So where do I begin with this one?
Well let’s just say that if you ever want a non-branded Ironman event, then the Outlaw has to be it. It really is a great race. Super organisation, excellent marshals, who are very friendly and extremely helpful, and the athletes are really well looked after. I think I would happily say it is one of the best 70.3 races you could do.
There were people I knew that were racing also. I wasn’t alone this time. Sarah and Han from the running club also took part and it was their first half iron distance. For regular readers, you may remember Sarah writing a guest blog last year on her first triathlon at ITU Leeds. You can read that here. This blog will not just include my race, but both Sarah and Han have agreed to provide you with their thoughts and comments also below. You see, its the blog that keeps on giving!
I travelled up with Han on the Saturday and did the registration and race briefing thing. I then made my way to my hotel for a quick snack and nap before meeting up with Han and Sarah for an early dinner. It was an early start for everyone with my wave starting at 6:35, and I think Han and Sarah’s at 6:50ish.
Life competing in triathlon requires organisation. Whether that is through sorting out travel, hotels, race info or documents. That’s even before you begin looking at your equipment and logistics on the day. It meant getting everything sorted and organised for the morning back at the hotel and setting that alarm for 3:30am!!! Yes that’s right. Why so early? Well I need at least two hours before racing and eating, meaning I would eat just before I left the hotel at about 4:30am
What were my goals?
This is a simple one – I wanted to go faster! Faster than in 2017. My goal time was 5hr 45min. Not a made up number, but one that has been in my Training Peaks account since November and based upon what I did back in 2017. My Outlaw 2017 race report can be found here. It’s funny to read back on this blog post. You realise how many mistakes I made. Experience in triathlon certainly helps a lot and this is now clearly obvious in my races. The more you do, the more you learn! I had problems last time out – mainly on the bike and it is pleasing to see that I have learned and moved on from these.
My Race – The Swim Leg
So going into the swim I knew my numbers were good. My training has indicated I’m swimming faster than ever before. What were the results then I hear you ask? Well, I managed the 1.2 mile swim in 36min 49s. Compared to 2017 that was slower as I did 35:25. Not by much, but why no improvement?
It’s quite simple really – the swim was not an area of the race I wanted to necessarily go quicker. As long as the time was somewhere around what I did previously I knew it was still a very good time. The thing with open water swimming, and in particularly triathlon racing, is there is certainly less you can control in the swim leg. Whether that be finding clear water, the temperature affecting you, people swimming around and over you or taking on water. They all come into play. The water was bloody freezing, I did have someone zigzagging in front of me and I never actually felt great until about half way through when I started to swim a little better. I knew my race outcome would depend on the bike and run sections. A handful of minutes or seconds in the swim were not going to make any difference to the overall race if I could perform considerably better in the bike and run.
My Race – The Bike Leg
You may remember my previous blogs back in winter when I outlined my commitment to improving my bike leg. You can read about these here and here. It has been a long process, but one that has certainly paid off. Hard work pays off for sure! I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:
A massive PB on the bike and one that I was so proud of going sub 3 hours for. I had a really great bike leg. I felt strong throughout and didn’t feel I would fade at all. I knew the bike numbers to sustain from all the testing and use of the power meter I had invested in. I had a plan going into it and I pretty much stuck to it. My aim was to ride at between 140-150w – more or less Zone 3 for me. This I knew would bring me in under my previous time and ensure I had matches to burn on the run. The data below proves it. My avg power being 145 watts and my normalised power at 154 watts. Ideally these would be a little closer but I’m still happy with that. The difficulty comes on hills when you put out a little more power.
Training and concentrating on developing my engine and FTP over winter has made tons of difference to my biking performance. It takes time though. People often rush it and become impatient. They don’t see improvement straight away, but it is your body that ultimately decides. To train for these sort of distances you need a good amount of time for adaptation and also patience if you want to go fast. I was able to do this on the day because I had followed not only my training plan, but also my race plan. I resisted the the urge to burn more matches then I needed to. I used my head on the bike – not just the legs!
