Outlaw 2011 “The difficult second album”

Sequels are always difficult.  With the exception of Godfather 2, The Empire Strikes Back and Toy Story 2, sequels usually forget everything that made the first version good and produce a result that is vastly inferior.  Matrix Reloaded is a case in point.

And many bands have struggled with “the difficult second album” as they toiled to recreate that raw, inexperienced magic that made their debut album such a success.

So would a second Ironman be as difficult?

What’s next?

Last year’s Outlaw was fantastic.  As a journey, an event and a personal experience it ticked every box.  So as the dust settled after the amazing experience of the finish line and my appearances on the BBC website and in Triathlon Plus, the usual “What next?” reared its head.

As I know a bit about Economics and the law of diminishing returns, I realised early on that if I tried to do the same thing – same plan, same build up, same races – the emotional gains and success I’d got in 2010 would be at nowhere near the same level.

So my initial thoughts were to do something totally different.  IMUK 2011 was on my wedding anniversary so that was out.  I didn’t really fancy Challenge Henley, even though that (with the Outlaw) was closest to home.

For some reason I was intrigued by they new Ironman Wales – even though getting from rural Bedfordshire to Tenby meant travelling 5 or 6 hours across the UK, not like popping 90 minutes up to the Outlaw course for a recce.

The other challenges of Ironman Wales would be a sea swim, a run up to transition, a very hilly bike and an unknown run, which would probably also be very hilly.  But a challenge was what I wanted, right?

On a hunch that this was a new exciting event like the Outlaw was in 2010, and wanting a goal to aim for, I stumped up the entry fee and I was on the list for Ironman Wales 2011.

The Plan

In 2010, I did the 30 week Don Fink plan which at over six months seemed too long to be totally focussed throughout.  IMW was on Sept 11th, so learning from my previous experience, I devised a 20 week plan which would start on April 25th but would start with a 4hr bike/1 hr run/1 hr swim as the long sessions as I would use the winter spring to loose weight, increase my speed and in an unstructured way, build up to those distances.

And it was a great plan and worked well…providing you were going for a race in September…

Long Course Weekend

The key to my plan was Long Course Weekend on the first weekend in June.  The weekend consisted of a road trip down to Tenby on Friday morning, 3.8km on the IMW course that evening, then on Saturday 112 hilly miles on the IMW course.

Up until that point, my swim training was going fine.  Like a lot of middle-back of pack triathletes who don’t come from a swimming background, I have one swim speed.  Whether that’s 400m or 4km, it’s exactly the same speed – I’ve just learned to go on forever.  So at will I could knock out 1500m in 34min, 1.9km in 44min, 3.8km in 92 min, the same as at last year’s Outlaw.

So in my head, the swim was in the bank, so my big long course weekend worry was the bike.

Swim Carnage in Tenby!

That is until I got to the 3rd buoy on the Tenby swim.  As I turned back to the beach I, like everyone else hit the tide full on.  20 mins of hard swimming later, I looked back and had moved 20 feet from the buoy.

I crawled back onto the beach after about 1hr 15, as one of the lucky ones…some had been swept out to sea to be picked up by the RNLI, or swept right down the beach to do the walk of shame back to the start finish.  For me, I missed the cut off for the start of the 2nd lap, and my “swim in the bank” may as well have been swept up the Pembrokeshire coast.

I went back to the B&B and Skyped my wife and kids before they went to bed at home.

But when I went to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  The Ironman rug had been truly ripped out from under me.

If I couldn’t finish the swim, how could I do the rest?

The Aftermath

After the sleepless, worrying night, I did the very scenic IMW course the next day.  I managed to complete 72 miles at 14 mph (8hr bike pace) but every one of those miles things were ticking over in my head – how would I finish that swim?  Even if I did finish the swim, would I have used too much energy to finish the bike and the run?

As I got back to the B&B, I checked out the T&C’s on the IM Wales web site regarding the withdrawal policy.  I had a week to decide and I could get half my money back, otherwise it went down to 25%.  I spoke to my wife on the phone that night and was very down.

Could I do this with 3 months more training?  The bike and the run definitely yes – but however much swimming I did, if the tide was the same on the day, my day could be over very quickly.

As well as the expense of accommodation and travel, we were taking our eldest out of his first week in big school to come down to Tenby for the week – how would I feel if we made those family sacrifices, for me to be washed up on the beach after an hour?

Next morning, I was up early, packed up for the drive home.  6 hours is a long time on your own in the car and there was some hard thinking to be done.

The Decision

I gave myself till Wednesday to decide.  Obviously you know as this is an Outlaw report that I chose not to do IM Wales – I wish all doing the race well in September, but it wasn’t for me this year.

So what to do now?  If I still wanted to go long, I had the choice of Challenge Henley or the Outlaw.   As my confidence had taken a battering with the swim in Tenby, I was grasping for some certainty, so although it would make more sense to keep to a September race,

I decided I needed the confidence of a race that I knew well…it had to be the Outlaw!!

