You wouldn’t normally associate somewhere that’s won Kent’s Garden of the Year with a muddy off-road duathlon but Hole Park Gardens in Rolvenden was the location for Tri Spirit Events' first multi-sport event of the year.
Tri Spirit Events hold several races at Hole Park including 5k, 10k, and Half Marathon trail runs, road and off-road duathlons in both standard and sprint distance, and 5k and 10k doggy dashes. I had chosen to compete in the sprint distance off-road duathlon which consists of a 5k trail run, 13k mountain bike, and 5k trail run.
The duathlon course is wholly within the grounds of Hole Park with both legs extending over the estate farm and park land. Given the inclement weather in the lead up to the race, I knew it was going to be a tough race and should be a good early season test of form. Luckily, on race day, whilst chilly and overcast, it didn’t rain.
With a start time of 9:15am, it was an unusually leisurely build up to the race. Despite the relaxed wake-up, I still made sure I arrived in plenty of time to set up my transition and socialise with team mates, fellow competitors, and marshals.
Upon entering the estate, I was directed down a tree-lined tarmac drive which forms part of the MTB course. Having parked up, I made my way past manicured lawns and flower beds to the stable courtyard to collect my numbers, timing chip, and goody bag.
Having secured my race numbers and timing chip I squelched through sodden grass to my spot in transition, racked my bike, and laid out my towel which instantly soaked up every bit of moisture from the grass. Ready to go I made my way to the start line in front of the grand estate house. This was going to be a very muddy race!
The first part of the course was on the estate road. It was downhill and with the 5k trail runners starting at the same time I knew it would be a fast start. With the sound of the horn it was a full-on downhill sprint. Not knowing who was competing in which event, I decided to try and stay with the front runners; the pace was fast! Luckily, as we reached the bottom of the valley and entered the farm fields where the ground became very wet and muddy, the pace eased a little.
From this point it was then 4k uphill and off-road all the way back to transition. It felt tough, but I was pleased to enter transition in 4th place, 30 seconds down on the leader in a time of 22 minutes 28 seconds.
For this event I decided to use toe clips for the bike leg so that I didn’t need to change shoes in transition. It certainly helped as I came out of T1 within 20 seconds of the leader.
The first section of the bike course is out along the estate road towards the entrance before turning onto boggy parkland which was like riding through treacle. I kept the bike in a low gear and just spun through it which seemed to work as I picked up a couple of places.
The remainder of the undulating bike course weaved its way around bumpy field edges, boggy parkland, muddy woodland, across cattle grids and through deep streams! It was a refreshing change to road racing and certainly more challenging than riding on tarmac.
By the time I’d rejoined the estate road in the valley where I’d run earlier I was in first place, a lead I continued to extend over the second lap. Covered in mud, blood, and wet from an earlier spill in the stream crossing, I was happy to rack my bike and head out onto the final 5k run.
The second run route was almost identical to the first apart from the section out of transition. With my legs heavy from the bike section it was a welcome respite to know the first kilometre was downhill and I soon got into my usual rhythm.
At this point in the race, the bike and run leg crossed paths and I could see my fellow competitors heading towards me, seeing them and not knowing how close they were helped to keep my pace high.
Halfway through the run leg I caught and overtook one of the 10k doggy joggers. As soon as I passed them, the dog began chasing me. It turned into a great game of cat and mouse, keeping me entertained all the way to the finish where I tried to out-sprint him!
I was really pleased to take the win in a time of 1 hour 32 minutes 12 seconds. I felt strong throughout the race and it showed that all the winter training has paid off. What a confidence boost to start the season with.
To top the day off, both my club mates also won their respective races as well. I’d like to thank Liz and her team at Tri Spirit Events for hosting and organising a fabulous race. It’s a great location to hold an off-road duathlon and the onsite tea rooms with their excellent homemade cakes were a welcome sight at the end. I’ll defiantly be back next year for more racing and of course more recovery cake!
About the author: Leigh Harris is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.