I’m sat here writing this propped up on cushions and feeling like a truck has hit me. To look at me I’d be the poster boy for not racing long distance triathlon. The pain however will fade, the memory of finally crossing the finish line and becoming an Outlaw will live with me forever.
Twelve months ago I was high on my personal success at Ironman Germany and an adrenaline fuelled day of supporting my COLT club mates at Ironman UK. I wasn’t inspired by the Bolton event but when news broke of a new event in Nottingham called the Outlaw, I signed up straight away. My cousin Mike also signed up for his first crack at the distance, it would be a family affair. In the weeks that followed many Pirates also announced that they’d be racing, this really would be one hell of a weekend.
In a blink of an eye, an extremely eventful year had passed and it was time for me to join almost 900 other triathletes in our quest to become an Outlaw. Mike and I arrived at Holme Pierrepont on Friday to register and were both blown away by how long the swim was. Now that might seem strange but most open water swims I’ve ever done have involved swimming laps. This being in a rowing basin the swim was a straight out and back, if I squinted I could just about make out the final turn buoy.
We were back at the lake on Saturday to rack the bike, and it was a boost to see my COLT team mate Chris Wild doing the bike check-in. Like many of the volunteers that weekend he worked tirelessly for the success of the event. This was where it all started to go pear shaped for me. I couldn’t get my bike sensor to talk to the computer. I spent a good 40 minutes bent over fiddling, making minute adjustments to the magnet and the senor. It finally picked up a reading but as I stood up something in my back just went, I had to grab the bike racking to stop me falling over. I tried to walk it off and it did ease. A few painkillers made a difference and I settled into the mindset of nailing it the next day.
My alarm went at 3:30, a breakfast of porridge, nurofen and coffee, a good luck kiss from a half asleep Emma and I was away. Mike and I where up at the venue for 4:30am and preparing for the race. In no time at all the wetsuits were on and we were herded out like sheep to the swim pens. I saw a couple of people slip on the concrete slipways to the water and decided to just go to the end of the jetty and jump in. As a result I was on the front line, not good if you are a bad swimmer like me.
The hooter sounded at 6am and the inaugural Outlaw was under way. The first half of the swim until the turn was the usual bun fight, hands and feet delivering blows of varying intensity. If violence of this nature took place on dry land it would be called wrestling. Despite the constant jostling I managed to find a comfortable rhythm and swam comfortably. I then hit a very dense patch of underwater grass, it was hanging off my goggles and actually tore off my nose clip ( yeah I know….but the nose clip is a confidence thing for me ). Every time my hand came out of the water I had a fistful of grass, I also had to check that my timing chip was still on my ankle because grass was hanging off my lower limbs as well. Around the turn buoys and I managed to catch a decent draft for a while, this combined with sighting off the 20 metre apart rowing lane markers meant that I was probably actually swimming in a straight line in an open water slim for the first time ever. Before I knew it I was back at the start being pulled out of the water by Chris Wild, I looked at my watch fully expecting a slow time. I was quicker than expected, 1:25:02. I was elated but as I ran up the ramp my left foot slipped and I hit the concrete hard on my left knee, two blokes stopped to pick me up.
I have had so much stick this past year over my shameful T1 performance at Germany last year of about 14 minutes. I was determined to get out a lot quicker. I stopped only to put on socks and shoes. My gloves, helmet and glasses were put on whilst moving forward. Another pause to have sun cream applied and I was off and running through the bike racks to my machine. I was on my way in 5:35. I was grinning, as I was so pleased with myself.
