By Richard Bradshaw aged 51 & ¾’s
I was stood in T1 at Outlaw full 2019 after a mediocre swim processing the fact that I would not be an Outlaw by the end of the day as the bike leg had been cancelled due to the heavy rain we had suffered for the last 2 days. Once it had sunk in and the other TTC guys had got out of the swim and absorbed the news I felt a sense of relief as I realised that the bike leg would have been purgatory in those conditions and I also had some niggling doubt that in truth I had not trained hard enough on the bike and I would have let myself and my support crew down, got the run done with a marathon PB which was a little conciliation for the day and started working out what I needed to do differently for Outlaw 2020!
We all know how 2020 went, events cancelled, limited club training…….lockdown belly, I made the most of the limited time that we had out and about by running most days and taking my turn on Zwift at home, converted a little used room into a gym with weights and a treadmill and got on with the business of some good old base training.
As restrictions allowed we were able to get out a bit more and even go open water swimming at Alderford but even this venue had become very crowded on warm days making it difficult to enjoy a swim unless you got there early. The restrictions changed again and again making it difficult to plan group sessions and I found myself training more and more with Craig as he had also signed up to do the Outlaw full as a bucket list event, we ran a lot of miles together then when the pools opened up again in the new year he chased me up and down the pool for a few hours a week then we were able to get out on the bikes to ensure we could do the distance. The Outlaw guys with others did UK Ultimate half then the next thing I knew we were tapering ready for Outlaw.
Stood at start with Paul Smith at 5:45 on the Sunday morning I was having flashbacks of us stood in the same position together in 2019 waiting to start the marathon only this time I wasn’t wetter than an otters pocket as the forecast had changed again and we were set fair for the day.
The day had started with a rude alarm at 03:30, gave Craig a quick call to make sure that he was up and ready to go, then set about the business of preparing my body both inside and out for the day’s activities, it is a difficult balance to get the right nutrition in before a long course race as you need things to be predictable and timing as they say is everything. Quick breakfast of Huel minus the coffee while I splashed on the sunscreen being careful to take on fluids as well, some stretching to make sure the back was moving ok then Paul was there ready to go as he likes to be in place early and not rushing about so I grabbed the track pump and my T1 and dry bag (T2 bag was done the day before as transition was 500m + long) and we made our way to the bikes.
Some nervous chatter between us on the way as the adrenaline starts to build, we then set about getting the bikes ready with liquids & nutrition and Paul hooked his shoes onto his pedals ready (I planned to carry mine), quick check of the tyre pressure for me….. bugger rear valve came off with the dust cap letting all the air out, struggled to get the valve out of the cap as my fingers don’t work to well first thing in the morning, I was just praying that it hadn’t stripped the thread or I would have to change the tube before I’d even started! Thankfully it went back in ok, 100 psi in the back 90 in the front then off to T1.
I decided that rather than leave the track pump in transition I would take it back to camp where it would be safe and left Paul sitting on a bench in T1 contemplating the day ahead. I’m glad I took the decision to wear trainers rather than flip flops as I was now tight for time and I had a flood of nervous triathletes coming towards me making progress difficult, saw David Harley & Jen making their way across to transition wished him good luck, dropped the pump at the van and realised that I needed to go again so took the opportunity, and when done decided to save some time by putting on my wetsuit there before heading back to T1, but I was all sweaty from the jog back and it took an age to get my legs in, time was getting tight so I had to jog it back to T1 stressing me out and burning fuel which is the last thing I needed.
Paul was still in T1 and had been joined by Craig, we had our normal banter got zipped in, dropped the dry bags off and stood in the holding pen ready to be called forward to the start, Craig and David were in different waves to us so Paul and myself headed for the start line first, taking the opportunity to wash out our goggles, spotted the girls on the top of the boathouse and gave them a nervous wave, then the first triathletes started entering the water.
