Hever Olympic Distance Race Report – 27 September 2015 by Lucie

Set off just after 6.00 am, took about 1.5hrs to drive down to Hever. We had left a bit earlier than first planned thanks to Matt & Leigh’s warnings about car parking problems the night before (thanks guys). Triathlon was well signed with yellow AA signs once you got towards Hever. The signed route takes you round some pretty, winding, narrow roads some of which are the cycle route, including under a small railway bridge, round a sharp bend then a steep short uphill. There was a car in the ditch by the side of the road just after the small railway bridge which didn’t bode well! Anyway, made it safely to within .5 mile from the fields being used for carparks, where we met the end of the queue for parking. It was moving gradually, we had plenty of time (Caroline’s wave was at 10.15, mine 10.45, and it was only about 7.45 by this point). First marshall we got to after about 15 mins or so told us all waves were being delayed by half an hour so we really weren’t worried. However, we noticed lots of folks making their way on foot with bike & kit having presumably left their cars with family in the queue. some of them looked a bit flustered. Not a good way to start your half ironman experience as these were probably the folks doing that distance. After half an hour more of listening to cheesy rock on the radio (DON’T STOP, BELIEVING, HOLD ON TO THAT FEEE-EEE-EEE-LING….) we got into car park (field) D and got parked easily. The field was pretty churned up but there was some matting laid down and straw, it was clear there had been many cars stuck here the night before. It was still very soft underfoot and very boggy.

The walk from the car park to the event are was about 10-15 minutes on earth pathways through trees. Fairly narrow path, difficult to pass people coming the other way especially with transition box in one hand, also very muddy underfoot in places. Immediately at the event area there were about 15 portaloos.

At the event area you walk straight towards the tented registration tunnel. On the way you are asked to show a text sent the previous day with your race number, they mark your hand then you go straight through your lane in the registration tent to collect race pack and freebies (speedo towel, energy bars and speedo gloves), no queues at all here.

On the other side of registration we hung around for a bit and at this point saw Squid coming into transition with a rueful smile on his face having just done the swim. Go Squid!

Lots of room in transition, which was on a field. Racks aren’t numbered, just marked by wave so you can pick your spot. I managed to get a spot at the end of a rack so it was easy to find. Not too much room between bikes, but adequate. Lots of room around the racks for you to leave your bag/box etc. Bike and run out at the south east corner, swim in and bike in at north west corner. Exits from transition at south east corner (to leave site) or northwest corner (to get to festival area, swim start and about 15 more portaloos). Various exits not too prominently signed, worth touring the transition area to find them.

Got ready early for the swim. Used sharpie to write RELAX smile emoticon on one arm and BRING IT HOME!! on the other. Cheesy I know but I was really nervous about the bike and all of the talk of it being hilly so I thought it might help! At this point got a text from race organisers saying that because of the car park problems all waves were 15 minutes delayed and you could swap waves if you wanted to. Was glad to be already set up.

Caroline and I headed out early on the walk from transition to swim, which takes you through the festival area (lots of merchandise, live music stage, grub etc), past portaloos, to the lake edge. Waves are invited to make their way first to a grassy area lakeside (you go past a marshall who keeps spectators out of this area), From here you can check out the gorgeous view over the lake, see other waves starting their swim, and get into the mood. I met my sister and niece here which was an amazing boost! After lots of hugs they made their way to the Italian terrace which was being announced as the best place from which to watch the start, and at around about the same time Caroline went off to get started. In turn the waves were being asked to move to the Loggia which is a walled, paved terrace to the front of the castle overlooking the lake. This is where the race briefing took place which was very thorough, with maps of all of the routes and time for questions. They really emphasised the no-drafting rule at this point.
I realised at this point that my wave was MASSIVE compared to the earlier waves. Worked out that this was probably because folks who had missed earlier waves may have swapped into it. All I could think of was how busy the swim would be, eek. Not too much time to think about that though because we were being told to hop of the loggia into the water and make our way to the start buoys. Water was freezing but there was time to warm up before the countdown for the start. Once in the water it was clear how dirty the lake was, you could not see past your elbow, more on that later.

