Challenge Henley iron-distance triathlon

Challenge Henley Iron-distance triathlon (3.8km/180km/42.2km) __ HR146(165)

Swim 3.8km: 1:03:13 (1:40/100m) __ HR137(154)
T1 = 4:20
Bike 176km: 5:29:07 (32.1km/h) __ HR150(165), ascent 1360m
T2 = 2:32
Run 42.5km: 3:53:37 (8:51min/mi) __ HR144(156)

Overall: 10:32:51 (44th place, 2nd in 45-49 age group)

Unusually for me I managed to get a reasonable few hours sleep, maybe I was feeling more relaxed about this race as I was really only using it to gain experience and just register a finish (although I’d said on the entry form that I’d finish in 10:40). Even so, my 4:30am alarm was quite early enough. I had some coffee and toast and drove over to the start, which was cold, and dark – I’d completely forgotten that it would still be pitch black! After a bit of faffing about, removing the cover from my bike, checking the tyres and so on (fortunately T1 was floodlit), it was time to get into my wetsuit and check in my “day clothes” bag to be transported to the finish for me.

There was a 10-minute delay as the river was completely fog-bound. There were yellow buoys to mark our route, but you could barely see the first one. Sighting was going to be tricky. After 10 minutes had passed and not much had changed, we got into the water and lined up for the start. The organisers started a count-down but with about 30 seconds to go someone in the crowd blew a whistle and we were off! They tried to call us back, but there was no stopping the leaders so the starter just sort of said “oh, go on then”.

There was the usual biff but with a bit of a sprint I had clear water after 200m. I had a bit of a problem with my right hand – I didn’t seem to be able to form a proper “paddle” with it. However I wiggled it I just could not get my fingers to cooperate. I stopped to breaststroke a couple of times to see if it’d sort itself out but some sort of nervous feedback was going on whereby it just wouldn’t work properly. Strange, as although my right hand’s been a bit weak since PBP, I’ve had no problems swimming with it. I think this affected my swim time quite a bit and I found it hard to keep a straight line – I was having to sight much more often than usual. A bit frustrating.

There was a small pack of orange-hatted female pro racers and some regular black-hats just ahead of me and not long before we got to the turn-around I was on to their feet and stayed there most of the way back to the pontoon. The fog was beginning to clear as the sun came up, which helped with sighting and you started to be able to see more than one buoy at a time. My time was a little slow for the swim, it might’ve been a long course, but I also had my problem with my right hand, so who knows?

Back to the pontoon, I was hauled out of the water and walking into T1. Grabbed my bike clothes bag and was quickly out of my wetsuit. I put my sunglasses on and they steamed up pretty much straight away, but once I’d got my helmet and jacket on I walked out to the bike racks, struggling with my gloves as I went.  Just about managed to get them on as I got to my bike and then was quickly out on to the bike course.

The first couple of miles into Henley were fairly steady. It was cold, and I was glad I’d bothered to leave long fingered gloves and jacket in T1. Reading a few race accounts, I think quite a few people were caught out by how cold it was. How those racing in just a trisuit coped, I do not know. The first climb up to Bix was a good chance to get the blood flowing into the legs. I was passing quite a few faster swimmers up here, and at the first out-and-back counted the bikes coming towards me – I was 47th, cool. I caught a few more slower cyclists coming back down the hill and then overtook a couple more at the first feed station. Up the first climb of Pishill, I was looking to take it steady, but I was still a bit spooked by the large number of riders just behind me at the last turnaround, so I probably pushed it a bit too hard. At the second turnaround and the Oxford Tri feed station, mostly in wigs and cowboy hats (big cheers for me – that was a great thing to have every lap), I counted the bikes coming back to me again – I was up to 33rd. I realised that to keep pushing on like that would cost me dearly later on so dropped the effort off a touch to complete my first lap.

The next lap was steadier, I gained a place or two, lost a place or two. Picked up drinks on the way round, munched my flapjack and downed the odd gel or two, started to enjoy the roads and the supporters all around. I was glad of the comfort of my road bike, it certainly made the climbing a lot easier and was a trick I’d missed at the very hilly Ironman UK 70.3 earlier in the year. The level of support around the circuit was increasing with every lap as more and more riders streamed on to it, and it was fantastic to be racing on closed roads. We had a little shower of rain around here, but it didn’t last too long. Nathan Blake from Oxford Tri passed me on the way back down to Pishill. He was steaming along on his lo-pro. I wasn’t tempted to chase that pace and he was soon out of sight.

The last lap I took steadier still, knowing I had a marathon coming up, and an unknown effort to come. It was great to be rolling back downhill into Henley for the second transition. I wasn’t feeling too bad, but I could tell those climbs had really taken a lot out of my legs.

