The Gauntlet – Race Report

IMG_9619I 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!

Race Morning

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 Swim

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.

Transition 1

Wet suit off.  Helmet on. Bike out.  No fuss.

The Bike

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.

Transition 2

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!

Post Race

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.

Looking Ahead

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!


Preparing for Half Iron

SamHertsTriIt’s June, and supposedly summer, although the weather has turned very windy and wet after a couple of weeks of 20+ degrees heat.  In four weeks time I’ll tackle the longest triathlon I’ve faced – a half iron distance of 1900m open water swim, 60 mile bike course and 13 mile run.

Since the turn of the year I’ve had a pretty solid block of running, with a few bumps here and there as our (now) 9 month old baby settles down.  Last weekend I pumped out 9.5 miles @ 8 min/mile pace and had plenty left in the tank.

The challenge now is to get some miles in on the bike (likely the turbo trainer) as my riding is probably the weakest discipline for me.

My goal of this first race is to get the distance under my belt and help me focus on what I need to improve on, so I can train towards my ‘A’ race in September (another half iron distance at Woburn).

I think it will be some time before I’m ready to step up to the full distance.  Lots to do on my cycling and swim technique and as ever finding the time (and energy) to fit good quality training in and avoid injury (which I have managed so far this year!).

More to come in July!

2016 is behind, bring on 2017!

So it appears I had little success at reporting on my races in 2016.  The year started well – January and February were consistent training months.  I managed to fit in a number of good races as we prepared for the arrival of Baby Huggill in the summer, and the latter part of the year was spent recovering from a trapped nerve in my back.

Here’s how I got on in 2016:

  • Milton Keynes Marathon – overheating and set off with too quick a pace group.  I covered the first 13 miles just under 2 hours but was already falling apart and dragged myself over the finish line in 5:03.  Not finished with the marathon distance yet!
  • May – HSV Sprint Tri (1:20:18 with a pool swim)
  • May – Herts Olympic Tri (my first Olympic distance, lake swim, 2:59:12)
  • June – Dambusters Olympic Tri (2:59:57)
  • August – London Triathlon – had to skip at the last minute as my wife was starting to go into labour!
  • Late August – Herts Sprint Tri (not a lot of sleep with a newborn, so only the sprint, lake swim, 1:33:33)
  • September – HSV Sprint Tri (1:23:40 with a pool swim)

Looking ahead…2017

So the New Year has started now and I’ve pulled together my target races, skipping the marathon this year as we are due to be moving house right through the training block and I don’t think the two are going to mix!

The big move is a step up to the Middle Distance triathlon.  My focus over the next 6 months is consistent training blocks, avoiding attempting to overdo it and burning out, and including a combination of strength training, stretching, speed work on my running and some coaching on my swim to get my pace up.

New Year, New Goals

2016Reflecting on 2015 it was a good year with a return to racing, breaking 50 minutes on a 10k and adjusting to open water swimming (brrr).

In summary:

Looking ahead to this year I decided it was time to take on the marathon again.  After two attempts in London (2007 and 2012), both ending in 5hr+ times due to over heating, I failed again to get a place so on May 2nd I’ll be racing in the Milton Keynes Marathon, a relatively flat and fast course that’s not too far from home.

After that I’ve also signed up for the Olympic Distance at the London Triathlon.  Other events still to be confirmed but for now it’s the start of my 16-week marathon training programme, which means lots of running!  To keep my hand in I’m trying to make sure I get a turbo session and a swim in once a week, which also helps as some cross-training to save my legs from getting battered.


HSV September 2015 Sprint Triathlon – Race Report

IMG_5950This was my final race of the year and exactly 12 months since my first ever triathlon!  The pool swim sprint distance triathlon boasts a fast and flat bike course and a 4 loop run around the sports village.


I’d had a rather busy week leading up to this race and was not feeling great when I dragged myself out of bed at 04:30 on a wet Sunday morning.  Pre-race breakfast consisted of some toast and a coffee and made some feeble efforts at trying to hydrate.  I racked up my bike and got to registration and set up by 05:45.  As usual space was filling up quickly but I managed to get set up just in time before transition closed.


The swim start consists of lining up by the side of the pool in reverse bib number order, waiting for your turn to start.  It is 16 lengths (25m each), up and back, under the rope and repeat.  My usual problem in the pool is shooting off too quickly, so I made a mental effort to start off at a steady pace.  This paid off, despite being overtaken a couple of times (I made a few swimmers in front of me too) I felt strong in the water and easily made it through the 400m.

Transition 1

Out of the pool I didn’t know what happened – I pelted it full pace to my bike and shot out to the mount line (a good 100m jog with the bike).  Any time improvements are going to come from skipping socks…need to practice this before trying it out!


