Archives for September 2013

Hever Gauntlet Half Iron Distance Triathlon Review

Hever Gauntlet Finishers Medal

Hever Gauntlet Finishers Medal

I’ll cut straight to the chase: This was the best organised triathlon that I have ever competed in. All aspects of it were well thought out and all elements of the course took you through stunning surroundings, from an interesting lake/river swim then then through the best that the Kent countryside has to offer on the cycle and then through the grounds of both Hever and Chiddingstone castles on the run. What more could you ask for?

What is the Hever Gauntlet?

The Hever Gauntlet in 2013 was the first Half Iron distance triathlon at Hever Castle to be held as a part of the Castle Triathlon Series. Half Iron distance involves a 1900m swim, a 90km cycle (56 miles), all followed by a half marathon run. There were 400 people signed up for the race and 274 people managed to finish it with yours truly coming in 127th at 6 hours and 23 minutes.

The course

The swim started in the lake in the grounds of Hever Castle and the route had been well dredged beforehand. It went straight down the lake for 600m before turning back on itself and entering a tributary of the River Eden. Here it wound through the countryside for around 900m before returning to the lake and the climb out.

The cycle departed the castle grounds within a couple of hundred meters and then commenced two laps of a 45km course, taking the competitors through some of the best that the Kent countryside has to offer. It is a rolling course without any sustained flat sections, and quite a few long ascents, with one gradient of 13% and the highest point being just over 700 feet and a total of 4800 feet of climbing.

The run started with an uphill which was particularly punishing on tired cycling legs. It then departed the grounds of Hever Castle and headed over to Chiddingstone and Chiddingstone Castle before returning and spending some time wending through the beautiful grounds of Hever Castle. Again it was a two lap affair, but it was most enjoyable. The first half being rolling and the second half being mostly flat.

My race

This section includes my account of the race, from my training and preparation through to the race itself and my thoughts afterwards.

My week before the Hever Gauntlet was somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster ride. On one hand I couldn’t wait to let the brakes off and get into the race, but on the other I knew that my training had been far from triathlon focussed. In fact I had been enjoying my running so much that I had changed my goals for the coming 12 months and in the run up to the Gauntlet I had done pretty much zero cycling and running. You see, I had decided to take ultra running seriously for a while and that I would try to qualify for the 100+ mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. My first qualifying run would be in March 2014 so I had taken August off from specific training to rest before starting to build up my running mileage through Autumn and winter. In short I hadn’t done the cycling and swimming necessary to be competitive in a half iron distance triathlon and I was nervous! Anyway, you don’t care about my excuses, so onwards with the tale of adventure and daring do…maybe not so daring.

Swim Start

Swim Start

For the swim we were instructed to line up across a very wide starting line. It was ample for all of the athletes and really reduced the impact of so many starting together. The first choke point would be the turn at 600m before entering the narrow tributary to the River Eden. Despite all of this space I had a guy to my right that was determined to cut left as soon as possible, so after the swimming equivalent of a slap fight we swapped positions and swam on. I have a tendency to swim to my right, despite bilateral breathing, so I sighted often, an art which I feel I managed to master on the 2.2 mile Plymouth Breakwater swim in August. I am a slow swimmer, but thanks to some one-on-one sessions with the head coach at my tri club my technique is much better than it used to be. In fact my swim time of 41 minutes was 6 minutes faster than I expected which I put down purely to technique and good pacing.

At the turn I executed a neat barrel roll at which point a breastroker that I had caught through managed to use my chest to kick off with, temporarily stalling me. It didn’t hurt and made me laugh. I actually quite enjoyed the rough and tumble of it all and seemed to manage to hold my own for the most part. The next choke point was the entry to the river. We were warned not to cut any corners as we would stray from the well dredged channel and end up beaching ourselves. Here things got a bit rougher as the swimmers came together, but my slow pace soon meant that I had mostly clear water and to be honest the battering that I was giving and receiving in equal measures prevented me from dwelling on the distance. I even remembered to look around occasionally. Finally as we came past the Logia we could see the Olympic swimmers being briefed, and then I was being helped up and onto mostly dry land.