And we were off. My plan had been to take the swim slow and steady, give it everything on the bike, and see what happened on the run so that is what I did. The first part of the swim was great. Really open and lots of room so able to get into a comfy pace. Straight out 500m or so to some buoys and then turn left to join the river Eden for the second part of the swim. Water temperature dropped noticeably in the river and because it was so narrow it was like those scenes of salmon swimming upstream to spawn, just a torrid mess of arms legs and heads all crammed in between the banks! I resigned myself to just going with the flow which happened to be a bit slower than I would have liked but at least I wasn’t being swum over and I kept thinking at least you’re saving yourself for the bike… Eventually the river stretch ended and we were back out into the open space of the lake with just a few hundred meters to go, ending in a swim in front of the loggia towards the lake edge. Here some chaps were waiting to haul me up onto my feet and get me up a concrete ramp and I was on my way to transition.

The run from lake to transition is pretty long, on frozen stumps for feet along the edge of the lake on some matting. Then you cross a grassed area which had turned into a swamp so the organisers had filled it with hay which helped prevent you going in up to your waist. Got to my bike and wetsuit came off easily but hands were so frozen I couldn’t get my socks on, battled with those for a good 2 mins or so before finally managing it. Off running with the bike along a very muddy pathway out towards the site exit, which was slippery so had to take it easy here. After bike mount there is a gravelled path to get along (!) before you are on the road out of site with numerous road humps (!!) and then finally the rolling Kent countryside. A course of two 20k laps, and immediately a long uphill just to get you warmed up. This is what I had been dreading. Checked my arms. Relax. Bring it home! So I just kept the cogs going. And going. After a while the unthinkable happened and I realised I could cope with the hills, they were fine, I was actually beginning to quite like this, I felt in a bit of a zone, maybe this was going to be OK after all! Nuff about my feelings: there are no flat bits on this course, it was all either slogging up (but nothing terrible) or careering downhill. Serious bit: the road surfaces were terrible and there were some giant potholes on the downhills which could easily tip you off. Coupled with the fact that cars were going past you on this open road event made it tough to make the most of the downhills so it felt like you didn’t really get the benefit of them. Despite what others have said I didn’t find the bike course too busy when I was out but I did get stuck behind cars on odd occasions going uphill, as they were stuck behind slower cyclists up ahead on those narrow roads. Which was a bit frustrating. There was a drink station offering cups of water and gels about half way around each lap.

Ditched the bike in transition and loved the run around the grounds. First bit (I think they called it Shite Lane) was slow uphill rough tarmac before you turn into the trees and you are running on mud. This was ankle deep in places, you had to dance around the avoid deep bits. Nearly slipped over on one downhill bit. At this point I was feeling good, had no idea what time I’d done for swim or bike, now was just aiming for doing the run in under an hour. A lovely loop round the lake and over a couple of bridges and you are into the formal gardens, past a beautiful fountain and american lady cheering everyone on individually by race number god bless her. (I told her “you are amazing” and she yelled back “no YOU are amazing 1-9-9-0! GO!!”) Just before the end of the first lap there is an evil virtually vertical gravel path so I just put my head down so I couldn’t see it and took tiny steps all the way up, determined to keep running. Bring it home and all that. At the end of the first lap you have to peg over a gantry built over the bike in-and-out which was a steep pain the bum but immediately after this I saw my support crew who thought I was just starting the run, so that made me chuckle! Second lap just like the first, but really began to notice the folks doing the Gauntlet struggling by this stage, kept thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t doing that as it looked beyond tough. Second lap really seemed to whiz by and before I knew it I was heading down to the finish, along a long straight lined by cheering crowds and having your name and number announced. I had enough for a sprint finish which clearly meant I didn’t put enough effort in overall. Immediately got given medal and there was lots of cake, fruit and drink to have in the finish area. Finish time 3.18.40 and I would definitely do it again.

POST RACE NOTE I had to interrupt the typing of this race report due to being hideously sick with gastroenteritis, no doubt as a result of the lake water being so rancid.This ties in with tales of lots of rain during the past week at Hever (resulting in muddy car parks). Overall I thought this was a great event, they just need to sort out the car parking and maybe reduce the numbers at bit, and ask folks to get there maybe 2 hours ahead of their wave time rather than 1 hour. Where’s that sick bowl….

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