Throwback report: Alice Hector reminisces on The Bastion at Hever Castle

Bastion Alice Hector

The Bastion iron-distance triathlon is one of the hardest one day challenges in the world and this event takes place annually at the historic Hever Castle in Kent – with the next race scheduled for the 12th July 2015. This incredible challenge involves swimming 3.8km, cycling 180km and running a full marathon all within the time limit of 17 hours maximum.

After the success of the 2014 event, entry numbers have doubled and the local area will be boosted by visitors attending the event to compete or spectate and have come from across the country and internationally.

Each year Hever Castle welcomes over 7,000 triathletes to the area, across The Bastion and the Hever Castle Triathlon – both part of the Castle Triathlon Series – drawn by the stunning local countryside, beautiful villages and warm welcome afforded from around the country.

One such entrant was Alice Hector from Windsor, an accomplished ultra-runner, who eventually emerged victorious. Here’s her story of the day and how much she enjoyed visiting the area.

By Alice Hector (originally published http://www.alicetri.com/alicehector/bastion-ultra-ironman/)

Last year I had no plans for the 13th July. Perhaps a nice long run followed by lunch in a cafe and an afternoon nap.

Perhaps not.

Instead I subjected myself to the second-hardest race I have ever done. This was a super hilly, off-road Ironman distance race which for me started at 6 a.m and finished at 4.47 p.m. That’s a long time to be out of puff.

I heard through the grapevine the weekend before that the Bastion (for that, is its name) was wide open with a prize pool of £10,000. And it was only an hour’s drive from my house. I would willingly trek the globe to bring home that kind of dough.

I knew I was not fully fit for full Ironman. But should one always wait until one is prepared? To be too prepared can mean you’re actually overcooked and injured. And you can wait your whole life and never be perfectly ready. 10% undercooked is better than 10% overcooked, after all. So it was time to get out there and try. I can’t be a pro if I don’t put myself out there. It was to be a good training day at the very least, and maybe my ultras from a few years back would serve me well. Man up legs.

The race was not without competition. Ali Rowatt is an amazing top amateur Ironman athlete and she was racing (albeit tired from another Ironman 2 weeks’ previously!) plus a woman I recognised, Ali Hollington, who is a veteran with a 9.41 (or thereabouts) time from last year. Gulp.

Ali, Ali and Ali. Allez!

The race, put on by Castle Triathlon Series, was held at the beautiful Hever Castle, home of the naughty Boleyn family of the 16th century. I am currently completely absorbed in Tudor History so I loved the fact that I was racing here.

The castle and grounds provided a stunning backdrop for the race. We swam in the lake by the castle. I was first female out the water, got to T1 efficiently, wolfed a banana and scurried off to the bike bit.

So 180km of riding. 2700m of ascent. Not just one big climb every lap though, oh no. Relentless hills! Steep ones, draggy ones, you name it. Luckily there were some lovely picturesque spots en route and the downhills were mainly non-technical so even I, with my conservative descending, could let my hair down a bit.

The hills. They got me though. It just seemed never-ending at one point. I felt so slow. I had a little cry, and then realised I couldn’t climb hills and cry at the same time, as I couldn’t breathe, so I had to stop crying, or die. I chose life. No more tears.

My boy Darren was out in the car taking photos and he clocked my face at one point. ‘If you finish this, my little water chestnut’ said he, ‘you will never have to do one of these things again!’ Best thing he said all day.

Every lap I got about 3-4 minutes slower than the last one, and I was so paranoid that I would be caught. I was eating regularly, but found pure sugar and gloop like gels and jelly babies just weren’t working. Bananas, flapjacks and date bars (from www.jackoatbar.co.uk) worked the best by far. My stomach felt settled as did my blood sugar.

I knew I had to keep eating as I am not the most efficient long-distance athlete yet, relying a lot on carbohydrates instead of being able to access the fats that we already have in our body, so for me, it was an eating competition. Fat burning comes with lots of long, slow distance training and I have only just started ramping up the miles.

Finally the bike was over. It took me 6 hrs and 7 minutes. I came in to T2 with around a 15 minute lead, but most importantly I was SO glad to be off the bike! But what’s this? A marathon run, now? Oh heavens.

My ultra experiences, though I called upon them to help me as one would call upon God, had run away. The whole prospect really did seem overwhelming. And when the first 10km of the hilly cross-country affair took nearly an hour, I was tested mentally to the limit.

‘Waaaaahhh’ I cried to Darren as I waddled past ‘I am not fit enough. Where is everyone?’

I had visions of the two Ali’s scamepring footloose and fancy-free over the  rutted terrain whilst I shuffled my way, heavy in both legs and heart, to certain doom.

‘Miles behind’ said Darren. For about the first time all day, it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t just me finding this really tough.

As in utras, the bad times come, but manage yourself through that with a good nutrition plan and a mindset to ‘just keep moving forward’ and that bad patch will go. Even at aid stations where it is easy to stop for a few seconds and drink, I would take the drink and walk quickly. Always moving forward. I enjoyed two laps of strong running afterwards, and then with just one more lap to go, I took some pressure off and just tried to keep going fairly quickly (I wanted to finish asap after all!)

It was a relief to cross the line and take the win, but when you are faced with big challenges, that feeling is so much sweeter. As for the race, I cannot fault it. I’d recommend it to anyone but it is extreme, so be prepared to be pushed! It’s very much a case of ‘Are you tough enough?’ but everything is in place to ensure each competitor gets round safely; you are very well looked after and for a first event, the support was great. I have never witnessed marshals in such good spirits for such a long time.

You  can enter The Bastion 2015 race here: http://www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk/races/the-bastion-full-iron-distance/

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