• Nikki Bartlett

Henley Challenge; 8/9/2013 & moving to Scotland!

I was looking forward to doing the Half course at Challenge Henley. With living there from 2009-2012, I knew pretty much 90% of the course, and used to cycle up Howe Hill everyday coming home from the school I used to work at in Watlington for a year. So to me, it was a known hill, and actually one I have done so many times, it seems short and sweet, especially compared to 30-40min climbs I have done in racing this year.

Tapering went to plan with two days to go. I had an interview in Scotland on Friday 6th, two days before, so travelled up on the Thursday. Part of the interview included taking an exercise class. I didn’t even think that actually the class would leave me with serious DOMS! The next day; Saturday, yes the day before the race, left me feeling extremely fatigued, oh dear. I am used to the DOMS nature; 2nd day is always the worst, and yes, that was race day. Great one Nikki, great start to the day! Natural Hero helped me out massively, but not enough for it to go by race day.

The night before was the standard waking up at every hour waiting for the silly o’clock alarm. Finally it went, natural hero slapped on, breakfast had then to drive from Maidenhead to the start. It became apparent through driving, it was seriously misty! Here is me rocking my fashion line before the start:

Chris Pinkham was doing the full ironman; his first. He was nervous but hiding it well, a long day ahead for him but well worth the training, mental and physical battle in the race to become an ironman and achieving his dreams, so proud! When they set off it was seriously misty and I thought with setting off 70mins afterwards, that the mist would clear. Nah not the case, still tried to stay as ‘chilled’ as possible.

Great to have my parents, grandparents, Aunty& Uncle, Bex and Titch there. Takes the nerves away (a bit!), and to have their support is incredible, dedication from them to get up at 3am! Makes the whole experience of racing so much more enjoyable and exciting, and really does give you that extra motivation. Couldn’t appreciate them all more J.

Gun went, we were off. I stuck to the bank to keep out of the stream on the way upstream; learnt this lesson in the 14k swim from Henley-Marlow bridge! The swim went off fast and the first 100m was great, but then I had the standard little panic. Does this ever go away?! So slowed myself down just to get my heart rate down, that lasted about 5mins. Then I got back into a rhythm and tried to site and see where I was going, but literally just looked up to see any splash as you couldn’t see more than 10m in front.

Back around the turn point then positioning myself as far in the middle I could go. I even did a bit of sitting on feet, first time for everything, but it was quite annoying as that person wasn’t keeping a great line, so that didn’t last for long. Out I came and heard I was the second girl out, knew that Georgie Rutherford would be out a few mins before me, and in actual fact came out of the swim 1st/2nd person overall, had a 2.5mins gap on me already! Aside from the mist and panic issue at the start, the swim was quite enjoyable. But the bike is my fav part so off I went on my Matrix. My legs felt fried as soon as I got on the bike so knew it was going to be a long day ahead. As if I had DOMS on race day! That thought soon went out of my head. I knew Georgie was a MUCH faster runner than I, so I had to make a move on the bike and make time on her to even stand a chance of a possible win. I felt good on the bike, keeping nutrition flowing and enjoying being back cycling in the Chilterns again. I had a 2.5 loss to Georgie on the swim so got to work on the bike, when I passed her I felt good and wanted to up the pace but knew my legs were already fried and had to leave some energy for the run. I kept a consistent pace on the bike and felt easy but tried to slow down a bit as I knew my DOMS legs would suffer on the run. Half way through the bike I was in a world of my own and all of a sudden there appeared to be something in my hand! WTF! What was this? TBH I should probably have asked someone to tell me what this was before writing my blog but it was the silver thingy which holds the gears in. Yes it was now in my hand. I am rubbish at bike maintenance and knowing what parts are, ask Bex. So I stopped cycling in panic and screwed it back in, well I think this was correct, anyway it was literally nearly game over for me on the bike, so I was lucky it fell into my hand…

The rest of the bike went well and the support at the turn point was FAB, supporters whether you know them or not, honestly, you guys deserve the medal too. Just outstanding and really, it does make the WORLD of difference to your race, so thank you for everyone that cheered J. Off of the bike I came and the commentators announced that I had a 4 minute lead, felt great coming off of the bike in 1st place. Although I didn’t push too much on the bike with my DOMS legs, my legs felt truly awful coming off of the bike. I knew the 4min lead with these legs wouldn’t be enough on Georgie, so it was a matter of time before she caught me. Honestly, I’m a positive self-motivated person; I write my own programme and 90% of the time train alone, so I wasn’t being negative, just realistic. Try racing on DOMs legs, no fun! Anyway came onto the run and there was Georgie; friend I used to row with cheering so that gave me an extra buzz to start the run on. Then soon after that Nicki Aitkin & Nat were screaming with their positive motivation. I felt good for the first 4miles and on the turn back towards Henley it was all downhill from there if I’m going to be an honest ‘blogger/athlete’. No point in hiding that; I was literally dying!

So, 9miles to go, and I’m not feeling great! WHAT a lovely place to be in ;-). Legs were literally on fire and cramping up. This was one mind battle to get ‘home’. I knew my parents; family and friends were back by the finish which you run through to go back out on your final 6.5mile loop, so that was my first ‘chunk’ to get through. Honestly I was gritting my teeth stopping at stations to maximise nutrition and when I got into Henley with all that support I felt a second wind and thought, I HAVE to get through this! Running past the finish line to go onto your second loop was great; the support there gave you a massive lift and buzz to get back out onto that last loop. Once I went through this I saw Georgie and knew it was a matter of minutes, I had nothing more to give, I wish I had so that we could have had a battle to the end. But at this point I felt like I was running through mud. She passed with about 4miles to go, and my aim at that point was to hold onto 2nd place and reduce the amount of times I was walking. Mentally I told myself to MAN UP! I was nearly back, well 4miles nearly, and the ironman athletes were only starting to come off of their bikes at this stage and still had a WHOLE MARATHON to do, so 4miles was nothing compared to that. I saw Helen and Zoe at this point and their motivation drove me home and go it; the finish line and 2nd place J smiles all around!

Well done to Georgie, true racer, lovely person and deserved the win! And Mel for third place. I honestly cannot put into words the immense satisfaction of coming second and completing it, was a hard run to get through but shows that training your mental side, really does have MASSIVE impacts on your racing performance. I could have so easily dropped out after the first lap. But I don’t train my arse off to drop out.

The crowds, family, friends, support back home, the Challenge family, thank you. Every athlete out there has their own story to tell, reason for doing such a hard endurance sport. But the satisfaction, buzz, emotional feeling when completed, well, words cannot even do the meaning of it. A lot of people achieved their dreams out there and it’s amazing to share it with them.

For me now, well we are making a big move; to Scotland in fact. Bex has just been appointed as a coach in the Scotland Triathlon team, so we are moving to Stirling in the next few weeks. Stunning place, so looking forward to the next new chapter of life. Another race maybe had before this, but my body is a TAD on the tired side atm! So we shall see, and see where 2014 takes me J.

Here is a little clip from the awards thanks to Paul Deen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6L301g0JDuw

Thanks for continued support; 9bar, Matrix cycles, Meridian foods, compressport, Aqua Sphere, University of Birmingham Scholarships, bike box online, A1 multisport, Stowaways and natural hero. You all play such an important part on my journey.

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