Training had gone well apart from the reappearance of a nagging calf issue about 8 weeks out that I thought had been dealt with. I’d finally dealt with most of the mechanical issues with Sadie (my new-to-me tri bike) and she was riding well. I’d got my storage and hydration setup good after many, many frustrating iterations where bottles or tool storage would fly out going over bumps. My swimming didn’t suck. All in all I was in good nick and well set as we stepped into the water at 0550. There’s a saying that 95% of marathon running is getting to the start line, so by that yardstick I was pretty much finished😉.
The swim is basically 3/4 of a lap of a long straight rowing lake, so sighting isn’t an issue, and if you miss the turn you hit the end of the lake. Simples! The lake at Holme Pierrepont had algae-suppressing dye in that made it super murky - literally couldn’t even see my hands at the front of the stroke! Not ideal, but at least the water treatment is reassurance that the water quality is good. The swim went really well for me. I had been really fearing how busy and physical the mass start would be, but my fears proved ill-founded. It might have just been my start positioning, or long-distance racing being a bit less about every second, but it was really quite relaxed. I stayed over to the left of the line for the entire thing so didn’t get much drafting at all, but on the flip side that meant I could swim in my own water and focus on technique and streamlining. Got out of the water in 1h09 which was better than I’d hoped for, and felt like my best ever continuous swim over 1000m.
On to the bike. It had rained the evening before, so it was good to see everyone chilling on the corners. The wind was about 15mph and rose steadily through the morning. The course breaks down into four bits, there’s a section that connects Holme Pierrepont to the two loops, the two loops (you do the SE loop twice, the NW loop once), and a straight bit between the loops. First time around the SE loop was great. No big head / side wind issues, very fast undulating route without much climbing. On to the NW loop things were starting to get a bit more challenging, with the wind rising and some sections with buffeting side winds. Started really watching for gaps in the hedgerow, and picking sections with good wind protection to eat & drink. The second time around the SE loop, and the ride home, were tough - a lot of work to keep the bike straight and on the road, and very difficult to maintain rhythm to get the power flowing out.
Overall, though, it was a great ride. The route is mostly scenic for the very modest ascents, and goes through a few pretty towns and villages. Particularly enjoyed passing Southwell Minster and Holme Pierrepont Hall. No punctures and just had one quickly-sorted dropped chain. I rode pretty much to my planned power output, but made much better time than I’d expected. I can only imagine how crazy-fast that route is when the wind isn’t blowing.
The run at Outlaw is a flat (and that’s coming from a fen-dweller) 2 lap course that goes between Nottingham and Holme Pierrepont, looping back on itself a few times on the way. Good for spectators, and means you get to run around other people, which is great given how spread out the field is by that point. Got onto the run feeling appropriately jiggered, but was moving well enough. Had an odd Achilles niggle - which I assumed would resolve itself as I haven’t had Achilles issues in a couple of years. Unfortunately it didn’t resolve before it had pulled through into my soleus which pulled / went it into pre-cramp at 5km. If you keep racing at the same speed on this kind of pull, the soleus cramps up completely, and then usually one or both gastrocs follow in their attempt to compensate, something tears, then you go to the physio who gives you That Look. Ask me how I know…
With 37km to go, I had to ditch my pace expectations and quickly make a plan B:
- Dropped my pace a lot to lower the work rate of the muscle
- Ran on my heels for a couple of km to stretch out a bit
- Started to run on the grass to the side of the path (I don’t know why, but a slightly uneven surface really seems to avoid / reduce calf cramps for me)
- Walked all the aid stations and anything with an incline. Yes, even the tiny bridges over the river.
- Kept fuelling despite a bit of sloshiness and discomfort. As well as needing carbs, I needed caffeine, and the gels were my only source of adequate amounts.
- Ate a couple of saltstick capsules (I don’t think electrolytes were the issue, but best to cover it off)
- Took some ibuprofen, which had been a a paranoid last minute addition to my number belt (along with immodium)
- Started to prepare myself mentally for a long walk to the finish if that’s what it took. Inveniam viam aut faciam - find a way or make one
I wasn’t going quickly, and my dream of a sub-10hr finish evaporated, but I wasn’t going that slowly either and, more importantly, I was still going. And going - plan B held me together for all of the 37km to the end of the race. I crossed the finish line with my kids in 10h19, which was the most amazing feeling.