I think this would be a good thing to add here. You see in previous half iron distances (and I have only done 3 before), I have never really had a nutrition plan. I have more or less just made sure I eat (through some real food and gels) and drink on the bike. Not this time though. If I was going to plan my race, I needed to plan my nutrition to match it. So the objective was:
To consume a gel or 1/3 of a cliff bar at 20 min intervals alternating between each. I would double up on the last 20 main interval (which was at 2hrs 20mins) and consume nothing but hydration fluid and two salt pills for the final 40mins of the bike leg. Did it work? I would only know when I started my run. Let’s find out.
The Race – Run Leg
When racing last week at Dorney All Nations Sprint, I felt fantastic and strong. When starting the run leg at the Outlaw this feeling returned. In-fact I had to control it again as you can see from the splits below. Just like the other portions of the race, I had a plan I would stick to. I was hoping to sustain a pace of somewhere around 5:20-5:40 per km or an 8:30 per mile. It had some leeway in it as you never can tell how you are going to feel at the end with a swim and bike in you. Running is tough at the end of a triathlon especially with longer distances. So how did I do?
Happy? Certainly! I’m really pleased with the half marathon effort. It is also the first half in a triathlon that I have not felt I needed to walk any aid station. Running is by far the hardest part of the race and mentally really challenging. You are constantly fighting the ‘stop for a few minutes and walk demons’. There is a one tactic I seem to be applying in lots of my races though. Find someone running the pace you want and stick with them! I’m not sure of the guy’s name – I didn’t ask to be honest, but I found him at the end of my first lap. Without him to keep pushing me I’m not overly sure I would have sustained the pace. Thank you to whoever you were…and sorry for taking the sprint at the line! We did have a chat at the end and during the race in which I expressed my gratitude. I also refer back to my race nutrition here. Not once did I feel hungry nor did I feel I needed something to keep me going. The only thing I needed on the run was water. Water at every aid station to keep the thirst away. I have to say though that it was perfect running conditions which certainly helped.
I finished my race at 5hr 34 mins. In 2017, I finished the race in 6hrs and 10mins. That is one massive PB of 36mins in which I am incredibly pleased about. It is also a half iron distance best performance as previously this stood at 5:52.
Do you know what? I think I can knock more time off of that. I need to keep working hard on the bike and training the way I do. An overhaul to my training methods this year and the introduction of my power meter has given huge benefits and insight. I know I will get faster, and if I keep working at the run I believe this will also improve. How much time? Who know but I would feel confident in a 10/15 min improvement next year. Next year? Yes I will return again to the Outlaw as it is such a great race.
This blog is slightly lacking in actual race photos I’m afraid. Just like in 2017, my wife and daughter were not in attendance. Not a common thing for my triathlons, but a little too much and too early to ask of them. They were certainly missed though 😦 Especially as they allow family to run with you on the finishing chute – something I would love to have done with Isabel my daughter. I will be back though and I will get to do this at some point. Anyway, I now leave you the final comments from Sarah and Han on their race…Hope you enjoy all the content.
How not to prepare for the Outlaw Half – Sarah
I registered to take part in the Outlaw as soon as the entries opened. I had great plans to train for the event and to really focus on my swimming and cycling. I wanted to build on my performance from the 2018 Leeds ITU triathlon. However, my plans changed in December when I won a London marathon club place via East End Road Runners. As I was representing my club, I spent a lot of time training for the run. The effort paid off. I smashed my marathon PB time and achieved most improved female runner at the AGM. But, all this came at a price. I didn’t spend anywhere near enough time in the pool or on the bike to train for the Outlaw. And as a result I was dreading the event.
The Outlaw experience started the day before at the race briefing. It was a well managed event and the organisers delivered the race information in a very clear and relaxed way. They also helped to calm any last minute nerves.
After the briefing, the plan was to head off to the city centre, check-in at the hotel and meet up with Danny and Han for something to eat. Regrettably I left it far too late to book a pitch at the campsite or a room in the on-site hotel. Instead, I got a last minute deal in a hotel in the city centre. All was fine until 1.30 am when the noisy drunken louts in the next room decided to have a party and that was it for any chance of getting a decent night’s sleep.
Getting up at 4.30 am was a real shock to the system. The advantage of travelling at that time was that everyone else seemed to be heading to the same place. I got to the venue in plenty of time to rack my bike and lay out my gear before heading to the pontoon to get in the water.
As expected, the water was cold but also refreshing. During the race briefing, we were given a few tips on how to get used to the cold water without going into panic mode: 1) Get in 2) Take a deep breath 3) Put your face in the water 4) Breathe out whilst under water 5) Repeat steps 2 – 4 at least 5 or 6 times 6) Open the neck of the wetsuit to let some cold water in.
