Having done numerous sprints over my short time doing triathlons and ambitions to go a bit further, discovering the Castle series sprint plus option 2 years ago- thanks covid, seemed the ideal way to go a bit further, the distance consisted of an 800-meter swim, 28-mile bike and 5-mile run, ideal distances that are manageable.
The venue for this was to be Castle Howard, a stately home set 30 minutes away from York in the Howardian Hills.
In the online briefing the Race director had described the bike route as undulating, afterwards I would certainly beg to differ.
Arriving on Friday morning it gave me and my partner a chance to wander around the venue, sussing out the transition, and a walk through some of the run route, it was all off road through trails, through the forest and around the gardens, all very scenic but a bit lumpy in places.
After that it was a drive around the alleged undulating bike route, first part was down the drive before heading out into the hills, first half was fine, not the best road condition but would be ok on the TT bike, however there were a few technical turns, then at half way there was a 14% negative corkscrew drop which went straight up the other side at this point I knew I was in for a tough 28 miles.
An 8:15 start was ample time to get to the venue, check in to my wave all with covid measures.
Into the water and straight away there was an, how shall I say, aromatic aroma to it – if you’ve ever done Southport tri you’ll know what I mean.
On passing the turn buoy I could tell the hat – why are they always too small? – was starting to rise and sure enough I had to stop as it popped off, tread water and pull it back on as quick as I could. Swim time 30:20
Into T1 and an uphill run/walk of 300 meters, just because we wouldn’t encounter enough hills that day
Onto the bike and out onto the long driveway, my plan was to pace the first lap well so as not to burn myself out as I knew what was coming, first half went well and as I expected.
Then I came to the corkscrew, holding the brakes lightly on for the first part so as not to end up going head over the bars and end up rolling down the grass off the edge of this 14% down hill roller coaster, getting half way up the other side I had to do something I really didn’t want to but knew I probably would and that was to get off and push it up the 2nd half, unfortunately I would get off again on one of hills coming to the end of the first lap.
2nd lap of the bike was similar to the first, again unfortunately having to jump off at the same two places, pace was dropping and I could see my time was not going to be anywhere near what I wanted. Came into T2 after 2hrs 50 on the bike with 2844ft of elevation over the 28 miles, I certainly wouldn’t call that undulating, in fact as I came past my partner, I described it as ******* brutal.
Into transition and racked the bike, put on my trail shoes to give a bit more grip and grasping my running hydration vest, as there were no drinks on the run to ensure I kept on top of fluid intake, I set off for the 5 mile off road run.
Out of transition it was downhill- thank goodness, and onto grass for the first bit before getting into the forest on a stony gravel surface which felt ok, not running quick but reasonable pace for me.
Then came the first lump of the run up to the Temple of the four winds before heading down again to the bottom of the lake, which was stunning.
Then it was back along in behind the house to get to another lump to get over and by now my legs were screaming so I walked up the hill to get the top to turn left through the wood before heading downhill for a short stretch before turning right to start my 2nd lap of the run, the 2nd lap went much like the first, receiving great support from the Castle marshals some of whom would be racing in the following days Half Iron and Olympic events.
Coming down the last hill before one more short rise into the finish I moved as quick as I could, getting somewhat emotional, under my sunglasses there were a few tears and there was the finishing line, and turning right I crossed it having taken 1hr 33 for the run with an elevation of 513 ft, far from easy.
As I crossed the line the finish line marshals came over to see if I was ok, got me to sit down, gave me some coke and chocolate and I said that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 5hrs 11minutes later, exhausted but pleased it was done.
There were 3 DNF’s in my event but I was not one of them, the easiest thing to do would have been to come in off the bike, being so far away from my target and to quit, but that’s not me, if it was easy then everyone would do it. Would I recommend Castle Howard- Yes but take a road bike and be prepared for hills. An evenings curry and a couple of days of rest on the Yorkshire coast was just what the doctor ordered to recover.
Do I regret it? No, would I do it again? Definitely not, haha.
7 weeks and I go again in Anglesey for the Sandman sprint and hopefully not as much elevation.