This meant I now had 7 weeks of training left before race day.  Now when you’re planning your training before your Ironman race, you’d normally be talking 30 or 20 or maybe 12 weeks.  7 wouldn’t normally be the number of weeks you’d go for.

I had already entered the Cotswold 113 at the end of June.  3 days after this we were going on a two and a half week holiday and 5 days after we came back was race day.

So my big week would be 4 weeks out – I would start with a full 112m ride on the Outlaw course, a couple of long runs and swims then straight into the Cotswold 113 half ironman.  With a week or so build and a 3 week taper (enforced because of the family holiday) that would be my Outlaw training done.

Surely that would be enough, wouldn’t it?  I mean, I’d done it last year, and I felt fitter now – it’s going to be easy now I know what I’m doing?

The Big Week

In most Ironman plans, there is a big week – 3-4 weeks from race day you do a week where you do your longest sessions in each sport, and this really marks the peak week of you training.   For confidence, I make sure mine contains the full distance swim, the full distance bike and at least a 2.5 hr run.

In 2011 and 2010 my biggest session of the year was the full 112m ride on the Outlaw course.  In 2010 that was mostly in a group, so I was pleased my 2011 ride was totally on my own and quicker than the 2010 recce or race.  It also gave me a chance to check out the course changes which, in my opinion, make it a faster course (in equal conditions).

As well as long swim and run sessions, the big week finished with a half ironman event, the fantastic Cotswold 113 which I would recommend to anyone.  This gave me a massive confidence boost.  My one previous half distance event was in 2010 and I did a 7:39.

In 2011 I smashed that, doing a 6:58 beating my PB by 41 mins in very hot conditions.

My confidence was now on a high as this event marked the end of my long sessions and an enforced move into shorter sessions as in 3 days, we went off to France.

Taper

Now there is a lot of debate as to whether a taper is necessary.  However when your going on holiday with the family and spending the first four days driving over 1000km and stopping at Disneyland on the way down, I didn’t really have any choice.

I took my road bike however, and managed to cycle 5-6 times (60-90 min hilly sessions) while down in the Dordogne, which is wonderful cycling country, although swimming and running were minimal.

After driving 1000km back up France over a couple of days, it was now just 4 working days till Race Day.

Did I have enough in the tank?  Was I over reliant on the good bits I remembered from last year? Was I being over confident because I had been there, done it, got the t shirt?

Race Build Up

The forecast wasn’t great in the build up to the race, so after discussing it with my wife, we decided that rather than all come up and camp for the weekend, Katy and the kids would stay at home and watch me on the tracker.  I think it’s harder for the spectators than it is for the competitors on race day – at least there’s something for us to do!!

Setting up camp

So I travelled up first thing Saturday morning and spent Friday taking my eldest (Jack who’s four) to see Cars 2 at the cinema.  He loved it, but I overdosed on pick and mix, which probably did me or my bank balance no good at all!!

Once I’d put my tent and gazebo up, I walked the few hundred yards to transition (one of the great things about the Outlaw) I met a load of new and old faces that I knew from TriTalk or who had just seen me in Triathlon Plus or read my 2010 report on the internet and wanted to talk about the race coming up.

I registered, got my wristband, my goodie back and my transition bags and headed back to the tent.

I was determined to correct 3 mistakes I’d done in 2010:
1)    I spent all Saturday rushing around and felt like I’d done a marathon by the time transition closed.
2)    In the race I didn’t have a drink in T2 and ended up really dehydrated by the first feed station
3)    I went ridiculously fast out of T2 and ended up walking for almost a whole lap

Bike Racked Early

The first one I achieved by backing all my transition bags on Thursday night in my 2010 transition backs, so all I had to do on Saturday was swap to the new bags and put in transition.  This worked like a dream.

Also what I did right was to sort my bike out and rack it first, then come back and do my bags.  That way, I wasn’t trying to do a million things at once.

Once I handed in my bags in the change tent, I went up to the expo and handed my special needs bag, although on the day, I didn’t ever stop for it.  Mine contained various sweet and savoury foods, a spare contact lens, spare CO2 and a spare tube.  Luckily OSB had them for collection the next morning, so I got it all back!!

I managed to get it back the next day from the water sports centre, so none of it was wasted!!

Once I’d done, I gave the wife and kids a ring, then it was chill out time, which I did by watching the last time trial of the Tour de France in the bar – as you will guess, that was very popular ;-)

After that, it was time to get to the 4pm race briefing, which mostly told me stuff I already knew (apart from there was an extra out and back at the start of the bike) but it’s always better to be safe.

Then it was time to go back to the tent and cook pasta on the camping stove.  For some reason, I was really proud of my warmed up pasta meal and I phoned Katy to tell her so!!

