Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay

So I have spent the summer reminding myself that Triathlon is a multi-discipline sport and not just a cycle event. And to finish off my sporting season I took part in an Ironman distance event on the 16th September – doing the 42k  run leg as part of my triathlon club relay team. And quite a day it was too…..

We are very lucky that the Thames Valley is home to a number of iconic triathlon event venues. My very first triathlon some 7 years ago was taking part in a Sprint event on the closed roads at Eton Dorney; next moving up to an Olympic Distance event at Windsor; but until now the region has lacked a focus for longer distance events. I have had to travel to Europe to experience competing over a closed road course Middle Distance event.

But not anymore.  Last year saw the inaugural Challenge Henley event, offering Half Ironman and Full Ironman distances, which suffice to say caused a fair degree of controversy with many “NIMBY” locals trying to get the event banned. The local paper even ran a poll to canvas public opinion. The organisers conceded a few changes, and the 2012 event was back on.

My TVT triathlon club had good representation across both participation and support, this year having some individual Half Ironman competitors and a Full Ironman Relay team.  We also had a volunteer team manning a feedstation; and a club member providing post event recovery massages.

The weather this summer has caused its fair share of headaches for triathlon race participants – the cancelled swim at Windsor; running through a bog at the Marlow event in June, and a shortened run course  at the Cotswold 113 to avoid slippery footpaths.  At the Saturday pre race briefing, we found out that Challenge Henley also had to cope with a last minute run course change. But not because of the weather, this time because of pheasant breeding taking place on an adjacent farmers land!

So race day brought an early start, with competitors making last minute preparations at Henley Business Centre before dawn. The daylight showed clear and cool conditions with light breezes and a minor Thames river swell. In fact, perfect for racing. First to set off was Katie Hopkins at 7.10am – shaking off her cold – to complete the 3.8km swim relay leg in a very respectable 1h 21m.

By the time she was out of the water, the Half Ironman competitors were also underway meaning that everyone would be out on the bike course together.

The bike route was on closed roads, with a figure of eight loop that took riders up Bix Hill to a turnpoint near Nettlebed, then the long drag up Pishill, out past Christmas Common with a turnpoint just past the M40. The full distance was three full loops, the Half riders doing a one and half loop distance.

The riding machine that is Barry Hopkins was doing the relay full distance bike leg for team TVT1, competing the 180km course in under 6 hours. Heroic riding to cover the 112 undulating miles at an average pace of over 18mph.

 

By the time that Barry completed the bike course, the Half Ironman race was all done and dusted.  Sharkie Jaggard was first home for TVT; with a very close contest between Steve Wilson and Alistair Weir spurring both triathletes to break the 5 ½ hour barrier for the first time.  Top dog performances from all.

That left the run relay leg for the full distance event still to complete – and the big question in my mind in the event planning was whether the daylight would hold sufficiently for me to complete the run. That gave our team a self imposed target time to beat of 12 hours.

And to spice things up there was another TVT battle going to take place on the run course. Mike Williams was also doing the marathon with some mates in a relay team raising funds for the Sue Ryder Homes charity.  Waiting for the changeover it looked like Katie and Barry were giving me a decent lead to hold onto – but then Mike was 20 years my junior and welcomed chasing down a gap.

So I set off full of excitement to cover four laps of an out and back course that hugged the river Thames. Pancake flat and with high level cloud and a pleasant temperature, the half way point was soon covered in a shade over 1h 40m, which is pretty decent for me doing a HM. But I still had the second half to cover!

So even without doing the swim and bike legs, I began to experience what it felt like to be running fatigued. The last 15k was a case of digging in, staying focused, and relishing the crowd participation as the sight and sounds of Henley grew larger on the horizon.

Turning into the Phyllis Court complex for the last time, there was one last surprise. I spotted Katie and Barry in the atheletes pen, ready and waiting so that we could cross the line together. And we had one extra team member for the glory moment – my two year grand-daughter Lara. I swept her up in my arms and the cheering crowd showed their appreciation. What an incredible feeling!

And for the record, as a relay team we had smashed our expectations by finishing well inside 11 hours. On a par with Steve and Alistair’s combined time from earlier in the day. As we have all ridden and trained together over several winters – another very satisfying feeling.

And the run contest? Well Mike had chased me down out on the course, but making up a whole lap was never going to be practical. Despite slowing on the final lap, his team also broke the 12 hour barrier and happily finished in daylight. And best of all – he spurred me to a new Marathon PB, beating my previous best by over 3 minutes.

Now what’s my age group qualifying time for the Virgin London Marathon?

What’s the worst that can happen – the perils of cycling?

