Challenge Henley Half – Race Report

On the whole I have to say I was more excited than anything going into this race – my first attempt at long distance triathlon. I have been on marathon courses for nearly 5 hours, done a 5 hour 75mile bike ride but that was my peak efforts before 8th September 2013 when I attempted to complete my first half ironman distance event.

Firstly I survived the madness of taper week and trusted in my solid 17 weeks training program that my coach Neil had put together for me.

I had my friend Vic the tri veteran (she has done dozens of half distance races and 4 long distance triathlons with Lanzarote being her last) for company, racing and staying with me. Hubbie decided he’d be more use at home tracking and looking after the dogs, plus Vic had taken his bed for the night.

There was a fair bit of Saturday traffic getting into Henley on Thames but we got parked up in a field opposite the expo and wandered in. I was like a kid in a crisp factory ( I don’t like chocolate, I know I’m weird). Where to go first ? The port-a-loos of course. I ping ponged from stall to stall then Vic got her sensible head on and guided me to registration so we could get our kit bags to be loaded and dropped off after all thats why we were there.

Registration was very friendly and slick – name, BTF number, bags/stickers/race pack handed over, chip activated and we were out of the big white tent straight to the Erdinger  free alcohol free beer stand where I had my first of many pints that weekend.

Race briefing the day before was a first for me. Very informative and entertaining. I’m glad they told us that our bike would be taken from us as I thought that was only for the pros and could have had a nasty incident of accusing someone of trying to nick my bike mid race on Sunday.



After a plate of paella and another pint we headed back to the car to sort and stuff the blue & red kit bags to bulging. If in doubt chuck it in. Bags ladened we headed back to drop the blue bags at T2 for our run leg.

Then off to Henley Business centre which would be swim start/finish, T2 and our bed for the night. Bike racked and left along with 1400 others for company. I took my computer off as its a bit temperamental with the rain, but the bike had to suffer its first night outside – its had a soft life living in my dinning room in front of the fire at home. Just had remember to check tyres, add water bottles and reattach computer in the morning. Not a hard task but I’m really really bad in the mornings.

Grand hotel for the night – on doorstep of start


1151 – just remember red rack and head to the end
Carefully placed bike bag

All bags and bike dropped off in the correct places so dinner time in the hotel bar. It was pretty quiet so Vic & I took charge of the TV to watch Strictly. Everyone else whether they wanted to or not also watched it !

5:30am alarm call – uuuggghhh Semi dressed in race kit we headed off in the dark to place bottles and computer on the bike, yes I remembered it and even where bike was. We were greeted with thick dense fog. At first couldn’t see the river from the hotel 50m away.

20 minute delay of start as fog lifted then descended again
20 minute delay of start as fog lifted then descended again

Nothing more to faff about with in transition so we headed back into the hotel for breakfast – the full english looked tempting but stuck to porridge and toast and 3 pots of tea. We got news that the start was delayed so had another cuppa.

The Swim
Our time came at 8:10am, the fog still thick over the Thames. Wave 1 of white hats was called into the water. It was bloody freezing ! they said 16.5c at briefing, my woolly socks it was. Shivering, treading water and trying to wee as much as I could to warm up I was desperate to get started.

All summer long I’ve been practising and improving my sighting in open water – what a waste of time as we had nothing to sight on. Couldn’t see the next buoy or the river banks. just a few hundred white hats bobbing around. Luckily as it was so foggy no other boats were on the river and the canoeists did their best to herd us down the course. I know I zigzagged a lot as went from bank to buoy and back again. I later heard from a few wearing Garmins that they swam between 2 and 2.3k, we were due to do 1900m.

A few clashes of elbows and pincer movements but nothing like the frantic washing machine effect I’ve heard about. We seemed to be seeded as all went along as a mass which was OK until the first and only turn buoy where it was a squeeze, but could have been a lot worse if no fog as many swimmers went right past the buoy only to be turned back with a tap on the head from a canoeist.

The return swim was pretty good and swimmers had dropped back, faded or got lost in the fog. You could hear the guys on the swim exit before you saw them. “Give us your arms” shouted two burly blokes. I was then unceremoniously hauled on my belly onto the pontoon. “Keep fingers off the cracks” “ouch, oh f%^k” too late for someone as the floating slabs closed on their fingers or toes – better count them in T1.

swim time 36:16 not too shabby considering conditions
swim time 36:16 not too shabby considering conditions – 3rd in age group 

As I jogged out my feet were like blocks of ice from the chilly water, little did I know it would take nearly 3 hours before any feeling came back and they warmed a little. The change tent was more like a steam room from the hot bodies and cold air and visibility not much better than outside, but a lot warmer. Transitions are much less frantic than sprint & Olympic distance ones. I tipped my kitbag out on the floor, towelled my arms and feet off. As it had rained overnight I was glad I put my socks in plastic food bags in my shoes so I had dry socks to put on. Loaded my pocket with flapjack. A lovely lady stuffed my wetsuit into my bag and I collected the rest of my clutter. Then off to find the bike.

