Outlaw Half – Nottingham, 31.05.15


Just in case anyone doesn’t know, yes the Outlaw Half is a Half Marathon but at the end of a 1.2mile swim and a 56mile bike ride!  A middle distance or 70.3 (Add the distances together!) triathlon.

The build-up for this race started last year, when Stuart and I talked about doing this well-known event – after doing the swim distance 5 minutes inside the cut off time on my holidays in Greece I entered, Stuart unfortunately missed out but his race, the Grafman, is only 4 weeks away, so hopefully my race report is both entertaining and informative for the other triathletes that we are suddenly gaining in our club.

On Friday, nerves and weather worries meant I seriously considered a DNS but despite trying to keep my event below the radar and off the Massey weekly bulletin someone commented about it on Facebook so I knew I must at least make the start line.  Therefore I unhooked my bike, gave it a full clean, a mechanical check over and changed tyres.  At least my bike would look the part.  I even drove to a Tri shop in Birmingham to buy some Tri Shorts but unfortunately there were none in my size.

As Mary completed her LSR on Saturday, I spent the time after parkrun racing around gathering equipment – in the past I have been known to forget items (bike! Trisuit!) and have had to return to collect them but with this race being in Nottingham it wasn’t really an option. Once loaded up with equipment and a tired but washed Mary, I drove to register and get the safety briefing.  Unlike running races, Triathlons never send out numbers in advance and you need to turn up with your BTF card (if you are a member – and yes I have forgotten to bring my new card once!) to collect your pack, number and timing chip.

The safety briefing was informative and entertaining, covering all aspects of the event – 300 volunteers! – and lasted nearly an hour.  After a quick look around the expo – still no shorts in my size (Wiggle here I come!) – I managed to buy a race belt bargain at £5 – I forgot both of mine!  Then it was back to the hotel for food and sleep as Sunday would be an early start.  The hotel didn’t bat an eyelid as I brought in my bike, in fact they apologised for the lack of a lift, meaning I would have to carry it to the room!

Once settled in I spent a good 20 minutes emptying sachets of gels into a water bottle for the bike section.  I am sure I read this tip in a Tri magazine; rather than trying to open them on the hoof I could swig a mouthful every 15 minutes! And no sticky fingers.

As the alarm rang at 4:15am and Mary started to curse me, I went through my normal race routines but had to apply sticky numbers to my arms – apparently it is so you can be identified. I think that it’s if you are involved in a multi bike pile up the medics can tell which detached limb is yours.  My worries about the weather were confirmed, dull and grey and WET!

Mary got me to the start at 5am as requested at the briefing, nearly 2hours before the off!  Setting up transition in the wet is an art form – for a sprint tri it’s a plastic bag to cover shoes and towels.  But as this was a Middle Distance, comfort rather than speed was the buzz word, so spending a few minutes more in transition should hopefully pay off later in the race.  I decided that apart from my helmet, race number (on new race belt) and bike shoes I would leave everything inside my Orca Tribag, if I made it out onto the run.

Due to the grim weather forecast I purchased a new 91g bike jacket that I decided I could stash on my bike in the tool kit I carry – with the weather raining I got it out and decided to wear it at the start, so I used it to cover my bike helmet.

After setting up my transition area, I headed off to change and grab a locker.  As I opened my kit bag I found Mary’s purse!  On the way from the Hotel to Pierrepont (National Watersports centre) I asked Mary for some coins for the locker and she must have got confused as to which bag was hers!  In the bag was her lunch money and credit card!  After dropping me off I told Mary to return to the Hotel as seeing me on the swim and bike was going to be near impossible, so rather than my chauffeur being too tired to drive home I sent her back to the hotel for more rest.

Luckily unlike Mary who hasn’t seen 4:15 in the morning for 9 years, my brain was firing; normally this would mean worrying about being eaten by the killer squid in the water or crashing on the bike in the wet, or collapsing with exhaustion on the run, but today it was how to get Mary her purse so she could eat as I spent 8-9 hours ‘racing’.  I am not sure if this was a cunning plan from Mary to help me relax before the race as she knew that I was seriously considering DNS (160 people didn’t start the race) due to worries about the bike or if it was just her being a Pooh Bear (A bear of little brain) at 4:45.  It was enough to stop me thinking about whatifs so however it happened, it was useful for me.