Family Support

It was odd being there on my own without my family to support me.  However as I left the loos just before bed, I heard “is that you Tim?” Strangely it was my Aunty and Uncle from up north – my cousin’s husband (who I’d only met once) was taking part in the Outlaw too, and my Aunty and Uncle, my cousin, her husband and their two kids were camped about 100yds away from me.

Although there was lots of TriTalk support and a lot of triathlon friends around, for some reason it felt a lot more comfortable having family around.

And 24 hrs later, I would discover how important it would be!!

Time for bed

I’ve camped a couple of times at a triathlon, and it’s noticeable that as soon as 9pm ticks over, there’s an unwritten rule that everything goes quiet.  If you miss the 9pm deadline you feel pretty guilty at the loud noise your tent zip makes.

So, with one alarm set for 3:50am and another for 4am (I was paranoid about sleeping through and the race starting without me) I settled down to sleep.

Race Day

Then before I knew it, the alarm went off and it was time to race!!

One of the advantages about camping so close to transition was that as soon as transition was open at 4:15am I popped down to check my bike was ok and put my Profile Aquacell and nutrition on.

Then it was back to the tent for breakfast (a banana, cuppa and a flapjack).  I then chilled out until 5:30am when I updated my status for the last time on Facebook, put my wetsuit on while still at my tent and walked down to the start.

The walk of the condemned

Even though I’d done this before the previous year, it still felt like a condemned man’s walk to the gallows as we all walked down to the start.  You could tell that everyone equally wanted the companionship of others, but avoided eye contact at the same time.

Outlaw Swim Start

The mood yo-yoed between playful banter and nervous silence.

It was a bit confusing at the start as I thought there were going to be 4 bays at the start of the lake which we were supposed to filter in depending on speed and I was going in bay 3 (with 1 being the fastest).

For some reason, there were only three – I thought about it for a second, thought I wouldn’t let it stress me out and just picked the middle one, thinking it would sort itself out after a few hundred metres.

The 550 swimmers waded into the Holme Pierrepont lake trying (and failing) to see the turn buoys at the other end through the sunrise.  I looked right to the swim finish arch hoping it wouldn’t be that long till I went through it, zeroed my stop watch and the countdown began.

It was 6am exactly and the start of a very long day.

The Swim

For a deep water, mass start of that many swimmers, there was very little rough stuff.  I guess everyone (at least where I was) realised it was a long day ahead of us and punching people to save a few seconds probably wasn’t a good idea.

The swim into the sunrise

The Outlaw swim is as easy as a swim can get.  The lake is just a 2km long swimming pool and you just have to swim two lengths.

I did 1:32 for the swim in 2010 in weeds so thick I was pulling myself along at one point.  In 2011 the lake was almost weed free!!

I’d made a pact that I wasn’t going to look at my watch until I reached exactly halfway.  This would allow me to concentrate on swimming rather than worrying about pace.

I drafted a few people and I could feel people drafting me.  The lack of weed actually made it quite boring and to amuse myself I ended up counting the strokes between the regatta buoys  (every 20 metres or so).  As they are in a straight line right up the lake, it also meant I could tell more or less whether I was going in a straight line.

Approaching the finish

I got to the end of the lake in the middle of the two buoys and checked my watch.  47 minutes.  At the same point last year, it was 45 mins, so I was a little disappointed.  But I had the 2nd half to pull it back.

As I got halfway down the return leg, I was breathing to the right so could see the first cyclists making their way down the lake and picked out Tom Lowe zooming out onto his first lap.

By this stage, I was catching a few swimmers.  One guy seemed to be weaving across 2 whole lanes of the lake and was probably swimming twice what he should be – it turned out to be Repoman from TriTalk.  We made introductions in the change tent!!

At last I approached the finish ramp, was pulled out by the excellent marshals and the swim was over!!  I looked at my watch, but it said 1:39.  I was shocked that t had taken me 52 minutes for the second half and I was 7 mins slower than last year.

However, if I took less than 10 mins in transition, I would still be well on course to leave T1 within a few minutes of the time I did last year.

At this point though, unconsciously these few lost minutes dented my iron clad confidence and I re-evaluated my view that “I’ll easily beat my time from last year” to “I need to get on track with last year” which is straight away a totally different mind set.

T1 was a full change from Wetsuit and Trisuit to full cycling gear, so I dried off, Vaselined up, bib shorts, jersey, helmet, shoes and Garmin on, and all of a sudden, there was no reason to be hanging around the tent any more.

Outside to grab my bike (which was right near the changing tent end of transition) and out on to the bike leg.  This is where any time gains (or losses) would be made – I had eight and a half hours to get back to transition before cut off, which barring mechanicals or injury was comfortable.  I just had to keep my average speed over 14mph and I would be fine

The Bike

I used the lap round the lake to calm down and make sure everything was working ok.

