Challenge Henley 2011
The day started well enough, with well over 6 hours solid sleep and then waking just before my 4 am alarm went off. In fact I felt better than I do most days getting up for work! Throwing off the covers, my first thoughts were ‘It’s cold’. Coming from the guy who wears shorts in the snow, either my metabolism had shut down, or it was cold! Anyway, I was quickly dressed and forced down a couple of bowls of coco pops. I really wasn’t feeling hungry, and I didn’t really eat a massive amount the night before, but with the amount I had eaten in the weeks leading up, I wasn’t exactly low of energy supplies.
Stepping outside to the car, and I felt how cold it was. I was in race kit, compression tights, shorts, t-shirt and hoody, and all I could think was ‘I’m freezing my tits off’! Quickly in the car to get warm, I then headed down to Henley to get ready. Sleeping in your own bed the night before a race, in an environment you are used to was a novelty! I arrived at the race sight at about 5 am, just in time for T1 to open up and was one of the first ones in. It took a while to get my bike ready and get all my stuff taped to my bike, as I didn’t have it with me the day before. I stuck to my IMUK fuelling strategy – 3 bars, 10 gels and a bottle of fairly concentrated GO on the bike, with water and any more electrolyte drink I needed to be picked up at the aid stations. Soon transition started filling up, and it became more like a social reunion again, as I spotted a lot of friends and wandered over to say hello. The big Man Tri contingent were ready, and I soon bumped into Weeksy, who was setting up just down from me. With the wetsuit problems of the day before, I got the bottom half of my suit on early and then stood with Chris and Cheryl until we were ready to get in the water.
As we were given the ‘5 minutes til we had to be in the water’ warning I was putting the rest of my wetsuit on, looked down at my ankle and then thought ‘where’s my timing chip’. Cue 5 minutes of running around like a headless chicken, speaking to marshalls and rummiging through bags, only for it to fall out of my wasitband… phew! Nothing like a bit of excitement! We headed down into the pen as we were given the news that the race would be delayed by 5 minutes due to the fog – visibility was practically nil. I spotted a few others in the pen, including the Man Tri lot, Ben, Russ and Steven Bayliss and passed on the good lucks. The general consensus was that it was too cold, dark and early to be doing this! Although most of the negativity was probably coming from me, mentally I was not in it. Thankfully it was actually warmer in the river than it was out! I swam over to the start and put some water in the suit and tried to get warm and loose. I was still near the back when I heard a whistle, and looked around wandering if that was the start sound. A klaxon a few moments later confirmed this, and caught off gaurd, I started my watch and we were off.
Being stuck at the back meant I spent the first few minutes weaving in and out of people and trying to get the arms going. After about 10 minutes I was at the front of the back pack, with no sign of the front pack, but just kept an eye on the bank whilst trying to take a racing line. After about 20 minutes, I started to feel actually OK, and was swimming well and soon went past Temple Island, and ticked the buoys off. After one bouy people started stopping and I looked up and saw a kayack point people back, apparently we had hit the turn around! At 36 minutes it was about time too! I had about another 5 minutes of OK swimming on the return route, swimming in the middle of the river with my own kayack escort keeping me on course. A later wave swimmer drifting across towards us prompted him to go back to crowd control, and from then on it went downhill. At this point I was in no-man’s-land, pretty much on my own and with the fog could not see the course at all. I was blinidng swimming down the river, with no idea where I was going. I had to stop a few times to stretch my back out and get my bearings, and the time seemed to tick down seriously slowly, which wasn’t fun. The current I was counting on was either non-existent, or my stroke was falling apart, probably a combination. Eventually I saw the exit and finally hit the ramp and got out. 1:11 on the clock was not a good start to the day, putting in close to my worst swim for nearly a year, though I had probably swam closer to 4.5k. Still my lack of recent pool time was really showing.
I actually walked to the tent, as at this point running to shave a minute off didn’t really seem worth it. I found my bag, stripped my wetuit off and stood there shivering staring into my bag in a trance-like state. Kit selection had been bad enough the day before, let alone when I was cold and tired and annoyed with my swim, and it seemed like everyone was a bit disoritentated. It was cold but given the day before, when the sun came out it would get seriously warm, and didn’t look like it would rain. Eventually I kicked myself into gear, got my arm warmers and gillet on, ran to the bike, put my helmet on and set off.