The Bike Start

The usual disorientation struck as my blood pressure struggled, but I managed to overtake 5 or six people in the dash up the slope. The organisers had put carpet on the rough sections and it was all gentle on my bare feet. I had noted my bike position in line with the portaloos and a black Wiggle flag, so I found it straight away. Many bikes were already missing so I pulled my helmet and gloves on and was soon running down the funnel. I passed the mount line, leapt on the bike without slowing and got my feet onto my shoes. The elastic bands snapped and I was away….at least I should have been away. Instead I stalled after 100m as I failed to get my left foot into my shoe. I opted to stop and sort it out rather than wobble around dangerously. Soon sorted I continued, still feeling a bit disoriented, but gradually getting into control. There were a few well marked speed bumps to get over and an enthusiastic grabbing of the brakes meant that my back wheel stepped out around one of the damp corners. I took this as a warning while simultaneously being surprised at just how effective the brakes are on a proper triathlon bike. This was my first race on it after picking it up a couple of week previously, and I had only spent 3 hours on it over three different turbo sessions. Most of which was a bike fit with Paul from www.rideplymouth.co.uk, which was well worth the money.

Out of the castle grounds we turned left and straight into a climb. It wasn’t steep, but I was disappointed to be grinding up it in a low gear. My heart was racing away, my legs were hurting and my lungs were rasping. I briefly felt dismayed before slowing down and reminding myself to settle in and take it easy. There was a long way to go, so I let the people around me go and started to settle in to my own pace. The Gauntlet route was much hillier than the Olympic route and in my new TT position I found that I would frequently catch people up on the flatter sections and the descents, only to swap places again as we would go into the next climb. After half an hour I was drinking well and pushed down an energy gel. I was starting to feel ok. The hills meant that I was able to move around, so my body wasn’t actually hurting too much with the unfamiliar aero position. What a difference it made though. Despite the lack of power in my legs I sailed past a few people that were clearly struggling into the wind, yet I had no such issue.

The highest point on the ride was also marked with a feed station. There were lots of volunteers at it handing out bottles, but I waived them away as I passed. I planned to use them on the second lap. I had just emptied my aero bottle, so I took my second bottle from its cage and attempted to refill it. I managed to dump most of the fluid over my handlebars. Maybe I should have practiced that manoeuver? I sighed and carried on. A few miles later and after the steepest climb on the course came a deceptive downhill. It was fast, but I could see a bend ahead that looked to tighten and I could see the surface was damp so I slowed down. On the outside of the corner I could make out a triathlete lying under a coat, with his bloody bald head sticking out. He was surrounded by people and I really hope that he was ok. Just as I thought this a car pulled out in front of me and I found myself pulling on the brakes as hard as I dared. I just missed the back of his car. He got yelled at, no swearing, just an exasperated yell of “COME ON!” Cried in a tone which I hope conveyed “What the hell do you think your doing?” The driver looked at me without a hint of shame and waved an apology. I carried on.

All of the junctions on the route were marshalled and the police had been involved which meant that the organisers could stop the traffic. This was wonderful. There were tonnes of marshals around and I didn’t have to stop at a single junction. Another great piece of organisation. Soon I came to the point where we rejoined the Olympic Distance cycle route. There were plenty of fast people whizzing around it, but I was also pleased to note that I overtook quite a few as well. Before long I was into my second lap, but by now I was out of water and there were 10 hilly miles to go before the feed station. This was entirely my fault due to the earlier water spill, so I didn’t let it worry me and I carried on. I kept putting the gels in at 20 to 30 minute intervals regardless and hoped that when the dehydration caught up with me that it wouldn’t ruin my day.

By the time that I got to the high point I was feeling really thirsty. My cunning plan was to ditch my bottle into the waiting net, grab a bottle filled with something isotonic, drink a few mouthfuls and pour the rest into my aero bottle. It went pretty smoothly this time around with barely a drop wasted. I had also managed to swap my ropey old Specialised bottle for a nice new High5 bottle. Result! Boy was I thirsty though and I felt bad. I slowed down a bit more and my average dropped from 16mph to 15.8. It did give my body a chance to digest some food and absorb some fluid though, so I did start to feel better for a few miles.

