While alot of us were congregating at the start line of the Great North Run on Sunday, one of our most intrepid athletes was already if full swing of an Ironman event. If you thought that running from Newcastle to South Shields was tough. Have a read of Gareth Huxley’s report from the Challenge Henley – Ironman Triathlon
Challenge Henley Ironman Triathlon
By way of history, Ironman is the classic distance triathlon, with the first ever triathlon having been held over this length of course (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). Legend has it that a group of swimmers, bikies and runners on Hawaii were having a drunken argument about who was the fittest, so they came up with this lunatic combination of the 3 sports to resolve the matter. Now there are dozens of iron-distance races all over the world.
With a 6.30 start, the alarm sounded at a preposterous 4.20am, and a couple of jam butties later, me and Ian Maddison, also of Ryton Tri (and friend of TBH) were on our way to the swim start. After a clear, chilly night, there was fog on the river, so the start was briefly delayed, while it cleared a little. Either that or they were waiting for a few people upstream to flush their toilets to warm the water up a bit! It was cold standing on the dew-covered grass, but when we eventually plunged into the Thames it wasn’t too cold, almost pleasant in fact. The start was actually a false one, when some divot in the crowd blew a whistle, triggering a thrash at the front, so the starter took the sensible decision to sound the immediately claxon and get everyone away.
The current in the river was negligible, and the only real unpleasant moments were swimming too near the bank and getting tangled in some vegetation, and the odd mouthful of dieselly water, but that makes you go faster anyway. Got out of the water in exactly an hour, in 43rd place and it was on with bike shoes. The fastest swimmers had exited in a very impressive 48 minutes.
The sun hadn’t really appeared by then, so it was baltic for the first few miles on the bike in only a wet tri-suit, but once we hit the first uphill section things started to warm up a little, and some blood seemed to be finally getting to the legs. The bike course was 3
loops of 36 miles, plus a bit more. Although we northerners may think of the south of England as being largely flat, this was far from easy bike course, with around 1800m of climbing in total, through the picturesque Chiltern Hills. The toughest climb was the aptly-named Pishill Bank (see later…), although by the third time up here, some rather ruder swearwords were coming to mind. As ever in the UK, the road surfaces were quite rough on many parts of the course, especially compared to the roads of France or Germany, where surfaces are like a billiard table. This can make quite a difference to your speed on a bike, not to mention the extra pounding the sit bones take, wearing only a tri-suit with minimal padding.
Although this race had a smaller field that many of the Ironman races in Europe, some riders still chose to flout the no-drafting rule. As I worked my way through the field, on a flattish section I noticed up ahead a male rider right on the back wheel of one of the female pros, Yvette Grice, the eventual winner of the women’s race. He couldn’t have been getting much of a tow from her as she only weighs about 8 stone! As I passed them, I decided a comment was in order to the drafter. Whereupon he simply attached himself to my faster back wheel,
leaving Grice trailing behind!
In a long race of any type, care must be taken to remain hydrated, so by this point I was needing the toilet. Rather than waste valuable time by stopping, with a drafter for company, I thought this would be an appropriate moment to have a pee, approaching at the foot of the aforementioned hill. I think that must have shifted him, as I didn’t see him again!
After an bike split of 5 hours 16 (avg speed 21.2mph), I had climbed up to around 15th place. It was a relief to be off the bike as my cobblers were toast, the aero position on a time-trial bike being far less comfortable than a standard road bike. As those TBHers who have done ironman races before will know, the second transition can be the toughest part of the whole race, psychologically, as it is all too tempting to think “my legs are knackered and I’ve now got to run a marathon!!”.
Having not done ironman for a couple of years, the memory had faded of how hideous an ironman Marathon is! After a couple of miles, the legs
seemed to get going, around the 4 lap course of 6 and a bit miles each. The course crossed the river and followed a largely flat route through fields and lanes, and back along the Thames-side footpath, past sumptuous riverside properties and exclusive boat clubs. The sort of place it might have been nice to walk the dog, stopping for a pint and Sunday roast, at one of the 4 enticing pubs en route. Instead, it was the hell of an ironman marathon! Passing those pubs and smelling the Yorkshires was torment.
Each lap took in the finish area and part of the town, where there was plenty of support from the crowds, which makes such a difference. It
is all too easy on the run to descend into a zombie-like trance, clocking off the miles, as the pain accumulates, and fatigue builds. I found it was helpful to try to engage with other runners, supporters and people on the feed stations, as this briefly distracts from the agony. About half way round, and still going fairly well, the heavens opened, and it rained torrentially for about half an hour. The cold water on fatigued muscles is just what you don’t want, as this triggers cramp, so I was forced to slow up and shorten my stride, if it could be called that, to the more commonly used “ironman shuffle”, to keep the dreaded cramp at bay.
Eventually, it was the last lap, and I knew I was going to get round in sub 10 hours, barring a disaster, even though the tank was empty. A few more caffeinated energy gels were just the job, which added to the 15 or so I had already consumed on meant I was actually pretty wired by the last lap. Back over the bridge for the final time, and something vaguely resembling a kick finish, to hold off the faster finishing first female pro, and that was it. Ecstacy and total exhaustion.
Finishing stats were 13th overall in a time of 9 hours 47 (run split around 3.24), a PB by 35 minutes. With 10 of the athletes in front being pros I was the 3rd age grouper, and 2nd in the 40-44 category. The winning time was a hugely impressive 8.37, on what is a difficult course. I managed to beat 1 of the male pros, which is extremely pleasing, being a amateur who is fond of a pie and a pint, and won’t go out for a bike ride unless the route takes in a cafe!
Full results are on www.challengehenley.com. Madders came in with an excellent
11.23, only 10 minutes from a PB.
Legs are jiggered right now. Sports massage from Lisa tomorrow, which is going to more painful than the last 6 miles of that run…