Whereas in the swim I just had my stopwatch in, on the bike I also had my Garmin which was showing me Time of day (to ensure it was staying in time with my watch – paranoia again!!), Heart rate which I would try and keep under 150bpm, average speed which I would try and keep above 14mph and actual speed.

My nutrition on my bike was 14 Gels in the Small part of my Profile Aquacell (the bottle between my tri bars), about 2 per hour, 7 flapjack bites (one each hour) in the bento box along with some of my wife’s home made cheese straws for a savoury change if needed.

My plan was to not eat anything for the first 30 mins, then start my eating every 20 mins strategy.  I was planning to take a bottle of water every feed station, which would be roughly every hour.

Good in theory, but what I hadn’t realised was that the heat of the day was starting to rise, and my High5 Zero electrolyte tablets were still in my car.  That would come back to bite me later.

Out onto Adbolton Lane which joined the lake with the main A52 road and I started to pick up the pace.  There is something great about riding along a road like the A52 in your own coned off lane – I think it reminds me of watching Tour de France time trials, although I definitely wasn’t going as fast as Cadel Evans had been going the previous afternoon!!

The Outlaw bike course is an out of about 15 miles, then three 26 mile loops followed by a trip back to the lake.

For me, the ride really starts when we get on to the loop.  As I’m near the back, there aren’t that many people about on the way out and on the new bike course, the loop was a bit further away from the start so took longer to get there.

When reaching the loop, the first big group of supporters were on the Oxton Roundabout which gave me a big lift. Also, just after the roundabout, I had a bit of a flashback to last year’s Outlaw when Lucy Gossage shot past me on the start of her second lap…in 2010, she was also the first one to go past me when I got to the loop!!

Reaching the start of the loop meant that we’d imminently be hitting the only major climb on the course – Oxton Bank, new in 2011.

This is where a recce of the course was useful as I knew there was a gradual build then just before the tree line it kicked up to a maximum of 12% for about half a mile.

The first time up the Bank wasn’t too hard – I had done this 3 times in my 112m recce and knew that from the 12% sign, it was just over 200 pedal strokes to where it flattened out at the top.  Surely anyone could suffer for 200 pedal stokes, couldn’t they?  Well the first time I could, and just over the top of the hill was my first journey through the Pirates feed station.  I grabbed water as my nutrition plan dictated and without stopping progressed on.

It was at this point I realised I’d made a schoolboy error.  My nutrition strategy was to take 750ml water at every feed station and add a High 5 Zero electrolyte tablet to counter any cramping that might take place later on the bike or run as I sweated all the salt out of my body.

My High 5 Zero tablets were currently in the back of my car at the campsite.

I was now just over 20 miles into a 112 mile bike ride and it was starting to get hotter and windier.  Without electrolyte to add to the water my essential body salts may run low which could mean cramping, my body stopping absorbing food and water or in the worst case Hyponatremia or dilution of sodium levels in the blood which could ultimately lead to death.

At this point I decided to see how it went on this first lap – if any of these things became an issue, I would re-evaluate.

On the bike for Outlaw Glory

Following this feed station came my favourite piece of the bike course, new in 2011.  A long 10km shallow descent into Southwell, replacing the rolling road used in 2010 and suddenly the climb up Oxton bank was all worth it!!

As I shot into Southwell at just below 30mph, I started to see the amazing crowd gathered in the main town on the circuit.  As the course went into the centre of town the crowd filled the pavements on each side of the road Tour de France style cheering all the competitors as they made their way along past the historic minster.

Once on the way out of the town the crowds started to thin and I was out onto open roads again.  I ridden this section quite a few times over the past couple of years and it’s always been fast and enjoyable.  I got passed by a few friends in this section – the Outlaw number has your first name on them, so I got quite a few shouts as people came past, and on occasion introduced themselves as someone who’d been inspired to do the Outlaw by my report from 2010.

But all good things must come to an end – as I got to the junction with the A617, I knew from my recce and last year’s race that turning left onto the main road,  the road would be going up and a lot more wind on abusy stretch of road.

The next 10 miles of the course were a hard mainly upward drag into the wind as I fought against gravity and wind resistance that was making my legs heavier and heavier.   From the village of Kirklington, the hardest part of the course is the 4 mile drag into the prevailing wind up to Cockett Lane (known affectionately by the TriTalkers as Pink Bra Hill!!).  It’s up, open and windy and that’s not a good combination!!

This wasn’t too bad on lap one, but as the wind got up through laps 2 and 3 it got much harder.  It was also at this point on lap one that the leader on the road, Tom Lowe when past me like a motorbike going uphill at near 30mph.  I tried not to think that while I was on lap one, he was 50 miles ahead of me on lap 3…although a few months later he would finish 11th at the Ironman World Championships, so I guess I’m pleased at least I was on the same course as him!!

Once I’d ground my way up the hardest part, it was left turn into Cockett Lane and a bit of recovery.  It was also time for a bit of solid food and slightly squashed flapjack was on the menu.