This good feeling lasted until about three miles to go when I bonked. This is cycle speak for hitting the wall or running out of energy. I felt sick and dizzy and started to feel a bit panicked, after all I still had to run a half marathon. I looked down at the bag on my top tube and pulled out the one item of solid food that I was carrying. It was a Blueberry Crisp Cliff Bar. I opened it and started to chew. Normally I find them delicious, but my body was rebelling and each bite took an age to chew and swallow. While doing this I finished off the last of my water and finally managed to get it all down. I span a low gear, waited and hoped. Gradually I started to feel normal again. That was far too close for comfort.

As I turned into the castle grounds I pulled my feet out of my shoes and pedalled back over the speed bumps. Having my feet on top of my shoes enabled me to smoothly transition to running though and I overtook a few more people as I ran to rack my bike. Hat off, gloves off, shoes on, baseball cap on. I was away. It was quite a large transition area, but I was pleased to see that I managed both T1 and T2 in around 2.5 minutes each.

The run start

For those of you that haven’t done a triathlon it is easy to be dismayed at how horrible your body will feel when you start the final section of the day. You have usually been on the bike for a while at this point and your blood is flowing to all of the wrong places. The answer is to practice it with brick sessions in training and then to go easy on yourself for a few minutes in a race to let your body adapt. For me it took about three miles, and then I started to feel like a runner again with my pace going from over 9 minute miles back to 8 minute miles. I slowly started to reel people in, both Olympic distance and fellow Gauntlet competitors. This was more like it. I chatted to a few people on the way as it is a great way of distracting yourself from the task at hand, and it really passes the time. That and everyone is interesting. They all have their own tale which has resulted in them being here and competing in this particular race. I was dismayed to find the second water station on the run route had run dry though. Was this a chink in the organisers extremely co-ordinated armour?

Into the second lap I was feeling comfortable and I was running alongside another Gauntlet competitor. He was a local and he pointed out things of interest on the way such as the Chiding Stone, which I never would have spotted otherwise. He also seemed to know everyone and was getting some massive cheers. I was pleased to see that the second feed station had been restocked (well done!) and was into the last couple of miles when my back decided that it no longer wanted to play. The muscles that had been stressed and stretched by my wonderful aero cycling position finally had enough. I was running like a had a steel rod instead of a spine and I grovelled over the final hill and couldn’t even muster the most pathetic of sprint finished across the line.

Six hours and twenty three minutes of racing. I had got the end of my first half iron distance triathlon and it was a corker! I stuffed my face with food at the finish line, put on a warm layer and headed over to the BBQ tent for a burger. I had just burnt around 7000 calories.

The finish

Conclusion

I was really pleased with my result especially as I have only cycled 300 miles since the 1st July, and my time in the water has been poor to say the least. I would definitely recommend this event for a triathlete of any ability. Throughout the Saturday there were kids races and then on the Sunday the adult races with everything from sprint to half iron distance. The campsite was just a field, however the temporary toilets were very much of the luxury variety. There were also warm showers, a free post race massage for Gauntlet competitors, and plenty of goodies in the goody bag.

If you want a spectacular triathlon in a stunning location then I cannot recommend the Hever round of the Castle Triathlon Series enough. If you want the extra challenge and also to see the most of the countryside and get the best experience then take on the Gauntlet. You wont be disappointed. I also hear that next year there may be a full Iron distance race, which should be stunning.

Thanks to my Dad for coming with me to the event, supporting me through it and taking the pictures, which will be uploaded soon! Thanks to Alan for the swim coaching, Neil Scholes for the running form work and Paul from Ride Plymouth for the awesome TT position on the bike. Of course thanks to all my friends and family for supporting me and thanks for the encouragement from all the like minded nutters in the Plymouth Triathlon Club.

For more you can go to the event organisers website here: www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk

Hoka One One Stinson Evo Shoe Review

Hoka One One Stinson EvoIf you’ve read my shoe preview, here, then you will know why I was spurred on to give these shoes a try. In short I ran with someone using them and after 7.5 hours of running he was still extolling their virtues. I then read up on them and decided that they would be worth giving a try. They offer a huge amount of cushioning, however they are not stability shoes, simply well designed running shoes that do their utmost to protect your joints from the repetitive impact stresses that are caused by running.

