Many years ago, various castles throughout Great Britain were the site of epic battles fought between Saxons, Normans, Vikings and various other parties who loved a good old ruck. These days we’ve taken our fights abroad, yet battles are still fought at a select few castles across the country (and even one in France). These modern day soldiers are triathletes, and the goal – the Holy Grail – is to complete the distance and claim that all-important finishers medal.
This weekend the Castle Series visited Hever Castle in Kent – their 7th year at the site – and as soon as you enter the race village it’s clear why they’ve chosen such an awesome venue. Originally belonging to Anne Boleyn’s family since 1505 and later owned by King Henry VIII, Anne spent her childhood at the castle and the venue regularly draws on its history by hosting jousting tournaments, archery displays and outdoor Shakespearean performances in the castleâ€™s gardens throughout the summer.
Although the Castle itself isn’t very big in comparison to other castles, the building is crammed with a number of portraits and antique furniture all showcased inside themed rooms, and information boards throughout the building tell you all about the castles history from when Anne Boleyn’s family owned it in right up to when the Astor family acquired it in 1903. The extensive grounds cover 125 acres and include water and hedge mazes, a large Italian garden and even a giant topiary chess set! Although spectators have to pay entry to this particular race, the fee is reduced to Â£7.50 for adults (usually Â£16) and Â£3 for children (usually Â£9) and covers the grounds and castle so it really is worthwhile.
On the day it was pretty chilly first thing in the morning as the Super Sprint waves started, but the day gradually warmed up as time passed. The event village offered a range of food stalls offering everything from crepes to stilton and mushroom toasted sandwiches, and a number of deckchairs were set up by a large stage on which live music was performed from 11am.
Despite the great weather on the day, the days leading up to the event had been pretty wet and as a result a post-race nightmare unfolded on Saturday afternoon as thousands of cars attempted, without much luck, to leave a parking area which had been sited on a waterlogged field which had resulted in a number of cars stuck in mud. A land-rover and tractor were on hand to offer assistance and some people were left waiting hours for assistance due to the large number of problems, but thank-fully the issue was calmed on Sunday as a different area was used for parking and a large number of plastic sheets were laid down to offer traction for car tyres.
Team Trek and Run entered 3 athletes covering various distances â€“ Vijay Algoo completed the Super-Sprint, David Barker took on the Sprint, and finally James Stubbs tackled the Half Iron â€˜Gauntletâ€™. Hereâ€™s how they found the eventâ€¦
What did you think of the pre-event information (I.e. emails, texts)
Vijay: I thought Hever Tri was great for keeping us informed about the race day leading up to the event. The text message with Race Number, Wave and start time are also massively helpful. Especially if like me, you turn up to the event just before your wave and just have to show a quick text message to breeze through registration and on to get ready
David: Because the race is part of a series I think you get get a lot of information well in advance of the race. The communication from the organising team is very good and I haven’t needed to contact them about anything.
James: First class pre event organisation. I really donâ€™t see the point in posting out race numbers and event packs these days. Everything was done my email and text. You showed your text to get into the event and the collection of numbers and chips was super efficient.
What did you think of the venue when you arrived on the day?
Vijay: Hever Castle is stunning, it’s an amazing venue with great looking grounds. It’s a place that is worth visiting just to look around but having the chance to do a race around the grounds and swim in the lake is a pleasure
David: The venue is very impressive, but it’s always surprising how far the car parks are away from registration, but you can understand they need to keep traffic away from the cyclists. The swim start is impressive and the addition of the pontoon made getting in the water much easier
James: Firstly we had to queue to get into the car parks due as there had been a lot of rain leading up to the event and things were quite muddy with cars getting stuck on the soft grass. This resulted the first 3 waves to be delayed. Once inside the venue things went smoothly. My only gripe was the run out of the swim into transition being very muddy and slippery, they could have done with putting down some non slip matting.
What were your best bits/memories from the entire event?
Vijay: Obviously, crossing the finish line! I have done another Castle Series event previously and both times they seem to pic a part that has a declining slope to the finish line so you can really finish strong with a sprint across the line. They also had a pretty awesome events village that you can enjoy after the event
David: The bike course is tough with some hard ups, but the downs really make it worth it. Flying through the country lanes around the grounds is great fun. But my highlight was setting up, really friendly people all talking about goals, whether big or small, everyone helping out and giving advice.
James: The marshalling on the bike was the best I have ever experienced not just for a Triathlon, but for any standalone bike sportive of which I have done quite a few now – outstanding! Excellent aid stations on the bike and particularly the run. Friendly, supportive, enthusiastic marshals. For the race I really enjoyed the swim which is my weakest discipline, even with ear plugs in I could hear the crowds cheering! Nice touch at the end was the VIP area for the Gauntlet competitors.
And any low points or parts of the day you didn’t enjoy?
Vijay: The entrance and exit to the transition zone were a bit narrow and very muddy! I had to pretty careful of my footing when exiting it to start my run. And being fairly new to triathlons…and fat…I’m not that fast on my feet so I felt I was holding up other runners that couldn’t overtake due to the mud until we got away from transition
David: The swim exit and bike in where very close to the main entrance to transition after you finished, being in a later wave I found I was blocked by finishers going back to recover their kit as I finished the bike. 2 years ago I was in an earlier wave and didn’t have the problem.
James: I went quite hard on the bike as usual and can normally manage the run reasonably well off the back of that effort. However the Gauntlet bike was the hardest I have done in a Triathlon and never really got my running legs. The whole half marathon was a tough battle, slogging through the mud.
Can you sum up the Castle Hever Triathlon in 5 words:
Vijay: Stunning Venue, Nice Course, bit Muddy (Okay, that was 6!?!)
David: Hard but so worth it
James: Picturesque, organised, hilly, brutal, challenging.
To find out more about this andÂ other races in the Castle Triathlon Series, visit:Â www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk