Sunday, 10 August 2014

Outlaw race report...

First and foremost I have to say a HUGE thanks to the entire ATHelite team; those who raced, those who supported on the day and those who cheered us on from afar. It has been said on here already but this is such a special wee club and I'm really proud to be a part of it. Seeing the ATHelite banner and the orange tops jumping up and down and shouting out encouragement was totally AMAZING and very humbling.
Apologies... the race report is almost as long as the race itself...

Race preparation had gone well but Lorna had been ill for a couple of weeks leading up to the event, so my mind was not 100% focused on the race as I packed the car for Nottingham... Have to say there wasn't much space left in the boot and I reckon I'd packed everything (including the kitchen sink).

We arrived in Nottingham around 3 p.m. on the Friday before the race after missing an enormous queue on the M6 - well done BMW sat nav!

The hotel was on the outskirts of Nottingham on their University Campus around 9 miles or so from the National Watersports Centre (NWC) where the Outlaw would be held.

We'd specifically chosen this hotel as it had air con - John had told us the year before had been insanely hot and his room at the Hilton was like a sweatbox. Just as well we did as the temperature was around 27 degrees C when we arrived, only issue was this was a 'green' hotel and the air con wouldn't get much lower than about 21C! Nice place to stay although my credit card did take a pounding!

We made our way over to registration and bought a couple of things which helped to take our minds off the impending race. Back to the hotel for one final bike check and then back again to NWC to put our bikes in transition. Row 5, mid-way along... orange bar tape, sorted!
My bike even made it into the Top 10 bikes at Outlaw in Triathlete Europe magazine:

After checking and triple checking our transition bags they were handed into the Outlaw team in the big white transition tents you can see in the picture, then back to the hotel to refuel (eat) and off to bed at 9 p.m.

Alarm rang at 3:30 a.m. and it was time for breakfast. I felt surprisingly OK as I tucked into the cereal and croissants we'd bought the day before at Tesco - there was no chance the hotel would be preparing breakfast at this time!

We jumped into the car and arrived onsite at around 4:45 a.m. Pumped up the bike tyres in transition and mooched about waiting for the race to start. It all felt strangely low key and I must confess I wasn't feeling totally pumped up for the race.

Wetsuit on and we met up with the rest of team ATHelite as the sunrise began over the lake.

At around 5:45 a.m. we were given the OK to get into the lake and wait on the starting horn... That's me in the white cap  :-)

Whilst it looked a bloody long way from land, it actually wasn't. It was even bloody longer. The gun went off at 6 a.m. and the spin cycle started. Somebody should really have tipped a container full of Persil non-bio into the lake as it was reekin' and visibility was a bit on the poor side. Strike that, forget the Persil, a couple of truckloads of Cillit Bang! would probably do the trick. I was actually under the impression that I was supposed to swim 3.8km but felt more like David Bellamy rummaging around the 'undergrowth' as I pulled through forests of weeds. Chunks of the stuff got caught up in my goggles / mouth / swimming hat and I ended up with a mossy green beard at times... aero? I wasn't even hydro-dynamic  I missed out on most of the carnage by keeping left of the field (pardoning the pun) at all times and by the turn home reckoned I was on track to finish by Sunday. 
I was about 10m from the bank but then started to catch my hands on the bottom of the lake, raking pebbles with every stroke. The water was so shallow I thought someone had accidentally pulled the plug out of the lake and a bloke in front decided he would start walking which wouldn't have brassed me off so much if I'd been able to overtake him! I started to kick a couple of hundred meters out and before too long the RAF tri volunteers were pulling me from the lake. One chap helpfully shouted out to 'watch out for the step'... what, this one I've just stuffed my big toe into? 
Out of the swim in 1:18:50 (497th fastest). A full 5 minutes slower than Austria last year, but again, still alive - so happy with that.

T1... (9:24 - 754th fastest!) dropped to 573rd overall.
I hobbled into transition and ripped off the wetsuit easily just outside the tent. It was mayhem in there - like arriving at a U.S. airport when 5 jumbos have just landed and you realise that the 3rd Aunties cousin on your grannies side doesn't qualify you for U.S. citizenship. I found my bag (next to Captain Cymru who was wearing a cape underneath his wetsuit) tipped everything on the floor and promptly began drying off, applying chamois cream, on with shorts, HR monitor, top, socks, shoes, glasses and helmet. I grabbed the wetsuit and lobbed it into the bag, checked the floor, nothing there... good to go... or was I?