At 6:30 I was nearly ready for the off, I just needed to get my wetsuit fully on and I was ready for the call to the start.  Putting on a wetsuit well is an act of contortion, and is much easier if assisted by a burly man (or burly woman in these days of equality).  Once your legs are in your suit you have to work the material up – apparently this is much like wearing tights – so you don’t have a baggy gusset! Then you pull your arms in and get neoprene right into the arm pit so you can get as much flexibility as possible, before zipping up.  The zipping up normally requires the help of another, so turning to the man next to me I asked if he could help.  Reaching inside my suit he yanked and tugged before zipping me in.  It was a rather pleasing experience as I had far greater mobility than normal across my shoulders.  After returning the favour to Steve (no longer a stranger after tweaking my chest panels) we made our way to the water before the start.

Rather than release 1000 swimmers at the same time, swimmers are released in waves 10m apart to reduce the carnage at the start, based on gender and age.  Much to Mary’s amusement at the safety briefing I found I was in the M40-44 group, despite not being 40!  The organisers asked swimmers to sort themselves into Over 40 and sub 40 minute swim times on the jetties, this should prevent a few dunkings as the swimmers race off and over others.  I was in a quandary; I didn’t know which side to be…  My aim was 40 mins so is that over or under 40?  Why couldn’t they have greater than or equal to 40 mins?

In the end I took the sensible decision to start in the middle.

The water was decidedly murky compared to Cliff Lakes, and at first I could only see six inches from my face in the water, certainly not to the bottom of the pool.  Rather than panic as I did in Sutton Park two years ago, I knew I could swim the distance and to relax and it was probably just the swimmers disturbing the mud at the bottom as we waited the 10 minutes before the start.

As the hooter started I suddenly remembered the advice in the Triathlon Magazines that if you were new to OW racing or a less confident swimmer, to start at the back and to the sides and avoid the middle as that is where the real ruckus happens.  Too late now!  My Go Tri practise on Thursday and being dunked three times in the swimming sessions run by Cov Tri had me ready for what I was to face.  My bedtime reading of Triathlon 220 was fresh in my mind as we started – with swimming it is best to go slow to go fast!  Rather than blast away as I did on the Go Tri, I gently started to get into my stroke and bilateral breathing; despite taking a couple of body blows I was soon into my stroke and gliding through the water, maybe not seal like but certainly not a flounder.

After a few minutes or a few hundred metres away from the start the water got clearer but colder.  As it is a rowing lake, every few hundred metres a buoy is placed so boats stay in their own lane. The buoys are secured on a line that runs down the lake and the slightly clearer water meant that I could just make out the line so I followed it for 700m, brushing each lane buoy as I passed.  A quick couple of 90 degree turns and we were on the other side of the lake heading back.  All the way round another racer swam right on my feet, drafting in my wake so they could go quicker with less effort.  All triathletes try and do this but the guy behind me kept on bashing my feet.  On the way back to the start I decided that I should warm up the water a little!

Swimming with Kat at Kingsbury has confirmed my swimming is greatly improved, which is why I was confident I could do a 40minute ish swim even if I took it ‘easy’;  as I swum on I kept passing orange hats from the wave before mine as I negated their earlier start.  The final few hundred metres were surprisingly choppy and waves raised and dropped making me feel a little queasy but soon the arch came closer and I was on my feet staggering into transition – 38:42 swim done!

In transition I entered into a wrestling match with my wetsuit, in the pursuing battle I retained my timing chip but later found out I lost my number wrist band, critical for entering transition and collecting post-race t-shirt!  As I put on my bike shoes I debated whether to put on my light weight jacket as the sky looked lighter, or leave it behind. I decided to wear it and if I got too warm I could stash it later.  As I trundled out of transition with my bike with foreboding I heard a, “Go on Daniel!” bellowed from above…  It wasn’t divine intervention but Stuart who had come to spectate.

So after crossing the mount line I clambered on to my bike and set off on the 56mile trek!

This was the part of the day I had been dreading for many reasons but namely due to my lack of training!  This year I have been on a bike 7 times!  Once in a race, and once on Hilly 100 escort duty (and that wasn’t even on my race bike!)  In fact my total mileage for those rides was just over 55!  One of those was with Coventry Triathletes where I went with the gentle group for 24 miles and struggled to maintain the 12mph average pace in the dry! As for moving after, my razor blade seat meant I couldn’t consider running; I could barely walk to the Starbucks for the post cycle coffee.

Another factor in my dread was that since last July when a wall blew out on my bike going downhill at about 30mph, I have been a nervous cyclist.  In the dry I worry, in the wet I panic!  Knowing the weather forecast was dire on Friday I went into Mikes Bikes in Kenilworth and spoke to Brian, who told me that racing tyres would cut through the surface water and give grip much like an ice skate so not to worry.  Then he went and found me a pair of on offer, magic tyres, which rather than being smooth had some tread and apparently the same type were used by the world champion to win his time trial.  Even though they weren’t the normal brand I have on my bike – I like to be brand matching – I purchased a pair.  Before I left the shop Brian squeezed my tyres and said that I needed to up the pressure to nearer 100 rather than 40 and to make sure that the logo was over the valve.  I asked why? In my head I couldn’t think of any benefit, maybe it helped them stay round, maybe they gave added speed, ‘All proper cyclists do that, so you will look the part!’