Earlier in the week I did a 40km hard session on the my turbo trainer and this seemed to pay off.  I attacked the bike section and tried to not let up.  Pushing as much as I could meant that I shaved 2 minutes off my previous bike split in May.  There was one poor chap stranded by the side of the road with a puncture, I have so far managed to avoid any such incidents!

Transition 2

I was happy to run the distance dragging my bike into transition and after getting told off for having my tri-suit unzipped (never knew this was in the rules?!) I wasted no time in getting out on the run, I could taste a decent time and was keen to get out there.


I think my lack of hydration caught up with me here.  I hadn’t had much before the event and because I was pushing on the bike I hardly took on any fluids.  After the first lap (which felt good) I got a terrible stitch under my right lung.  I broke into a walk for 5 seconds before two club runners screamed at me to keep going, so I got back into a run and it soon wore off.

On the last lap I felt I still had something in the tank and put in a good final push.  I knew that my split wasn’t going to be a PB because of the stitch, but I still managed a sub-25 minute 5k which is a big improvement of last year.


Here’s my splits, compared to the May event:


A 9 minute improvement in 6 months!

A Little Surprise

To top off a great season, as they read out the prizes, I somehow won my age group!  I think all of the good athletes must have been ill that day.


Herts Triathlon Summer 2015 Race Report

Sam-Herts-TriA few weeks ago the opportunity opened up to enter the summer version of the Herts Triathlon.  It features both Sprint and Standard distances, with an open water swim in Stanborough Lake, a bike course in the surrounding villages and a run loop around the park.  I raced this event back in May as my first OWS triathlon.

The weather leading up to the day was poor – wet and chilly, so I was a bit nervous about the bike section as there are quite a few roundabouts on the course and some narrow roads with fast downhill sections.

Add to this that I hadn’t managed great training since the London Triathlon and I had been away travelling with work during the week, I wasn’t feeling hugely optimistic about my performance.  However I had two main goals for this event: to improve my OWS time and my run split.  The latter of the two was a big goal as in training I can now easily run a sub-25 minute 5k and yet in all of my triathlons so far the best I’ve managed is 26 minutes.

Preparation and Setup

I managed to get up early (4:45am) for my standard breakfast of porridge, toast with honey and a mug of black coffee.  It had been raining overnight and I had to strap my bike to the car in the rain.  I got off a bit later than planned but made it down to the transition area by 06:30.  Registration was a breeze and I had soon racked my bike and was ready to get my wet suit on.

This time around the sprint distance wave was to set off first, so I didn’t have lots of time to hang around.


It was an open water swim (750m), one loop of the lake, which I’m very familiar with now after swimming most Saturday mornings.  This time I got in the water early to acclimatise (19 degrees reported temperature) and warm up.  I posted myself on the left hand side near the front of the wave when the claxon went off.

The first 300m of the swim was horrendous, I couldn’t get away from the pack and was constantly swimming into legs wherever I went.  I was taking on water and really struggling to get any rhythm.  By the first turn I was really struggling but things thinned out a little and I managed to get a clear line on the second half and felt strong.  In fact I started to pass a few swimmers and felt that I must be on for a fast swim time.

As I approached the swim exit I checked my watch – 16 minutes exactly – over 90 seconds faster than May so I was well pleased.  After unzipping the top half of my wet suit I managed to run most of the 100m climb up to the transition area.


This went very well.  Wetsuit came off quickly, a bit of faffing around with my socks and on with my bike shoes.  I made a good call not to put on a cycling jersey and just race in my tri suit as it was definitely warm enough.  After crossing the mount line (still amazed that some people were trying to get on their bikes BEFORE the line), there was a short ride up to the main road where we had a foot down point, and unfortunately a good 30 seconds before the traffic cleared to start the bike course.


22km out and back, undulating with one climb.  A couple of weeks’ before I came down one evening and rode the course so I was quite happy with the route.  I got off with a small pack of 4 and we started making progress up and down, swapping places with each other every few hundred metres.  However after the good swim time I had decided not to push the bike too much and save my legs for the run.

The weather had cleared and at least there was no rain.  At times I still felt like I was hardly moving up the hills but I didn’t have too many super-bikes fly past me.  On the way back I was pretty much on my own and just trying to get some fluids in which wasn’t very successful.

I dismounted with ease and felt I had good legs to run my bike back into transition.  My final bike split was 50 minutes which was still 1 minute fast than last time so a good sign of training paying off.


This was much faster than last time.  I racked my bike and quickly swapped into my running shoes, visor on and headed for the run out, no messing around.