I was quickly off the bike, passed it to a helper and then ran to collect my transition bag. In the tent I fiddled about putting socks on and tying my shoe laces (I’d decided to run in my trainers for more support, rather than racing shoes and they don’t have speed-laces in them), and then someone came over to help me stuff my helmet and jacket into the bag. I joked with a couple of other athletes in the tent about the upcoming run, and then headed out. I had 6:39 on my watch, so provided I managed a 4-hour marathon my estimated race finish of 10:40 was on. Having neglected my long-distance running a bit this year in pursuit of long miles on the bike I was unsure of how the run was going to go – on a good day I thought 3:40 would be a good ironman marathon target for me, but at the tail-end of a long cycling season sub 4-hours seemed a more realistic goal.

My stomach was, as usual in these situations, feeling a bit bloated from all the carbo drink I’d consumed on the bike, but I knew it’d calm down so I just got on with setting myself a nice steady pace. However, it was still feeling a bit bad by the time I was approaching the second feed station at 3km, and there were a couple of handy portaloos along here, so I nipped into one and was feeling much relieved afterwards! The first 10½km lap passed in 55 minutes, I was walking the feed stations and jogging the rest. I imagined I was taking it pretty easy along here and assumed I’d feel better as I went along, much as happened at IMUK70.3. How wrong could I be.

Jules was waiting for me back at the finish loop just after I’d picked up the first of my coloured wrist bands (red) and it was great to get a high-five from her as I went past (I’d let her off cheering me on earlier in the day as she’d been working long shifts in the week and deserved a lie-in!). Clouds gathered and a little light rain fell as I rounded the far side of the lap. However the towpath back into Henley was really sodden – it looked like I’d missed the worst of the rain (Jules later said it had absolutely bucketed down in Henley). The second lap took 55½ minutes as I collected my white wristband, and I continued with my “jog + walk the feed stations” strategy. I was alternating water, High-5 and coke, with the occasional gel thrown in for good measure. My right foot (which I’d worried about in the previous week after straining it in my only brick session 10 days ago) was getting very sore, but I was sore all over so it didn’t seem too bad really in comparison. Although it was quiet on the far side of the lap, crowds were increasing all along the route in and out of Henley. I’m sure one of the feed stations had a couple of Elvises handing up drinks, but I’m damned if can remember where that was now! I got some good cheers from Oxford Tri team-mates.

Somewhere about 4km from the end of the third lap my brain started to get an inkling of how much more work I had left to do and my quads started to tie up with the cold wind and the effort. My already slow pace dropped off a bit more and I started rolling through on my heels rather than my normal midfoot running style. I found myself wanting to walk more, although I hated having to walk for even 20 seconds in between feeds – I wanted to be at least jogging. That third lap took 58½ minutes. As I went through the finish area having picked up my last (blue) coloured wrist band, I warned Jules that I was going pretty slowly here and the last lap might take a while! (It ended up as 64½ minutes )

I got a chunk of banana and washed it down with a cup of flat coke at every feed station from here on. I was surprised to find the banana was OK on my stomach, and the coke kept my spirits up. Around the far side of the lap I managed to get between three feed stations without a walk (save for a long walk/chat with Hanno Nickau from Oxford Tri at the far-most feed, he was still on his first lap). Back on to the towpath I was caught by a group of three, including 6th place women’s pro finisher Heike Priess. She’d been one of the swimmers I’d drafted 10 hours ago, but I’d pulled out a bit of a lead on her on the bike. I used this group to pace me for 10 minutes, feeling a bit better again, then stopped for a final walk along a quiet alleyway behind Leander RC before getting back up to warp speed (not!) for the final stretch through Henley to the finish.

It was great to turn off the normal run course and head around the final U-shaped carpeted finish lap. I put my sunglasses up on my head and waved to the crowd. Jules was here, and Chris and Anita had made it down from the Oxford Tri feed station to cheer me into finish. I crossed the line with my arms aloft, grinning my head off. Fantastic. I got a finishers medal and a cup of water and then headed over to share my experience with them.

They congratulated me and then Jules went off to get me a cup of sweet tea, lovely! After a bit of wandering about trying to find a marshal who knew where everything was we toddled off to the athlete’s area where I picked up my finishers T-shirt and the day clothes bag I’d dropped off at the start. I got changed and stuffed down a few lovely salty slices of cheesy bread with some coleslaw. Jules thought it ironic that I was eating salad after an ironman. We took it pretty slowly (especially down stairs – backwards only!) to go pick up my bike and other transition bags – now I’d stopped I wasn’t moving too quickly. Jules took the bags back to her car, drove home with them and I cycled back to the business school where we’d started and got my car for the drive home, still feeling great, if completely exhausted. Jules had bought beers on the way home and we phoned out for takeway curry. What a day.

[My results]

1st was Petr Vabrousek in 8:37:58 and fastest in my age category was Richard Ashton with 9:59:23. I was faster than him on the bike and through the transitions, but he ran a storming 3:06 marathon! I have mucho work to do there. [All results]


One thought on “Challenge Henley iron-distance triathlon

  1. Well done Howard, great time. After PBP this year, my aim is to do an IM next year – I can’t run and my swimming’s pretty awful so I think it’s going to be a long year, but I need to do something other than another epic cycle event and I’ve always wanted to try an IM.

Comments are closed.