Saturday, 29 July 2017
The Idiot that does Outlaw 2017
Outlaw is a bit special. This was my 4th outing and the initial idea was to train hard, race fast and raise money with a sweepstake on my finish time. I trained well through January and then lost my way. With a few days to go I had run a handful of times but no further than 6 miles since January. I had done about 4 pool swims with the longest 2000 metres and at a pace that suggested I would struggle to hit the cut off. I had done some OW training......500 metres at Cliff Lakes the Monday before Outlaw. I had been out on the Merida about 5 times but no further than 25 miles. The sensible thing to do was to defer but money had gone on the Justgiving page and at the end of the day it's about raising money for Birmingham Children's Hospital. You can help by the way. Just text MORF55 £5 to 70070.
Twice in the build up Mich had mentioned she had never seen me so nervous. She seemed sure that despite my lack of preparation I would do it. I'll be honest, I was worried. I was very worried I might not meet the swim cut off in particular. I kinda thought I could do the bike in time after all I was on the Merida with gears, big wheels and thin tyres. Surely I could do the bike quicker than the BMX effort of 7 hrs 56 mins in 2015. The run? Well the theory you often hear is that with 7 hrs you can walk it! 4 miles an hour is a tough walk pace if you're knackered but I would put money on myself that I would do the marathon if it came to it.
I was waiting for 'The Click' in the mind to happen in the week before. It didn't. I went to rack the bike and register on the Saturday. I got to meet a load of pals around HPP. Some I had tackled Outlaw with in the past. Some were battling it for the first time. At briefing I was distracted, nervous. I reassured a first timer I sat next to that he was about to have the best day. I stopped behind to thank Iain Hamilton the Race Director for his help and support with my fundraising. I didn't speak to Simon Ward the Triathlon Coach perhaps due to being a little embarrassed by my lack of preparation. It was great to catch up with Kyle Campbell. Each time I plan something daft he has usually done something even more daft. I hoped I would get to hear him announce me as an Outlaw the following night! I met Tom Jones, no not that Tom Jones, but Tom Jones the Stag and his stag party. What a brilliant idea and what a great bunch. Have a brilliant wedding pal.
I racked the bike and walked off to have a moment at the top of the red carpet. The moment of clarity I was seeking never arrived. The nerves still jangled. Doubt was all consuming. What is nice about racking and registration is that there is nothing left to do. However prepared you are is as prepared as you will be. I did a little Facebook live to try and raise a bit more sponsorship and left HPP. Sunday was going to either be a very short day or a very very long day.
The alarms went off early at 3.30am on Sunday morning. I had slept in my timing chip to make sure I wouldn't forget it. Michelle drove us up to HPP. It's a 45 mins drive so i get to listen to The Joshua Tree in full and sneak in Ultraviolet to leave that as my ear worm for the day. Ellie and Mich took turns to mock my uncontrollable emotions that sneaked out during the drive up. Mich nailed the drive and dropped me at the entrance to HPP at the bottom of the lake at 5.00 am. Usually at this point I am overcome with calm. Nerves replaced with a steely determination. The sunrise over the lake bringing a confidence for the day ahead. Not this time. Not yet.
I spoke with loads of ace mates new and old as I checked the bike and went into the change tent. I found a spot and levered myself into my all too snug wetsuit. I often use the Holgate line of 'see you on the run'. On this occasion it was more for my benefit than theirs. Trying to blag myself some confidence. As I came out of the change tent Mich and Ellie were frantically waving from the bank. Entirely with me in spirit and about to put a right big support shift in.The last hour before the start is the fastest hour imaginable. Before I knew it I was in the lake in the 3rd bay bobbing about with 1200 other competitors with 5 minutes until the off.
That was the moment of clarity I had been waiting for. A brief moment where the nerves subside and are replaced with a line drawn under the failings of the previous months. A calm and in this case a deal. A deal with myself to smash my arms for 2 hours to make sure my day doesn't finish at 8 am. I filtered through the bobbing white caps to improve my start position as the countdown reached 1 and then we were off.
I seemed to steer clear of any real contact for the first 500m. A bit of a bump or two but nothing major. My stroke was rhythmical with a 4 stroke and breathe pattern only using the two stroke breathe pattern if I needed extra air such as after swallowing some lake or after a bosh to the face around 600 metres. No breaststroke either. It was going too well. I knew I wasn't last, I knew I was going to get out in time and I hadn't yet made the turn. I reached the turn and avoided traffic. As I turned onto the 1 mile back straight I pushed it a bit harder, confident in my stroke. I used a couple of swimmers to help me sight and stuck by them and pushed for the finish. I even overtook a couple as I swam the last 200 metres or so. I had loved the swim, every stroke. I knew i was in time. I took the hand of the volunteer that pulled me out of the water and gratefully accepted the strippers offer to whip my suit off. I grabbed my wetsuit and ran into transition asking the volunteer on the door what time of day it was? 7.31am was his reply. I could have kissed him.