These tips worked really well. After a couple of minutes, I felt relaxed and ready for the swim. The great thing about the start was that the swimmers could really spread out and it didn’t feel like a mass brawl with arms and legs hitting each other. Overall, the swim went well but it took me ages to feel warm afterwards. Trying to take off my wetsuit, put on my helmet and shoes was a real challenge because my fingers were numb.
I always knew that the bike ride was going to be my weakest leg. I am still trying to embrace cycling. I’m hoping that one day something will click and I will actually like it. The first 10 miles was tough – not the terrain, just me and my relationship with my bike. I really considered turning around and heading back to the venue. I had enough of the bike but I knew I had to suck it up and just get on with it. The race course was very well marked and it was impossible to get lost due to the sheer number of signs and enthusiastic volunteers and marshalls all the way along the route. The two feed stations were really well organised. But I was so glad when it was over and I could start the run.
The two lap route was split between a riverside path and the lake. There were plenty of feed stations along the course and again there was no shortage of enthusiastic volunteers who were keen to look after all the runners and their nutrition and hydration needs. All the ultra and marathon training I had concentrated on during the winter months had paid off and I had enough energy to run on tired legs. It also meant that I could make up a lot of lost time from the bike as well as passing on words of encouragement to those who had said something similar to me during the ride.
I was so happy to see the finish line and for the event to be over. It was a good kick up the rear end that I needed. Importantly, I learned a number of lessons including:
- Book any accommodation as soon as the event place is confirmed – ideally, choose a place to stay as close to the venue as possible
- Train for the event by concentrating on all three elements at the same time rather than just one at the expense of the other two
- Don’t sign up to too may endurance events so close to the Outlaw – three weeks between each event is not enough time to recover properly
- Wear neoprene gloves and/or booties for the swim when it is really cold – transition will be easier when your fingers aren’t numb
- Develop a positive attitude towards the bike – this will only come from more practice
- Don’t turn up hoping to wing it – the Outlaw will punish you!
Next up for me – Windsor Triathlon in June.
Against All Odds – Han
Pre-race: woke up from intermittent restless night sleep. Sleepy, dazed and had to get ready. I could still feel the tight right shoulder I picked up out of nowhere on Saturday. I showered, ate breakfast and packed and was on the road by 5ish. I cycled to the venue and took the long way round. Luckily I saw other participants who pointed the correct way. Once I arrived, I racked my bike. Everyone was laying out their stuff neatly, but not me. I was stacking my bike items up in pile – gloves, hat, gilet, arm warmers, shoes bootie covers – fear of getting cold on bike after a cold swim. I saw Wixey (Sarah) who calmed my nerves a bit. Now wetsuit on or toilet…opted to put wetsuit on, I needed to eat but didn’t want to over eat before swim. I then did the Toilet bit!
Swim: My swim wave was getting ready to jump into the water. I assumed Wixey was already in the queue. As I waded through the blue hat wave…”dammit Han, you can’t swim with your glasses on” doh moment #1. Glasses away, try again wading my way through the blue hat wave with most already in the water. Slow swimmers on the right, fast on the left…doh moment #2 I couldn’t tell my left from my right. Completely in the wrong group so I even moved closer toward the left hoping to see Wixey for the last time.
The gun went off, and away I went totally not ready. I hadn’t even acclimatised to the water, hoping my slow swim would warm me up. It didn’t take long for the cold to get to me though. I decided to hang on to the boat to get myself sorted and off I went again although still not completely ready for it. As I pushed on, the pack was some distance away. The fast blue caps started to over take me. I was so happy to see the red square buoy (turning point). I could also feel the blue pack catching up and for sure not long they started to swim over me – I felt the odd kick, drank some water and then a little more. Turning next into the next corner I could see the home straight and became a little more relaxed. I picked up the pace, but was still a little stop start to catch my breath. Finally I got to the end and exited the water.
T1: Into transition and wetsuit off, chip timer off and neatly laid on the towel. Saw Wixey, we both agreed that it was a horrendous swim. I got dressed just about to put helmet on, doh moment #3 HR monitor I can’t race without it (issue with high heart rate low iron…another chapter of my journey). Quickly undressed HR monitor on, watch, helmet off I went.
