Friday, 25 May 2018

The Good, The Bad and The Outlaw

As I write this it's just a little over three weeks until Lakesman, my "A" race this year, the big event, the grand finale (although there are a couple of encores in the diary). I'm perpetually tired, moody, and full of self doubt. I'm doing my best to be on form for work and telling my classes what I'm working towards when I'm not teaching them has helped a bit. The little voice in my head oscillates between "I don't want to do this anymore" and "It's only three more weeks - then you spa!" I'm constantly reminding myself of my "why" and frankly I'm a big mess. I'm sure everyone close to me will be extremely glad when it's all over!

But it's certainly not all doom and gloom. In the last few weeks there have been some amazing achievements, not least the 82mile bike ride I undertook on my own one sunny Tuesday. I borrowed a bike computer from Ellie, stitched together three routes from Strava, stuffed my pockets with food and set off. Ideally I'd have joined a ride at the weekend for at least part of the distance but work and such put pay to that so it was "now or never". I don't think I understood at the time just how much mental strength it took, especially in the latter half when I was tired, couldn't face food and passed home on my way out to the last loop. Because my posture deteriorated significantly over those 6 hours, I got a very painful knot in my right shoulder so the last few days before Outlaw Half featured lots of stretching, magnesium oil, massage and pilates.

Week beginning 7th May
Swim : 2,000m
Bike : 85.8 miles
Run : 9.73 miles
Ah, Outlaw Half, now we get to it. I'm usually nervous or excited about events but this time I felt a bit... nothing. At least in the week prior to race day. I'd completed swims, bike rides and runs far in excess of what I needed to achieve on race day. I was relatively sure I'd get a PB and I knew the location, having supported there a couple of years back. But I was tense on the drive up to Nottingham, wanting to get registered, checked in to the hotel and kit organised as quickly as possible so as to allow myself some time to relax. My shoulder was still giving me trouble which I think accounts for most of it, but also, in essence this was just another training event. It didn't feel special. Registration was well organised and straight forward. OSB Events have a reputation for being rather slick and I was not disappointed with any aspect of the event organisation.
We spent the evening with a friend who lives in the area, being offered vast amounts of quesadillas and brioche bread and butter pudding and chatting about all sorts of everything. It took my mind off how I had been feeling and I ended the evening far more relaxed and happy than I'd started. I had the sort of night's sleep I've come to realise is normal before bigger events, especially where an early start is involved, and all too soon the alarm clock sounded the 4am alert.
Attempting to quell race nerves
Kit on, sunscreen, coffee, porridge, out the door. I still felt a bit numb about it all but the sun was rising over the water as we reached Holme Pierrepont, looking absolutely glorious. A good day for a swim. Cars were swiftly directed to parking spaces, bikes decanted and novice and elite athletes alike were efficiently funnelled into the transition area for various amounts of faffing.
Kit duly laid out I pottered around, chatting to people I knew, nibbling on a bagel and eventually climbing into my wetsuit before hugging Dean and heading for transition once more. It was time. The elites set off at 6am and were heading out on their bikes before I started at 6:48am. We had 10 minutes or so to get acclimatised in the water before our start. I've only ever experienced deep water starts so thought I knew what to expect but so large was my start wave that I got a little battered and felt hemmed in until about half way round. I had to keep switching to breaststroke, just to see what the swimmers around me were doing, weaving their way down the lake. After what felt like an age I stumbled out of the water, helped by a chain gang of volunteers, one of whom ran with me towards transition, unzipping my wetsuit for me - she was an angel!
T1 took longer than I planned as I got a bit stuck in my bike jersey. I would have worn a trisuit and done away with most elements of changing were it not for the fact I wanted to wear my Anthony Nolan jersey. So after struggling into it and putting my food back into my rear pockets where it had spilled out I was off out on the bike course. I was mindful of eating and drinking regularly but I was only ten miles in when I started to get bad stomach cramps which unfortunately stayed with me for the rest of the day. The bike course is really lovely, only one real hill to speak of (12%) and extremely well marshalled. It was a sunny day and I was making good progress until after the feed station where I caught up with a couple of ambulances I'd seen go past and a large number of other competitors. A couple of cyclists had come off at different times on the same section of road which was now closed for police investigation. An air ambulance was in the neighbouring field and we were held for up to half an hour, depending on when we'd arrived, before being turned around and diverted, taking in an extra two miles. The marshals did a great job to get us diverted and on our way as quickly as they did but any hopes we'd had of achieving a time were forgotten. There was a more social atmosphere for a while and I leapfrogged with a few people almost all the way back. I joined forces with one of my 3CTri team mates towards the end and we endured the gravel, speed bumps and pot holes into transition together.
Final bit, the run! Again, I changed top, from cycling jersey to running vest but was much speedier. As I'd not managed to eat much on the second leg of the bike course due to stomach cramps, I downed a gel and wobbled my way out of transition and past Dean, who had been panicking, the spectators not having been updated about happenings out on the course. The run course is an out and back along the river then around the lake, twice. There are three well stocked feed stations which are placed so that you pass a feed station ten times on the run, no excuses for getting dehydrated! Sponges were available too, which I made use of for once, it being extremely hot by this point.
My guts were in knots. I managed to run at a very respectable speed for a few miles, sipping water and electrolyte drinks as best I could but had to slow to a walk shortly after I passed Dean for my second lap. I tried to force down some food, a jaffa cake, one crisp and two bites of banana. I couldn't face it. I also couldn't face the thought of doing Lakesman. I was not in a happy place. I stopped in the shade at a feed station where I was looked after by another angelic marshal who fed me flat coke, stuffed a gel in my race belt and promised she'd "be here when you come past again". My legs felt strong so it was frustrating to not be able to run. As one of the few people wearing charity colours I got a lot of support from other competitors which was lovely, but hard to take at the time. Eventually I reached the final straight, a mile down the lake into the finish chute. I shuffled. I ran. I smiled! I'd done it!!
My time was slower than what I'd achieved at the 113 last year, but I'd earned my medal. I collected my finishers shirt and slowly made my way to find Dean. We made our way to the food tent, previously the home to registration, where I was able to choose from three mains and two desserts for my post-race meal, included in my entry. Dean urged me to collect a couple of the pints of Erdinger Alkoholfrie that were being handed out liberally to sip on in an attempt to settle my stomach, or at least get some calories in. Eventually I felt able to eat my meal, sat in the shade and chatting to some more team mates. Once I felt steady I collected my kit from transition and even felt up to my customary post-event ice cream on the way back to the car.
Despite all the things that didn't go to plan, it was a great day. The Outlaw Half is a well-organised and friendly event. I would do it again in a heartbeat and suggest it as a reasonable choice for a first half iron-distance triathlon.

So onward... I've not suffered any aches or pains since the event, just tiredness. I'm trying my best to complete my last big training sessions, remembering why I'm doing this in the first place; to raise funds for Anthony Nolan. Please, please, if you haven't donated already, I'd be so grateful if you could, to support me in this huge challenge and to support a very worthy charity.

Week beginning 14th May
Swim : 5,600m
Bike : 140.8 miles
Run : 19.2 miles

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