T1 seemd like 5 mins. It was 14 mins but still a PB for me. I went out to get on the bike with a plan to steadily spin for 112 miles. I couldn't sight Michelle and Ellie but I knew they would be watching me from somewhere. It was only afterwards they told me they missed me exit the swim as I was too quick. Instead they and Kyle had waited for the last person to come out of the water thinking it was me. Mich Facebook live recorded him as he came out and it was only when the cap came off they realised I was already out on the bike.
Now, I am used to being overtaken on the bike. My bikes go backwards compared to everyone else. I thought I was spinning relatively well and the first Southern Loop was reasonably good. A slight worry was how tired I felt and how much my arse hurt. A lack of hours in the saddle was going to haunt me. As I came off the Southern Loop Kit Walker came back onto it for his second time. This put him about 60 miles ahead of me and my podium chances had all but evaporated. Car Colson was a welcome relief as i spotted Michelle and Ellie and a few other familiar faces. This boosted me up to the Islands and then headed to the Northern Loop.
This is where I realised this was going to be a lot harder and closer than I had intended. The distance between the loops seemed much longer than ever before and the tiredness, the lack of response from my legs, was overwhelming. I struggled up Oxton despite reminding myself I had done it on a BMX just two months earlier. Other sections of the loop seemed harder than before and the ride back to the Southern took forever. I was now coasting where I could to alleviate the pressure on my arse and at each feed station I was off the bike to stretch and ease the pain. This probably added 25 mins to my day!
Mich and Ellie were giving it loads through Car Colson again but by this time I knew I was again last. At the Pirates a time check indicated I had time to do this but it would be close. I pushed it as hard as i could but at the last feed station it was clear I had 75 mins to do 16 miles. Ordinarily no problem at all. This time it would be a battle. The relief of coming off the Southern Loop for the last time is immense. The support from the volunteers just brilliant.
As I started the last few undulating miles with the loneliness of last taking it's toll, the heavens opened and reminded me of 2015. It only took a couple of minutes to soak me and only lasted a couple more. I was spinning the easiest gear on the big ring so knew i would be a slow 12 mph or so. Through the lanes and past the hall and a final push down the road alongside HPP. I didn't know if I would make it. I don't wear a watch so I just pushed it as much as I could shouting at myself to dig in.
I passed a few volunteers and pedestrians and they must have thought I was mad. A last shout and right turn up the path into HPP and there waiting was Mich indicating I was in time. I blasted down the path and bunny hopped the speed bump before skidding into the corner. As the adrenaline subsided I dismounted the bike to see 3:56pm as the time. I had made it with a barmy 4 mins to spare.
10 mins in T2 another PB after the disappointment of 8:11 bike split! I nipped to the loo and then started running. Got a huge hug of Mich at the bottom of the lake and set off. Everyone was ace on the run and the support was brilliant but by 5 miles the running stopped. Run/walk soon became walk and the path down the river back to the lake just became miserable. I had realised my pace was too slow, I couldnt walk quick enough and I didnt have the energy to go faster or the strength to run. Every point I had picked to start to run from had failed and as I rounded the top of the lake I realised I was not going to finish within 17 hours. Emotionally Outlaw had broken me.
As the noise of the announcers the music and the crowds at the finish line/13 mile marker became louder I went to pieces. It's now the regrets kick in, the failings become all consuming and the reality of failing on the day becomes too much. I started to run as I approached the crowds and I was desperately trying to sight Mich. I did spot Dutchy and shouted where was Mich. He pointed further down, near to the line and I ran along trying to spot her.