Bike: I exited transition, felt good and chuffed that I managed to put on my toes socks without any problem (smirk on face)! Happy days, just need to keep a steady pace, eat well and keep hydrated. Feeling at ease I caught up with a few ladies “E” and Michelle. We had some light banter and guessed E’s name is Elizabeth! No brainer. E zoomed ahead, I followed, caught up with Wixey who told me off for drafting (I was beside her, not behind…only later that she told me someone in briefing raised this point in which they were flagged as drafting!) Off I went, passing a few more cyclists. About 20 miles in, sshiiiiit pothole, too late to dodge, please please no puncture = full on blow out flat.
Flipped bike, started to prepare to replaced inner tube while waving goodbye to the cyclists I overtook earlier. The ladies shouted “sorry, not technical to stop to help”. One gentleman slowed down but I sent him off as I would feel really guilty if he got pulled off the race. Determined to get it done, almost there then I realised the last bit popping the tyre in place I always struggled with – accept help woman I thought! Lucky me, a cyclist passed by and I accepted his help. Perfect timing I thought. Wheel sorted, just need pumping. Got the CO2 canister out, running through Nick Gorman’s (fellow EERR Tri) instructions in my head, screwed it on but no gas released. I panicked and asked the stranger to help me. He never used one before so we were both in the same boat. Finally, gas hissed he got spooked I saw wasted gas going in mid air and not the inner tube…I directed him to press it on the inner tubes nozzle…gas stopped hissing and still a flat tyre. I borrowed his manual pump and started pumping – done! I thanked him and off I went. Doh moment #4 know how to use tools you carry!
I then got a good pace going at 16mph. If I could keep it up, I could make the cutoff. Miles after miles and anxiety setting in at the back of my mind. I thought I could pass Wixey and I would be fine, (sorry Wix) but no sign of her, “good on her she got it” I thought. Now solo on the road, anxiety becoming stronger and finally out of the northern loop and on to the next, reassuring as I saw other competitors cycling in the opposite direction. We greeted with the subtle cyclist nods, hand greeting gestures and some yelled encouraging comments.
Solo again, not a single soul just pot holes and cars. Approaching junction around 45 miles, 2 volunteers started crouching low toward me with their big foam hands which made me smile and lifted my spirit. As I went passed, they cheered. This encouraged me to push on. I also was surprised as two officials creeped up from behind, chatted and they reassured me I can make it at current pace. Finally, getting closer to the venue.
T2: I entered transition, pressed watch to transition didn’t hear the buzz pressed again…doh moment #5. Had to stopped watch as it is now in run mode. Rack bike, changed shoes, helmet, gloves, gilet, arm warmers off and grabbed nutrition, stuffed home made gel in back pocket as I started to run it was bouncing so I decided to leave it and figured my energy drink will be enough and then clocked the neatly laid timing chip siting on top towel. Doh moment number 5 – although I still didn’t realise it!
Run: I crossed the timing mat, off I went and thought to myself this is ok, what jelly legs? A little further along, uh oh quads hurt, quads hurt. Grabbed water at fee station sipped my home made energy drink. A little further and the pain reduced. As I passed the first timing mat…I thought why didn’t I beep? Oh Han – ultimate doh moment #6 – realising at the same time and the image of the timing chip sitting on towel flashed across my head – “You muppet”.
As I pressed lap button on my watch when doing the second lap, yup doh moment #7 watch bleeped “activity completed”. Quick I reset and start another run activity. As I ran round the first lap encouraging other runners they are doing great, I knew I was in a worse position than them with no chip and no time! Entering the second lap and my tank was almost empty. At the feed station I yelled water and gel. The volunteer offered me caffeine or no caffeine. I grabbed both out of her hands, while finishing the water and taking the gels which was a make or break scenario. Best decision though, I was back on track, and grabbed another caffeine gel and sipped it. At the back of brain I said to myself that this is not a good idea so chucked it at the next feeding station.
The home stretch was getting closer as I sighted the orange carpet. Entering the chute I saw Terry (Wixey’s other half aka our supporter, photographer, driver) and I started celebrating even managed a sprint to the finish line. I grabbed the finish banner lifted high with both hands “I won against all odds”. Just waiting for my timing to be officially confirm.