The Cycle Safe campaign initiated by the Times newspaper is gathering momentum. Last week there was a debate in the House of Commons on cycle safety where the government endorsed seven out of eight of the campaign objectives. Whilst there is no pledge to ring-fence 2 per cent of the Highways Agency annual £4.9 billion budget for state of the art cycle infrastructure, there is support for a range of initiatives designed to make cycling in cities safer, and to raise the public awareness of cyclists. So this worthy campaign is off to a good start, and you can keep in touch with the latest development directly from this blog. Scroll down the right hand column until you see the “Cycle safe” logo and you will find the latest news.

So what are the perils that the leisure cyclist faces – what the worst that can happen to us? Well, I thought I would share a more light hearted look at the things I have learnt over the years.

Sometimes you need to expect the unexpected….

So what are the most common problems that we face:

  • Pedals – in order to maximise the power throughout the pedal stroke, we clip our shoes onto the pedals. With legs ‘fixed’ to the bike, that means unclipping whenever you need to stop. It’s a technique that is easy to learn, but that does not stop a few mishaps. Embarrassingly these most often happen on the drive at home; at the meet point with TVT club team mates. No injuries – other than pride!
  • Nutrition – the longer you ride for, the faster you get, and the more energy you need to keep going.  The cycling equivalent of running out of petrol is not a pleasant experience, so most rides for me now start with porridge; have multiple drinks for the journey plus an energy bar as a “Scooby Snack” if required. Best of all are the feedstations on Sportives – the tea and cake are to die for!  
  • Risk assessment – wind, rain, ice are all potential hazards that could lead to falling off. On winter group rides, the risk assessment will vary the route or the time of the ride to minimise the possibility of an incident. But when racing, some of these principles go out of the window, with the following outcome. How frustrating if that happened to me on the way to the Olympic Stadium!

And to conclude, here is a little bike parts experiment that you could try at home – the human bicycle:

We all have untapped athletic potential – my story

My interest in running, cycling, swimming and participating in sport in general, was sparked back in 2000 by a New Year’s resolution to mark the new millennium. It all started with me signing up for my first Half Marathon. But as a child, no-one would have imagined how my more recent sporting glories would have come about.

At school, I was hampered by poor eyesight that meant that any contact based team games were a nightmare, as I couldn’t wear my glasses. A childhood operation to correct an eye squint meant that I could never use contact lenses. So with limited hand-eye co-ordination, I am afraid that I was always the last one to be picked for team games. As a teenager I did get into hiking through the Venture Scouts and participating in things the Duke of Edinburgh’s challenge, so there was some untapped potential to build upon in later life.

Fast forward to January 2000, and my sporting career was launched. Within three short months, I had progressed from 10k races up to 13 miles, completing the Reading Half Marathon in a very respectable 1h 45 minutes.

Over a celebratory dinner that night with the family, my wife Louise asked me what was next? Well the ideas soon flowed. Within two years I had completed my first full marathon at a local event in Abingdon – proving to myself that I was fitter at 40 than I was aged 30 – and repeated that distance again in my first European race in Paris in the spring of 2004.

By this stage I was using the local gym for cross-training – and was really getting into group based exercise with weekly Body Pump and Circuits classes. Ten years on and these classes still form part of my weekly training routine – the instructors and camaraderie with my gym buddies help keep me motivated!

However, I needed a new challenge – and the sport that I found was triathlon. The first thing I liked was the variety in training; and secondly was learning new skills. When I started triathlon my swimming was a serene breaststroke; so I basically had to relearn how to swim front crawl and overcome a childhood fear of putting my head in the water. So as you can imagine, open water swimming (in a cold and murky lake) was quite an obstacle for me!

Given that I train much more effectively when part of a group, I soon joined Thames Valley Triathletes (TVT) which has given my sporting career a whole new lease of life. I am a Level 1 coach, and helped setup the junior section a few years back when my kids were interested in participating in the sport. I now lead a weekly cycle group, which is great discipline to get me out whatever the weather and has been very motivational to help like-minded people realise their own sporting dreams.

So with all this support network in place, it is really no surprise that I have progressed from sprint distance to Olympic distance, and then in 2010 (a few months after the Dallaglio cycle slam) to complete my first Half Ironman. For those not familiar with the triathlon disciplines, that is a 1.2 mile swim; followed by a 56 mile cycle ride; and then a Half Marathon. So in ten years, I had progressed gradually and steadily to realise my full sporting potential.

The point of my story, and one of the reasons for starting my blog, is that I believe that we all have it in us to be active – and therefore keep fit and healthy – it is just a question of finding the right opportunity. And don’t ever let age put you off. Last year, at 49, TVT awarded me the most improved male triathlete in the club for my performance at the Antwerp Half Ironman event.

Most improved TVT male triathlete - December 2011

So do I think I can rise to the challenge of cycling nearly 600km over 4 days of the Dallaglio Flintoff cycle challenge – absolutely!