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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.

The Swim

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.

The Bike

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.

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.

The Aftermath

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.

Challenge Henley – The Plan

I am really unsure as to how tomorrow will go. At least at IMUK I knew I was in pretty good shape, just fatigued. Now I feel fatigued still, but don’t feel in good shape! My preparation has been bad enough it would probably give most coaches a heart attack! But it could be a good thing, and hopefully once I get going I will feel good. I know my base is good, and Maidenhead half showed there was something there so we shall see

The swim could be difficult, especially if the wind creates a bit of a current like there was during my practice swim. If I spend enough time getting my wetsuit on, then I should be ok. I’m going to be aggressive with my placing and accept the beating which will hopefully give a good tow. Ideally I want to come in close to the hour, and I should really. Break the hour again and I’ll be ecstatic!

I’m hoping the bike will go much like the first half of IMUK, and although it will take me a while to get going, hopefully I’ll feel good once I do and put in a decent performance. Somewhere under 6 would be nice, above IMUK time and I’ll be a bit disappointed.

The run is anyone’s guess, and although I am running well at the moment, if my legs are dead, I’m not going to be going anywhere quickly! I would be happy with breaking 4 though by this stage, I’ll be prepared for anything! The only slight issue I might have is my calf, which is still playing up. Hopefully it will work itself lose on the bike, but if it causes any issues on the run, it will be a long day!

So overall, if I came in under 11 I would be over the moon. Realistically I think I will probably be over, though hopefully not too much. If I go over 12 I’ll be disappointed and something probably would have gone wrong!

For those watching tomorrow, I am number 93. I’ll be in my usual Man Tri kit but sporting a rather fetching pink armband so I’ll be easy to spot! Any cheers will be greatly appreciated! If you want to track me, you can go to the Challenge Henley Website and click on the live results tab. I’m number 93.

Bed time now, at this rate I’ll get over 6 hours sleep! Bliss!

The Aftermath of IronmanUK – Challenge Henley

The past 6 weeks since IMUK have been a rather busy affair! The week after I spent recovering and beginning to pack up my life in a suitcase once more (having only moved a month earlier!) for the move down south. I then started my new job, being put up in a hotel for the week, before carting all my stuff off to my dads. I have since moved house again(!) and am hopefully settled in London and in the same house for more than a few weeks.

Work has been a bit of a shock to the system, although not a complete shock thankfully, with memories of my placement year still reasonably fresh. But having lived the life of a student and then full athlete having to work full time (imagine that!) was certainly a significant change! I soon settled in, and while I never fully got used to spending 2 and a half hours a day cramped on a train, which is now down to an hour after my most recent move, I began to feel my active self rear its head. I don’t like sitting still, I am a total fidget, and sitting behind a desk all day really does not sit well with me, so I started running at lunch. After a few seriously horrible sessions, thanks to doing nothing for a few weeks after cramming together 2 IMs, I decided I needed a carrot to motivate me. With the Maidenhead Half Marathon filling up the local paper for the last few weeks, and it being on my doorstep, I decided to enter, and had 2 weeks to recover some sort of shape.

This was Friday morning, and about an hour later I got a text of Chris Weeks asking if I was doing Challenge Henley. It had been in the back of my mind ever since IMUK, ever since Chris said he was doing it as we both had unfinished business after that race. Although I had a solid day, I didn’t have that top end speed, and know I can run quicker than that. And frankly, finishing my season in July is tough, as I did it after Switzerland and it was another 10 months until I raced again. So anyway, I text back saying ‘Nah probably not, gonna see how I feel after the weekend, but not looking likely’. I then see a tweet saying entries are about to close (even though that later got extended) and next thing I know, I’m stood in a sandwich shop in central London entering the race on my phone! So Chris, I blame you for the pain I will be in at the weekend, and also for making me double up at IMUK… ha!

So Challenge Henley will be my 3rd Iron-distance race in 10 weeks – and I am scared! Even at IMUK, I could feel the fatigue wasn’t too bad, and with a 3 week gap, I wasn’t going to lose much fitness. With a 7 week gap, especially after such after 2 IMs, I have finally had a chance to let the fatigue and exhaustion, and I am tired. And not the ‘I need a lie-in’ tired. I feel physically spent, and am carrying around constantly knackered legs. The main reason for this is my recovery post-IMUK – or lack of. If I had planned Henley a bit further out I could have planned a bit better, but I have let things slip. Mentally I am out of the game in terms of discipline and have lost focus on my training, which has been impacted by work, commuting, moving house and burst water pipes. My diet has also fallen completely by the way side. Having Ben & Jerrys on special offer the week after IMUK really did me no good, and adjusting to the long hours with free access to unlimited bad foods, and a week on hotel buffets has seen my gut ever-expanding, and I am certainly carrying around more than a few extra kilos than I would like. I am certainly looking forward to having some proper time off, recovery properly and enjoying a bit of a social life and a chance to recharge the batteries, especially the mental ones.

Having said all of that, I am fired up for Henley, even though it has yet to sink in that I will be toeing the start line once more in a few days time. I am not expecting to break any records, or post a decent time, but I am looking for a good end-of-season blow out, and I want to leave absolutely everything on the line.

There have been flashes of good form in training though. My cycling doesn’t seem to have slowed down, and I certainly feel the best I have in the pool for a long time, well before Roth. I am just hopeful that the body will come through, and the endurance is still there.

Despite a niggling calf issue, I know my running form is good, as evidenced by Maidenhead Half Marathon. I entered the race with low expectations, and not having run with my Garmin since IMUK, had no idea of the speeds I was running. The race plan was set off hard and then settle into an easy rhythm, and try to come home under 1:40 and as close to 1:30 as possible. I slightly exceeded that, by hammering it and crossing the line with a massive PB of 1:25, placing myself 45th out of some 2000 runners. I put myself close to the front, and set off hard. Despite a slight organisational error, where you run a short loop back to the start and half the runners were still waiting to start by the time we came back round, forcing us off course for a bit, we reeled off the first km in about 3:35, and then the next kilometre passed by in 3:50. At this point I was still in contact with the front group, but knew if I kept this up I wouldn’t last 10k so slowed down. However, I only settled down to around 4:10 pace, which felt REALLY comfortable, and just held this until I ramped it up again with 5k, with a final k flat out. Doing 2 IMs close together, gives you one hell of a base! I just hope it is there come Sunday! This has at least given me a target of breaking 1:20 next season for a half, which I should be able to do, fresh, trained and at race weight!

These final few days before Henley will be spent trying to get the body moving again and making sure all those neuro-muscular pathways are still active, as well as trying to sort out my calf issue, before coming up with some sort of race plan. At least Sunday will be ‘fun’, I appear to know about half the field racing! So make sure you give me a shout when you see me struggling!