Thankfully I did and I fell into her arms and sobbed uncontrollably. I told her I couldn't do it, I had tried to dig deep and I had nothing. Nothing extra to give. I was ready to walk off the course. She said she was proud of me and loved me no matter what. That was it. That was all I needed. Flatfooted walked by and patted me on the back as i hugged Mich. I held on for a second and then ran on. Still sobbing I collected my band and rounded the lake. As I came up the path off the lake and grabbed some crisps Mich appeared, a little out of breath having legged it around the lake to make sure I was ok. She asked and I said yeah of course I was, apparently with a beaming smile. Whatever it was, whatever she had done was all I needed for the click in my mind. It is an actual swith that goes from negative and I mean entirely negative to utterly positive. The pain is still there but it's more bearable. Head is held higher. A spring returns to my step after 13 miles of scuffing feet that just won't lift. I know the body can always, always do more but while I was negative it was never going to happen. Once I switched to positive the body responded. From then on I had a run/walk strategy with a good run and a marching walk and this continued all the way past the war memorial and back to the suspension bridge.
I must mention the volunteers and support. It is no exaggeration to say that without it I wouldn't get round. Whilst confused by shouts of " go on Steven" (my real name was on the race bib) it's still the case that every shout drives me on. Every kind comment from volunteers, security, marshals, every hi five from a fellow competitor, every pat on the back, every sweaty hug. When I see a mate cheering me on, going out of their way to encourage me and the beaming smiles of family. Of Mich and Ellie. The boost is palpable. Do not underestimate the team nature of this challenge. I am happy to create the focus but it is everyone around me that makes it happen.
As I gained on the person ahead of me the bike marshal was with me. As I chatted he asked what my intentions were? I was confused. Apparently Iain Hamilton was asking if my intentions were to come last. I clarified that I will get finished, and by this time I knew, absolutely knew, that I would and I would finish in the best time I could manage.
The athlete ahead was Heather Clarke. It took a while for my brain to catch up but Heather and I had shared some of the run in 2013 (the morph year). She had waited for me to run the last 9 miles or so with me. We maintained a good run/walk strategy, Mich joined us on the run down the river and James Franco joined us on the bike to marshal us in. We overtook Steve Summers whose story of overcoming adversity, extreme adversity, is entirely inspirational. As we got back to the lake Mich peeled off to go the the finish and left me with a kiss and a squeeze of the hand that just transfers belief!
We lapped the lake to collect our last band. Hi fives all along the finish straight. Steve had retaken us. Heather and I were last. Heather was strong and picked all the points to run from and too. We talked Rugby and funerals to pass the time and came down the home straight in complete darkness. Heather wanted to run down the carpet with her 3 year old. I wanted to crack on and finish so we did a deal to finish in that order so everyone was happy. I was still finishing at the best time as i possibly could. A hug from Heather and James and I set off with 300 metres to left and ran it it. Ran it in strong as I hit the carpet. I couldn't see a thing as the human carpet parted to let me through but I sprinted it in to be announced by Kyle, for the 4th time, an Outlaw.
Mich was there instantly and I'll admit I broke down again. I've never been so relieved or had to dig as deep as I had that day. Heather finished seconds later and the fireworks went off to battle the rain as it came down. Lee and Kyle and the team looked after me and the bike and my kit and made sure the massage team hadn't left and there was a bowl of food for me Mich and Ellie.
As ever the day was amazing with the facilities, volunteers, marshals and supporters truly outstanding. I tried to thank all of them as i went round. I would not have finished without the support throughout the day. I would have cut it even closer had it not been for Heather. I would, however, have walked off the course at 13 miles had it not been for Michelle. That's the closest I have come to quitting any of my challenges.
I am an idiot for not training. I accept that but I had committed to doing it to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital so it was never going to be that I wouldn't start. It's not a disrespect for the sport or the event either. It is a disrespect for myself. I have said before that we only truly compete against ourselves. I nearly undid myself this time. Very nearly, but I can look myself in the mirror and know that I gave it my all for 16 hours and 41 minutes!
You've helped raise £1600 so far. Next up it's Equinox24 in 8 weeks. Bear with me because this time I am going long! Morphlong!
Thank you to Ron, Craig, Zoe, Dave, David, Dutchy, Catherine, Elly Mae, Wayne, Charlotte, Leeky, Ian, Gaz, Stuart, Mark, Keith, Lena, Billy, Gary, Ed, Andy, The Pirates, Flat Footed, Q & Jordy, Andrea, Kim, Helen, Zoe W, The Stag Party and all the others I have forgotten.
To Kyle, Simon, Lee and Iain.
To all the Tri clubs manning the feed stations and as ever I am sorry I keep you out so very late.
To everyone that sponsored me. As ever it is you guys that make the difference.
To Heather for kicking my ass for the last 9 miles and James for being her able assistant.
Finally, to Mich and Ellie and George (who didn't fancy the 3.30am start so went out with his mates instead) for putting up with a wannabe triathlete in the build up and for making it possible for me to start and giving me the strength to finish.