It was now downhill for a while in some lanes, but as the route turned back right into the wind, although now flat, it was deceptively hard.

Ahead was the junction with the A614 which promised 3 things.  First, the next big congregation of crowd, second the way back onto the road that lead back to the start of the next lap and third, the timing mat, at the other end of the course from Holme Pierrepont.
This was significant, as I knew that when I went over the mat, my time would go back to the start and up onto the internet where my family and friends could see it.

Strangely that gave me a strong connection with my loved ones each lap, knowing they would be getting an update of my time, and this was a huge thing to look forward to, both at this point on the bike, and much later on during the run.

From the pub on the corner of the junction it was a mere 4 miles of fast dual carriageway to the Oxton Roundabout and the start of the second lap.  Around 43 miles covered by the time I completed the lap, and a mere 69 miles left to go!!

My average bike speed to this point was 15.9mph which was great for me. But had I gone too fast too early?  And would ‘my lack of High 5 Zero cause me problems in the laps to come?

Once through Oxton on the start of lap 2, I could see the second ascent of Oxton Bank was imminent.

Buoyed up by the completion of the first lap, the fact that more and more age groupers were out on the road with me and that the climb hadn’t been so bad on the first lap, I thought I would really go for it, get over the climb quickly and be on the downhill to Southwell before I knew it.

As the road started to rise up, I kicked off and got out of the saddle to get some momentum up.

After around a hundred metres of the increase in power, I got cramp in both legs, starting in my calf and up through my quads. Managing (just) not to fall off, I stopped at the side of the road.

I waited a few seconds astride my bike to get my breath back, unsure as to whether the best thing was to get off my bike which may cause more cramp getting off, and there was no guarantee I would be able to get on again.

A steady stream of riders, some of which I knew went past and asked if I was alright.  In fact, although the cramp had diminished, I was pretty far from alright.  My 15.9mph average to that time would reduce rapidly if I couldn’t put pressure on the pedals.

The possibility of taking 60 or 90 minutes off of last year’s time was suddenly an empty target, and now I was back to survival.  Survive the bike at 14mph or above, and then see if cramp would be a factor in the run.

However, the most important priority was to get going again – sitting still in an Iron-distance triathlon is the worst thing you can do.

I got my lowest gear ready on my bike, then pushed off, pedalling as lightly as I could, while still maintaining enough forward momentum to keep me upright.

After what seemed like hours, I managed to get through the 200 pedal revolutions to the top of the climb and freewheel again.  The Pirate’s feed station was there again, and I was going to grab water as planned.

Suddenly my mind whipped me back to the Outlaw training day, May 2010.  High 5 were giving a presentation on their product range, and I remember asking if High5 Citrus Energy source had electrolytes in, or would I have to take Zero or salt tabs too?  The answer was that it did have electrolytes in, and here were the Pirates giving it out.

So here could be the answer to my electrolyte issue, but what would an extra bottle of Carb drink mean to my nutrition plan?  Although I’d used High5 Energy source before and I knew my stomach could take it, too many carbs per hour and I could get GI issues and be very sick.

So to solve my cramp problems that I saw as the main priority in surviving the next few hours, I grabbed my first bottle of High5.  Never try anything new on race?  Err…sometimes you have to improvise!!

The rest of lap 2 when without any dramatic events and the cramp seemed to be under control.  For a back of packer, lap two is good as you’re with the rest of the age groupers and have company, with most on their lap 3.

The emotionally difficult bit is when you’re approaching the start of the third lap and everyone is getting ready to go straight onto the finish, and you still have to turn left on lap 3.  The feeling is almost like being homesick.

But just over 40 miles remaining which would be around 3 hours of riding left.  It was just coming up to 1pm and any normal person would be getting ready for their Sunday lunch!!

For me, Sunday breakfast, lunch and dinner was Energy Gels and Flapjacks all washed down with High5 energy source. So as the majority headed back for Holme Pierrepont, I took the lonely road onto lap 3.

The first test on lap 3 was Oxton Bank climb.  If I could get up here, I should be ok to get back to Holme Pierrepont.  I’d had regular twinges of cramp through lap 2, but was ok as long as I didn’t push it too hard – the Electrolytes in the Energy Source seemed to be improving things.

My average had slowed to 14.9mph with the stops and the cramp, but as the magic number is 14mph for an 8 hour bike ride, I still had some margin for issues.

For a back of packer, lap 3 is a lonely place, as there are no fast people to pass you and give you encouragement anymore, and any other athletes on lap 3 are likely to be going the same speed as you, so unless you’re already with them, you are unlikely to see them.

Also, most spectators would have gone back to Holme Pierrepont to watch the run by now, so you are mostly riding along in your own bubble, until a feed station at which point you really appreciate the volunteers and what they do – the main thing being giving you a bit of company.