Row 5, mid way along, bright orange, bring it on... Pushed through transition and a few metres beyond to avoid the carnage and off I went. Already in a nice low gear, legs started spinning and I eased past a couple of competitors. Then disaster struck...
I noticed another rider's race number flapping about in the wind and I realised I didn't have my number belt on. 'Oh bother' I thought (actually many more anglo-saxon words were used but this is a family-friendly report) and I came to a halt at the first aid station (about 300m or so into the bike). I let one of the marshals know what a muppet I'd been and his young keen assistant ran back to transition for me. There was no way I could cycle back against the tide of Outlaws-to-be so I just had to wait (and wait and wait and w a i t ) until she returned. Nope... she couldn't find it in the bag and I was likely to get a DQ for not racing with a number on. I pushed my bike as quick as I could back to transition and eventually a new number was scribbled down for me and pinned to my top. Back through transition and over the timing mat again (I bet that confused the system) and I was ready to start pedalling. That rookie mistake cost me (according to my Garmin) at least 26 minutes and 4 seconds 

Out on the bike loop and I knew I'd pretty much blown any chance I had of beating my previous p.b. I was in a very, very dark place and for an hour or so I fought the urge to chuck it and drown my sorrows with a beer ... and not the alcohol free Erdinger stuff they were giving out at the finish line....
I was holding power ok on the bike but my heart rate was a bit too high so I backed off a little. One thing starting off at the back and giving everyone else a ~30 min headstart meant I managed to pick off quite a few folks, about 180 of them according to the results base. In fact in the 6+ hours I was only overtaken by 2 people, so that (very) small victory kept me going. I must admit the flat course and headwind from hell made the bike leg feel much harder than Austria even though that was 2500m of climbing versus 640m.

Coming into one of the villages on the southern loop, I heard a huge cheer from the ATHelite team and this gave me the kick up the backside I needed. Brilliant guys and gals - you have no idea how much I needed that 

Eventually climbed off the bike in an official time of 6:46:30... or an unofficial 'I was actually only cycling for' 6:20:26. Down as 744th fastest but that includes my pitstop! Managed to overtake 163 people and climb back into 709th place.

T2... (6:55 - 493rd fastest)  climbed back into 700th place
I handed my bike to one of the helpers who almost dropped it on the floor. Now, at that point in time I didn't ever want to ride a bike again but still thought taking it home in one piece would be handy. Hilarious that you think 'Yay. I'm off the bike, thank goodness for that... now I've only got a marathon to run' I really must get my head tested once I get back from holiday... Another lovely volunteer helped unpin my new race number from my bike top and attached it to my ATHelite run top and I set out on the run. I was worried that I would miss seeing the rest of the team on the run loops but the design of the course was great and I got to see everyone at least once.

I met my lovely wife on the course and she wasn't having the best of times - I told her of my schoolboy error and was shared a hug and a kiss and headed off in different directions. I must admit I was really worried that she was about to call it a day and throw in the towel and I didn't see her on the course again... Thankfully when I did she was running across the finishing line with our kids - so, so proud 

I walked at every aid station and had a mix of zero / high 4 / water and isogels trying to avoid the stomach cramps which doubled me over last year. Luckily the stomach played along and I was able to fart with confidence, aaaaahhhhhh wind assisted chi-running 

I chatted with each and everyone of the ATHelite team and even helped John stretch out his left hammy mid-way through the course. A short burst of 'keep on running' for Graeme and conversations with both Alan and Alan where I muttered something like 'never, ever, ever, ever again'. It was brutal out there. I'm guessing only folks that have completed an ironman will really get that comment... it's a bit like women explaining childbirth to blokes - they've put up with grief for 9 months and then gone through hell to get over the finishing line and we nod and thank goodness we didn't have to do it!

Onto the final loops around the lake and the ATHelite crew were in great voice, I toyed with mugging another runner for one of the sought after wristbands to let me sneak down the finishing chute early but decided I was too knackered to start a fight (unlike Tony fists-of-steel Marlow) in the water but that's another story 

I spotted Luke, Zoƫ and Meg up in the balcony above the finish line and I dug in for the final loop.

