I wrote previously about my build up to my first Half Iron Distance triathlon. I had entered The Gauntlet race distance as part of the July Hever Castle Triathlon. This is one event (they call it the Festival of Endurance) comprising of half marathon, marathon, middle distance (Gauntlet), Iron Distance (Bastion) and a host of other shorter races at the stunning Never Castle in Kent.
We made the journey down the day before, kicking off a holiday in Kent and dropping me off at the site on the Saturday afternoon. It was gloriously sunny and I had plenty of time to register and leave my bike in transition 1 (which was under security all night). I opted to camp in what turned out to be more of a field then a campsite. However it made me feel all the better to see pro triathlete Paul Hawkins doing the same!
I had a light meal early on of chicken pasta and tried to get down to sleep by 9pm. I had originally planned to set down my tent early and stash all of my camping stuff in the bag drop, so I had packed extremely light. It turned out this was unnecessary and I could leave my tent pitched until after the race. However in my wisdom I had only brought a sleeping bag liner to sleep in (thinking it would be super hot), but throughout the night I did not sleep well and kept waking up chilly. Needless to say I was happy to rise at 4am when my alarm sounded!
My small camping stove gave me some hot coffee and porridge for breakfast and it had paid off eating tea early the night before as I had more of an appetite for food early on. I was anxious that transition would close so I was down there at 5am laying out my shoes and getting my bike set up. Again, this was unnecessary. My start wave wasn’t due to set off until 07:00 and there were plenty of athletes racking their bikes at 6am.
This gave me a good chunk of time to get down to the beautiful swim start at the Italian Loggia and see the thick mist hanging over the lake. So much so that the full iron distance Bastion start was delayed until the mist cleared.
The water was warm, in fact so warm that the BTF rep said if there was less going on it would be a non-wetsuit swim, but I (and probably most people) were relieved that they permitted them. We set off down the lake and for the first few hundred metres I was banging into people. The two gels I had had 20 minutes before the start paid off and I felt strong throughout. After the turn at the top of the lake the course peels off to a branch of river which is fast and a nice change from the usual lake swimming in most events. It passes under several bridges were spectators can watch and cheer you on.
When I exited after the 1 lap I was pretty happy with 44 minutes and proceeded through the gardens to find my bike in T1.
Wet suit off. Helmet on. Bike out. No fuss.
I always knew that the bike distance (90km) was going to be a big challenge for me, as this is where I’d done the least training at distance. My longest ride was only 55km and I hadn’t managed to get many of them in. My hope was to trundle round and not kill myself for the run.
Unfortunately the bike course climbs up to the Ashdown Forest, then back down again with a few more hills thrown in, all in the first 45km, then you repeat the loop. I had worked out my nutrition to take on one gel and one oat bar every hour and top up with whatever I could grab at the feed stations. I had a 800ml bottle of Hi5 Zero which I did my best to get through, as it was becoming a very hot day.
I got through the first 45km in 2 hours, which was pretty much what I’d expected. However as I came off the road to start the second loop I felt ready to get off! The next 2 hours 20 minutes were a real struggle. I had to dig deep getting through the hills, out of the saddle and sitting in a very low gear to keep peddling.
It took an extra 22 minutes to complete the second loop and I came in at 4 hours 22 minutes with huge relief just to be off the bike.
One of the nice things about the race is that when you come off the bike you hand your bike to a marshal and continue into the separate transition 2. There was a change tent and I took a moment just to sit down and gather myself, feeling pretty shattered already and legs in pieces. I took on some water, applied sunscreen (up to 25 degrees C by now) and got my running kit on, determined to see this through.
The run course is two laps of 10km, so I broke it down into 5km chunks and was hopeful that I could just plod round. However the course is mainly off-road and it didn’t take long to hit the first bit of incline at which point I realised that I had nothing left in my legs to go uphill. I had to adopt a walk the ups and run the downs and flats approach, which worked to a point, but by this stage I was extremely hot and tired, and getting running again was proving difficult, not only that I couldn’t get into a rhythm as I kept having to walk up the rolling course.
I brought home the run in a disappointing 2 hours 43 minutes (I was hoping for under 2 hours) but given the conditions (and my lack of prep for the bike course) I was pleased to finish.
My wife and oldest son met me at the end which cheered me up!
After the initial joy of finishing had subsided I really started to feel rough, dizzy and very very tired. I managed to keep it together enough to collect my bike, load it onto the car, set down my tent and slump into the passenger seat whilst we drove back to my in-laws. I tried to take on fluids but felt very light headed. Seeing everyone else and a good roast dinner brought my back and after a few days of feeling pretty tired and a bit sore in my quads I recovered just fine.
Overall Hever Castle is a stunning setting for a very well organised event that I did enjoy and would definitely do again.
In September I’m racing another half iron distance, the Woburner at Woburn Abbey. I will be trying to focus on getting some longer distance rides in, consistent swim training (one of my longer term goals) and building running strength. I have a few shorter distance races to look forward to and hopefully I’ll be a bit better prepared!