After Pacific Grove, I really didn’t have a plan for the rest of the season. There were possibilities here and there, but nothing really jumped out at me. That is, until I came across two possibilities; one in Croatia, the other in England. The Croatian race made sense given my training and the distance, but I couldn’t find any information about a pro field. So, I did the next most logical thing and inquired about racing an iron-distance event in England. After exchanging one email on the Tuesday before the race, I booked a flight leaving the very next morning and took off.I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit nervous about my decision to compete in such an event. None of my rides or runs prepared me for what I’d face on race day, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Well, I suppose a few toenails.When race morning arrived, it was cold and I was ill-prepared for 5° weather. From the moment I arrived in transition, I was shivering and struggling to stay warm. Fortunately, I snuck into a dormitory at the Henley Business School and loosened up until we were called to the water. Then it was into the 15.5° river, which felt quite nice, given my last few races in Pacific Grove and San Francisco – and the air temperature.

This was half-distance starting. The fog was much more dense when we set off.

There was a bit of confusion with the countdown and several athletes started several seconds too early, while the rest waited. My propensity to be patient didn’t serve me well, as I would have loved to have been on the feet of the “jumpy” group. Regardless, I found a pack and settled in on someone’s feet. For once, I successfully kept an eye on the pack and surged when someone else would. Overall, the swim was a breeze and I felt great exiting the water. Then I striped out of my wetsuit and realized it was still quite cold…

Didn’t bring my aero helmet, as mine had broke and the replacement had yet to arrive.

For added warmth, I grabbed armwarmers, but lacking dexterity, putting them on was actually more of a struggle. Fortunately, the bike course had 1,800 feet of climbing per lap, so I figured I’d be warm in no time. While I did get comfortable on the climbs, I lost all warmth on the long descents. Eating solid food on the first lap was also a chore. Being that it was so cold, my bars felt like rocks and my jaw was tired from my chattering teeth. The sun came out here and there on the second lap and I rode well until the third and final lap. To put it simply, I haven’t put in the necessary miles to ride a solid 112-mile bike leg and that could not have been more apparent. The hills seemed longer, steeper, and the miles seemed to tick by slower – probably because they were.

More clothing would have been wise.

Despite lacking the proper bike fitness, I felt really good getting off the bike. The roads were far from the smoothest I’ve ridden on, but my body didn’t feel beaten down from the roads or climbs. I credit my Cannondale Slice to that, as it’s easily the most comfortable TT bike I’ve ever ridden.

The run course consisted of four loops around the town of Henley, so I mentally broke it down into four easy 10k runs. I went out at a conversational pace on the first lap and stayed as relaxed as possible. Lap two was slighty slower, but still right at the pace I was hoping for. Then, the third lap arrived and the wheels fell off. Both my legs and shoes felt like they were filled with concrete and I was getting hungry and craving something savory. There were two pubs situated along the run course that were absolutely tormenting. The smell of roast lamb, burgers, and steaks wafting from their cozy confines made those sections of the run the hardest. To make things worse, it also poured at times. Had I had a few quid in my Kiwami Amphibian, I would have ordered the lamb. Instead, I continued on, relying on the provided oranges, bananas, and gels. Another reason the third lap was such a dark place for me, was that numerous individuals ran by at a pace much quicker than mine. I wasn’t able to see how many bands they had on their wrists (indicating what lap they were on), but I was almost sure I was slipping down the field. Regardless, I always told myself to go as hard as my legs would take me and that this hell would be over with soon. Then I made the turn for the fourth and final lap. I ran well at times and shuffled along at others. Then, an angel appeared (not literally, I was well hydrated). There was the most charming little girl handing out her sour gummy bears. While I wanted to take the bag with me, carrying her in the process if I had to, I only took three. The explosion of sour flavor and sugar gave me the necessary energy to run in a bit faster and I did just that. From then on, I didn’t want anything at the final aid stations, since imgagining those gummies in my mouth was far better than actually eating another banana or gel.

Looking quite dorky and unaware of my top 10 placing.

In the end, I didn’t lose any ground on the run and moved up a few positions instead. The people who passed me were either on their first or second lap or competing in the half-distance event. Whew.

Overall, I finished 9th in a time of 9:34. I went in with no expectation, just wanting to enjoy the race and I did just that. While my decision to race Challenge Henley-on-Thames was rather impulsive, it was a great decision. Speaking of impulsive decisions, there was a flyer for Challenge Barcelona at the awards ceremony and I thought to myself, “Why not?” I changed my flight and am racing another iron-distance event in as many weeks.