Great to see one of my pals Iain Robertson in the crowd but I only realised it was him after he'd lowered his camera and at that moment in time I had the turning circle of an oil tanker and decided to catch him on the final loop. When I got there he'd already packed up as his wife Karen had finished in a blistering time, winning her age category - much respect!

It has to be said I had 2 sponges under my hat at this point in time!

I eventually crossed the finish line with a marathon of 4:27:54 in an official time of 12:49:53 (19 mins and 14 seconds slower than Austria)... and an incredibly un-official time of 12:23:49. I looked up and saw Luke and Zoe's faces and I will NEVER EVER forget what they looked like. At that moment, the 11 months of training, the ££££s I'd spent on gear / travel / accommodation etc. and the unrelenting slog of the day were all totally worthwhile.
My marathon was 283rd fastest on the day (top 20% I reckon) and helped me climb into 508th place overall and 132nd in my age category. Lots of room for improvement.

Would I do it all again? No bloody way. Nope, never, ever, ever again.
Well, maybe in 2016 

It's now been a couple of weeks since Outlaw and I've had a bit more time to reflect on the race after an amazing holiday in Italy.

I'd like to thank all the volunteers on the course - they were truly amazing, full of encouragement and nothing seemed to be too much trouble (like running back to transition for me or pinning on race numbers to my tops). The aid stations in particular were incredibly well organised where you just shouted out what you were after and a willing hand thrust it in your direction (apart from my 'new legs' request).

The ATHelite support was great but there was very little support out on the bike route which was flat, exposed, boring and dare I say it a little dangerous. One of our ATHelite members was knocked off his bike by a caravan which was being driven incredibly dangerously. John survived with bad road rash and kept on going to cross the finishing line as an Outlaw - the guy behind him who crashed into his bike was not so lucky and he had to pull out of the race. The same caravan missed me by about 20cm during the race...
There were several times I could have passed fellow competitors but couldn't as we were on busy A roads - I now appreciate the closed roads of IM Austria even more. This is something the Outlaw organisers will have to look at in the future.

I actually enjoyed the run route, although the loop around the lake seemed to get bigger each time I ran it. The loop out towards Nottingham Forest's ground was good and the frequent aid stations were great psychologically. Run to each aid station, walk through with juice/water/gels, run to the next.

I must admit I was disappointed with my overall finishing time of 12:49:53 (19 mins and 14 seconds slower than Austria)... although my incredibly un-official time of 12:23:49 (taking off the time I stood still waiting for a new race number) would have been almost 7 minutes faster than last year.  I'd put in a huge amount of training, followed my plan to the letter but the race didn't go as planned. Hey-ho, these things happen.

I will confess I wasn't as pumped up for this race as IM Austria last year, the atmosphere in and around Nottingham was really flat compared to Klagenfurt, hardly anyone knew about the race apart from those at the NWC or fellow competitors. In Klagenfurt the whole city grinds to a halt for the weekend for the race. Perhaps this was because it was my second IM distance race but another ATHelite member (on his 4th IM race) expressed the same feelings. 
I'd also been worried about Lorna who hadn't been well in the run up to the race (and during it) so we never got the chance to wind each other up and get excited about the race.

So, how to improve?

Get stuck in on the swim a bit more and hold a tighter line to the buoys. I'd stayed out of the stramash and in doing so swam an additional 200m+ (at least 4 minutes) and got stuck in the weeds / shallow water which really slowed me down. More focus on technique again as I have no issues with swim endurance.

I reckon I need more time on my TT bike to get more comfortable and powerful in the TT position. I held the position for the majority of the race but the incessant headwind and lack of spectators just turned the 180+km into a grind. So, more biking required!

My run was ok (4:27:54) but I'd hoped to do sub 4 hours to be honest. I really didn't push that hard and spent quite a lot of time chatting with my fellow ATHelite team members on the course. I suspect if I'd been in the zone I'd have pushed much harder - especially if I was chasing down my teammates!!

During the race, I'd said never, ever, ever again but after a couple of weeks on holiday (missing the buzz of training) I've decided to give IM another shot. I must be mad!

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