I had two thoughts in my mind heading out.  The first was to give myself a minute or two to get settled in and the second was that I would get a split after the first lap (two laps for the 5km) as to what pace I was doing.  For a sub-25 minute I knew that I would need to run at a moderate pace to squeeze under.

However just like in training I set off at a decent cadence and quickly was tracking with another guy who was wearing an Ironman UK 2015 suit, so I felt I must be going a reasonable pace.  I had no jelly legs this time and was feeling good and determined to break 25 minutes.

After a leg sapping sprint up a small hill I finished the first lap and checked my watch – 12 minutes!  So I just thought keep pushing to avoid cruising and losing time on the second lap, it is so easy to switch off and go slow without realising it.

By this stage Mr Ironman had finished his race so I was now chasing slower runners and passing them to keep me going.  When I crested the final hill I went for it on the down hill through the gantry and over the finish line.  I knew I’d got sub-25 but when I got my official splits I was delighted with a 23:30 5km time!


This was a great event and I finally got the run sorted.  Earlier in the week I’d done a 22 minute 5km speed session on a treadmill and I think that my high intensity sessions have really paid off.  I’m now mentally used to running much faster then I did at the start of the season.

I’ve got one more triathlon left in the calendar for the year, and then it’s time to review and work out next year’s plans.  I might be preparing for the London Marathon in April (if I get a ballot place), and then the big decision about whether to move to standard distance and time for training and do more work at the sprint distance.

One thing is for sure, I need to keep working on swim technique to push some better times, but overall really pleased how this worked out, a whole 7 minutes faster than May!

London Triathlon 2015 Race Report

London Tri Swim StartMy ‘A’ race for this year was the London Triathlon, the world’s largest triathlon held in and around the Excel Center in London’s docklands.  The event takes place over two days with multiple waves of differing distances.  This year I entered the sprint distance (750m swim in the Victoria Dock, two loops totaling 20km on the bike course and two loops to make up a 5km run).

I had a bit of a surprise several weeks ago when I received my start time of 4:30pm.  I’m much more used to early morning race starts so I knew it would be quite a different experience.

Race Preparation

Looking back over my training diary I have had a steady 8 week block of 3 – 4 sessions a week, focusing on high intensity bike intervals with a BRICK run, an open water swim session and a longer run / sprints.  I had a big boost getting a PB in a 10k race and was feeling confident going into this race.

On the day we drove down in the morning and had plenty of time to register and watch some of the other waves go off.  It was a lovely sunny day with a large crowd cheering everyone on.


Our wave assembled in the main hall before walking down the stairs and out onto the pontoon before jumping into the water.  It was a snug 19 degrees but bright sun light skimming off the surface.  I made my way to the start buoys but found myself rather nearer the front of the pack then I would have wanted.  When the hooter went off it was go go, but I soon found myself in the melee of feet and arms which made it very difficult to get into a rhythm.

After the first turn I decided to get out wide and get some clear water to get into my stroke.  What I didn’t realise was just quite how wide I had gone!

I came in from the swim in 17 minutes, a good minute or so quicker then my last open water sprint though not quite as fast as I would have liked.


In the London Triathlon you get given a giant plastic bag to put your wet suit in before you enter the transition area so it’s a mad scramble to get unzipped and slide your suit off.  This all worked easily for me and the short jog back to where my bike was racked got my legs going.


There was a bit of wind out there and plenty of other riders to get in the way / overtake but straight away I felt strong and started pushing.  I finally got to use my aero bars on some of the long straights which made a huge difference.  After two laps I came in at 43 minutes which was a PB for me over that distance so I was very chuffed.  I was trying hard to take on fluids during the ride but I was very hot and I felt like I was always trying to catch up.


I managed to undo my shoe straps for a good dismount and had a quick rack, got my charity vest on and trainers and headed off for the start of the run course.


I knew this wasn’t going to be a super-fast time, my legs felt very heavy from the bike and I was feeling very hot.  Instead of trying to blast it I decided to enjoy the two laps with a large crowd and lots of other runners around.


In the end I completed the run leg in 29 minutes, way off my target pace but I made sure I crossed the line with a big smile!  I was racing to raise money for The Stroke Association and managed to raise over £500.

Looking Ahead

I’ve got two more races left this season and I’ll be focusing on improving my run time off the bike.  My bike intervals seem to be paying off and the swim training continues to improve.  All-in-all, I’d definitely do the London Triathlon again, it’s a great event for participants and spectators.

Sam Huggill's journey training and competing in triathlon

IronHolgs : The musings of a COLT Ironman

Can't Swim, Can't Ride, Can't Run