Last Sunday was my first organised race of the year! A 70.3 middle distance triathlon in Kent, organised by Castle Triathlon Series. These guys don’t do things by halves – on the same weekend there were multiple distance running, swimming, cycling, duathlon and triathlon events.
Fun course in beautiful surroundings
Good event organisation
Some AMAZING marshals/volunteers
Great Covid adaptions
£50+ spent on spectator tickets was unnecessary
The Saturday Registration
Due to Covid, triathletes were able to rack up and register on the Sunday morning. However, to avoid a ridiculously early start, I opted to register on the Saturday. Parking was in a muddy field, and registration was streamlined, taking all of a minute. I had bought spectator tickets so that family could come with me to the event village, but that transpired to be a waste of ~£50: there was no need, and spectators could get around the village with ease. The spectator tickets did not allow access into the castle itself, which was a shame.
The transition area was well laid out, with more space between bikes than usual (Covid). Notably, British Triathlon officials did not examine the bike prior to racking.
With my bike secured, I did a recce of part of the run route. It wasn’t as muddy as I had bene led to believe, but that was only because the part I covered was not the muddy bit. Trust me, the rest of the course would turn out to be muddy!
The Sunday Morning Swim
Triathletes were advised to turn up 75 minutes before their allotted wave. I was sceptical, but stuck to the rules. Driving from a nearby B&B took ten minutes, and the one way road systems at that hour meant I only encountered one other car. As I had pre-registered and racked my bike, I took my time to drop the rest of my kit in transition. The reduced numbers made for a much less stressful start, and I easily spotted one of my friends getting ready for his earlier wave. Each swim wave would be summoned, then marched across a gravelly car park to the lake. As we waited by the lake, a heavy downpour commenced, which really didn’t make a difference since we were all in wetsuits. After a short briefing by the race director (which supplemented a pre-race video), triathletes jumped into the lake with 6 second intervals, again another Covid measure to space out athletes.
The swim itself was straightforward, with the right number of buoys to guide us out, and the return swim was via a slow-flowing river. The rive bed was shallow, so much so that at some points I was unable to pull through the stroke without touching the muddy river bed. I also managed, at one point, to swim into the side of the river and encounter stinging nettles!
I had not swum a lot in the build-up to the race. I had swim literally twice in the last 18 months, so I was quite pleased about getting round in an acceptable time, feeling fresh for the bike. The path to transition was maybe a couple of hundred metres long, and the run out of transition with the bike was also quite long, due to the sheer size of transition.
The Hilly Bike Ride
I had chosen my TT bike for the ride, though in the preceding weeks I had considered a road bike. During my last 70.3 race I had a few mechanicals, so I decided to pack a sensible repair kit this time. I also decided to be self-sufficient for nutrition. From the bike mount point, the terrain was muddy! Beyond that was gravel, leading to road, out of the castle estate.
The road course was rolling with a few hills thrown in. Nothing too steep or too long, and there were no ‘dangerous’ corners on any of the descents. The roads were open to traffic, but drivers were all patient, and would overtake when safe to do so. I made full use of my aero position on well-tarmacked roads on the flats and on some descents, and happily overtook other riders. However, on the hills, I was not particularly speedy, opting to keep a non-drafting distance behind other riders, unless they were particularly slow.
Re-entering transition, I stopped short of the mud-fest at the bike dismount point, and pushed the bike through the mud. I re-racked the bike, put my trail shoes and running belt pre-packed with more hydrogels, electrolyte capsules and a couple of chocolate brioche rolls. Again, I wanted to be self-sufficient for food. I wolved down some Waitrose flapjack cubes, and slowly ran out of the run exit.
The Muddy Run
The half marathon course was billed to be muddy, and it did not disappoint! I started slow, but told myself not to worry about my pace for the first 10-15 minutes whilst my legs got used to the change in discipline from bike to run. I then picked up the pace, and started to pick people off. The run route was two laps, and was shared with people doing other events, including a marathon. With a few narrow stretches and several out-and-back sections, there were opportunities to have some banter with other runners, and the marshals.
I had done the most training for this event as running, so I was pleased that my nutrition plan delivered me strong onto the run route. The muddy course that was primarily off-road played to my strengths from years of trail running, and even though I have not trail run in months, I was like a pig in mud! I kept taking on water and splashing more on me to keep cool. I had Maurten hydrogels every 30 minutes or so had electrolyte capsules periodically to bring my electrolyte levels back up.
On the second loop of the run, on one of the out-and-back sections, I encountered my friend who had started half an hour before me. He was head-down with concentration, and I timed how long it took to reach where I’d encountered him. Four minutes. I could make that up in the remaining 8km. This gave me the motivation to push hard! Approaching an open field with an incline, I could see him on the horizon. I didn’t hold back, pushing steadily past other runners. Just after an ornate fountain and before the water maze on Sixteen Acre Island I finally caught him, and I kept on pushing. I could hear a lady breathing right behind me, and we kept egging each other on by upping the pace. On the final incline, we slowed to a walk for a few metres, then I dug deep and cracked on, dropping her and giving it my all for the final couple hundred metres to the finish line. Result!
I felt good straight after the race: I wasn’t collapsing or vomiting! The medal was substantial and looked a bit like a medal hangar. There was a good crowd in the event village. I had to remember where to go to collect my event t-shirt, and which still to visit to get my free hot meal, but it was a good end to a great day out.
I was pleased with my results, particularly with only six weeks training for the 70.3 event. I was also pleased that I drove a 4×4 to the event, because the parking field had turned to mud, and tractors had to be used to tow the majority of cars out of the field!
Keep racing and be safe