On my mechanical prep day for the race, out of interest, I took the pressure of my tyres – 42!  Maybe Brian was right and these tyres would give me the extra grip when cornering and desending. My special tyres would keep me safe.

The bike leg was horrendous!  No sooner than I left the perimeter road of the National Water Sports Centre I realised my wearing of the new jacket was an act of foresight as the rain started…  Down and down and down it tumbled. I was wetter on the bike than in the lake – How is that possible you may ask…  In the swim I had a latex swim hat and a dry head, on the bike everything was exposed to the water!

Checking my watch as I left the transition I knew I had to maintain 12.1mph to make the cut off and be allowed to continue with my race, so despite the weather, riding my bike with magic tyres I had to endure the effort and cycle.

The route was beautifully marked and marshalled.  Clear yellow arrows marked directions at turns and roundabouts.  Some roads were fully, or partially closed to traffic.  Even traffic lights had been switched off in parts all to allow the best race possible.  Marshalls with Stop/Go boards managed some junctions.

They say in long distance races you ride a gamet of emotions from highs to lows, that was certainly the case on the bike ride and not just due to the hills. At the briefing we were told it was flat!  Only one hill on course…  LIARS!  There were certainly a couple but the BEAST at 21miles was 12%.  A real leg burner, I quickly got to the end of my range of gears – next year maybe I need to use the other wheels! – so I had to man up and pump my legs knowing if I came to a stop there was no way I would be able to unclip my feet before I fell over!  I actually over took 7 people up the hill.  I may have been blowing a gasket but I am sure I didn’t hallucinate that I over took them as; as soon as the hill went down again, even with my new magic tyres I was still a little weary when it got to 25mph.

I knew I wasn’t fast as I was over taken by all those behind me from the swim at various points.  This was mentally tough knowing I was quick enough on the swim to leave them behind for 20 odd miles but then have them come storming past and race away into the distance.

After the first mobile feed station, think Tour De France – passing water bottles to moving cyclists, I was being over taken with regularity by the faster, fitter female triathletes…  It may have been the sugar high from sipping my energy gel bottle but fit females in lycra from behind is a delight for a man to behold, even if his nether regions have been frozen by the weather and squashed by the saddle.  Don’t tell Mary but each of these pert posteriors passing me certainly perked up my mood and desire to finish the race. – Stuart this is a really great idea. (Just to clarify for Jenna’s sake, I mean the bottle filled with gels rather than staring at female competitors 😉 )

At the second and last feed station at 38miles, I swapped water bottles and was feeling confident that I could make the cut off with ease; even the burning in my legs and groin wasn’t going to stop me.  I was being passed less frequently now by any cyclist as we had all settled into our own pace.  On the southern loop, Iain the race director was correct, the views of rolling country were magnificent.  Then at 43 miles disaster struck, reaching down for my gel bottle, it slipped form my hand and bounced away as I sped on…  Do I stop and go back or could I manage the final 13 miles?

My head knew the answer, have a flapjack and keep going.  In my box on the top tube I stashed a few treats in case the gels didn’t work.  So grabbing a bar I juggled with the wrapper, swerved violently on the road and managed to open the wrapper – all would be okay.

As 52 miles came up on the bike computer I just wanted it to be over, much as you probably do reading my race report!  Normally I am a right pain in the arse, but now it was me feeling that pain… As I passed my 2nd fallen cyclist missing lots of skin and teeth, doubts flooded my mind – Are these tyres going to keep me up right?  What was I thinking starting the race when I was clearly in no position to do it?

As thoughts turned over in my mind I went back to the race briefing about how the last two miles went down a private road past a stately home. I soon realised that the pain in my rump was no longer dampened by the ample coverage due to the road buzz from the poor surface and road humps –I had made it to the end.  As I entered the path to transition there was Stuart with his words of wisdom…  ‘Just a half marathon to go!’  As I got to the dismount line I remembered to unclip before putting my foot down, the first time in 3hrs 38 minutes – an average speed of 15.4mph not bad for so little training!

The clouds started to lift as did my mood as I got dragged my bike into transition. I could already feel the weight of the medal around my neck as I realised Stuart was right…  Only a ½ Marathon to go, what is so hard about that?

Kissing my bike goodbye and thanking her for looking after me the whole way, I faffed about putting on my socks and getting my shoes on before I made my way to ‘Run Out.’  I then realised that the T-shirt and medal were far from a certainty as I had lost the power to run.