It is on lap 3 that the long hours of training come into play, as the loneliness makes it easy for the demon voices to be heard in your head telling you just to get off your bike.  If you’ve done a lot of long rides, it makes this a lot easier.

The positive, however, is that you are seeing everything for the last time – the last time past that roundabout or that strange caravan or the last time up that hill.  This gives you the momentum to keep pushing to the finish.

Going back into Southwell, the absence of the earlier crowd presented a scene almost like the day after a party.  All the enjoyment had already taken place, and the few people left were just there to clean up the broken streamers, confetti and empty bottles.

At the furthest part of the course I went over the timing mat again and was transported back to my friends and family waiting for the updates at home.  I almost felt like shouting out or giving a wave to acknowledge that connection.

Now it was just the trip back to Holme Pierrepont along the dual carriageway, retracing my steps from over six hours ago to get back to T2.

Unfortunately, the wind had got up and was now blowing north up the main road which meant it was a hard run in.  Down to the River Trent, very steady up the climb which luckily didn’t have a right turn up the top and I knew now I was only about 40 mins from the end of the bike.

The tough rolling road over the top to Radcliffe followed, and finally the right turn into the road back to Holme Pierrepoint.
Suddenly, all I wanted was to be off the bike.  I wasn’t thinking about the 26.2 mile run at this moment, I just knew that the ride had to stop.

However what is normally a reasonably short road seemed to be much longer than ever before as I tried to get back to T2.  Eventually I got back into the National Water Sports Centre and crossed the timing mat at 7:47:25 – 10 minutes faster than last year, which I thought was pretty good after my double leg cramp incident on Oxton Bank.

All in all, average speed 14.3 mph, 2,988ft of climbing and 5,660 calories burned. Average hr was 151bpm which was a little higher than I was expecting, although lower than in 2010.

Transition 2

I gladly gave my bike to the volunteer, went into the Marquee to get my T2 bag, then leisurely got changed for the run.

Now I was off the bike, my body felt full of energy just from the relief of not pedalling any more after almost 8 hours.  This was the same in 2010, and this lead to me thinking I was invincible and running off at a stupid pace for the first 20 mins and walking the rest of lap 1 to recover.

The key decision I’d made pre-race was that when I got to this point, I would walk the first 10 mins of the marathon, just to make sure I was as recovered as possible from the bike before I started to run and to let the euphoria of getting off the bike to go away.

I would then start Run/Walk – I’d trained at 4 min run, 1 min walk, but I would evaluate during that first 10 mins of walking whether I was still going to do that or not.

It was now 3:49pm.  I had 7 hours and 11 mins to make cut off.   All I had to do was to keep under 16 min miles and I would finish my second Outlaw.

I had put a small 500ml bottle of water in my T2 back to give me a drink there (which I’d missed in 2010).  I then had an inspired decision to take this bottle with me rather than leave it in my bag, thinking I’d drop it at the first feed station.

The Run

The Outlaw Marathon is roughly 3.5 laps which starts with a lap of the lake from T2 to the finish, then 3 laps of an out-and-back from the finish along the tow path to County hall followed by a lap of the lap.  At my pace, it should take me under 2 hours to complete each lap, and if my Garmin gave up giving me pace information, this would be the key piece of information to pace myself – under 2 hour laps would bring me in well before 11pm.

I enjoyed the first 10 mins of walking, sipping water and in fact maintained my sub-16 min mile pace even during this 10 mins.  My decision on Run/Walk interval was that I would start at 3 min run/2 min walk and see where I went from there.

My thinking was 1 min recovery was probably too small after 10 hrs of exercise, but 5 mins was right.    As it was, this thinking was perfectly right, and I kept the 3/2 interval right through to the end of the marathon – all 82 repetitions!!

I started my first run interval, taking it very gently, but it seemed to be ok.  After two intervals, I was at the first feed station.  Rather than throw my bottle away, I instead got two cups of water in it, thinking hydration by sipping all the way round was better than trying to gulp down full cups every 20 mins.

So this habit went on – run 3 min, walk 2 min, fill bottle at feed station, sip water, pour water over head, run, walk and repeat.

I went through the finish for the first time and out on the first lap of the out and back.  I had loads of support from everyone who was out on the course, including my Auntie, Uncle and cousin with her kids which was a great lift.

The out and back is the great bit about the Outlaw run.  You can see everyone coming the other way which either helps you through their encouragement, or helps you because they look a lot worse than you feel, which in its own way makes you feel good!!

My 500ml bottle was doing the trick, as I was using it to both keep myself hydrated and keep my core temperature down.  Although aching now 11 hours had passed since diving into the lake, I still felt strong.

My lasting memory of the Outlaw marathon is coming back down to the lake at the end of the first lap and thinking “I’m bloody loving this!!”

When doing an Iron distance triathlon you will hurt and you will suffer, but you’ll never feel so alive.

