I watched the highlights of Hever Castle triathlon on TV last year and thought it looked great. I’d already planned to try a middle distance triathlon in 2015, so when entries went on sale I entered. I was fortunate to have an Aunty living 30 minutes from Hever Castle so I drove up with the family the day before the race, registered and spent the night there. Registering a day early provided a good opportunity to have a quick scope of the transition area and find my bearings.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before the race due my son not settling but I still felt reasonably good. As I arrived at Hever Castle we were advised by some of the marshals that locals had removed signage during the night, apparently not supportive of the event. This caused some confusion but nothing too serious. Due to significant rainfall the week prior to the race the ground had become saturated and this was causing problems in the fields where people were parking. After 1 hour of queuing we eventually parked, it then became a rush to get everything down to transition in time for the race start. Due to the disruptions with parking all of the wave times were delayed by 15 minutes. This still didn’t leave much time! Wetsuit on and transition area prepared, I headed down to the lake for the race brief.
Swim – 1.9km – 33mins 49 seconds
The swim course was a single lap, consisting of swimming down the length of the lake and then coming back through the river Eden estuary under a number of foot bridges and willow trees – very scenic and lots of good vantage points for spectators. The water temperature was a little fresh but I’ve got used to that from my time down the lakes at Eastleigh lakeside, early on Saturday mornings. It was a swimming start between two buoys so I positioned myself fairly close to the front of the wave. At a guess I’d say there were around 50 people in each wave. I exerted a fair amount of energy during the first 50 metres or so in order to get the best position I could. Starting well I held a good pace in the front third of the field. I ended up swimming most of the swim course on my own, about 4 metres behind a group of around 5 swimmers. The swim ended up being the best category position I achieved across all three disciplines - very happy with that as I dedicated quite a bit of time over the summer.
T1 – 4 Minutes 7 seconds
As I came out of the water there were helpers there to make sure you got upright ok. There was a short jog up a grass bank and into the transition area. I took T1 at a steady pace and this is reflected in the times. I could have gone quicker but always planned to take it steady and not rush. I cleaned my feet down and put socks on (something which I wouldn’t do in an Olympic distance race). The run out of transition was again fairly muddy so plenty of opportunity to slip.
Bike – 90km – 3 Hours 24 minutes
As I mounted my bike I was cautious not to go too hard too early, I find it’s better to relax a little at the start of the bike and find my rhythm. This gives a chance for heart rate to reduce back to a moderate level. I also made sure not to corner too aggressively because my tyres were now covered in mud from transition. Unfortunately the man in front of me was not so cautious and he slammed down quite hard on the first corner. After I checked he was ok I continued on the two lap (open roads) tour of an exceptionally hilly course. I had done my research before the race so new to expect a fair amount of elevation gain; as such I tailored my training on the lead up to include some nice hills (if there is such a thing). I spent many hours in South Downs, particularly up Beacon Hill and Winchester Hill. Based on my training I had targeted an average speed of 28km/hour and managed to keep to this for the first lap, gaining time on the flats and downhill segments. A little fatigued on the second lap, I momentarily looked down at my Garmin. When I looked back up the car in front had broken sharply. I face planted the car but thankfully no damage, just a bruised ego. The driver of the car was very understanding. That incident put me into a bit of a negative place and I was very happy when I finally came in to T2. I actually recorded an average speed of 27km/hour over the bike course, which was disappointing but at the same time highlighted room for improvement.
T2 – 3 Minutes 19 seconds
Again I took the transition at a steady pace. There’s not as much to think of in T2 as there is in T1 but I was happy to take it easy.
Run – 21km – 2 Hours 8 Minutes
As I headed out onto the run I saw some of my family which did lift morale momentarily. It soon came crashing down again when I realised the run course was just as hilly as the bike. The run course itself is predominantly off road and areas had become fairly muddy due to the recent rain fall. The event organisers had put straw down which had helped but nevertheless you had to be cautious with some of the downhill segments. My calf muscles were particularly tight coming off the bike to the point where I actually had to walk some of the steep run segments. Doubts were beginning to creep into my mind early on until I began chatting to a woman who was running at a similar pace. We must have run about 8km together and this really helped get me back into a positive mind-set. My target pace of 5min/km was way off, I eventually average around 5:42min/km. Although I started off very slow, once my calf muscles had adjusted I picked the pace up and I was running comfortably. I stopped at all of the feed stations to fuel up and cool down – again this was not part of strategy. By the time the finish line was in site I have to say I had had enough. However when I crossed the line it felt great, it was the culmination of a long season of training and I had completed my goal. There was coca cola, fresh water melon, cake, waffles, vita-coco etc. at the finish line and I must have milled around there for 20 minutes filling my face.
All in all a brilliant day and an event I couldn’t recommend highly enough. It is a challenging course but that makes it much more satisfying when you finish.