What it looks like to be An Outlaw
The Outlaw Ironman
Here's what happened:
The Outlaw might sound like just another triathlon, but this is an 'iron distance' race held near Nottingham, UK, and like any 140.3 it needs dedicated training, some friendly rivalry to get you around, a touch of bravery and a tough mental attitude to see out the last few miles.
The regatta lake is a placid setting but putting a thousand competitive athletes in the same narrow space and telling them to swim as fast as they can, in the same direction, at the same time is beyond chaotic.
As a fairly strong swimmer who is comfortable with open water swimming I was totally overwhelmed by the first 15 minutes of the swim.
The number of swimmers, the pace and the lack of space resulted in me having to tread water for a few minutes to try and regain my focus/composure. I learnt a hard lesson around 6:31am on July 1st; don’t be too confident and make sure you have 100% faith in your equipment.
My occasionally leaky goggles decided to act as eyebaths for the best part of the first 1,500m and a lot of other competitors picked me off as I struggled to empty them and find my usual confidence.
Finally I’d found a rhythm but what was it with that person on the bank shouting and waving – oh wait – that will be the turn buoy 50m behind me with even more athletes picking me off as they sighted correctly, presumably with goggles that were keeping the water out rather than holding it in.
1 hour and 8 mins wasn’t a bad time but I knew I could have done better and I tried to calm down sitting in the roomy transition tent donning my bike gear.
Crossing the mount line I kept running to clear the five competitors who were standing still while carefully mounting their bikes, cautiously locking in their cleats and pushing off slowly; it is a race isn’t it? I carried on past and threw my leg over the saddle, let the momentum keep me upright as I locked in and left them being for a while in all the gear…
The first part of the bike course was around the regatta lake with clear paths which allowed few kilometres to settle in on the bike as well as an opportunity to see just how big the turn buoy was (the one that I had managed to swim right past) and give myself another mental kicking.
Out on the roads the first loop was a cool morning ride with a sensible rolling feel (any race director that says it’s a flat fast course is a liar), the only down side was the steady stream of riders going by. I consoled myself by counting the number of M-Dot tattoos that went past (32 in total) and knowing their bikes cost more an average small car, so of course they were going to go faster than my off the peg Trek.
Loop two and three were hard fought with Saturday’s 15mph wind replaced by a 17mph wind that never seemed to be a tail wind. The long back arch of the loops were riding head on into it which taught me painful lesson number two. Areo bars are a must. They might be fiddly, they might look a bit weird out on the training rides but being stuck out on a long course trying to race into the wind they would have saved me a whole world of pain (physically and physiologically).
Eventually I started the last 15km back to transition, while a good rain shower gave everyone a ‘welcome’ distraction from the persistent wind.
Handing my bike over to one of the countless happy volunteers, I managed a wobbly jog back into transition. I had a finish time in mind but opted to change fully for the marathon knowing a comfortable run would take a few transition minutes, but an uncomfortable run would be much more costly.
The flat course consisted of 3 and ¾ laps with aid stations regularly set out. As the miles went down the stations were useful as a slighter/motivator as well as nutrition points. Focusing on the gazebo in the distance and working out what I’d drink or nibble helped keep my mind off the ache that was building in my legs, how far I had left to go and how close was I to my goal time.
The looping run also gave a relatively condensed area for all the spectators, so there was support almost all the way which was at times much needed. A well timed race number shout out picked my head up a good few times and helped to keep my legs moving.
I had read in a few articles before the race that a lot of first timers (first time to the full distance triathlon that is) lose out on the run, having gone too hard on the bike or just wanting to finish and walking the marathon if need be. To get under 12 hours I knew I had to keep running and only allowed the occasional walk as I took on flat cola – after all there’s enough to worry about in the run without being covered in sticky syrup too.
I had heard the cheers for the winners and the faster completers on my run loops and eventually I had my four rubber bands and was able to take the left turn down the red carpet towards the finish line.
My moment of becoming An Outlaw arrived and there it was as I grabbed the finishing line tape. Then I felt; I felt… Well actually I felt very little. I had done it, I had done it within my target time, I ached all over but I only strangely felt empty.
I was spent and I hobbled to get some food but my appetite was shot. On the up side my head was finally free of the noise that had been occupying it for the last six months as I prepared for the race; but the euphoria I had hoped to find at the end of the journey was missing. Maybe triathletes are just a breed that never will be satisfied and always want more/to go faster/to exceed their limits and to keep pushing.
I learnt some hard lessons that July day and I have said never again to the long course, but already I can hear inner voice telling me that next time I will be faster. I might not give in to the voice, but I am happy to say the feeling of pride and monumental achievement arrived three days after crossing the line when I’d stopped aching and I’d eaten my own body weight of bad food…