Challenge Henley 2012

Posted: September 21, 2012 in Challenge Series, Iron Man, Triathlon

I thought I would start things by quoting the last few lines from my previous entry – “In 2011 I crossed the finish at Challenge Copenhagen in 8hr 59mins 42 seconds.  At the time I remember thinking ‘it does not get any better than this’.  Well, it just did!”.  That result was without a doubt the best sporting achievement in my life so far.  So as you can imagine, I was pretty bloody happy!  I remember thinking, you don’t get any happier than this.  I did 🙂

On 1st September 2012, I married Carli out in Moraira, Spain.  The whole day and the week around it was a blur of amazing memory after amazing memory.  So many special moments.  The best of my life!

When we got back from the ‘mini moon’, Challenge Henley was only 1 week away!!  I found it really quite hard to get my self mentally ready.  Physically I was in good shape.  It was the mental side I was struggling with.  Normally I have no problem getting my ‘race head’ on.  But after the amazing events of the last few weeks I was finding it hard to do!  As the week progressed, bit by bit I slowly got myself together and as I drove down to Henley on Sunday morning for the race start, I new I was mentally ready to rock.

Physically, I was not doing so well.  During the night I had noticed I was getting a very slight upset stomach.  Nothing major and I ignored it during the run in on race morning.  The swim started well and while I was not able to stick with the lead swimmer, I was happy to settle into the pack behind.  As the swim progressed I could feel my stomach churning.  It was not holding up well and I made a call to back off the pace in the hope that it would settle down.  It helped but I was still a little concerned as I entered T1.

As I got going on the bike, my legs were feeling strong and I soon forgot about my stomach problems and focussed on the road ahead.  Stephen Bayliss was about 6mins down the road, with 2-3 riders in-between.  Towards the end of the first lap a speed line had formed with 6 riders.  Leaving Stephen, as the sole rider out in-front.  I have to be honest, I really do not like riding in a speed line.  I am much happier when I have the open road in-front of me, but I guess this is very much part of riding at the front of the race.  Being a much heavier athlete than the other riders I had to push harder than I would have liked on the climbs and hold back more than I would have liked on the flat and down hill sections.

At the start of the third lap I hit the front of the speed line heading up the fair mile and the climb out of Henley.  Talking to some of the guys in the group after the race, it seems I built up a bit of a gap on that climb between me and the riders behind.  Not that this counts for much, it is nice to know that I was still holding my own in the group.

Anyway as the lap continued the pace in the group dropped as people were getting ready for the run.  It was at this point that my stomach issues reared their ugly head again.  I had to concentrate hard to avoid having a very bad ‘accident’ in my shorts!!!!  As the group entered T2 all I could think about was running as fast as I possibly could (pretty much full on sprint) to the loo’s!!!  After that I still managed a pretty quick turn around and was out on the run a minute or two behind the rest of the group.

I felt terrible.  All my nutrition on the ride had gone straight through me.  I was light headed, dizzy and running on empty.  Totally shot.  During that first lap I had some serious daemons on both my shoulders.  I had four loo stops and I was not sure if I was even going to finish the race at this stage.  I remember seeing my brother who was on the final lap of the Henley Half.  It was his first ever triathlon and he was loving it.  As we crossed paths he gave me a high five which almost completely knocked me over!  That is how far gone I was 😦

But just as things started to look really bad, I hit the path coming back into Henley.  As I got near the bridge, I could hear the shouts and cheers from all my friends and family on the other side of the river.  It had a truly amazing effect.  Those daemons who had been sitting very heavily on my shoulders started to fade and I could feel myself getting more positive with every step.  It really is amazing what something as simple as a cheer from a close friend or even stranger can do.  Just look at the effect on the home support on the Olympics.  OK, I still felt terrible, but my mind was starting to turn things around 🙂

As I approached the fuel station where everyone was, I was greeted with my requested cups of ice which I shoved down my top.  As mentioned in a post race interview with tri247, I am not the smallest of athletes.  The result is I generate a whole lot of heat.  I have come to realise that I perform better in very cold conditions.  My idea of the perfect running conditions is in -15DegC running in the mountains at in Zermatt.  For me, ice on the run is almost as important for me as water or gels.  I could feel the ice doing its magic and my body started to feel just a little bit better.    That combined with a regular intake of gels and fluids resulted in a gradual improvement.  I slowly but surely I started to find my feet.

By the end of the second lap I actually felt OK.  In the previous race out in Copenhagen, it was at this point that I hit a very bad patch for around 6km.  I had made a point in my mind to start to push hard at the 20km mark.  That is exactly what I did.  My perceived effort went through the roof!  My splits dropped…. a little.  At the end of the third lap I was in 6th place.  I had overtaken one pro and had not been overtaken by a single person for the entire run!  I remember thinking ‘this is a first’.  But seconds after that thought, another pro came flying past me like I was standing still.  It served as a pretty good reminder that the race was far from over.  A lot can happen in 10km.  My effort from the previous lap meant I really did not have much left in the tank but I managed to hold it together…. JUST!

Running up the finishing chute was a very different feeling to that of previous IM distance races.  The emotion when you cross that line is always so raw but very rarely is it ever the same.

On this occasion I just felt deeply content.  This may not sound dramatic or that impressive but trust me it was a very good feeling 🙂

Big thank you to the entire Challenge Henley team.  You guys put on a stella event.  From the iconic start on the beautiful banks of the river Thames, to the closed roads bike over the chilterns hills.   To the run, which follows the banks of the river Thames.  Much of it along the famous Henley regatta rowing course.  In my mind, you don’t get much better.

I remember meeting Alan and team (awesome group of guys) in my first race back after my crash (Challenge Barcelona 2010).  They were in the process of planning the event.  I told them my story and of my hope to one day race as a pro in Challenge Henley.  At the time I was not sure if this dream would ever become a reality, but thanks to the huge amount of support from the people around me, it did.

2012 has been the best year of my life (so far) & I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Final Result    8hrs 53 mins  Overall Position 7th  Verdict  chuffed

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Comments
  1. Kerry jones says:

    Brilliant as usual Chris x

  2. Claire Vallance says:

    Nice one Chris. Very well done!

  3. Paul Hardy says:

    Well done Chris “you are a machine”..
    Really well done on your first year as a Pro.Hope to see you next year at the Oxford City TT’s.
    Paul.

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