I was VERY nervous about this event. 3.8km swim, a 3 lap very hilly bike and an off-road marathon over 4 laps.
I have had an odd year in terms of training after injuring my knee early on in the year at the Pilgrim ultra.
Since then I have completed a couple of marathons, a 100km run and Man vs Horse (22 miles cross country). I’ve done a couple of 100 mile+ rides and some swimming (although I realised not over about 3km in one session since the beginning of the year!!) All of these events were completed with a small amount of trepidation and some knee discomfort; I haven’t really felt ‘fit’ at any point this year but have relied upon my base fitness, some muscle memory and a big glug of resilience!
I hoped that I could complete the Bastion in around 13- 14 hours; 1 hour swim, 7 hour bike, 4-5 hour run.
The race started at 6am and at 5.15am I was nervously prodding my bike and chatting to Lucy and Michael who race for Bayliss Multisport Team and are coached by Stephen and Bella. Both had an amazing race and Lucy won the women’s for the 3rd consecutive year and Michael got an excellent 3rd. Suddenly the race organiser came into transition and shouted that it would be a non-wetsuit swim as the water temperature had risen to 26 degrees. A huge grin spread over my face; I hadn’t wanted to swim in a wetsuit as I had been so hot at the lake recently. As a swimmer I am more comfortable without a wetsuit but as I looked around transition, no one else was smiling. Nervous and weaker swimmers would rely upon a wetsuit for buoyancy and this could potentially mean a much slower and more tiring swim for these people.
At 6am we entered the beautiful lake at Hever Castle and swum to the start buoys. I eyed up the more confident looking swimmers hoping I could catch a ride on their feet. The starter horn went off and I swam hard. The field spread out quickly and I soon found myself leading a small group with another few swimmers pulling away from me. From about 500m into the 2 lap course I stayed in the same position. I could see a couple of people way out in front and when I looked behind I was leading quite a big group. This group slowly dwindled off the pace and I made sure that no one was going to come round me. After 1 lap I had 4 people on my feet but the rest of the field had dropped way back. The swim was beautiful and spectators were able to stand on the bridges and cheer as we swam underneath. At the end of each lap there was a short river section that was so full of weeds and green river-stuff that I had to clamp my mouth shut and try not to ingest any pond life. 200m to go and I had just one person on my feet so I gave a kick and dropped him so that I had a clear space to get out of the lake. A marshal helped me up the ramp and I ran under the beautiful arches into T1. I had swum a 1.08 which is alright considering it was non-wetsuit and this was the furthest I had swum in months! I was 5th or 6th out of the water overall and 3rd placed woman.
Bike shoes, helmet and race number on, I collected my bike and off I went. Straight up an incline. I did not feel strong! I was buzzing from the swim and grinned away as people cheered from the roadside but tried to pedal easy and remind myself that this was going to be a long day out on the bike. Being strong in the swim meant that the boys on their fast bikes would come past fairly regularly for the next few hours. This made me feel extremely slow but I reminded myself to just stay steady and to look after my legs as much as possible. I had been really worried about my knee because it had clicked the whole way through a ride a week ago and had been sore leading up to the race. I was relieved that it felt fine as I climbed the first few inclines. Climbing up to the Ashdown Forest I put my bike into the smallest gear I have and spun my legs up. Down the other side was wonderful and I felt happy that I had got around nearly half a lap feeling ok. As I reached the dual carriageway, which marked the furthest point of the course, Lucy came whizzing past and was her usual enthusiastic self…we had a brief exchange of ‘well dones’ and off she went! I made sure I said well done to nearly every person that either came past me or who I met on the out and back part of the course…in such a small race with a field of 100, I was quite surprised by how many people had clearly forgotten their manners(and their smiles)…I get that some people are really focussed but, hey, if the winner of the race can smile and nod on the bike then so can the rest of them 🙂
End of lap 1 and I had averaged 16.2 mph in a time of 2hrs15. Great, this would give me a few minutes buffer on the next 2 laps to get in under 7 hours. How wrong I was!! The 2nd lap started to sap the energy from my legs. My knee had started clicking and hurting so I kept my gears really low. I ate and drank and ate and drank but I was really struggling. At one point I felt great and thought I had got a second wind, but that soon left me. I decided that I was going to stop at the aid station just over halfway around the 2nd lap and use the toilet. I wasn’t desperate for the loo but I was desperate to get off my bike and stretch my back and my upper body. I also hadn’t worn my tri suit to cycle in before and was struggling with the thinner chamois.
