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Karl Alexander: Challenge Henley
Posted by: karlalexander
Posted on: Wednesday 11th September 2013


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Regular Tri247 contributor Karl Alexander raced at Challenge Henley on Sunday. After a strong season to date over Olympic and Middle distances, could he maintain his form over the full iron-distance?


Over the last few years the Challenge brand has grown and 2011 saw the inaugural Challenge Henley event. Despite the race being on my doorstep it was too close to Kona and I pencilled it into my diary for 2012.

That never happened!

In 2013 though I was determined to go long again and Challenge Henley was the obvious choice, so at 06:30 in the brisk morning air we waited to be told the mist was rising and we could take the start line in the River Thames.

Challenge Henley - Karl AlexanderAt 06:40 the mist rose and we were off. At 06:45 it promptly fell again and the swim course was shrouded. I found myself on the heels of a yellow capped swimmer denoting they were in the Pro category and sat there until the turn around on the 2.4 mile out-and-back course. As we rounded the turn buoy I had to stop and clear my goggles as sighting was impossible. It was here I realised that my goggles were fine, it was just the mist and visibility was down to no more than 30 metres. I had to stop several times to tread water and sight; better that I thought than swimming off course and zigzagging back.

Exiting the water in 19th place after 1h02m I made my way quickly through transition in the grounds of Henley Business School. Collecting my bike bag it was into the change marquee and a short run through to the bike racking and out onto the 110 mile bike course. The bike course starts with a three mile section into Henley with a right turn taking you onto the first real incline of the day on Fairmile. At the top of the climb I was acutely aware that something was amiss with my bike and realised the rear wheel was rubbing the chainstay. Berating myself for such a rookie mistake, I dismounted and realigned the wheel. Straight away I felt the difference and set about the remaining 105 miles.

Challenge Henley - Karl Alexander

The bike course is, in places, very technical, very fast and very slow with the climb of Howe Hill being responsible for both those statements. On the descent I topped out at 51.7 mph, with the ascent a modest 8.9mph on the first lap getting progressively slower on the subsequent laps with it topping out at 13% gradient - it is tough once, let alone three times.

But off the top it’s a long fast section back to the turnaround at the bottom of Fairmile to complete the lap. At the end of the third lap it was straight on and into Phyllis Court to dismount and head into T2.

I came off of the bike in sixth place with one of the fastest bike splits of the day, (http://www.strava.com/activities/81071541) and was feeling good.

Challenge Henley - Karl Alexander

After a fairly quick transition I was out on the run and moving well. The four lap course takes the athletes through Henley and over Henley Bridge before turning left toward Remenham. At the turnaround the course follows the bank of the Thames before turning right back over Henley Bridge and back through the finish zone to collect the first of three coloured bands with the final blue band showing you’re on your fourth and final lap.

Challenge Henley - Karl AlexanderAll was going well and up until the final turnaround on the last lap I held my position. As I started to think to myself I was going to pull out an awesome finish, my calves started to cramp. Stopping briefly I stretched out and walked 100 meters or so and began to run. Within five strides the cramp was back and so began a run/stretch/walk strategy to get to the finish. The first of the chasers to pass me was Bella Bayliss, in her final event of her amazing career with 16 iron-distance wins she was looking as strong as she had all run. From there I simply haemorrhaged positions. I mustered up and started to run again, it was very short lived and I soon found myself walking.  With a mile to go I opened a can of ‘Man Up’ and downed it in one, I held pace and ran to a 10:00:06 finish, 13th overall and second in my age group.

Alan Rose and his Just Racing team put on a phenomenal day and worthy of any international event, the setting and the crowd support were brilliant and keep you going when you really don’t want too. The volunteers who stood for hours in sun, wind and rain to keep us safe out on course and the guys at Erdinger Alkoholfrei who were on hand to deliver welcomed post-race hydration.

Whilst I was thinking about this report I got thinking about my season, first at the Butlers Bonk Duathlon, second at the British Middle Distance Triathlon Champs, fourth overall and first Age Group at the Marlow Half (after recovering from a puncture), a second place in my first ever attempt at the Olympic distance which I followed up with a win a week later over the same distance and now 13th overall at an Iron distance event. All in all with performances at every distance (except Sprint), it has been my best season so far.

Next year I have new goals and a determination to achieve them… watch this space!


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