In terms of picturesque triathlon locations, it doesn’t get much better than Hever Castle. I had been booked onto this race for an entire year and knew that this was the one I wanted to take part in to close my season. Aside from the fact that it is extremely pretty, it is also the most challenging course I did all year.
Whilst the swim was not particularly challenging, the lake is rather grim underfoot. Our wave was due to start at 9.15am so by 9 we were at the side of the lake being briefed by the course director on what to expect throughout the race. The day beforehand we received an email with the good news that the water temperature was 17’C and therefore wetsuits were non-compulsory. I did have a brief moment where I contemplated discarding my wetsuit in favour of a faster transition, but was glad I dismissed such a silly idea before racing. I sat on the side of the pontoon and dipped my toes in the water and thought that the water felt ok, however when I slid off and submerged my whole body I realised just how cold things actually were. Lakes always feel colder than the sea to me which is why I prefer sea swims in events. The good thing about Hever is that the lake is shallow enough to stand up at the start, however underfoot is so squishy and grim that you really don’t feel inclined to put your feet down for fear of what it is you are actually standing on.
Somehow I ended up at the front of the start line which was not my original plan – I had wanted to hang back to avoid getting kicked in the torso whilst swimming as I had some bruised ribs which were pretty painful, but clearly racing mentality took over. Soon enough we were off on the swim and heading out towards the turnaround buoy. The water soon warmed up whilst swimming and unfortunately I ended up swallowing a fair bit of it too as there was so much splashing up front – this was something I desperately wanted to avoid as the water looks horrid (I drank a lot of coke after the race so hopefully won’t get too sick from this). Eventually we were on the homestretch and were being pulled out of the water by the very helpful marshals (it’s quite steep climbing out of the lake so you need a hand) and then running up hill into transition. I heard a lot of people moaning about how steep the 100m run out of the lake and into transition was, but it wasn’t anything like the Oysterman slope so this didn’t cause any concern for me.
Getting through the swim felt easy, and mentally I was telling myself that I was a third of the way through the race and could easily do the other two disciplines (in reality in terms of distance, completing the swim is nowhere near a third of the way through the race but it helps me to visualise it this way). I tried not to faff around too much in transition and before I knew it was heading out of transition and onto the bike route. Just as I made it to the mount line I realised there was something wrong with my pedal so had to spend a minute sorting that out, but once I was on the bike I felt comfortable and confident…initially. Now, I know the Hever bike route is hilly, but I think I had forgotten just how hilly it was. The first 2Km of the cycle was a climb and I secretly hoped that that would be the worst of it…oh how naive I was. It was climb after climb after climb after climb. And I really hate hills. Also, as it was undulating country lanes a lot of the route was shaded from trees, which may have looked pretty, but also meant I was suffering from the cold a bit whilst not drying off fully. There were some great bits to the bike though; every KM was marked which helped me to tick off the distance mentally and break it down into manageable sections, when some of the super speedy men overtook me on a climb they would shout words of encouragement to me, one of my fellow coached triathletes was out cheering in one of the villages, and I received two comments from ladies complimenting me on my trisuit. There were also some very nasty bike crashes I saw and a few punctures too…I was most worried about the bike section and just kept willing myself to get through it unscathed and without any mechanical issues. Because of this I didn’t push myself as hard as I perhaps should have, although certainly wasn’t just coasting my way through it.
Eventually I was on the last climb with only 2KM to go and knew I could make it back safely. By this point my whole torso was aching from being hunched over on my bike and I really felt like I needed a good run to shake things out.
Heading back into transition I quickly had a sachet of baby food and a drink of water, put some lipbalm and my Advent Running hat on, moved my race number to the front and then out I went. By this point the sun was really warm and I was so excited to have my run and knew the finish was in sight. At the start of the run you have to climb a bridge to clear yourself of the bike route, and that was enough to make me keel over in pain (as evidenced in the above photo!) before managing to compose myself once again and giving the run all I could. The run is essentially a trail run but my shoes seem to be ok coping with all kinds of terrain, of course though, the first third of the route was pretty much all up hill again – I was certainly starting to feel the burn in my legs. Eventually things levelled out and I was at the next water station where I stopped for a few seconds to drink properly rather than run and drink, this was such a welcome break as the water felt ice cold and really left me feeling refreshed and ready to attack the rest of the run. After a bit more running I could feel the end was near and after one last gentle incline I could start to see and hear the crowds cheering us on. I didn’t quite give my usual sprint finish but I did have a consistent and well-paced run from start to finish which left me feeling incredibly happy.
And so, there I was having finished my season of triathlon, feeling exhausted but proud of all that I had accomplished over the course of the year and ready to grow stronger throughout the winter so that I am racing fit for 2017. My little biceps are starting to grown (well, on my right arm…not so much on the left) and I feel as though I have really trained my mind to be able to take on anything that is thrown at me. Whilst I have found the training exhausting and draining at times, that feeling of accomplishment on race day more than makes up for it. I really do love the sport of triathlon.