A picturesque triathlon starting in shadow of Hever Castle and taking triathletes through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty before a tough off-road dash back home. The castle hosts evening sprint events in the spring as well as the final of The Markel Castle Series – the third largest triathlon in the country in late summer.
Where: Hever Castle, Sevenoaks, Kent
When: June & July (evening sprints) & September (series final)
Distances: Sprint and Olympic, and The Gauntlet Half Iron Distance
Size: 250 approx for evening series events, 4500 for weekend final
(Completed in June 2013)
- Arrive early to get a close parking space
- Be prepared for mud – it’s a hefty walk from the car park to the start through muddy woods
- Save some energy at the end of the swim for the 100m uphill dash to transition
- Be prepared for hills – it’s a very technical bike course
- Don’t wear sunglasses for the evening races as the bike course is dark in parts
- Wear trail shoes on the run – gravel, grass, mud, rocks – no tarmac.
- Watch out for a torturous 50m incline within 400 metres of the finish line.
- Take in the setting – it’s a glorious backdrop so enjoy it!
What’s the organisation and set up like?
The Castle Triathlon bunch organise events all over the country and thus the setup is very slick and communication extremely effective. From precise directions to Hever Castle and constant training tips in the build up to friendly staff and clearly marked out routes, no stone is left unturned.
There’s no paperwork to bring along on the day. Just rock up with the bike and gear an hour before the event to prepare properly. There’s plenty of space. The waves start from 6pm through to 7pm with the choice of sprint or super-sprint available. Doing both evening events sets you back about £90 – which is about standard.
At the finish, you’re fed and watered well, given a medal and a goodie bag.
What’s the course like?
Tough! The swim is in the most idyllic setting in the shadows of Hever Castle. After a briefing from the race director Brian Adcock, you’re fully aware of the challenges and potential pitfalls of the bike and run and the awkward spots you need to slow down for!
The swim is in the calm, mostly warm lake.
There’s a 100 metre uphill dash to transition before exiting the Hever Castle grounds and hitting the quiet, open, winding 20k loop on the roads of West Kent.
The first 3k of the bike is all uphill, and is followed by an undulating course that flattens out from 12k in. A tricky, gradual climb in Penshurst at 9k will test the quads but there are plenty of sweeping downhill sections to attack and make up time. It’s a very challenging, technical bike with tight corners and blind bends. Marshalls are on hand to direct you and you can get held up by traffic.
The first 1k of the run is all steeply uphill on a muddy track, before descending back through the woods and fields around Hever Castle and the lake. Watch out for a torturous 50m incline within 400 metres of the finish line. The terrain is a mix of gravel, rocks, mud, grass and plenty to turn your ankle on so approach with caution and train well on uneven ground.
Course description from the official website: All triathletes start with an open water swim in the spectacular 38 acre Hever Castle Lake, transitioning into the cycle which will take place around a 20km circuit through the High Weald of Kent an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with one lap for the Sprint and two laps for the Olympic distance. The run circumnavigates the estate and award winning castle grounds before making the dash to the finish beside the lake.
How difficult is Hever Castle Triathlon?
Hever Castle is widely regarded as a strong challenge for the more able triathlete, whilst being accessible for the novice.
The open water swim is enjoyable, calm and easy. The bike section is very technical and should not be tackled by novice cyclists. Ensure that the bike is properly fitted to your needs and the speeds on the downhills need immense control and concentration and brakes and it needs to help push you up those hills.
The run is tricky but manageable. Easing out after the first kilometre, the terrain is as challenging as the course layout itself.
What is there to do after the race?
Not a lot for the evening series. For a small event with only 200 competitors, it doesn’t attract the plethora of sponsors stalls like the big event in September. Hever Castle is a bit in the middle of nowhere so heading into Sevenoaks (about 15 minutes drive) is the only option.
Official race info for Hever Castle Triathlon here.
Race info for The Gaunlet half Iron Distance race here.
Tourist info for Hever Castle here.
Official race video (bit weird and cut to the Toy Story theme (?!) but lots of pics in there!)
My Race Diary
Ben Croucher (June 2012 – Sprint Distance)
Race No. 1 (Triathlon debutant)
Time: 1hr 36mins 54secs
Wow! What a way to start. Conditions were utterly miserable. A mid-summers evening in June. The mercury barely touched double figures and the wind and rain howled all day, soaking the participants and making for an eye-opening triathlon debut.
Having somehow been placed in the fast wave at 6pm, I was strangely calm at the start, Brian, the Race Director, easing my fears with a comprehensive safety briefing. With only 20/30 people in my wave, the swim start wasn’t chaotic and I quickly found a rhythm for the out and back swim. Getting out of the water I was very light headed and the demons who decided to make us run 100m uphill to transition are just cruel.
The bike out of Hever Castle had to be taken with caution due to both the speed bumps and the fact my sunglasses dimmed the dull evening into near darkness.
The first 3k is all uphill but not overly steep. It’s just a constant attack in one of the highest gears you have. A quick sweep downhill had to be taken with caution due to both the conditions and not knowing the route. An undulating up and down ride followed, being beasted by more experienced cyclists in the process. Some marshalls weren’t too encouraging either, simply pointing which way to go rather than saying ‘keep going’ but who could blame them given the driving rain.
The supposed ‘jelly-legged’ feeling post bike didn’t really hit me. I think mainly because the sharp hill in the first kilometre of the run was so hard – it didn’t matter if I was fresh or tired – I was taking tiny little steps. Wearing running rather than trail shoes was a real hindrance as the slippy surface against made it hard to attack the run and the terrain was a real stodgy, ankle turner in places. Nonetheless, despite a wicked hill just by the finish, the last 300 metres are mercifully downhill and straight and I could kick my notorious sprint finish into gear.
I was aiming for 1hr45mins so to hit 1hr36 was amazing, even if the run and the bike felt painfully slow.
A bittersweet baptism as I felt there was more in the tank had conditions and experience been on my side. A great way to start. Really helpful, friendly staff and left feeling positive (even if the trek back to the car was perilously muddy and all uphill!).
To hear more about Ben’s first race head to his website here!