When I first put the shoes on they did feel rather spongy, however you get used to it and they soon feel normal. Their looks are a bit deceptive as your foot actually sits into the sole, but I quite like the attention that they get. After initial jokey comments people are actually very interested in them. The shoes are much lighter than they look and I didn’t notice them at all while running despite running a 30+ degree marathon in them on a very sunny day. My feet didn’t overheat either as the shoes are well ventilated.

The Stinson Evos are the trail version of the shoes and they don’t disappoint. The level of grip was good for trail running, however they wouldn’t be very good in mud as the treads simply aren’t deep enough. This is an observation and not a negative criticism, after all how often do most runners run for long periods in deep mud?  The shoes are very secure and have a reasonable quick lace system meaning that they didn’t try to rotate around my foot even on fast and rocky descents, unlike the way a road shoe would in similar conditions.

Before writing this review I ran several hundred training and racing miles in my Hoka One One Stinson Evos including a 36 mile trail ultra and an off-road marathon. I also had a foot injury when I started the testing and was relieved to find that the Stinson Evos didn’t aggravate the injury unlike all of my other running shoes. In fact after each run my foot actually felt better, which I put down to the good design of the shoes and the increased blood flow around the injury without stressing it further. Now the injury is totally cleared up and I can use all of my shoes again.

Conclusion

I would strongly recommend the Hoka One One Stinson Evo as a part of your running shoe arsenal. It is a great shoe for longer distance runs and also for using when you have picked up an injury. The shoes are so well designed that they allow for a very natural gait but personally I found that I did lose some foot strength while using them as my only shoe. To get around this I now use a more conventional shoe for short training runs and the Hoka One One Stinson Evos for anything longer, or for a couple of weeks in a row if I have an injury. They will absolutely be my goto shoe for marathons and any ultra distance races that I compete in and I intend to use them next year on the Hardmoors 55, The Oner, and the Classic Quarter, all of which are tough trail ultra races.

If you want to see more then you can see the Hoka One One website here: http://www.hokaoneone.eu/en/d/stinson-evo-unisex_178.html

if you do more road than trails then there is a road only version as well and there are plenty of colours to chose from.

Update – 23rd May 2014 and why I no longer run in Hokas

As you can tell by my review above I was rather smitten by the Hokas, but unfortunately after another hundred miles I started to get lower leg issues when running in them. The pains were in the soles of my feet and only occurred when running in my Hokas. I have come across this type of issue in other overly padded or structured shoes in the past, and it seems to occur as the soles start to breakdown from use. It means that they no longer flex or work as intended and there are consequences that start as niggles but can ultimately turn into injuries if you don’t swap your shoes out in time.

I was concerned about the issues I was getting and wanted to investigate further. The uppers and soles of the shoes had worn really well on the outside and could almost pass as new, so I found it quite hard to cut one in half with a Stanley knife. At least when making the first cut… Unfortunately it didn’t yield anything interesting and the inside of the soles looked just as pristine as the outside. I lobbed my one and two halves of a shoe in the bin, dug out my old Salomon Sense Mantras and haven’t looked back since. The Salomons have now done about three times the mileage of the Hokas with no problem, other than the fact that they don’t have very much grip in mud, and they still look pretty good too, or at least they would if I washed them.

In this waffling way what I am trying to say is that the Hokas are amazing shoes, but only for a few hundred miles. After that, and at the first sign of unusual lower leg pain, then they need to go in the bin. The Hokas are a rather expensive shoe and as an ultra runner putting in a fair few miles I cannot afford to keep replacing them and it grates on me to have to throw away otherwise pristine looking shoes both for the financial and environmental waste. My favourite trail shoes remain my seemingly everlasting Salomon Sense Mantras and my favourite road shoes remain my Nike Free v4.0s.

