Hever Castle Festival of Endurance 50 Mile Ultra
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
So near but so far....
On the 3rd July I took on a brand new 50 mile ultra which is part of the popular Castle Race Series.
The race is based at Hever Castle in Kent and the ultra distance was added this year as new event which promises to be popular in the future.
Although the main event is organised at the castle and most of the weekends action is held in the castle grounds (Triathlons etc..), the start line for the ultra itself was in Eastbourne on the south coast.
This meant an overnight camping stay on the Friday night and a very early 4am coach ride to the start line at Eastbourne Pier.
Camping was an experience, I haven't been camping since I was a teenager so now at 43 years old I was going to have to learn to pitch a tent again, fortunately tents these days are very easy to put together. I bought a little 2 man tent online and had a practice run the week before the race, all good.
I drove down to Hever on Friday afternoon and got my camping spot sorted, all was well in the world and the weather was pretty good, even if the field I was camping in was slightly soft from the recent rain spells.
Once the tent was sorted I went seeking the registration area to get myself booked in, this was slightly confusing as the signage was a little vague at the campsite, but eventually, with the help of a couple I met (Ally and Kim) I got registered.
One thing I love about these events is the kind folk that you meet at them, I ended up going to dinner that evening with Ally and Kim at one of the local pubs and having a good natter. Needless to say they are now connected to me on Strava.
After dinner that evening I packed up all my gear for the morning and settled down in my tent, after getting rid of a few moths, flies and bugs.
Bearing in mind I had to get up at 3am I was keen to get to sleep early, but alas the time went by; 9pm, 10pm and eventually by 11pm I nodded off to sleep.
Now 4 hours sleep is not nearly enough when you need to run 50 miles the next day, however there was a wicked twist to come which would make things a lot worse.
At about 1am the heavens decided to open, it rained, but not just any rain, a full on down pour. The noise the rain made on the tent sounded like a scatter gun, which made it impossible to sleep.
I slipped a bit deeper into my sleeping bag, tossed and turned for what felt like an eternity, still no sleep to be had. I reached out to pick up my phone to find it was wet, strange I thought, however I soon realised that the rain was hitting the tent so hard that it was gradually coming through the tent lining and running down the walls of the tent to the floor, soaking my book, phone and other items I thought were safe.
Needles to say I was not happy. I moved my belongings to safety and eventually nodded back off to sleep, for about 2 hours. THEN THE ALARM WENT OFF...
As you can image I felt not exactly at the top of my game come 3am, but fortunately the excitement of the event worked its magic and I jumped out of my soggy tent to head for the communal bathrooms across the other side of the campsite for an early wash etc... This is where I came face to face with what must have been the biggest moth I have ever seen, I swear it had fangs. I washed quickly!!
I picked up my gear, put on my head torch, and headed out to the coach pickup point.
We jumped on the coach, about 30 of us, and headed down to Eastbourne, which is about 1 hour from the Hever Castle.
After arriving at Eastbourne pier we were greeted by another 10 runners and the race director, who briefed us before carring out a kit check.
The kit check wasn't exhuastive but there were some standard items you needed to take with you, such as; First Aid Kit, Rain Jacket, Head Lamp and Backup Light Source, Phone, Map and Compass etc...
I then had my pre-race breakfast of Banana and Porridge Bar, as usual, before we set off.
The race itself is a challenging course which follows the coast path from Eastbourne, over the high cliffs to Seven Sisters, before coming inland and crossing the Seven Sisters hills before working your way to Alfriston.
Picking up sections of the South Downs way, the course snakes its way up to Ringmer and Fletching before the runners have to work their way through Ashdown Forest.
There is a long climb to Blackham and Chaddlingstone before the final push to Hever.
The toughest thing about this course is the hills, which for the first 20 miles are brutal, and with the rain we had the conditions on the Seven Sisters hills was pretty awful.
I started well and got into my stride quickly, we hit the first hill after about 3 miles and it was a killer, tough even just to walk up.
We had 10 miles of steep incline and declines which were murder on the quads, so the first aid station coming at the end of those first 10 miles was a welcomed sight.
A bunch of us set off after the aid station in completely the wrong direction, someone had decided it would be fun to move the signs for the runners, so we ended up running about 3 miles in the wrong direction.
Eventually we detoured and got back on track, the route was tough going but I was doing well until we hit the seven sisters hills, this is where things started to unravel for me.
The hills themselves were rolling and not too steep until the final descent which was a tricky technical single track, this is when I realised my right foot had a touch of tendonitis.
I ignored the tendonitis and carried on to the next check point, about 16 miles, where I freshened up and changed my top for a dry one. This always makes me feel better.
After a 5-10min stop I was off again and feeling ok, we were on tarmac for a while before picking up the farmers fields and public footpaths again.
We headed through a few more villages, which were very picturesque, before hitting another aid station at around 25 miles.
It was at this aid station I realised the tendonitis was getting worse and on top of that the whole ankle was getting sore.
I plodded on but by the time I got to 28 miles I wasn't even able to run, the whole foot had swallon up and was very painful. I walked the next 3 miles to Fletching where the third aid station was located.
After a lenghty chat with the first aid people I was advised to pull out. This is something that you don't want to hear but to tell you the truth I was relieved.
My head was already telling me throughout those last 3 miles that I needed to call it a day, so mentally I was not in the right frame of mind to power on.
I had completed 50k, which is a fair distance, but it is always dissapointing not to finish a race, and this was my first DNF...
You always question yourself after a race and I was in two minds to whether I should have quit or not, could I have pushed myself harder? what if I had strapped up the foot, would it have been ok? Was I wearing the right shoes? * I was running in the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max. Link below.
You never know really if you made the right choice, but it felt like the right thing to do at the time, live to fight another day and all that!
So I have some unfinished business with the Hever Castle 50 mile ultra, and I plan to go back and have another crack at it, maybe next year.
The course itself is nice, although it would be even better if it wasn't raining most of the way around, and if the direction signs were not tampered with.
Overall the experience was great, like most ultras. Friendly volunteers at the aid stations, good selection of food and drink, lots of nice people to meet and chat to on the way around and for the most part a well organised event. Yes there could be improvements to the event, but as this was the first year for this event there was always going to be things that could be better.
I guess we will have to wait and see what next year holds!!!
Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max - click image for link to purchase.