Challenge Henley Ironman - race report

By PaulChristie on 10 September 2013

First things first, I bloody did it, I swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles, I completed an Ironman!

Secondly, I want to mention how this would not have been achievable without the support, motivation and support from Sarah, who put up with me for a second year going out training all the time, listening to my worries, giving me much needed pep talks and then giving me the much needed motivation to keep going on the event day itself!

Thirdly, I want to thank Jane and Andrew (Sarah's mum and dad), who let us all stay over the weekend, helped with the kiddies, cooked and encouraged me pre race, and then literally looked after me post race :o)

Going into Saturday, the nerves had gone, and I was strangely excited about starting on the Sunday, there wasn’t anything else I could do training wise, it as time to just get on and do it. I picked Adam up at the station and we headed over with Andrew and Lochlan to register, hand over transition bags then rack the bikes.



The event was well organised, and as I looked around, my first though was “crap”, everyone looked extremely fit, all branded up in their Ironman tops, and generally looking like they should be doing Ironman’s, and there was me, newly into sport, have only really been running for 11 months, and hadn’t run further than 15 miles in one go, how out of place did I feel. Even so, it was exciting, wandering around the stalls, having a beer (low alcohol of course) and checking out the Thames, was a sunny day and definitely had an exciting buzz to the air.

Everything sorted, with bikes handed over, Adam and I walked into Henley town to have a coffee before heading home.

I would like to say I spent the evening going through my plans, getting into the zone etc etc, what I actually id was had a tasty pasta tea while watching Strictly come dancing followed by X factor and a bit of Lake placid before going to bed for 22:00…..rock and roll :o)

The Alarm went of 04:00 on Sunday morning, and I was down stairs forcing myself to have a huge bowl of cereal, followed by a milk shake, I hate eating before 8, but there is no option as it would be the last solid food I really ate until I crossed the finish line.

The nerves had kicked in, applying my race tattoos I kept thinking to myself, can I manage the swim, 2.4 miles is  a long way, especially in open water, am I really doing this today?

Sarah had got up with us and drove us to the start line before heading home, saying that she would be cycling with her dad to the 13 mile point to cheer me and then heading home again before returning for the finish.

I met up with a few other guys from my work, who also looked like they were wondering what the hell we were doing, and it was then time to don wetsuits and get to the swim start.


It was cold, the temperature was about 9 degrees, and getting changed, followed by standing around barefoot on wet grass for 15 minutes was not helping, but due to the fog, and the fact you couldn’t see across the water as it was so thick, they had delayed kick off by ten minutes.

Getting into the water was great, it was warmer than standing on the bank, and after 5 mins of warming up with quick swims, and saying good luck to Adam and my colleagues the horn sounded and we were off.

I placed myself at the back of the pack, as I don’t like the frenzy that occurs with flying legs and arms while everyone is competing to get in front, and it was a great move, no hassle, relaxed and straight into my rhythm. You still couldn’t see much further than about 30 meters due to the fog, so keeping an eye on the bank and other swimmers I tried to keep a straight-ish line. After about 20 mins, it had all gone quiet, I couldn’t really see any other swimmers and was starting to worry that I was being seriously slow, especially as 5 minutes later a load of swimmers in green caps (the swimmers in the second wave) flew past me. I tried to forget about the time side of things and head down, kept swimming, and it was a long swim; finally reaching the turn around point I was suddenly with a load of swimmers again before turning around the buoy and heading back, again being left on my own after 5 minutes or so!

The last leg of the swim kept going, I kept thinking it had to finish soon, I wasn’t tired, it had just nee a long time, and I still could see or hear anything from the finishing point. All of a sudden, it appeared out of the fog, with a mass of noise from spectators and music, I had done it, I had completed the swim. I would like to say I gracefully exited the water onto the ramp, but that’s pretty damn hard and you end up just holding your hands out to be hauled out like a beached whale :o).

It was a run into transition, quick can of coke, banana and cycling kit on before heading off on the bike!

