Sat on a wooden bench in a changing tent with only red and blue numbered drawstring bags for company – and just a faint idea of when, or if, you are going to start running – is one of the less traditional ways of preparing for a marathon.
But this is my lot at The Bastion at Hever Castle in Kent, where I have the final challenge/glory leg of a hastily-arranged relay team hoping to cover the iron-distance course.
It’s not a given. About two hours ago, our biker, Hoots, was lying on a grass verge adopting a yoga child pose to relieve a stiff back.
As yet, there’s no sign of her return and this fumbling attempt at getting the baton round is turning worryingly reminiscent of the British 4 x100m men’s team in the Olympic Games of 1996… 2000… 2008… 2012… you get the idea.
Swings and roundabouts
In a way, it’s probably to be expected. This charming Kent castle where Anne Boleyn was seduced by King Henry VIII before being slayed for high treason (swings and roundabouts), provides something of an epic test – one that’s probably not advisable to sign up to at 48 hours’ notice.
It means that trying to answer the helpful 220 blog brief of explaining our ‘journey’ to the start amounts to watching a boxset of the Tudors on the turbo (and that was only our swimmer, Phoebe).
My contribution to race prep was walking into a shower door cubicle that has left my right knee slightly swollen, while Hoots reluctantly agreed to shave her legs, but only after viewing the baby skin-smooth blokes at the briefing.
Despite this, the actual event has been really rather wonderfully, quintessentially British. It’s a stunning setting here. The two-lap lake swim takes you past a Japanese Tea House, under a bridge and down a tributary – or headlong into a bank if your sighting is wonky.
The pretty three-lap 180km bike-course runs through the Ashdown Forest and is a victim of its own appeal because two other (lesser) cycling events have crashed our turf – a sportive and a time-trial. To avoid confusion, the former can be distinguished as a 600-strong peloton engulfing triathletes like a swarm of killer bees, the latter by an after-party involving coffee flasks in a lay-by.
As for our race, The Bastion field is so select that one of its number, soon-to-be-centurion Anthony Gerundini – sporting denim racewear to make Eighties pop idol Shakin’ Stevens jealous – could have feasibly completed more races by the end of this day than the rest of the field combined.
Hoots finishes the bike leg
Conditions could best be described as intermittent drizzle but the band from Zed Music Café in Seven Oaks plays on, just as Hoots comes trundling into T2 with a look that says: “Put down the laptop, jog on, and don’t bother with your ‘fun’ weekend suggestions ever again.”
Anyone for tennis?
It’s oft-said you’ll be bitten by the triathlon bug. I now know what it really means: midges. Zillions of them. And the little critters’ favourite colour is orange.
It took this runner on team ‘Anyone For Tennis’ considerably longer to complete the marathon that it did for Novak Djokovic to dispatch Roger Federer in the weekend’s other great sporting spectacle – and Lewis Hamilton could have witnessed me plodding the trails of Kent without adhering to the dress code of SW19.
The first lap was beautiful, ditto the second, but by the third I was done with castles for the day, and by the final 10.5km loop that fat bastard Henry VIII had hopped on for a piggy-back. It was enough to make Anne Boleyn laugh her head off.
Tim Heming, Hoots and Phoebe finish The Bastion
But we finished, fourth of eight relay teams, milking our slightly-above-average status to the max on perhaps the world’s longest finishing straight and well within the 17-hour mark for pulling up the drawbridge.
Phoebe swam a solid 72mins, Hoots battled on for a 7:28hrs bike split, and I limped in with a 3:35hrs marathon for an overall 12:21.26. And we nailed the transitions in seconds.
We pottered home discussing the merits of post-race tattoos, inspired by one competitor’s proud dedication of THE BASTION on his bicep (eat that, M-Dot). A third each seemed appropriate (and cheaper… per letter) but with ‘BA’ for Phoebe as the swimmer and ‘ON’ for me as the runner, surprisingly Hoots didn’t fancy the middle three letters. Must be the bad back.
(All images: Colin Baldwin Photography)
Hever is open for pre-registration for the July 10, 2016 race now. As UK iron distance races go, it really is a beauty.