A personal Tri-umph – Conquering the Hever Castle Triathlon

Hever Castle TriathlonTo say my first ever triathlon was a baptism of fire might be the apt cliche to use. The weather however provided the perfect oxymoron to combat it.

Wet, windy, wild – the only thing on fire were my quads and calves at the finishing line.

But despite the elements and inexperience – I did it. My first ever triathlon. Conquered. It was everything I expected it to be and completely unknown at the same time.

Hever Castle just outside Sevenoaks is one of the most idyllic settings for a triathlon.

A gorgeous lake, swallowed into the belly of the surrounding woodland. An undulating cycle through some beautiful rural Kentish villages. An all terrain run winding around the castle grounds.Transition

Last year, the early Autumn sun gave an angelic corona to the event.

On Wednesday, the Gods were taking the day off as the heavens opened. Cold, wet, and treacherous in places.

Having arrived 90 minutes before the start I had plenty of time to acclimatise to conditions and felt strangely calm, despite having never put all three disciplines together.

The humble, welcoming nature of other competitors combined with the friendly event staff put any pre-race nerves at ease.

These nerves were slightly augmented when called at 6pm to the start to see a European champion line up in my wave, along with many experienced amatuers aiming for sub 1hr15mins.

There’s was me targeting 1hr45mins. The chap I chatted to was gracious enough not to laugh in my face

Nonetheless, as we were briefed on the perils of the swim, bike and run, I was still overly calm. I wasn’t sure whether I should have been more worked up, more focussed, more edgy.

We entered the water.

Just 20 or so competitors meant there wouldn’t by the drowning, splash fest I feared.

3….2….1….. GO!

I settled into a comfortable rhythm with my swim early and managed to maintain the pace through the 750 metre course. I left the fast guys to do their own thing and swam a fairly lonely 17 minutes, quietly satisfied that I wasn’t last.

Exiting the water, the headrush was insane.

The 100 metre jog to transition was disorientating, trying to catch your breath whilst pushing as hard as possible at the same time.Me and My Bike

A controlled transition and it was onto the bike, negotiating the tight, speed-bump laden exit of Hever and onto the open road – the first time I’d ridden in the wet on my bike.

With my sunglasses dimming an already dark evening, I struggled my way around the hilly course.

The first 3k was all solidly uphill, the only respite coming in the sweeping downhills. However, the greasy, slick nature of the road surface, combined with my slick tyres, meant the descents couldn’t be fully attacked.

And whilst destroyed by passing cyclists (with flashy frames and tri-bars) I again, solidly if unspecacularly plodded my way around the course in 47 minutes. It felt as though the entire course was uphill and it wasn’t until about 10k in that my legs actually felt like responding when I asked them to work.

And with such a small field both spread out and well ahead of me on the road – I had to be my own pacemaker – again a lonely, folorn task.

Into transition once more – trainers thrown on and the 5k run.

I had no idea what to expect from the run. I knew the first kilometre was a solid uphill stretch but throw in the jelly legged, post-bike pain and I’d have been reversing had I gone any slower.The finishing straight

The rest of the run was a mix of cross-country mud and gravel and flat, long-grassed fields.

Having all my training on roads seemed not to make one jot of difference. It became mind over matter 2k in – ‘just get to the finish Ben.’

Blessed be the moment I saw the ‘1k to go’ board. The castle in sight. The finishing line just across the lake.

However, those Gods who’d eluded us with the weather had sold our battered, sodden souls to the devil and concocted a steep, 50m gravel incline within 400m of the finish.

Running through treacle was the best description of my leg motion.

At the top – the holy grail. The echoes of the race announcer reverberated through my skull like the sweetest of symphonies. A downhill, straight slope to the finishing line.

I powered over the last stretch. Keen for the torture to turn into euphoria. And what a euphoria.

Soaked but satisfied

Simply finishing was an achievement in my eyes. Simply starting wasn’t too bad.

Some sympathetic, congratulatory hugs and handshakes from staff and fellow competitors added to the ecstasy.

1 hour 36 minutes 54 seconds! Smashing my pre-race 1hr45m target.

Whilst initially delighted with the time, I quickly queried myself. Could I have gone faster? What if the weather was better? What if I’d done more off-road training? What if I knew the routes?

I thought I’d feel more tired, more achey but I didn’t. Did I push myself hard enough? I think a combination of the elements and the terrain meant I competed within myself but now I know what to expect – I am buzzing for the next one.

The triathlon addiction everyone talked about had begun. The inner competitor within me, dormant for so long, had reemerged kicking and screaming.

Roll on July 3. PB – I’m coming to get you!