The Outlaw Finishing Chute

After going through the finish at the end of lap 1, I got a shout out from the announcer as an “Outlaw Legend” following my 2010 exploits.  It was approaching 7pm now and getting to the busiest time of the finish around the 13 hour mark.

The “finishing chute envy” was starting to kick in each time I went through the finish area.

The same loneliness as on lap 3 of the bike occurred as I went passed the gantry and could see all those already in the food tent.

However shortly afterwards it was time to cross the timing mat and once again the connection with friends and family at home was made, imagining them on the internet waiting for the next update on my progress.

I knew they were doing what I was doing and working out how fast I was going, whether I was going faster than last year and would I make it before 11pm?

All over Facebook, Twitter and the Outlaw chat room, friends and family were debating these things, but I knew I was going fast enough, I was going faster than last year and at current speed I would be finishing about 10:30pm.

Still I was in the 5 min bubble of 3 minutes run, 2 minutes walk, 2 cups of water in the bottle, water on the head, hydrate.   Then at a feed station I would fill the bottle, eat crisps and jaffa cakes and drink coke.  Then at 3.5 hours, I added one High5 Caffiene Gel every 30 mins.

I’d discovered this by accident in the last few hours of the marathon in 2010 when I managed to get some caffeine gels at the feed station and this then carried me though to the end.  This year I was leaving nothing to chance – I had a fuel belt with 7 gels in ready for the second half of the run.

As I got out towards county hall on the second lap, most people were on their final lap, waiting to get to the finishing straight.  We all started playing “guess who is still on my lap”.  I had a lot of people asking “Last lap?” and I had to respond “No, one more”.

I didn’t feel too bad about that, but the look of horror in their face was obvious!!

I was still holding the 3 min run, 2 min walk, but now my pace was going down slightly as the hours went on, although nothing to worry about.  I’d be looking at finishing just after 10:30pm, but still well before 11pm.

Round the lake moving up towards the finish again, I knew I had less than two hours to go and providing I stayed injury free, I would finish.

As the route split left for the finishing chute and right for the loneliness of lap 3, my whole body yearned for the finish.  It was a tangible effort required to take the right channel and out for the isolation of the final lap.

The course was virtually empty now.  Once I got out onto the out and back, I would start to see the 15.5-16hr finishers coming the other way to make it down to the lake, and I assumed there were still people behind as I was 20 minutes ahead of where I was last year.

But I wouldn’t know until I myself had turned round at County Hall for the last time and was on my way back.

I was now starting to flag in between feed stations. I was hurting everywhere, with twinges of cramp in my groin and quads, obvious blisters could be felt all over my feet and my pace was much slower that it had been earlier on in the day.

I was genuinely on my own now and it was getting pretty dark at last (it was now about 9:30pm), however I felt quite relaxed as I knew I would be finishing in just over an hour.

I decided to walk the whole of the path from the path under Trent Bridge to the feed station to give me a good recovery for the 5 miles back to the finish.  I had some great banter going through the County Hall feed station for the last time.  They’d had a radio message through that there was one girl behind me, but she was 20 minutes back, but should make the 11pm cut off.

I was relieved that I wasn’t going to be last, so thanked all those at the turnaround and set off for home for the last time.

I went under the bridge, then back up the other side towards Nottingham Forest’s ground.  At this point, I saw the other competitor only a few minutes behind me!!

She was with a marshal that I knew from the event in 2010 who was with her on a mountain bike as she was the last person.  He said “Hurry up, I’m going to pace her to catch you!!”.

I knew he was half joking, but half serious and that as good an experience as it was last year, I definitely didn’t want to be the final finisher again!  Even if I was almost 20 mins faster!!

So after nearly 16 hours of hard physical effort, I knew I had a race on my hands!! And all of a sudden I was re-invigorated.

I downed my penultimate caffeine gel and still doing 3 mins run/2 mins walk, I put the hammer down on the run segment, as my steady jog from the last 6 hours became a run.

With an aim to put some distance between me and my rival, I kept this up all the way along the side of the Trent even though my legs were in pieces.

I was moving forward by sheer will alone and at a faster pace than I had all day.

Finally I reached the lake and the feed station at the top.  Some of the Outlaw Volunteers from a local tri club said they were going to run round the lake with me – I told them they’d better keep up then, and keep me informed about where my chaser was.

I carried on with my 3m/2m along with my entourage, but was getting conflicting messages about where she was.  One minute I was being told she was 400m behind and the next she was just 100m.

I got to the bottom of the lake and the final feed station that I knew was just one solitary mile from home.  My legs were a world of pain, but I had a solid determination that I wasn’t going to be beaten.

It felt like the 1989 Iron War – I was just hoping I was Mark Allen rather than Dave Scott.

I learned in that last mile that whatever your brain or body is telling you, you can always push more, find reserves that you didn’t know you had, suffer pain that you never thought you could suffer.