 

Hanger Up N Down Race – Review

Erme Valley HarriersToday I raced in the inaugural Hanger Up N Down race as organised by my local running club, The Erme Valley Harriers. It promised to be a moderately hilly eight mile running race predominantly along trails and through fields, all in a picturesque setting with stunning views of Dartmoor and South Devon. This year it replaced the old “Beacon Race” due to issues with some of the trails that it used to use, and according to the organisers it would be a touch flatter.

Any of my regulars will know that I predominantly race long course events where I need to run relatively slowly for a long period of time, so this would be new territory for me. In the last year I have done a couple of shorter races, but usually as part of a training block  to keep things interesting. I would invariably turn up with already tired legs or have a specific slower pace that I would be aiming to achieve. I would often do these in fancy dress just to keep the pressure off.

For the Hanger Up N Down race I was strangely nervous, my legs were pretty fresh due to where I was in my training cycle, and I felt like I had no idea about how the race would pan out, nor any idea as to how to pace myself. I ran the route the day before at ultra marathon pace which meant going very slowly and walking up the hills, but it gave me the chance to scope out the views, the route, the terrain, the gates, the stinging nettles, the cowpats….you get the gist. I was very pleased with what I found as the route was just rough enough and hilly enough to put the race firmly on terrain where I felt comfortable. As far as I was concerned the rougher the better, so it would hopefully slow down some of the quicker road runners.

Hanger Up N Down Race

I turned up to the start which was at McCaulays Health Club just outside of Ivybridge. They had been kind enough to lend the use of their changing rooms, toilets, pool and café to the race. There were plenty of marshals around and quite a few runners started to turn up with thirty minutes to go. I had cycled, so it was easy to park, and I had soon stowed my warm cycling gear. I hadn’t looked at the first climb during my recce the previous day, so I decided to take a walk up the long steep hill that would form the first mile of the course. I was really surprised at just how many of the runners were running up and down the hill for a warm up. In my mind it was far too steep to warmup on as it would simply tax the legs of all but the strongest runners, thereby reducing the amount of power and energy they would have during the race. Each to their own I guess. I walked to the top of the tarmac, getting my pulse to around 75%, and then walked back down again before nipping into the toilets for a final pee.

With five minutes to go I made my way to the start line to catch the race brief. It was straightforward, comprehensive and speckled with appropriate humour. The field largely seemed relaxed and everyone looked really fit. Does anyone else look around, see how skinny and athletic everyone looks and start to feel inadequate? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been told that I look pretty skinny and athletic myself, however I guess this is a hangover from spending most of my adult life about two stone overweight.

“On your marks….” BANG! We were off.

Hanger Up N Down Race

With no idea on pacing for such a short trail run I had one plan: It was simply to get up the first hill hot on the tail of the fast guys so that I wouldn’t be stumbling over anyone on the steep, slippery and technical narrow descent that would follow it. The guys at the front leapt away like gazelles and knowing that I couldn’t do that I hit a strong tempo. My heart rate went almost straight up beyond threshold and into the mid 170s, but I knew I could hold it. My breath was fast, but controlled: In for two strides, out for two strides, in for two strides, out for two strides…..

There were quite a few people in front of me, but they started to slow as the hill wore them down. The road was just wide enough so that I could work my way between them and soon there were only around ten people in front of me. My plan worked beautifully and I ran unobstructed down the descent, gradually catching the guy in front. As we passed under the Ivybridge viaduct my parents were there cheering me on before I turned into Longtimber woods. The initial effort was beginning to take its toll, so I decided that a structured retreat was in order. I eased off, and walked as hard as I could up the next hill. A few people overtook me, including the lady that would win the female race, but when we turned back on to tarmac I started running and was able to hold my ground again. Here the route rolled through some lovely countryside and I focussed on staying on the back of a group of about 5 people. They would gap me on easier terrain and flat sections, but as soon as it got hilly or rough I would be back on them again. Things went this way for a couple of miles before they began to gap me for good.

We passed through loads of gates, but nearly all were marshalled and open. Each of the marshals was encouraging and friendly, they even smiled when the cold rain was coming down. I vaulted two styles, barely breaking my stride and noticed a curious obstacle at the next gate. A herd of cows in a stand-off with the marshal. They (the marshal, not the cows!) apologised for not being able to open the gate as they couldn’t afford to let the cows through. The runner in front of me slowed to climb over the fence next to the gate (she eventually finished in front of me as the 2nd female) just as I took two steps up the hedgerow and pushed off to fly over the gate. It was quite a long way down, but I kept my legs pedalling and managed to land pretty well, keeping my momentum. I heard the marshal claim “nice jump” and I was off, dodging cowpats through the next couple of fields.