I was 44th overall (out of about 900 starters) which is good for me. I had no idea about race position during the event, but it turns out that despite the calf issues I was closing in on an age group podium spot but fell 42s short. 4th place AG in 108% of AG winner’s time is my best result ever.
Advice for potential future Outlaws
- I can recommend the Outlaw events, they’re always well-organised and friendly. The support at this one was a step up too. Really great vibe, and nice included extras like massage and a meal after.
- Don’t worry about Oxton bank. It’s not all that steep, and it’s short.
- Those Nottinghamshire roads are UK-signature adventure tarmac and need a lot of resurfacing. A lot of rattling and hole-dodging for most of the route, and loads of people punctured. If you have a choice of tyre widths, choose the bigger ones.
General tips learned
- Sticking a big blob of vaseline on the back of your stem to use for emergency lubrication is a top tip. I was developing a new rubbing spot in my left shoe, but was able to get some vaseline in there and started the run with comfortable feet.
- Ibuprofen, immodium and electrolyte capsules are going to be stock items in my number belt now. Might add pro-plus too, in case I can’t manage gels but need the caffeine.
- Gel flasks are so much tidier than wrappers, as well as being non-recyclable plastic. I also prefer my unflavoured homemade gel to the commercial ones. I’d really encourage people to try making their own (my recipe) and using gel flasks. Sadly I got a reminder of what commercial gels are like because of one of the points below.
Personal lessons learned
Mass starts can be ok. I think the distance makes a difference - there wasn’t the same level of physicality I remember from standard distance and 70.3 pre-pandemic. It felt like more of a race knowing that everyone started at the same time too.
I’d practised getting up early and eating plenty before big training sessions, and it went fine. I’d practised fuelling heavily with gels and energy drink during training sessions. But my digestion seemed to have stopped at some point on Saturday night and by the ride I was really having to force it down. Only ended up taking on 67g carbs per hour when my plan was for 90-100. Don’t really know what to do about this in future. Perhaps it was the nerves? Perhaps I shouldn’t have followed the advice I got to reduce fibre 2-3 days out?
I forgot to take my gels to the start. Again. Didn’t matter so much this time - I had flexibility in my plans and was able to fall back to my energy drink and borrowed gels until the first feed station. Must allow more time to get dressed and do checklists. If it’s 15mins walk to the start, get dressed 2hrs before the gun.
At some point in training I lost my ‘why’. I think it was when I did the big day, and figured I was definitely going to be able to finish. It was only in the last couple of weeks that I realised that demonstrating self challenge to my kids was what I was there for. Note to self: Look after the ‘why’ more carefully in future!
At about half way on the run one of the aid stations was playing “Running up that hill” by Kate Bush, and whilst I don’t think Philippa would have wanted to swap our places at exactly that moment, it reinforced what a privilege it is to have an amazing wife who supports me and makes it possible for me to train and do all my Tri research and prep when I’m not training. So I ran the second half with a sense of gratitude for that, and for other privileges that allowed me to get to that point. That I can afford the training and kit. That the Outlaw was the hardest struggle in my life right now. That I got to choose the struggle, and got to celebrate afterwards.
Which brings me neatly on to the fundraiser which is for people who didn’t get to choose their struggle: Felix and I were running in support of the DEC Ukraine appeal. We’re very grateful for and blown away by all the generous donations so far: Thank you! At the time of writing we’ve raised over £2,000 for the appeal. If you do want to donate we’ll keep the fundraiser open for a few weeks.
I’d like to thank the folks who’ve helped me in this endeavour: Sally at MyProCoach for fantastic guidance in response to my steady stream of questions. Santi at GotToTri, Paul, Claire and my fellow athletes for an amazing training camp in March and ongoing wisdom, friendship and support. Physiotherapists Liz Cradock and Gosia Kuranda for finding my physical weaknesses and helping me address them. Clint Butcher of EZ Gains for telling so many of his aero tips, and saving me watts with his disc covers. Everyone at Cambridge Tri Club for the coaching and training companionship. I’ll get to more club sessions now! To all the friends and family who’ve sent messages of support and cheered. To my colleagues who’ve dealt with my slight Tri obsession and relentless training. Last but not least to Phil and my kids without whose support and forbearance it just couldn’t have happened.