Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Outlaw 2015 - A Premature End

So after a 1:49 swim and a transition of nearly 11 minutes I was on my bike and pedalling with 2 hours on the race clock and it was only 8am. A pirate lady had got on her bike just before me and we played a little bit of cat and mouse on the way round the lake. I have never got on very well either running or cycling with company, enjoying my own space. I finally broke away and was free to fly/potter along. Once round the lake I saw my raucous support crew cheering me through the tight corners and out onto the open roads.

I wasn't feeling especially good, my stomach felt bloated as it was in 2012. I'm still not sure if it is ducky lake water or air that I'm swallowing and I felt very uncomfortable at the start of the ride. I was making decent progress, the wind was light and the weather good. The course was very similar to that of 2012 but had undergone some tweaks. First off we headed out to Car Colston, this was only maybe 12 - 15 miles in and in the previous edition I had been greeted by Luke and then the rest of the gang, but with the reroute I thought I would beat them there this year, which I did. Through I went, staying relaxed and seated wanting to conserve my energy. I was being passed by the odd biker who had come out of the swim behind me, it didn't knock my confidence, more pepped me up because there were people around me. In 2012 I stopped at a portaloo after 30 miles and barely saw a soul afterwards.

The first official split came at 16 miles and I was through in 1:02:44 and averaging 15.4mph. Very early days but well in excess of the 14mph needed to make the cut off. I wasn't feeling quite as strong after the first go round the southern loop and 38 miles in, just over a 3rd of the ride done. I was already trying to break it down, a quarter done a 3rd done. Although enjoying my own space, this far back in the race was a little too lonely even for me.

I was now heading out on a pretty busy road on the way to the Northern loop. During the ride there were quite a few of those speeding warnings 'Thankyou 14mph.' I did manage to hit a downhill one at 24mph which was a bit more like it. As I headed down this long busy road I was seeing plenty of the fast boys coming the other way having done the Northern loop but thankfully there were still a few of us trucking on for the infamous Oxton Bank. I had done it in 2012 but didn't remember it as particularly scary and even managed to take a guy over going up it, but that year the Bank was much earlier in the ride when I was riding strong. This year it came around 50 miles in when there was some fatigue in my underprepared legs.

Memories do fade and Oxton Bank was actually quite a tester. I brought out the granny gear though and spun my little hamster legs around, I did have to get out of the saddle in my lowest gear just to keep myself moving. Strava has a segment on the steepest bit of 0.4 miles and an average gradient of 7% I make it having 11.1% at its steepest. I averaged the meagre speed of 6mph. I still found Leonard waiting for me at the top, we had been bouncing back and forth through the ride, me and granny a little stronger on the climbs. Leonard stronger on the downhill and flat.

With Oxton Bank done, the rain began to come down in earnest. I was slowing noticeably now and the rain and traffic was in marked contrast to the dry, quiet country lanes of the first loop. I was just keeping my head down into the wind and rain and using my low gears way too much. My big gear only getting some use when I was on a downhill, showing you where my bike fitness is. Strava has helped me out again and has the Southwell loop measuring at 18.4 miles and I averaged 13.4mph.

Off the loop and onto the busy road heading back towards Car Colston, I didn't spot any landmarks on the way down and so the road seemed to go on forever. I lost it mentally here in quite a big way. The culmination of lots of different things just got on top of me. I was cycling pitifully slowly, the rain was coming down harder and I was soaked through, the rain was washing the sweat into my eyes and I really didn't feel too safe riding in the gutter with fast moving traffic going past. A number of riders I had seen earlier went past me and a new one called Amanda. These guys had all whipped out the ponchos and my poor lightweight yellow jacket was waiting patiently for me back in transition. I just wanted it over and Car Colston couldn't come fast enough!

Analysing it afterwards it was actually a gradually downhill but I wasn't feeling the benefit in my own little world of my discomfort and self pity. Finally, mercifully familiar points appeared. More smiling marshalls, absolute troopers each and every one of them. Every feed station was noisy and enthusiastic, all my water bottle grabs went surprisingly well. The marshalls on their own at lonely roundabouts were smiling and just a few kind words really roused my spirits. But my heart had gone out of it now and the 'keep smiling' 'well done, keep going' were outweighed by the demons telling me I'd done it before, telling me I had 8.5 hours more exercise in the rain before I got to become an Outlaw a second time. Do you really want to go through all of that? I spent the hour or so in the lead up to Car Colston weighing it up and the answer that I kept coming to was no I didn't. My cheer squad were in position and in good voice when I passed, but I gave the signal that it was all over. I talked it through with them, and a few cyclists passed as we were chatting which was nice as I wasn't last but I just couldn't face the 2.5 hours needed to get me round the southern loop and home again.

