With a week gone since the Challenge Henley triathlon and as my bags packed to depart for South Africa today, I thought it wise that I should write my update now. So what was it like to undertake an “Ironman” distance triathlon?
The Tri was the second only Tri I’ve ever entered and with little or no training other than the races I’ve previously done, I knew that it would be tough for me; particularly in light of the fact that I have a healthy fear of water. I think a documented this in earlier writings and this, combined with the fact that I really was not sure what to expect in the water, made the anticipation of the race a psychological battle for me.
The start was a calamity. I arrived at T1 before the race to check the bike and while pumping air into the tyre, the valve broke and the tyre deflated. I changed inner-tube and, would you believe it, the same thing happened! You can imagine that my language at this point was far from polite. What was polite and welcome was the help and support of my fellow competitors and race marshals. Another competitor gave me a spare inner-tube (thank you whoever you are) and I approached a martial at T1 security for help. By now it was 5 minutes before the start of the first wave swim. The guy offered to sort the problem, took the wheel and race number and said that it would be on my bike when I got back.
It was cold that morning. The thermometer in the morning registered 4°C and that was just the open air. My bare feet did not like the cold ground. I stood and waved my arms while watching my breath become white clouds in front of my eyes; not relishing the thought of getting into the misty water. The swim was my bête noire; the murky water wanting me to panic, to stop and quit. Two good friends gave me reassurance. Russ Cox, who has spent the last number of months patiently honing my swim technique, kept telling me that I could do it. Thanks Russ. Seeing you before the race actually calmed my nerves. However, one of the biggest thank you’s of the day goes to Andy Loveland of Early Rider Cycles. Andy knew that the swim for me would be the most difficult part and he decided to accompany me on the swim leg and give me the encouragement to make it through. What a great guy! If you’re reading this Andy, thank you so much for your friendship and support.
My competitors were jumping into the water and it became my turn to walk forward on to the pontoon and get in to the Thames. When I did, the water was warm. With no time to pause the race was underway. With arms plunging into the water and trying to resist the urge to kick furiously, I was concentrating on trying to sight the next buoy through the mist, duly failing and, instead, following the others off up the Thames. There were loads of people who were having a tough time with the swim. Some found it too cold but, for me, it felt like a warm bath. The Orca 3.8 did a cracking job of affording me warmth and buoyancy for my weakest discipline. A fantastic piece of kit! My swim was a mixture of mostly crawl interspersed with breaststroke due to trapped wind and by vomiting after swallowing some water. Not a great start to the triathlon, which was further added to by tearing muscle in the left shoulder. Nevertheless, I made the end of the swim and was really over the moon! I’m truly stunned about swimming so far. I’ve never even swum a mile before so this is a huge watershed moment for me. The time taken to complete the swim was 1 hour 49 min.
I got back to the bike to find the front tyre flat! You can imagine my language at this point was a slightly more prolonged repeat of my earlier expletives. With the help of some Pitstop and gas I rode back to my house in central Henley, changed the wheel, grabbed the new inner-tube and hit the bike course. The 20 min delay added time to the bike leg that I could have done without.
Having rode my steel framed £60 decathlon special across the Alps this summer, I felt reasonably confident about having a good bike ride. For that’s exactly what I had. The course, however, was quite deceptive; particularly, the last climb. My down hills…well, I nailed them! 50+ miles an hour and the bike was in its element. It’s a shame that I didn’t have the extra FastForward wheel on the front. I was using my training wheel as to have changed the tyre yet again would have taken far longer. If I had had my FastForward on the front I would have been even quicker. The bike course was made up of two loops that utilised both sides of the road. This caused problems in getting the locals, who were, effectively, imprisoned in their houses for the day, to and from the town. The volunteer force did a fantastic job on the day, some of whom rode motorcycles and would guide the local residents in their vehicles along the course. This was a difficult job, especially regarding the number of competitors out on the course, who in turn also had some concerns. What I thought was shocking was the way the cars were led out onto the road on the downhill section from Pishill, right into the path of the professional riders descending at speed on their bikes. Really scary when I saw a couple of riders narrowly miss vehicles on the course. The funny thing is though; it never entered my mind when descending at speed. Strange eh?
Transition at T2 was relatively hassle free. I was just a bit cold and needed to take some more medication. A welcome change of socks and shoes, a mouthful of food and some go juice and I was out on the marathon route but for this race was walking. As you know, my physio told me not to run the marathon like due to the hot-spot on my tibia, which ran the risk of developing a stress fracture. So I marched at a good pace and felt strong completing the first half marathon in three hours dead. Heading out on the beginning of the third lap I was totally on form but it was getting dark and three quarters of the way round the rain came down. This was a miserable experience which was followed by a strong cold wind that cut right through me. I started getting colder and colder until I couldn’t feel my arms and legs and my right arm suffered badly (becoming uncontrollable with tremor from my PD). In short I was in a bad state and getting worse. It was at this point when my neighbour, Dave, discovered me staggering down the tow path. He had come looking for me armed with a Cornish pasty and some chocolate. When he found me, he immediately gave me his coat, notwithstanding the rain, and walked back with me towards the centre of town. Crossing the bridge, people were again immensely friendly as they had been all day. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to everyone who cheered me on gave me so much encouragement on the day, even when I looked a total mess! I turned right towards the food station manned by the wonderful volunteers, who took one look at me and removed me from the race directly to the med tent. It was the right decision. My core temperature was low and so was my blood pressure. The realisation that had Dave not found me, I would have been in serious trouble. Thank you Dave!!!! I was gutted about not finishing a race that was only 10 km away from completion and totally in my sights, but really happy about what I had achieved on the day.
Next time, will be better!!
So the bag is packed and I will be setting off with Mr Johnny Ultra to South Africa this evening to run the Otter Trail. My father-in-law is over to keep an eye on the family and that will let me concentrate on the race. I’m hopeful of a good result and looking forward to updating you when I get back. In the meantime and if you have a moment, I would be grateful if you could leave a message of encouragement on my 10MillionMetres Facebook page and click “like”. That would be fantastic!!
Together we can make a difference. Together we can make change happen. Together we can find a cure!