of us had done a triathlon before, so we set up chairs in the main sports hall and competitors leaned their bikes on the chairs. “As only a few competitors had tri-suits, nudity was all too prevalent as competitors changed clothes between swim, bike and run.”

Race novices

Event management has greatly improved since then, particularly for the well oiled machine that is the modern East Grinstead Triathlon, and so has racing equipment.