As I went through the crowd on the line and across for my second Iron-distance finish, I had the satisfaction of knowing I’d gone through hardship, conquered challenges and given everything I had to complete my goal.

You are an Outlaw!!

I’d improved my time from the previous year by 18 minutes, my swim was slower by 7 minutes, 3 minutes off transitions, the bike faster by 10 mins, finishing off with a 6:49 marathon which took 12 mins off my 2010 time.

I was an Outlaw once again!!

The aftermath

As in 2010, once I’d crossed the line and stopped, the wheels really started to come off.  My mental strength driving me had gone and like a puppet with his strings cut, there was no longer anything to keep my limbs moving.

A few minutes later, Clare Robinson crossed the line as the final finisher in the Outlaw 2011.  She’d pushed me all the way on that last lap and made me dig deeper than I thought possible.

I really enjoyed my experience as the final finisher in 2010, but I was very glad I didn’t retain my title in 2011, and was happy to pass it to Clare!!

Rather than having to go and gather everything up, the fantastic Outlaw Volunteers collected my bike and bags and brought them over to me in the empty food tent, however I was just sat there and stared at them wondering how I was going to get them back to my tent, even though I was camped as close as I could possibly be!!

Luckily my cousin Kate, her husband fellow Outlaw Dave and their two kids had waited around for me to finish.  They carried my kit back to the tent for me meaning I just had to push my bike back.  Without them, I don’t know what I would have done!!

I then phoned my wife, who had been following everything on the Athlete Tracker along with all my friends and family on Facebook and the Outlaw chat room.  It was great to talk to her and a real shame she wasn’t there to look after me!!

By the time I got back to my tent (shuffling even slower than I had in the race), it was about 11:30pm and I was knackered.  I had to put my bike in the car and then the decision – into the tent and collapse, or shower?

I decided shower, but was really starting to seize up so it took me another hour (in the deadly silent campsite) to get over to the shower and get back again, but it was definitely the right thing to do – as was putting on compression tights to avoid too much pain the next morning.

I also learned that a 2 man tent is probably not the best to take on an Ironman weekend, as it is extremely painful to get in and out of post race!!

Once in the tent, I switched the torch on, collapsed onto the airbed, and mind and body gave up at last and I was dead to the world till the next morning.

After thoughts – the agony of extreme endurance

Looking back on my second Outlaw experience, it truly is a wonderful race.  Everything you need is there in one place, leaving the athlete the opportunity to focus on what is important – the race itself.

Even though my training was a bit messed up in the months leading up, and I could probably have done with another 8 weeks or so, I managed to improve on my 2010 time by 18 mins and was really pleased with how well my run went.  I had a run plan and executed it.

The swim was a bit of a disappointment, but being realistic, I didn’t do as much swim training, so whether it was conditions or fitness, it’s probably right that it was slower than 2010 even without the weed.

Probably the most important observation I took with me from the race was that I’d forgotten how hard it was from 2010.  I remembered the good bits but forgot the hours of effort that has to go in between the good bits.  I concentrated on improving the details, but forgot the base that those details sit on.

Like a lot of things in life, it’s never as good as the first time, but it is better in different ways.  Satisfaction comes from the improvement from the previous year, but even more importantly the satisfaction comes from the pain and suffering and pushing through it.

I’ve just read a book about the greatest Ironman triathlon ever run and there was a quote in there that struck home with me:

“In the hardest moments of a long race, the athlete’s entire conscious experience of reality boils down to a desire to continue pitted against the desire to quit.  Nothing else remains.  The athlete is no longer a student or a teacher or a salesman.  He is no longer a son or a father or a husband.  He no longer has any possessions.  There is no yesterday and no tomorrow, only now.  The agony of extreme endurance fatigue crowds out every thought and feeling except one: the goal of reaching the finish line.

The sensations within the body – burning lungs, screaming muscles, whole body enervation – exist only as the substance of the desire to quit.  What little of the external environment the athlete is aware of – the road ahead, the competitor behind, the urgings of the onlookers – exists only as the substance of the desire to continue.

The desire to continue versus the desire to quit – the athlete is this and this alone until chooses one or the other…” from Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald

That really sums up my Ironman experience.  Being successful is about training yourself to cling on to that razors edge between quitting and continuing for 17 hours.

Through the race and even at the end, I was saying “never again”, but by the next morning, that was “well, perhaps”…I’m now all signed up for Outlaw number 3.

The Outlaw in 2012 is on July 1st, so it should be pretty light for even the latest finishers, however my target is a 15 hour finish, to see if I can finish while my two boys (who will be 5 and 3) are still awake!!  It is also the week before my 40th Birthday, so I’m looking forward to being a 3 x Outlaw by the time I reach that milestone.

Outlaw 2012 is filling up quickly and looks like it will fill, so make sure you’re there!!

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