It was an aeroplane flying over my hotel that woke me up at 4.30 this morning, not that I’d slept particularly soundly before that. My alarm bleeped shortly after, I forced down some muesli and coffee, and made my way to the start of The Bastion, a new ironman event from the Castle Triathlon Series at Hever Castle in Kent.
This was my second ironman, the first being an event that ran through the night last year; I was looking for a different challenge this time and the possibility of taking part in daylight was a bonus. Having tackled the hills of the half-iron version, The Gauntlet, at Hever last year too, no-one was more surprised than me when I signed up for what has been billed as one of the most challenging courses in the UK.
The 3.8 km swim took place beneath a drizzly sky in the early hours of Sunday morning; while posing no problem in the lake, the weather was causing a few anxious murmurs in the field about what this would mean for the bike course. My concerns lay less with what was falling from the sky and more with what lay ahead over the hills I’d be climbing.
|Ashdown Forest summit|
There’s a point in any flight when I look out of the window and think it’s all a bit too amazing that we’re still up in the sky. I know that the physics will explain how it’s happening but I prefer not to question it and I just have to believe that we’re going to stay up there. As I rolled into transition, there could be no doubt in my mind that I would finish the marathon ahead; not because my legs felt particularly fresh (they didn’t) or because marathon running is my strength (it isn't) but because I’d already completed something that I wasn’t really sure I could. Besides, if you let any doubts about finishing an ironman into your head, you’re likely to descend into a nosedive from which it is very difficult to regain control.
|After stroopwafel |
It’s approaching 9pm by the time I start my final lap; my hopes of finishing in daylight are dwindling so I grab my head torch and set off into the grounds of Hever Castle one last time. With light fading rapidly and a full moon glowing behind the clouds, I reset my goal to make it home before the planes stop flying over from Gatwick. There are no in-flight movies and I have to make my own entertainment: I sing as I run alone through cornfields; I chat to the lovely marshalls, who are still smiling after being there for hours; and finally, as I run down through the woods and another flight passes overhead, I stick out my arms and make aeroplane noises to join in. Rabbits, caught in the beam of my head torch, look unimpressed.
Back in my hotel room, waiting to drop off to sleep, another aeroplane rumbles overhead. A little smile creeps over my face: I’ve completed the toughest race I’ve ever tackled and I’ve beaten the planes. I’m also pleased I don’t live this close to an airport.