I felt a relief when I started the 3rd lap knowing that each metre of tarmac I rode over would be the last time I rode it today. Unfortunately, I was completely worn down by the previous 2 laps and struggled to keep up my cadence even on the slightest inclines. The positive news was that my knee had stopped hurting- probably shocked that I had kept on hammering it! There was not really any flat on the course; it was either up or down. In previous laps the descents were glorious and a chance to stretch my legs and feel some speed; on the 3rd lap they took up as much energy as the uphills and my fatigued shoulders and neck meant that I couldn’t stay in one position for longer than a few minutes at a time so I was constantly changing from the hoods, to the drops, to my aero bars just trying to get some comfort. My average speed had dropped from 16.2mph on the first lap to 15.5 mph and the third lap saw it continue to drop to 15mph. My garmin was set to just show the time of day and I was glad that I didn’t have the constant reminder of how comparatively slow I was going. The final 20 miles felt like they took forever… the second half of the course was full of short sharp inclines that sapped all my energy. During the final few miles a lady came up behind me. She was taking part in the aqua bike and was also finishing her bike leg. We chatted for a few minutes and it completely took my mind off the pain that I was feeling…a short conversation had really come at the right time.
I felt nothing but relief as I turned left to head in towards transition. I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to run a marathon but plodding very slowly is my forte so I knew as long as my knee held up I was going to be ok. The bike had taken 7.5 hours- longer than I had anticipated but still giving me 5 hours to complete the marathon and get under 14 hours overall.
Riding onto a grassy bank, I wheeled my bike to T2 where it was taken to be racked and I entered the tent. I didn’t think sitting on a wooden bench could feel so comfortable but it was bliss to know that I didn’t have to be sitting on a bike saddle any longer!! I faffed around and took about 5 minutes putting on suncream, socks, shoes then trying to decide what combination of cap and sunglasses to wear and whether or not to put on calf guards. Instead I used them to wipe the sweat from my face as I stood up and prepared myself to run out of the tent and onto the marathon course.
The run was 4 laps of just over 10km. It was so so hot outside and I knew that the first thing I had to do was get my body temperature down. At every aid station there was a bucket of water and sponges and I drenched myself at every possible opportunity. I completed the first in 1hr 15mins…I had been spurred on by going past the girl I knew was in 3rd place and who unfortunately ended up DNFing. It wasn’t long however before another girl came past me and I was back into 4th. I completely lost my pace for the next 3 remaining laps. The course was beautiful; a gravel path led up a hill and then a grassy path ran around the lake followed by some stints through woodland and a few corn fields. The run wasn’t easy but it was a typical trail run and I would have liked to have run it with fresh legs! I was very thankful for the flat coke that I had drank at the 3-4 stops per lap… it was the only nutrition I had but totally did the job. Nearly everyone around me was in a similar state. I ran through the finish straight at the end of lap 2 and Michael, who had finished in 3rd, cheered me on and shouted “1 more lap!”. I corrected him that I had 2 more laps and it dawned on me that it could mean nearly another 3 hours!!
Once I was halfway round my 3rd lap I felt happier. Mark had dropped the kids with my mum and was busy running round the course in reverse; I think a lot of runners got to know him quite well! He told me the news that with 1700m to go to the finish, he had timed Lucy as 1min 10seconds behind the leading girl and he had told her to sprint.. he hadn’t known the outcome but we found out that Lucy had got the win by 6 seconds and this made me very happy and spurred me on!
The final lap was fine. I knew I would be finished soon and tried to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Although painfully slow, I managed to keep a sort of jog going and when I came into the finish line was completely ready to cross it! Medal presented, it was 8.30pm-14hrs and 31 minutes after starting at 6am. It was all a bit surreal finishing and I just wanted to get home. Mark and I had driven separately so I had to drive home and managed to take a pretty funky route in my tiredness.
It has taken me most of the week to start to recover and all thanks to my mum who had the kids on Sunday and Monday night so that I could have a lie-in.
As always, Mark dealt with my pre-race panicking (which went on for weeks ) and generally picked up all the pieces and said all the right things at the right times.
Would I do it again? Yes, but not next year…I would need to be very ready for it and make it a stronger race.