So towards the end of 2016, having already entered my first full distance event in ironman Barcelona for this year I had a little moment of madness and decided it would a good idea to enter another one and entered the outlaw. I’d managed to get myself through Olympic and half distances but decided for the full the best thing to do would be to get some help from someone who actually knows what they are doing so I contacted Steve and we met just before Christmas. One of the first questions he asked me was “why two?” and I didn’t really have an answer to it other than it seemed like a good idea at the time! I did my bike ftp test and we decided get Christmas and new year out of the way and then start properly in January.
Fast-forward to July and the 6-7 months of training I feel has gone well, I’ve managed stay injury free all year and I’ve set PB’s in pretty much everything I have gone for. I only did one event leading up to this point, which was the Ancholme sprint tri that saw me improve over that course by around 6 minutes on my previous best. Looking back now I maybe should have done a couple more just for my own motivation more than anything, I enjoyed the training but getting a result like that really pushed me on and made me want to keep working hard. Training wasn’t all plain sailing though, I did have to miss some of the sessions that Steve was giving me due to work, my job takes me all over the country staying away during the week meaning I quite often had no bike and during the winter months I had a few interesting runs…along Brighton front with freezing rain coming in sideways off the sea is a personal highlight! Also the being away from my family so much didn’t help, I felt incredibly guilty every time I came home on a Friday and I had a busy weekend of training. My wife Ruth has been nothing but supportive about me doing this but we have two daughters who are 8 and 4 and she also helps look after her elderly mother so me disappearing on my bike for hours wasn’t really helping her very much.
So it’s the Friday before and I’m at home sorting out all my gear trying to double and treble check that I’ve got everything I’m going to need and I get a text from Steve asking how I’m feeling about race day. I told him I’m looking forward to it but also have a few nervy thoughts in my head like am I really ready for this? It seemed so far in the future when I entered how has it come around so quick! My own results should have given me the confidence I needed but I guess most people question themselves and Steve assured me that I was well ready for it which did give me the little bit of reassurance I had maybe needed.
Saturday we had a pretty lazy start to the day, I checked I had everything for about the 300th time before loading the car and we set off towards Nottingham. We were staying with my parents at a campsite a couple of miles from the NWC in their motor home; they had gone over on the Friday and had taken my bike with them so the plan was to go meet them, leave the girls with them and then me and Ruth would head over to get myself registered and rack my bike.
It was early afternoon by the time we reached the NWC and it had turned out to be a lovely sunny day so far, after some not so great weather forecasts, it had been changing all week and I was in two minds on covering my bike as they are out in the open all night. The place was busy with people competing in a swimming event, as well as people registering for the Outlaw. We found the registration tent and I got in line, feeling nervous and excited – it was
all too real now! Once registered and I had been given my race number, timing chip, transition bags and a load of freebies (a top quality rucksack, I might add!), we had some time to kill before the race briefing started, so we had a look around the various tents, I bought myself an Outlaw hoodie and spent probably a little bit too much time staring at the finish line wondering what it would be like to finally cross it after a long hard day.
After the race briefing we headed back to the car so I could sort my transition bags and put the stickers on my bike ready to take to transition, I had written down what I was going to put in each bag but I still wasn’t sure that id got everything I needed. Walking into transition I don’t mind admitting I had a little bit of bike envy but I found my number and racked my bike. I decided, although we’d been assured it wouldn’t happen, to let a bit of air out of my tyres as id heard stories of them exploding in the night when the temperature dropped, and while doing this I noticed that one of the spokes on my rear wheel was twisted…which wasn’t exactly a confidence boost but at the time it was it was too late to do anything about it so I just had to hope it wasn’t a serious issue. I have since had it looked at and been assured that it wasn’t anything to worry about.
The changing tent was a new experience to me, it took me quite a while to find my number but as it turned out I think I got a little bit lucky on where it was in the tent. I was down at the far end and there seemed to be more room down there than in other parts of the tent which I hoped would help when it came to changing when it mattered.
Bike and bags dropped off I took one last look at the finish line and we headed back to where we were staying, I’d decided no to cover my bike in the end and I think about three seconds after we got back and got out of the car the heavens opened and it absolutely threw it down and continued to do so until the early hours of the morning. I know it carried on until the early hours, as I didn’t exactly get a great deal of sleep! The rain and the nerves over what was to come in the morning were bad enough but added to this was my eldest daughter Holly was unwell in the night.
