The Challenge Henley Race Plan

An ironman distance event right on my doorstep, my entry was in within hours of Challenge Henley opening. The start is thirty minutes from my front door, I would know the course and could train on it daily. Perfect preparation. If that wasn’t enough, the prospect of sleeping in my own bed on race night sealed the deal.

As usual signed up months in advance, the next season planned before the current one had finished. Henley was an opportunity to perform on home soil, with family and friends there to watch. Months of training would see me in peak fitness and ready to race better than ever. That was the plan.

The wait is over, Challenge Henley is a couple of days away.

A month ago I was in the Alps experiencing a new level of fitness; prospects looked good and I was optimistic. What followed was the subject of Monday’s blog – three weeks of fatigue and illness. Definitely not the plan. A peak of fitness, followed by three weeks off – where does that leave me? Confused. As I’ve recovered I’ve been testing swim, bike and run, the results are surprising. Sessions are short, but I feel fit and can work hard; I expected much worse.

I have to assume I am race fit. Sunday may find different, but there is no point planning otherwise. I’m approaching the race as if it is mid-August and I’m about to head to France – I can manage the swim, my cycling is better than ever and after months of problems my running is showing signs of improvements. My expectations are an average swim, an exceptional bike and then a cautious run. I believe I am better prepared than I was for the Outlaw Triathlon in July.

A good day in Henley will see me start the marathon near the front of the age groupers. A great day will see me hold that position through the run.


A short swim in the Thames has confirmed I still know what to do, but also suggests swimming fast will hurt. I have to accept I’m not at my best, I need a good start and a draft to get round in a respectable time. Placement is up near the front, rougher, but the best chance of that draft. Once the gun goes it’s a matter of hanging on for the next hour and getting myself to T1. Minutes lost due to lack of pool time should be easily regained on the bike.


Every kilometre of this course is familiar. I’ve climbed Pishill dozens of times in every condition possible. Whatever the weather throws at us I can handle; some wind would be good, a strong southwesterly would make the descents more of a challenge. A tough bike will favour me. I’ll be riding to power, looking to hold 240 watts throughout. A month back I’d be confident of this, now we’ll see.

Cycling has been my emphasis this year. I want to see the gains I’ve made. The marathon is going to be tough whatever happens, so I’m willing to stretch myself further.


Running has been an unknown all season. At the Outlaw Triathlon the lack of consistency had a far bigger impact than I hoped – an hour spent walking. The situation has improved and had it not been for the recent interruption I’d be starting this race confident of a better performance. In the circumstances I am sure I can match it, but whether I can reduce that walk is a different question. I’ve learned from the Outlaw – I’ll slow my initial pace and put more emphasis on walk breaks. Steadily run 3K, walk for a minute; I’m not going to gamble on a miraculous 3:20 marathon at the risk of a 4:15, the latter wasn’t much fun.

My goal on the run is to manage it well, to be in control of my pace and carry that through to the end.

As plans go it lacks detail. My options are limited, most of the day is about working my strengths and managing my limitations. I won’t make predictions. I have no idea. I will race to the best of my ability and see what Sunday brings.


  • Good luck. Remember to enjoy it

  • JamesBoH

    Best of luck. If you get involved on the swim and don’t back out like at Outlaw then I reckon it’ll set you up for a great day.

  • James D

    Good luck! Another pacing option on the bike (especially sinice you have just done the Epic Camp on a lot of hills) is to work harder (280-300 etc) on the uphill/false flat sections and ‘recover’ on the downhills etc (190-220 etc). Your cycling strength (probably hiding at the moment due to your recovery from Epic) will probably love this approach, and it would mean that you would be going relatively fast on the ‘slower’ sections of the course. Just something to think about.

  • RobQ

    “where does that leave me?” it leaves you fresh and ready to roll!! I think you will have a cracking race, keep a lid on the initial run pace and prepare to really dig deep from mile 15-25 and you’ll be on for a fantastic result! Good luck Russ!

  • Thanks for the comments.

    Steven, I will remember to enjoy the day however it goes; have to say this is the most relaxed I’ve felt about racing in a while.

    JamesBoH – thanks for the reminder, I’d forgot how I snuck to the back for the swim at the Outlaw. No messing about this time.

    JamesD – I’ve contemplated strategies as I’ve tested the legs a few times this week. Nothing feels that bad, a little stiff, but working and putting out the power I’d roughly expect. I will probably work to two caps, a higher one for the climbs maybe 260-270 and a 240 one as my target elsewhere. Realistically I’ll be under 240W on a lot of the descending sections and will use the opportunity to recover.

    Rob – well hopefully it’ll come together. Nothing more to be done now, what’s the worst that can happen!?