Hever Castle Series Triathlon. A lesson.

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October 10, 2013 by shortbloke


Castle Triathlon Series is a series of Tri’s held at iconic castle locations around Europe.  The Blokes, with time to a large extent consumed by small people commitments and that rather irritating need to dirty our hands earning a living, only had time to do one major Tri event this year. We chose Hever, the last in the series. Hever is a fabulously beautiful castle, built originally for Anne Boleyn and restored much later at great expense (£10,000,000) by one of the Astor family.

hever2 The location is stunning. Manicured to within an inch of its life,  the Castle and the surrounding grounds are just beautiful. The many attractions spread liberally throughout the grounds make it a nice family day out, even without the thrill of watching Daddy exhaust himself.

In the middle of the grounds there is a huge man made and beautifully landscaped lake. In the briefing they told us it had been hand dug by a bunch of navies, with shovels and picks, which was pretty awe inspiring given the size of the thing. The swim was a straight double out and back down the middle of the lake. That was fine except that some bad sighting did result in the occasional straggler veering off into the path of the returning swimmers.  A box shaped route would have avoided that.hever-2

The ride went out onto the open roads around the borders of the estate. The run was around the many garden paths that wind their way through the ample castle grounds. There were lots of different events over the weekend, ranging from a short children’s sprint up to a half iron man.

The event was well organised, running the multiple distances across many multiple waves with smooth efficiency that removed any performance stress other than that caused by a lack of training.  At all points in the day we knew where we had to be, where we had to go and when we had to go there.  Security and safety was insistent and detailed without being rude or obtrusive – despite the the man checking our kit into transition insisting he tighten my helmet strap, he was very polite about it.  There was no confusion, no tight scheduled conflicts, ample accurate information and constant guidance from the easily audible and particularly clear spoken event announcer.  The briefing was interestingly informative about the Castle as well as the event and humorous enough to dispel last minute nerves.

Short Bloke on a bikeThe transition area was plenty big enough to hold all the competitors without the need to share space across waves.  There was plenty of food and entertainment for the spectators, including specially laid on activities like archery to keep the kids busy while their (mostly) fathers were thrashing about the grounds out of sight (and possibly out of mind, both their own and their children’s).

The signage on the ride was too small, but there were marshals at every turn, so I didn’t even see the signs. Even though TB missed one turn, he noticed immediately and turned within 20 metres. It was basically impossible to actually get lost on the ride or the run. Especially good was the fact that the marshals were allowed to stop the traffic. That was excellent. The final sweetener was no right turns at all (not that I remember anyway)… a 20K route with only left turns makes for a much more relaxed ride.

If I am going to complain about anything, it is the rolling hill profile of the ride – rolling ascents followed immediately by long sweeping descents all the way. That made it impossible to build up any kind of rhythm.  OK, so it’s a technical ride and the challenge is there.  But I do enough of that in the mountains. What I was hoping for here was a flat time trial style ride where I could see how long I could push high cadence. I didn’t get that, which was a shame.


I was not feeling good in the run up to the event. Other life activities have been interfering with my Short Bloke life recently, which has pushed the training schedule and sapped some of the energy. On the day, that turned out to be reflected in the times. I dropped six minutes off the swim compared to last year and similar amounts in the ride and run.

hever4 TB, on the other hand, was clearly as fit as a butcher’s dog.  I am normally at least 6 or 7 minutes head of him out of the water. This time I caught him just as he was leaving the transition with his bike.  Not only that, he took a further 20 minutes off me on the ride and another 5 or 6 on the run. In the end he came in 28 minutes ahead of me over all. It has to be said, those minutes are not all down to fitness and strength. He is a better technical rider than me as well. And two of them can be blamed on socks.  Being the soft southern pansy that I am, I still don’t like the idea of running bare foot and paid 120 seconds for the luxury of dried toes and soft cotton socks.  A luxury the more battled hardened TB scorned.

So where did it all go wrong ? From the very start. I have not swum enough this year and I have completely lost my crawl mojo. I simply could not maintain a crawl for any length of time.  I was constantly having to drop into breaststroke. It was partly an ache in my shoulders, partly a loss of breath. Mostly it was an inability to get into a decent rhythm.  I have no idea why. It may be pure fitness but what’s confusing me is that I was able to maintain a pretty reasonable pace in breaststroke without much stress at all.  Crawl… ? 100 metres at most.


My speed in breaststroke is not fast, but I was by no means last out of the water.  It’s very irritating. In the coming months that has to be a point of focus. I managed it last year, so I know I can do it. I just have to get back to where I was and then not let it go again. Easily said.

The ride went OK. Both TB and GB gained time on me, but that is to be expected. They are both stronger than me over rolling hills and better technical riders. I can beat either of them up a short sharp climb, but maintenance of high pace over a series of gear changes is not a skill I have acquired.  Aside from having generally lower endurance, I’ve noticed a tendency to lose concentration and drift at various points when frequent gear changes are involved.  Not the best way to make a good time.

The run was not fabulous from a performance point of view.  By the time I was on two feet my legs were shot.  Severe cramps down the fronts of my thighs made it very hard to stretch the pace properly, In fact, I could barely move. That feeling, together with a constant stream of runners passing me was a little depressing. I decided it was all over at that point and simply enjoyed the surroundings as best I could. I was however determined to not actually stop, which I managed to do.  Some small consolation.

Possibly because the demographic of the competitors is to the largest extent male, over 40 and middle class (and incidentally almost entirely white for a reason that completely eludes me), there was lots of Daddy Support. Loads of very small people carrying banners and cheering anyone and everyone moving past. That makes for a great atmosphere. And for the first time, my own own small people and other half were there too, cheering us on. Which was great. Quite uplifting.

I am however told it did not look that way.

I was in fact accused of growling at them as I swept past (or lumbered past, depending on your point of view). That was not how it felt from this side of my eyes, but that is how it came across. The fact that I was in extreme thigh-cramping pain, smarting from my swim disaster, wondering whether I was going to expire there and then, and getting ever more depressed at the stream of runners flowing past me, may have had something to do with it. But if I have learned anything on this event, I learned the following:

Rule 101a

A supporting spectator – especially a small person – deserves special recognition, a big smile, an appreciative wave, a call out and where possible a high five, however close to expiration the competitor is feeling at the time.  

It’s important.

I should not have had to learn that.

But I did.

Aside from showing appreciation now, when the small people are big people, with small people of their own, I would like their rear-view mirror memories of their Big Person to be coloured with mental images of appreciative smiling faces, of daring do, of fun, of energy and activity. Not mental images of a miserable git lumbering past with a growl on his face.

I also realised something else. Looking like I am having fun is not enough. I want to be able to actually have fun on these events, while I do them, not just when I finish them.

Whilst the feeling I get going over the finish line entirely wipes any lingering memory of pain I might have been feeling just a few seconds before, that’s not the point.  I would like to be able to run along taking in the surroundings without feeling like I am about to keel over. Sure, it has to hurt, otherwise it’s not been done right. But it can still be enjoyable.

For me, that means getting stronger, fitter. This is not about speed. There is never going to be a gold cup with my name on it, nor any gloating about finishing lines crossed first. It’s never going to happen. No, I am simply talking about being able to swim 1,500m without fear of drowning, riding 40K before the marshals go home and running without feeling like my legs are strapped up with planks of wood.

That does mean working a little harder on my training, eating a few less biscuits, sleeping a little more.

After all, feeling like you have done the best you possibly can and having fun while doing it is the whole point of doing anything at all in the amateur realm, is it not ?


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