I knew straight away I had been slow (not the case I found out afterwards) as the bike racks looked empty where everyone else had already left, so I got my head down and powered through the first 15 miles, over taking quite a few people before the first food stop, my only thought was to concentrate on one lap at a time. I was feeling great, even going into Howe hill, which is a beast of a climb, legs and lung buster, but got up it ok and had finished the first lap (37 miles) in 2 hours.

The second lap was starting to feel tough going up the long 7 mile climb, and by the time I got to the 15 mile mark my back was tired, I knew this was going to be the case as I had not had the new bike long enough to truly get used to it, but kept powering through. At the turn around point, I couldn’t see Sarah so assumed she hadn’t been able to make it, which is understandable as trying to get to a point to see me without waiting two plus hours was not something I expected, but no, this wasn’t the case, not only had she turn up at the 56 mile half way point but the whole family were there banners and all!


This was amazing, and I couldn’t quite believe it, I stopped to give everyone kisses before starting off again, feeling completely refreshed and motivated by the support. Now Sarah will be the first to say I am not an emotional person, and never really shed tears, yet with 2 minutes of leaving them my eyes were welling up with happiness and the much loved feeling of a family that truly support you through thick and thin. I cannot say how grateful I am for them being there, or explain how much of a difference it made.

Onto the third lap I was truly feeling tired, it had been raining on and off the whole time, it was cold and windy, it was all taking its toll, but the end was in site, and once I had somehow got up Howe hill for the third time, it was a quick decent to the bike finish line, again feeling like I was well behind as the roads had started to open, and the spectators disperse fro the bike course.

Quick change into running kit, and it was off to the roar of the crowd, Adam passed me coming the other way as he returned from his first lap after I had been out about 5 minutes, so fully expected him to catch me within the first couple of miles, but 3 miles on he wasn’t there. As I was about half a mile from completing the first lap, across the river I heard an almighty shout of “PAUL CHRISTIE”, Sarah was there again, and with a further burst of speed I was over the bridge and giving the family kisses while saying how good I was feeling before heading off with a smile on my face once again.


Adam crossed my path as I head out for the second lap, and it wasn’t until about 9 miles into the run that he caught up, I was on fire, running better than I had ever run before and still feeling strong, and having him run with me only made me go faster (although I think he was hoping I would slow down) and by the end of my third lap I he left me to finish the Ironman in an amazing time of 11 hours 30 minutes. After each lap you got a different colour wrist band, red, white and blue, and I have to admit, getting that blue band felt amazing, I had just over 6 miles left, I had run 20 miles and was near the end, but the fatigue started to kick in, and I ended up walking a few times, I was feeling tired. I knew two of my colleagues were just behind me, but at this point didn’t care if they caught me or not, I just wanted to finish!

At the turn around point, I realised something, not only did I only have over three miles to go, but crappin hell, I could actually finish this Ironman in under 13 hours, I checked the timings twice, as I couldn’t quite believe it, my best estimated time for the whole thing had been 14.5 hours, with a really possibility of needing the full 16 hours, but I was smashing the course, I upped the pace as this was now my target, and before I knew it I have twenty minutes left and it was going to be close.

Just before the entering the finish area, there is a hump back bridge, its only about 3 metered long, and about 1 metre high, but getting up this thing felt like I was scaling a building, I was well and truly spent, but organised my self before rounding the corner to the cheers and announcer and the red carpet finish. I could see Sarah straight away,  but I had minutes left to finish sub-thirteen, so as soon as I got on the carpet I sprinted (in my mind it was a sprint anyway) and BOOOOMMM, I was across the line, yes, me, who 4 years ago weighed 19.9 stone, who never did anything physical, yes me, Paul Christie had just completed an Ironman distance Triathlon!!!!!!


I was very emotional, and couldn’t weight to see Sarah to share the experience.

So my times, and even though I thought it all the way through, I wasn’t slow in the slightest, out of 487 people who competed, I came 215, the top 45 percentile!

2.4 mile swim = 01:31:40 (306/487)

112 mile cycle = 06:26:15 (144/487)

26.2 mile run = 04:43:54 (244/487)

Total time including transition = 12:55:34

So, will I ever do one again….not at least for a couple of years, I will stick to Half Ironman’s or below, would I recommend doing one…… Hell yes, face the challenge, the reward is amazing (once the pain stops anyway).