I think altogether I managed to get around 3-4 hours sleep and before I knew it, it was 4am and my alarm was going off. I dragged myself out of bed and my long suffering wife, who loves early mornings…(hmm?) and must be sick of the word triathlon by now, drove me to the NWC. Once parked up, she walked with me as far as she could, leaving me at the transition area this was it I was now on my own. She went off to find somewhere to watch the start and I went off to my bike, put my bottles in the cages and pumped up the tyres and then joined the sizeable queue for the portaloos.
The transition tent was packed, people everywhere pulling on their wetsuits and I don’t mind admitting I felt a little bit intimidated by the whole situation. I got changed into my wetsuit and spoke a few words with the people around me, many of whom seemed to be just as nervous as me and with 6am fast approaching it was time to head out to the lake and get ready for the start.
The swim is by far my least favourite of the three parts of a triathlon; I just find everything about it hard which in turns makes it hard for me to motivate myself for it. I’ve done more swimming this year than I think I ever have before and that is pretty much down to training with Steve, if it hadn’t been for that I’d have found any excuse to not do it and as I headed out the lake I was looking forward to getting it out of the way.
The lake at the NWC has four recesses at the end where the start is, they’d asked us in the race briefing to seed ourselves in these based on our predicted swim time, fastest on the left down to slowest on the right, mine was between 60-70minutes which put me in the second one and I decided to hang back a little to see if that would help me stay out of the washing machine of the mass start. Looking back now I think most had the same idea as on a video Ruth took of the start it’s actually much quieter at the front.
So 6am, the gun goes, I press the button on my watch and away we go. For the first 500m my main focus was trying not to get kicked in the face, it was impossible to find any rhythm as there were just so many people trying to get the same patch of water. Once the field were stretched out a little this did get better and after we made the turn at the top of the lake I did seem to find a little bit of space for myself and the only thing I had to avoid were the little buoys that I think they have for when the lake is used for rowing races. I did a pretty bad job of avoiding them as it turned out but I thought to myself at least I’m swimming in a straight line! Carrying on at my steady pace, as I got towards the swim exit I noticed a couple of people heading out to start their bike leg, I have no idea how people swim so fast!
I reached the end of my swim and was over the moon with my time of just over 67minutes, I’d gone faster in training but that wasn’t with another thousand people fighting for the same small space!
The changing tent was a lot quieter than I expected it to be in T1, I had visions of people falling over each other trying to get themselves ready for the bike but I wasn’t like that at all. Wetsuit and goggles off and bike shoes and helmet on I headed out to find my bike. I’d written on my hand which row it was on, as I didn’t want to be the guy running around transition not being able to remember where his bike was.
The bike leg looking back now is a bit of a blur. I remember the first three miles around the perimeter road of the lake as I was trying to get some food in it seemed like everyone that had ever owned a bike was trying to get past me. I also noticed quite a few still in the water completing their swim and thought to myself I’m glad that bit is over. Out on the road I tried to settle into my ride as quickly as possible, a few passed me and I always feel, as I’m sure many people do that I should try and respond to it by riding a bit harder and had to stop myself from doing so, 112miles is a long way and I didn’t want to spend the end of it struggling because I had gone out to hard at the start. The next thing I remember is around the forty mile mark, for some reason I felt quite low at that point, I couldn’t say why but it passed quite quickly and I pedalled on.
There is not that much elevation in the bike course of the outlaw, the only bit you could call a climb comes at around the 50 mile mark. Id finished sulking by this point and I felt strong as I pushed my way up it passing a few on the way. The only other thing that stands out in my memory of the bike is the third and fourth time I passed through Car Colston. The organisers were putting on free busses from the NWC to there and the road through was lined with people on both sides creating a really good atmosphere and supporting and encouraging everyone who went past weather they knew them or not. I have to say the support and encouragement from marshals and spectators for the whole day was absolutely fantastic.