As the timing chip beeped to tell me I had left transition I started to walk, this could be a VERY long ½ marathon but I had over 4 hours if I needed.  There ahead of me cheering me on was Stuart!

Slowly, very slowly my legs loosened up and I started to shuffle, then I broke into a run! After about 1 km I realised I was going to fast!  If I kept up the pace I would either break my ½ marathon PB or break myself…

I gradually eased down to 11 and a bit minute miles, running well and feeling strong I skipped the first aid station, but as it disappeared out of sight I felt I had made a mistake…  I felt desperate for the toilet, it was a long time since I had used the facilities.  Knowing that the aid stations were no more that 1.7km apart and each had toilets I kept on running.

100m until feed station.

Never has a neon yellow sign and green portaloo been so welcome (Okay maybe at VMLM)

Here is a very valuable tip to anyone doing a longer distance triathlon…  Wear a two piece!  After moving my race belt, and then unzipping my Trisuit I realised that I could do myself a serious mischief trying to go!  The suit would need to be partly removed.  Struggling out of the arms I managed to use the facilities.  Then the fun really started – trying to get a tight sweaty and rain dampened suit back on, hard when you are dry and fresh!

The groans and rocking back and forth of the portaloo drew an anxious official from the feed station over to enquire if I was okay.  My explanation brought a knowing chuckle as I finally opened the door very red faced – I am not sure if this was from exersion of getting on my suit or embarrassment of getting stuck.

Grabbing a gel from the station I ran off – faster than I should to get away, forgetting I would have to pass that feed point 3 more times.

Grabbing a first loop band when returning from the towpath I realised that I had to run a loop of the rowing lake… 2km up and 2km back, yes it was on flat smooth roadway but there was nothing to distract me but a few geese!  It was a long slog mixing walking and running.  The km ticked up on the Garmin, I knew Mary would be at the end of the loop as we had agreed at 5 in the morning, but would she have her purse back?  Or had she sat for 6hrs without anything to eat and drink?

Stuart took the short route around the course and was clearly moving faster than me as he got to ‘encourage’ me with… ‘Just one more lap!’  Ohhh how my banter as I marshalled at Cov Tri had come back to haunt me.

Passing the finish funnel as others peeled off to collect their finishers medal, t-shirt and warm meal was a bitter feeling but from the balcony came a shriek… ‘ Go on Daniel you are doing great.’

Mary was outside the café cheering me on.  Did that mean she had got her purse?  Or had she got money another way?

I ran on, only stopping only to walk as I passed the feed stations to eat and drink, safely feasting on flat coke, High 5, Zero Drink, Jaffa cakes, gels – I left the bananas and ready salted crisps for others…  After each stop I had to talk to myself to start running again, I will start when it is ½ km… at the life ring…  I realised I was talking to myself and the geese when a fellow runner just told me to just run and talk to her instead!

With only a parkrun left I ran, chatting about nothing with my fellow triathlete slowly moving around the lake, km after km passing.  After my aid station stop I walked a touch, meeting Stuart 1 km before the finish and had the energy to pose for a picture but not to hold in my massive gut!

With a final wave I ran off to catch my fellow runner who was slowing and I realised that unlike me she only had one band and had a whole loop to do again!

Running into the finishing shoot Mary was there cheering me on as I broke the tape.  Well, ran into it, as one of the marshals let go of it. 2hrs 40mins. I had done it…  I completed the race.

Collecting my medal I walked on passed the medical tent, to T-shirt collection but I had lost my band!  The kind marshal just asked me what size I ordered, so I now have a tight XL to add to my collection – 1 day races will either do proper sized tops or I will lose the excess weight!

Climbing the stairs I was handed a pint of lager (Urgh!) – alcohol free and headed straight into the feed tent.  To my delight I saw them brewing up, so I grabbed the most delightful cup of tea, then grabbed my post race food – Chicken in Black Bean Sauce and rice, followed by Mars Bar cake!

Wolfing that down I went to track down Mary and see if she had got her purse back.

The Outlaw Half was an immense race, in terms of challenge (and that isn’t just writing or reading this report) I was constantly on the move for 7hrs 16mins (Take off 15 for a visit!)  But the organisation and marshalling made it a real treat to race.

Looking back I have regrets all my own making – not training on the bike or off the bike.  But that gives me a target!  If I can get round it with so little bike training what can I do if I do train?  I would like to get under 7 hrs and sneak up on 6 hrs…  Can I get 5 minutes off my swim? Can I get my average pace to nearly 19mph? Could I get near a 2 hr ½ marathon if I hadn’t gone so hard on the bike?  We will see.  Who is joining me next year?