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It wasn’t meant to be like this, I hadn’t planned it so and if I’d known then what I know now I would have chosen to do things so differently.
I’m standing at the end of the Outlaw X – my first 70.3 – soaked to the bone, cold and hungry, and a bit sore. I’ve got my medal, had a quick rub down and shuffled to the end of the finishing funnel to meet the others. As I stare blankly at my finishers t-shirt it hits me. I should’ve gone for a bloody medium, not a small.
That the t-shirt sizing is the worst thing that happened to me on race day is a wonder. My training was at best unstructured and at worst lacking – I suppose that meant I came into the event fresh.
The Outlaw X is a new event celebrating a decade of the Outlaw Series and a new venue provided the athletes with a unique opportunity to swim in the lake at Thoresby Hall near Ollerton. It’s part coffin-dodgers’ hotel and part private country estate with historic courtyards and an impressive house overlooking a SSSI lake.
We’d planned meticulously to ensure that no detail was left to chance – especially important as I’d forgotten my bike helmet and cycling shoes at Skipton and Leeds respectively this year and the feeling of panic in transition is not one I enjoy. With that in mind we registered on Saturday and retreated to our Airbnb for non-alcoholic beers and a lasagne. Race numbers attached, bags packed and re-packed and all 10 weather forecasts checked before an early night for all.
We got there in good time and started to get our transition areas race-ready. Each item was carefully laid out to maximise the amount of time I would take. The meticulous planning unfortunately didn’t extend to our pockets, so when Heather and Naomi were trying to get to the venue an hour or so after us, they were frustrated to discover that Aron had the cars keys on him… both sets for good measure!
Swim: The water was surprisingly clear and not too cold – much better than Castle Howard’s smelly sludge! I set off ok but was quickly overtaken by what felt like the entire wave. It was a struggle to find some clean water to get a rhythm and I slipped into an all-too familiar breast stroke. I was a bit annoyed at myself and I’m determined to get over this psychological barrier, I’ve worked hard on my swimming thanks to Skegness Tri club and I can do better. That said, the lake was absolutely glorious and at the halfway turning point we were swimming back into the sunrise. It was a real privilege to be in the lake to witness it and it helped lift the spirits. Of course it meant no one could see a flipping thing but it was a beautifully blinding scene.
I frog kicked my way to the exit point and emerged from the water a fraction over 37minutes for 1900m.
Bike: All that meticulous prep in transition paid off and I took an age to get on my bike. But, knowing that it was likely to take 3hrs plus on the bike I focussed more on having everything I needed than being quick. Once I was set I mounted the bike and headed off onto a rolling, flat-ish bike course. There’s a hill after 6miles that we recce’d the day before and having driven up it in a flash both Aron and me had declared it not really a hill and laughed at how easy it was going to be. I mean it wasn’t that hard, but one poor fella was pushing his Pinarello as I ground the gears to go round him. At least it warmed me up a bit.
The first hour of the bike was in glorious sunshine, they really were perfect conditions. No wind, hardly a car on the roads and the sun was bathing the countryside that sprawled before you. I quickly became aware that my seat position felt odd – I’d raised it to try and maximise my output on my aero bars. The problem was I hadn’t tightened it back up when I’d raised it and it had now sunk lower than it had been in the first place! Luckily my race sticker and some electrical tape denoting what my saddle height should be had jammed the post from slipping any lower. I ploughed on and felt strong. I’d adopted Alastair Brownlee’s technique of squeezing gels into a water bottle and drinking them on the bike – it was a lot easier than unwrapping them on the move and I probably consumed more as a result.
After an hour of idyllic conditions the rain came. It would hang around for the remainder of the day – mainly because the wind was still barely more than a breath. It was persistent but I don’t remember it being heavy and, besides making cornering a bit more of a challenge, the race carried on without much incident. Oh I remember that my chain did come off just as I crested a hill and was looking to take advantage of the downhill which was quite annoying to see everyone fly past me and I lost one of my aero handle bars (they barely register as inconveniences!)
In the weeks before the race I’d been settling on trying to use my heart rate to determine race pace so I could gauge a sustainable level of exertion. The fact that I completely arbitrarily chose 140bpm after I heard someone do it on Marathon Talk is inconsequential. I was going well and my HR was around my target, plus the regular intake of gels and carb drink meant I didn’t have any big dips in energy or speed.
I turned left to head back towards the estate and was stunned that the bike was nearly over. I’d not paid a huge amount of attention to the distance I’d covered and it really felt like the dismount line arrived sooner than it should have (I didn’t cheat, honest). Plus I hadn’t been overtaken by Aron or Jack as I’d feared I might be.
Now for a quick transition and go hard out of the blocks to pile the pressure on my pursuers. Of course not. T2 was a lot quicker than T1 but I was focusing on my strategy of 140bpm (or thereabouts) to maximise my chance of sustaining my pace. I settled alongside a South African doing his first 70.3 and we happily chatted our way round. Aron caught me at the first aid station about 1 1/2 miles in and looked really strong as he powered off into the distance. The run was 3 loops of 4.3 miles in the private estate and was a mix of trail and paths through woodland with a figure of 8 formation which meant spectators could see you twice every lap. Whether you saw them is another matter – I was so happily chatting to my new South African mate that I completely blanked Naomi the first time. Unforgivable.
The first two loops went by without incident, but by the start of lap 3 I was starting to tire. My running buddy took off in pursuit of a sub 1:45 run and I settled in for the grind to the finish. Luckily the on-course organisation is top notch and the well-stocked aid stations were a welcome relief.
**Tip – High5 do aqua gels which are like biting into a water balloon. Really refreshing and dead easy to digest**
Miles 9 to 11 were a bit grim and while my pace slowed while my HR went up – I think that’s a sign of being really, really fit, right? As ever, the pain and discomfort eventually started to subside and I tried to pick my feet up and push to the finish. Despite the horrible weather there was lots of support and it was a huge boost – every cheer or well done that was received. I turned the corner, headed onto the orange carpet and sprinted jogged for the line. Still fearful that I was going to be run down I glanced over my shoulder for Jack but my paranoia was misplaced. A punch of the air and I was done.
Aron was still hovering at the finish line and, unbeknownst to us at the time, Jack was a couple of minutes from finishing too – nearly overhauling his 12minute deficit! I’d come third on the day but had feared it would be half an hour or more after the other 2 so I was really thrilled with how I’d performed and I’m extremely proud how all of us did.
The Sunday dinner and couple of pints barely touched the sides as we reflected on a great day. I’d definitely recommend a step up to 70.3 distance, it’s a very different kind of triathlon to a sprint or Olympic distance but very rewarding.