The miles were flying by and I couldn’t believe my pace. Before I knew it I was on the final hill, which was every bit as tough as the first one of the race. Eventually it climbed onto Hanger Down and levelled out before dropping back down the starting hill. The tarmac was a bit slippery and it took me a couple of hundred meters before I could ease into my stride. I leant forward, kept good posture and lifted my heels as fast as I dared. I was actually wheel spinning on the slippery tarmac as I descended, pushing all the time, but I couldn’t make any ground on the lady in front of me. The finish was just after a sharp left turn, I collected my medal and a drink, and the race was done. What a blast!

finishing

I had finished in 18th place of 77 finishers in a time of 58 mins and 52 seconds, with an average speed of 7 min 37 secs per mile for 7.73 miles with around 1200ft of ascent. When I saw this my jaw almost hit the deck, that was almost as quick as my half marathon PB pace which was set on road over a much flatter course. I guess my training really is working 🙂

Conclusion

If you are in the local area then I thoroughly recommend coming along for the Hanger Up N Down Race next year. The Erme Valley Harriers did a stunning job of organising the race, with great route markings. They put pink electric fence stakes through the fields to keep you on track, often with tape hanging from the top, and lots of tape tied to trees, fences etc to reinforce the fact that you were going the right way. They deployed plenty of marshals to keep gates open (where possible!) and to keep the athletes on track, and there was a very nice low key atmosphere about the whole thing, as well as two water stations on route. I had a great time, on a fun varied course that kept me on my toes from start to finish.

400 Set to take on the Hever Gauntlet (Including me!!)

IMG_4045 - gauntlet400 set to take on The Gauntlet at the Hever Castle Triathlon

–          Last chance to enter all levels and end your season at the iconic event

With just three weeks to go, the organisers of the Hever Castle Triathlon are getting geared up to welcome over 5,000 competitors including 1,200 children and 400 bold participants taking on The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet, is the new half iron distance race (1.9km swim / 90km cycle / 21km run), that is attracting serious triathletes from across Europe to race around the scenic Kent countryside, including the 13th world ranking triathlete, David McNamee. McNamee comments on his shift to a longer race distance; “I’m very much looking forward to taking part in the Hever Castle Triathlon. It’s exciting to go into a completely new style of racing, with no expectations, just to see how I fare over a different format.  I have never even been on a time trial bike so post London World Championships I will be jumping on one to get as much practice in as possible. No matter the result from what I have heard from other athletes I am in for an enjoyable day of racing at Hever Castle”.

The Saturday afternoon will see parents covered in goose bumps as they cheer their children on. With 1,200 taking part is likely to be the largest children’s triathlon in the world and will include lots of siblings and school classes racing together. Many children have claimed that London 2012 motivated them to take part and pay tribute to the Brownlee brother’s performance. Schools will have the chance to win an Inter Schools Tournament Trophy.

Media are excited about the growing event with Channel 4 sending a camera crew and helicopter to take in the action. Footage is due to be broadcast on Channel 4, Sky Sports and Euro Sports.

The Hever Castle Triathlon is part of the Markel Castle Triathlon Series which is increasingly well known for the beautiful venues and scenic grounds, held at iconic castles across Europe, promising a high quality triathlon festivals and race for all levels, from first-timers and children, to elite performers. Last year the Series attracted over 8,000 competitors including Olympian Tim Don and this year it is offering even more to appeal to fans and new followers.

Spectators can enjoy a festival atmosphere at the event village whilst they watch the races, including archery, live bands, refreshments, hot air balloon, bouncy castle and access to the castle grounds (Adults pay £5/children aged 5 – 15 pay £3).

Competitors can enter an event by visiting www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk, calling 01892 870681, or for more information follow us on f: Castletriathlonseries or @CastleTriathlon. 

HeverCastle