My bike splits from my Garmin look like this:
10miles - 38:23 - 15.63mph (section), 15.63mph (overall)
20miles - 40:46 - 14.72mph, 15.17mph
30miles - 42:05 - 14.26mph, 14.87mph
40miles - 43:41 - 13.74mph, 14.59mph
50miles - 39:20 - 15.19mph, 14.71mph
60miles - 41:22 - 14.50mph, 14.67mph
70miles - 47:19 - 12.68mph, 14.39mph
77.34miles - 34:43 - 12.69mph, 14.17mph

It looks worse than it is, obviously not showing wind, rain or gradients. I think the last loop would have suited me better than the northern loop, but there was definitely a fade be that mental or physical.

Lauren my wife was worried I would have regrets and I told her I didn't. Even now two days later I don't regret my decision. My only regret is that I failed myself so abysmally in my training. I could have made it to the end of the bike, I think I would have made the cut-off and been allowed to begin the run but I was pleased to go out on my terms and still in one piece.

I love the enormity of the challenge of Ironman, but I just haven't found the commitment to train for one properly, and when you don't they come and take a great big bite out of your butt. I will get all the pieces slotting together and produce an Ironman training and race performance I can be proud of it, but it might not come for years. I intend to stay fit be that with running or something else physical and when I feel ready I will fully commit to the monster that is an Ironman. Hats off to all those who have completed an Iron distance race, you are all mental and especially well done to the Outlaw class of 2015, it was a toughie.

Thanks to my wife Lauren, Mum and Dad, Luke and Amber, Jan, Dan and Henley the dog. You were all great supporters, sorry I couldn't finish the task and really give you something to cheer. Also thanks to all the Facebookers and texters who have helped pick me up when I've been feeling really flat. I have done over 100 races and this was my first DNF, it hurts, but it's not over. We go again.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Outlaw 2015 - The One With the DNF - Part One

Just a quick bit of background before I dive into how my day went at the Outlaw on Sunday. I completed this in July 2012 in a time of 16:05 and even made it onto the Channel 4 coverage for my 5 seconds of fame, unfortunately it wasn't a speaking part, just me running down the finishing chute. In the 2012 instalment I had swam half distance in the pool a couple of times, never swam in open water and only cycled half race distance over a rolling route once in my build up. I had done LEJOG in 13 days the previous year, but that fitness had most certainly gone a year later. I had a few years of running behind me and this was by far the discipline I was most comfortable with. The day was epic and a day of firsts, my first wearing of a wetsuit, my first open water swim, my longest swim, my longest cycle, my first triathlon, my first Iron distance race completed. Lots of boxes ticked but not a time I was particularly pleased with.

A few years later, having watched my brother Luke perform well at the Outlaw in 2014 and with my brother Joe in Australia really throwing himself into Iron distance racing I thought it was time for me to throw my hat back in the ring and go long. You have to book a year out due to the popularity of the event. Lots of time for me to knuckle down and do all the training I should have done last time. It didn't happen.

Running - 763 miles - 20 mile PB and 10km PB. In very good shape in May, Have taken my foot off the gas since June.

Bike - 311 miles
73 miles of commuter riding in 9 trips.
10 miles of gentle riding home after swimming in 2 trips.
228 miles of road biking on mainly flat terrain over 7 trips. Longest ride of 56 miles with little to no hills.

Swim - 2 swims. One 25 minute swim, one 35 minute swim.

All of this meant it was going to be 2012 all over again, lots of suffering and a race to beat the cut off.

To add insult, to being hugely unprepared was the weather forecast for Sunday of rain starting at 11am and not ceasing until 11pm. My legion of supporters were warned of the weather and told not to worry if they wanted to skip it but they all came back positively and they would be there ready to cheer me on my quest to become an Outlaw a second time.

Lauren and I got through the process of registering me, servicing bike, racking bike, preparing kit bags, attending mandatory, dull, long, rehashing all the things I had read and reread in the information booklet. But finally we had done the formalities. One good thing to come out of the day was I got chatting to a guy called Ian and we exchanged some tri stories whilst having an alcohol free beer as we waited for the briefing to begin. We did also get to spend some time with Jan and Dan before we headed back to the hotel for dinner and an early night.