I took my time in the first few miles, eating and drinking and shouting to my family as I passed. My knee was a little sore but thankfully my back felt ok. The bike hummed along underneath me as I was riding on set of very nice and fast borrowed Hed Jet wheels. The bike course was a quick one, there were a few hills on it but nothing significant. The highlights of each lap were the Pirate feed station, where the noise was deafening, the left turn at the pub on the top half of the course where again the support was deafening and seeing my family at the bottom of the loop. My chain came off on the first loop when I changed gear but much worse to come on the third and final lap. I had 92 miles on the computer when another gear change went wrong, I heard clanging and looked down expecting to see my chain had come off, what I wasn’t expecting was that it had snapped. I got off the bike and my first instinct was to pick the bike up and throw it n front of the passing traffic. If it wasn’t for the very expensive borrowed wheels I might have done. I composed myself, lent the bike against a wall. I reached into my saddle bag and pulled out a chain splitter tool and spare chain links. Ironically I’d removed the tool the day before, deciding it was too heavy and un-necessary, thankfully something made me repack it. I was also very grateful at that point that my training partner and bike guru, Andy Holme, had actually taught me how to fix a chain earlier this year on my other bike. My hands covered in oil, I’d lost about 15 minutes but as I got ready to remount the bike I was just happy my race wasn’t over. As I attempted to swing my leg over the bike, pain engulfed me and I swore outline. Being bent over a chain had aggravated my back again. I had to lay the bike almost horizontal to be able to get my leg over the top tube. The rest of the bike ride was slow and laboured. I don’t think I could even raise a smile for my family as I passed them for the last time. The bike was done in a very disappointing 6:46:06, but I knew if I could run well I could still get a pb.
Into T2 and I managed to get off the bike without embarrassing myself. I sat down on a chair to put my running shoes on. Big Mistake, I had to be pulled to my feet by another runner on their way past. Within the first 800m of the run I knew any thoughts of a pb had to go, every time I planted my left foot my knee and back exploded in pain. If it had been a training run I would have stopped immediately, it wasn’t, it was a race, I had to man up and run / walk / shuffle / crawl a marathon.
The laps around the lake felt like they would never end but the out and back legs along the River Trent were uplifting because of the support, especially from my fellow Pirates. There was also the support of the fellow athletes. Hearing my young nieces, Georgia and Eloise shouting “Go Pirate Go” brought a smile to my face.
I saw Mike running back the other way, “Never Again” was his comment as the temperatures soared. I was above the legal limit of pain killers but I was desperate by now, and on the final lap my dad joined me like he had at Frankfurt the year before. He encouraged me to run between the floodlights and kept me going, as did fellow Pirate Silent Assassin before storming away from me.
Suddenly I was back at the lake, I had 3/4s of a lap to do and I would be an Outlaw. I wanted to finish so badly, I wanted the pain to stop. My pride kicked in because I knew that three friends, Lisa, Anna and Dan were chasing me down. I looked behind and Lisa was less than 400m behind me. I dug deep, my dad shouting encouragement. With 100m to go I was met by fellow COLTS Chris and Rob who escorted me home. I milked the finishing chute for all I was worth, high fiving the crowd and applauding them all. Suddenly amongst the Pirates, there was Emma, my wife, in floods of tears. I grabbed her, and kissed her and reassured her I was ok. I then crossed the line and punched the air in sheer delight, the hardest 14 hours 17 minutes and 48 seconds of my life was over. I was in agony but my pride at being an Outlaw drowned it out. Lisa crossed the line and we hugged in a Pirate celebration.
I was reunited with my family and discovered that Mike had finished in 12:43:51, he was already talking of a sub 12 attempt. I’d warned him that Ironman racing was addictive.
This was a great event, and one that everyone should consider doing. If a Kona slot isn’t your objective, you’d be mad to dismiss the Outlaw. It can only go from strength to strength. As always I learnt a lot about myself, my resolve, my weaknesses, my stubbornness and my desire to complete the task. It’s the tough days that make the good ones that much sweeter, we all need a tough day sometimes.
I will be back, I firmly believe I have a sub 12hr in me. However it won’t be next year, next year is all about half ironman and baby Holgate. However for now I’m a very sore but extremely proud Outlaw.
Well done to my fellow racers, and thanks to all the volunteers and the amazing supporters.