I knew within 15 minutes of setting off on the bike that I was in for a long day. The first drag up the dual carriageway failed to warm me up, and my toes were as numb as they had been in the start pen. I was seriously worried about losing them to frostbite! My hamstrings were also extremely tight and any hope of sitting on the aerobars had flown out the window. Coming round the roundabout towards the first swim I saw Chris coming back the other way with a group of strong cyclists and female pros and got a big thumbs up from him. Thankfully he was having a better day than I was! When I hit the turnaround, I did a quick bit of maths and realised I was probably only about 20 minutes behind him, and I was playing leap frog with a female pro, so maybe there was some hope after all. Going up the first big climb, I even felt in control, though it was clear that my legs weren’t firing on all cylinders. Each turnaround, big turn and roundabout was packed with spectators and at the end of the lap it was absolutely packed. Kids and parents were camped outside their houses cheering on the spectators for the day. For a first time event, it was awesome.
At the start of the second lap up the dual carriageway, my legs were still cold and hand’t warmed up. At least at this point I had enough blood flowing to loosen up my hamstrings and be able to get aero for a bit. This didn’t last long as the fatigue in my posture built up and my neck, shoulders and arms soon got too tired. Going up the big climb again and I was struggling. It felt as if I hadn’t shifted up a gear and was griding away – tough going. I was also fairly isolated by this point and it was a lonely few miles. At the final turnaround of the lap the lead men were catching up, and I was lapped by Aaron Fowler. On the descent I thought I was going fairly well until Steven Bayliss came flying by at breakneck speed. As he sped off into the distance I hit a gravelly patch and nearly lost my front wheel on a stone, which certainly got the adrenaline going!
The final lap was pretty much more of the same. I was extremely glad of my kit selection and at parts could have done with a jersey as I got spat further and further back in the field. On the final climb of the bike, I actually felt better than I had the lap before, and then after the descent I FINALLY felt OK and the legs had started to work, despite the downpour that had started. 170k to warm up on the bike and get the legs working properly. Nightmare. Coming into T2 was a few, my neck and shoulders hurt and my bum was sore! First thing on the list this winter is get a bike fit and get everything sorted out once and for all. However, my legs felt OK.
I was extremely glad of my spare socks in my T2 bag, the ones I were wearing were soaking through and would have been blister central! I got my wet kit off, and put the shoes on. It took me so long to get ready that my GPS had locked on before I had left the tent! The flip side of this is that it had stopped raining and was turning into a quite nice afternoon. Once I was ready, it was time to set off and I wanted to see what I could run. I may have had a rubbish swim and bike, but I wanted to do something on the run.
With my new found energy in the legs, I set off on the run and my pace was high. After my breakdown at Roth, I made a conscious effort to slow down and decided to stick to 5 min/km pace until half way if I could and then see what happened. I went through the 5k mark in under 25 mins and was on track. Unfortunately the fatigue built up from Roth and IMUK had other ideas, and soon the pace was slipping and within 8k or so I was walking aid stations. Not having my fuel belt bottles I had to resort to aid stations for fluid, not that it would have made too much difference. From then on in, it was shuffle between aid stations, walk through and get nutrition on board and then start running again.
At around 25k the mind went and I hit a serious low patch and spent a good 10 minutes walking. Times were out of the window, now it was just a case of surviving and putting one step infront of the other. I saw Chris who had gone on to a storming finish of 10:09 to win his age group. It’s about time one of us had a good race! Also out sufferening on the course were Ben and also Anna, who joined me on a walk at 35k for a few minutes before I made the final push home. The last 5k were tough, and I was hurting but I kept running. Mentally I need to refresh and toughen up, I’m convinced that running the whole marathon is 75% mental, even if it is just quick shuffling. Coming down the finish chute was more relief than anything else. My ambitious hattrick was complete and I had managed it, even if it wasn’t pretty! Over 13 hours is a long day, and hurts so much more than going under 11! The guys out there who are doing 16 hours – that takes guts and determination.
Doing a hatrick was ambitious in the short time, and with a hectic schedule in between, my recovery wasn’t ideal. I think if I had been training full-time and had no distractions I could have had a decent race, but it is certainly an experience to learn from. I have learnt a lot this year, and have a good idea of how to progress my training forward next season, especially as I move from full-time athlete to full-time worker. The 2 hour coffee rides are going to be out the window! However, the reflection on the season and the planning for the next can wait, I am going to have a proper off season. 3 weeks or so completely off, with no triathlon to worry about. After a long season, I need the break to recharge the batteries and recharge the mental batteries.
It’s been a good 2011.