The final couple of miles back into the NWC are along a private road and the surface isn’t exactly perfect, I was forced to sit up and slow down, as there are also quite a few speed bumps. This maybe helped in a way as easing off for the last couple of miles allowed me to start thinking about the run to come and what I had to do in transition. Finally reaching the dismount line I climbed off my bike with a bike split of 5hrs 48mins. I’d wanted to go under 6hrs so I was well under that. The legs felt a bit like jelly for a few seconds but this soon passed and I actually felt not too bad, passed my bike to the marshal who would re-rack it for me and headed into the changing tent.
Couple of minutes in transition and then it was on to the run, or rather to find the nearest portaloo as I was bursting for a wee. The run starts with a lap of the lake and I was starting to look around for my family. My wife had gone back to where we were staying after watching the swim start and they were all coming back in the afternoon too see me (hopefully!) finish, I felt ok but I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces by this point. The first familiar face I actually saw was my friend Pete, he told me I was looking strong, which I’m more than sure I wasn’t but it was nice to hear anyway and I headed off to do my lap. I set off at a steady 8.30min mile pace which felt ok and as I completed the lap of the lake passing the finish line to collect my first wristband the clock on the finish line showed exactly 7hrs 30mins. I had set myself a target of under 12hrs for the whole event and I remember thinking to myself I can go under 11hrs here I’ve got three and a half hours to cover 23miles, I can do that!
After the lap of the lake the run heads for the first of two loops out along the bank of the Trent into Nottingham, and just before I started the first one I finally saw my family for the first time. I have no idea why but when I saw them just for a few seconds I felt quite emotional, this soon passed thankfully and the one thing that stands out about seeing them was seeing my youngest daughters face light up with a huge smile as she saw me, I gave them all a high 5 and a big smile to try and show them I was ok and then it was out towards Nottingham. It was soon after this however that I started to struggle, each mile got a little bit slower and I was really finding it difficult to get even a gel and water in without feeling sick. I decided I would walk the feed stations and run (shuffle) between them, which served me well for the first loop.
Heading back into the NWC the crowds of people were a big motivation to keep running, I’ve said before how much of a boost I found their support but I really did find it a huge help. Another lap of the lake and as I passed the finish to collect my second wristband the winner was waiting to celebrate breaking the course record. I still had a half marathon to run and my own finish still seemed a long way off!
I saw Pete and my family again just before I headed out for the second loop, I gave them a big smile again trying to hide how much I was now feeling it but I don’t think I did a great job of covering it up. I did find out after I finished that my mum, who loves a panic at the best of times, had somehow come to think the run only went around the lake and when she hadn’t seen me for a while had convinced herself that I’d collapsed and was in the back of an ambulance or laid by the side of the road. The second loop out into Nottingham seemed to take forever and by this point all I was thinking was just keep moving forward, I found myself trying to see how many wristbands each person had and walking more and more. Pushing on I finally got back to the NWC and all that stood between me and the finish was two laps of the lake, I could hear the announcer at the finish line as people were having their moment and I knew it would finally be my turn soon. I saw my family again, they gave me their last words of encouragement before they headed around to the finish and I started my final lap of the lake, exhausted but motivated by how close I now was to the finish I managed to run the final two miles without having to walk. I can’t describe how happy I felt to be able to veer into the finish instead of run past it this time and crossed the finish line with a run of 4hrs 13mins and a total time of 11hrs 19mins and 20seconds going well beyond the target I had set myself. I had hoped to go sub 4hrs for the run but at this point I could have cared less about not doing that.
I collected my medal and t shirt and was ushered towards a flight of steps that I now had to climb, there cant have been more than 20 but it felt like climbing a mountain after the day I’d just had but once at the top I knew my family wouldn’t be far away and I was met with a huge hug from my wife and daughters.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, yes. The outlaw is a fantastic event and I can’t praise it enough it’s such a well put together event. Weather I ever will is another question, Ruth and the girls have been so supportive of me doing this and I could never thank them enough for that so I think it is time I return the favour and focus on them now, maybe when the girls are older and they’ve had enough of their dad embarrassing them and Ruth is sick of me getting under her feet I might give it another go and see if I can get under that 11hrs I briefly thought I could manage. So finally I owe a huge thank you to Steve Clark, he’s got me in the best shape I’ve been in in a long long time, maybe ever, and without his help and guidance there’s no way I would have achieved the results that I have, I’ll certainly never forget the day I became an outlaw!