The Bike
Two miles in when I reached the turn around point in town I experienced my first of hundreds of “Go Pirate” “Aaarrggg” cries from spectators. There is a straight flat mile then we started to climb which became the main theme of the bike course. It was manageable but tough. I really need to practise the dead-stop turns, these were quite tight and could have been embarrassing. As the full distance racers were already on course there was a constant stream of cyclists but I never got caught in  bunch and none came near me to raise an eyebrow from a draftbuster motorbike. More pirate cries from fellow racers. Even though closed roads I did overtake a Fiat 500 cruising around.

About three quarters of the way into the lap you head down Howe hill where I clocked 43mph, time to apply the brakes. Brake pads are cheaper to replace than bodies and bikes. Also the road got rougher and I was worried I’d jettison water bottles into the path of others.

Heading out lap one
Heading out lap one

Then… the up hill haul, estimates that the worse part is between 10-12% incline. Its worse at the bottom for about 25 meters. Somewhere on this hill I pulled muscles in my lower back around the ribs which wasn’t an issue on the bike but later plauged me on the run. More of that later.

Once at the top of Howe hill there were a few other smaller hills then about 5 fast miles decent back into town, which we would then have to ride back out on to complete 2nd smaller loop. The only incidents of note on the second loop was it was warm enough to take arm-warmers off and then I got a USN sports drink shower. The big blue top came off and soaked me in the sticky stuff 😦 not happy.

Warmed up a bit on lap 2
Warmed up a bit but sticky after shower on lap 2    Bike 3:28:58


As I approached Phyllis Court I hopped over the speed bump a very nice man took my bike, then I jogged to the blue bag area and was handed a bag which I just hopped was mine and went into the ladies change area. This one a lot less steamy. But as I tipped my stuff on to the floor the rain started and hammered down on the tent. Change of shoes and socks, again kept dry in food bags. I decided not the take the Fuelbelt as there would be plenty on course.

The Run
Adjusted my right sock 3 times in first mile, nothing wrong with it just still cold feet on one foot. The same foot cramped as I crossed the line so I sat just there and stretched it out as they did the podium presentations. My plan was to run to each aid station then take what I wanted and walk through before running to the next one. This worked brilliantly for the first lap and was comfy and steady pace 1hr 6mins for 6.6miles. Then heading onto lap two I needed a wee, luckily I found an empty and quite clean port-a-loo. Suppose it meant I was hydrated.

The rain eased to a shower then gave way to sunshine and a headwind by about half way through the first run lap.

Then Howe hill came back to bite me in the bum, well give me back ache. I soon worked out that running on grass was better than hard surface and if I stretched and massaged at each aid station I could run on. This worked and got me to the finish.

As I came around the last loop behind the stadium my friend Tess was there screaming at me 🙂 that was such a great and unexpected sight. I then rounded the corner in front of the grandstand and onto the red carpet. Cue more Pirate cheers and “Go Zoe” ( we had our names on our race numbers). I grinned like a goon all they way round as I floated along the bouncy red carpeted path and under the finish arch.

I couldn’t have been more chuffed
– I’d just finished 70.3 miles my first half ironman distance race and I loved it 🙂

At last the finish of Henley but the start of my long distance tri journey
At last the finish of Henley but the start of my long distance tri journey
Floating along to the finish       Run 2:19


Post race
I was starving, had two plates of pasta, pile of cheese sandwiches, 4 oat biscuits, flapjack and two cups of soup with 3 more pints of Erdinger beer.
The rain started pouring so I headed into the grandstand with Tess and waited for Vic. Got to see the pros Tom Lowe and Bella Baylis finish. I later got to chat to them in the athletes recovery area.
Had post race massage and masseur said legs in good shape, he also did a foot massge to releive cramping and said I had a few micro tears on back between pelvis and lower ribs – probably that bloody Howe hill !

Two days later and I still have a race tattoo on one arm. I only got the other off with a scrubbing brush, Vasaline, Swarfega, WD-40, baby oil and Cillit Bang. All of which left it red raw and now has Savlon on. I’ll wait another day or two before I inflict pain on my right arm.

Can't scrub the bloody thing off.
Can’t scrub the bloody thing off.

On reflection I maybe held back a bit on the swim and bike as not exerted myself at any point but wanted to make sure I kept enough for the run – I learnt from Bristol (punch up and windy bike) that its easy for the wheels to fall off on the run. Very happy with fueling – rolling buffet on bike and smorgasboard on the run. I like these long distance events ! Much better than the fast and furious sprints and even olympic distance stuff.

Bring on 2014 – my ironman year. ironman70.3 Exmoor and ironmanUK Bolton


Challenge Henley Half – finisher 🙂 more than happy

Top ten finish too as 7th in age group.
In my pre-race plan/my head I had 7 hour race target – 40/10/2.5/10/2.5 hours Beat that 🙂

Tom doing his lap of honour
Tom doing his lap of honour
Bella finishing on a high before retirement




  1. Wow….reading this Zoe, I felt like I was doing the race too….and the important thing is, u had a good time….
    And I was the one feeling emotional when u crossed the finish line ha ha ha

    • I still smile when I read and remember the race.
      It was great to see you just before the red carpet finish 🙂
      Good luck have fun and Smile at Bowood this weekend.

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