Challenge Henley by Darren Robinson
Challenge Henley Race Review
by Darren Robinson
I arrived at Henley Challenge (Ironman distance) on the back of illness and disappointment at the Nottingham Outlaw 140.6. I had targeted a sub 10 race, but vomiting on the bike and diahorrea on the run put paid to my goal finishing in 10.5 hrs and so took up an invite from Compressport to represent them 6 weeks later at Henley in an attempt to give a better representation of myself and race to my peak ability.
Having spent the winter of building endurance and prepping for long distance triathlon, I flipped my approach in the last 6 weeks and did a number of shorter high intensity sessions including the sprint relays and aquathlon with DTC and hoped this would be enough for me my second effort at the 140.6 distance.
Challenge Henley is the first of the Challenge races to come to the UK, with Barca and Roth more prominent on the race calendar, but overall was a well staged event.
The race started in waves, which I am not sure I like for this type of racing as you are not sure where you stand in overall placings as you pass fellow competitors. With the pros off and running, I started at the front in the next wave and certainly didn't experience the usual washing machine, bun fight at the start of the swim. The water was cold and 30min pre-race start the air temp stood at 4deg! It was also exceptionally foggy and didn't help with sighting, although the buoys were a good size. The quality of the water was definitely not clear and with a neoprene and double hat the swim was not the most conducive for a quick time. I had targeted a 60 min swim and exited 9 mins short and reviewing my Garmin I had definitely swum the long way round!
It was also a deep water exit but we were well supported and into T1.
Our T1 bags were kept on a grass area, for you to collect and then into the changing tent. This worked well and was better than the Outlaw in terms of less congestion and fighting to get to your peg for your bag.
A quick change and onto the bike. I had packed a jacket in T1 bag, but decided to take my chances. Having made that schoolboy error, I suffered for the first 90 mins with numb hands and feet! The bike course is tough and I knew after lap 1, that a sub 10 may not be possible. The bike course leaves Henley and has a steady climb up to Nettlebed before a fast descent to the turnaround point and a return back towards Henley.
The ride then makes a left with an 8 mile climb up Pishill. In essence the course follows a crucifix shape and reflects an extended interval session with 2 extended climbs followed by 2 fast descents. The ride was on closed roads, which was excellent and the locals really came out and supported you on the course, much better than the Outlaw I have to say, although the quality of the road surface was poor in places and I suffered a broken spoke 25 miles on the Pishill climb on the rougher road. Feed stations were suitably placed with the usual Hi-5 drinks on offer.
I had a great ride, having had a fitting with Andy at Bike Science my position was much more aggressive and I came into T2 in 5.29 - 33rd overall and 5th in age.
This meant I needed a sub 3.18 marathon to achieve my goal. I am still coming to terms with the new bike position and the saddle position is uncomfortable, putting great pressure on the prostrate and there were a few golden showers enroute! I do apologise to those chasing athletes behind me, but you shouldn't sit on my wheel when we are climbing!
Nevertheless into the run and a bacon sandwich prepacked sent me into the run in good spirits. I soon realised I was well placed as the only athletes I saw were pro's and settled into 7.38 miling pace...come on! Thru the half marathon in an hour and forty (which I was delighted with) but knew that the sub 10 was not to be achieved, I focused on position and enjoying the remainder of the run. Much of the run is off-road and with a few rain showers, at times my pace was dropping by 30 secs per mile on the slippy grass and muddy trails. The run is pretty much flat with occasional climbs including the main bridge over the Thames close to the regatta finish. Nevertheless the crowds were excellent, constantly cheering you on and calling your name on the race number. At the 16 mile mark I was busting for the loo and had the Outlaw trots fears all over again, but it’s amazing how this can disappear when you see a calf with the same age-group as yours. I hung on, passed him and managed to hold position to the finish line. At 21 mile mark, the day really had to start to tickle and my Incase of Emergency ZIp Vit 130mg of caffeine was used to supercharge me home. As I approached the last half mile, I became really emotional and into the finishing pen the atmosphere was electric and over the line 39th overall, 13th amateur and 5th in age.
Post race reflection
They say that what doesn't break you can only make you stronger and this was the case for me at Challenge Henley having been floored in the Outlaw earlier in the summer. It is an excellent race and probably just shades the Outlaw experience - closed roads, local support, good crowds and race finish experience although Outlaw was better for race start, showers and post race food. For a first timer, I personally would recommend the Outlaw as its closer to home to train on, slightly flatter ride (but you need a kind wind on the day) and easier for your supporters to cheer you on at different points on each lap. Nevertheless Henley is a beautiful setting, well organised and if you want to make your mark away from home, then a Challenge race is recommended. There were very few Midland athletes on show but with a larger prize pot it was great for me to pit my wits against the pro's and more international athletes. At 21 miles I was using the reward of a 2 week rest and junk food as my reward for nailing myself in the last 40 odd mins of the race, but 2 days later I am back in the pool, legs fresh and itching to go again!
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