Race morning we were up at half 3 and after some fun and games with temporary outlaw tattoos we were out the door at 4:15. Finally got the car parked and began to make our way down to the start. I put my last few bits into my kitbag and got my 2second water bottle on the bike, checked the beast was racked alright then headed back to Lauren. Everyone else seemed very relaxed, some were in their wetsuits but rolled down to their waist. Others were in their casual gear and didn't have a care in the world. Lauren and I on the other hand were doing our double act trying to get me into my wetsuit. We had found a few minor tears in it the night before and used the wetsuit glue to attempt to close them up. I think we did a pretty good job of it to be fair, but as soon a I got the wet suit on and heaved it into position a whole new set of 4 holes popped open. Glorious! We elected against gluing them as they wouldn't set in time. Now fully in my wetsuit, but not at all comfortable I gave Lauren a kiss and headed for the start area proper.

Once there I bumped into Ian and we wished each other luck and said we would look out for each others results then headed for the water. I was nervous but just pleased to be getting going. I warmed myself in the lake and waited anxiously for the starting hooter. Off it went at 6am, 17 hours to get this thing done! I probably picked the wrong pen and position again this year, 3rd pen and midpack. Knowing I was on for a 1:40-1:50 swim. I paid for this choice with wacks around the head. I make quite good time in the first 500m as I get pushed along by the masses. When I was still getting hit after 1,250m the novelty had well and truly worn off, but at least people were still around me.

I was trying to check my time at every 250m marker, the only way I could do this was by stopping swimming, putting my arm under the water and waiting until the murk cleared for me to read the time before setting off again. I was aware that this may have given anyone watching me the impression that I was dead, face first in the water, but I did try and do it for just a few seconds before going back to the business of swimming. One highlight of the outbound leg was a swam of ducks/geese going overhead only for one of them to divebomb a poor swim 10 or 20 metres to my right. I hope they were ok, that would have really put me off my swim!

Finally mercifully I saw an orange buoy ahead of me. I had got quite lonely by this point and it was nice as I turned right to find some company. We had all spread out across the lake and having to go around the buoy meant we all came back together. Across the lake we went and then we were heading back to the finish, an incredible feeling. Now I was on the homeward leg and I was checking my watch as the markers were getting ticked off. I thought I might be on for 1:42 - 1:45 and my 2012 effort was 1:50 so I was very happy. Just keep on trucking. I felt a noise was following me, but my sighting skills are appalling and I was doing all I could to stay afloat so couldn't locate the sound or respond to it. I was still managing to find people to bump into, and I was convinced at the time that I was swimming straight and true and it was my fellow competitors going off line. But my wife took great joy in telling me it was a bit of both and that I probably swam 4.2km not 3.8km with all my zigzagging around. She did also spot my timechecking / play dead act and said the canoeist were keeping a close eye on me. I was oblivious and was convinced they were further over looking after other people.

The finish line seemed to take forever to come into proper focus, and even then 250m was taking me nearly 8 minutes and so it really was an age away. Finally, ever so slowly I was pulled ashore. My legs were giving up on me and I grabbed a barrier for support. My lovely crowd of supports gave me a huge roar and the announcer got my name, I guess off the chip time flashing up. My legs finally got the message that they still had 14-15 hours of work to do and got moving. I was helped out of my wetsuit by the wetsuit strippers, even if I did resist their advances.

Into the transition tent I went, way down deep into the transition tent. Grabbed my bag, laid it on the bench and got to work on taking what I wanted and discarding what was excessive. Finally after what felt like forever I managed to get off my tri suit, put on my cycle shorts, top, heart monitor, Garmin, helmet, socks, shoes and with failing hands managed to get some nutrition into the back of my top. The tights, jacket, chamois cream and sun tan lotion were all left in the bag. Then I was out, more cheers from Lauren, my parents, Luke, Amber and Jan. I think by this point Dan had taken Henley back to the camper van. I was off bike hunting, and what a straight forward hunt it was. The one advantage of taking 1:49 to do the swim and nearly 11 minutes to get through transition is that your bike is one of the very few left in the lot. I grabbed my trusty specialised allez with my much loved granny gear and headed for the exit. Over the mount line and we were off. 112 miles in 8 hours please sir. To be continued tomorrow.