From Pauls experience at the Outlaw half with a staggered start he reckoned that the first jetty was as good as any to go from as it looked like you had to swim further but in reality you didn’t, and it offered a less congested route, we were called forward at 06:00 and headed for the first jetty. I had decided on recent experience that I was not going to dive in as my goggles kept lifting and this would either lead me to have to stop and correct it or have water sloshing around inside them for 2.4 miles, as neither of these scenarios appealed I had decided on a run jump tactic holding my goggles in place. 3-2-1 we were off, Paul executed a pretty good dive and I hit the water feet first without incident and set about the next 2.4 miles.
Now some say that swimming is boring and I guess it can be with all the mindless miles it can take to build up a decent swim fitness but my senses were working overtime, trying to predict which direction other swimmers were headed, if I could jump on their feet or not, couldn’t see much as I had my full tint predator flex’s on and it was quite overcast and gloomy, so I pointed myself in a direction I thought was the best and settled into my stroke.
I got stuck behind a group of swimmers all wearing blue hats, it is almost like they sensed I was there and closed ranks on me forcing me to either swim round them or over them, a bit of argy bargy later and I was through, I’d lost Paul in the melee but saw some green hats up ahead so settled into my stroke again in clear water guessing that I would catch him up by the turn as his starting speed would start to wain a bit, it felt like I had been swimming ages, then I passed the 500m marker “you’re swimming too slowly “ I told myself and kicked on again. Every time I caught and passed a green hat and realised it wasn’t Paul I became paranoid that he was way ahead and I was going too slowly.
Eventually the turn buoy came into view and as the field had thinned out considerably by that point I had a couple of smooth turns then I was heading back down the lake toward the swim out, I swam through some banks of weed even though I was mid channel and this interrupts your stroke and gets wrapped around you and is distracting, then a load of swans appeared on my left hand side and took off in formation charging across the water just a few metres in front of me adding a bit of drama to the swim. There were some more green hats ahead and I was trying to recognise Pauls swim stroke with his wonky low returning arm but as I caught and passed I realised it wasn’t him again.
Yellow floats in the distance meant that it was nearly time to exit the water so I started kicking the legs up a bit more to wake them up and get the blood pumping so I wouldn’t wobble about like I’d been on the beer all night, (going from horizontal to vertical is tricky) then I was scrabbling around over the stony shallows, upright and running down the rough path to T1, passing triathletes who were trying to stick to the grass at the side so as not to hurt their feet while I was grabbing at the top of my wetsuit to release it and start stripping it off while entering T1.
I had made the decision weeks ago to fully strip change and put on cycling kit in T1 mainly for comfort over the coming 112 miles but also I would have pockets for nutrition etc. in my jersey, so off with the wet kit and on with the dry, stuffed the wet kit in my T1 bag and hung it back on my hook, put on my helmet, picked up my cycling shoes and ran to my bike. The surface in transition was all grass and dry so apart from the goose muck it wasn’t too bad to run on in my socks and I figured that it was going to be quicker and less painful than trying to run in cleats, end of transition and I put my shoes on quick portaloo stop then I was over the mount line, on the bike and off.
The first section of the ride takes you around the lake in an anti-clockwise direction and I quickly settled down into an aero position and took advantage of the smooth, flat, traffic free surface, anyone that knows me knows that I maintain and prepare my own bike therefore if it goes wrong it is all on me so I had a quick conversation with it came to an agreement that it wouldn’t let me down and pressed on. Some bikes came past but I didn’t care, I had a long way to go and didn’t want to burn all my matches early or it would be a loooong day, as I approached the bottom of the lake I heard some familiar voices and shouts of encouragement and realised that Lee, Andy and Clive were up on the bank so a quick wave and I was heading up past the boathouse and out onto the road, the girls were all there cheering everyone past so I shouted “see you later” and pushed on down the road. The next voice I heard was Pauls, as he came up behind me which really surprised me as I was still convinced he was in front, I had been that focused in T1 I hadn’t noticed his bike was still there, we wished each other a good safe race and he blasted off into the distance.
Sticking to my plan I started hydrating and fuelling on the bike, regularly taking on a mixture of sweet & savoury solids and aiming to drink at least a litre of mixed fluids in between aid stations, I was on my Mekk road bike so I could alternate between the drops and the clip on tri bars trying to keep tucked into aero as much as possible as there was a headwind on the first section. The support out on the bike course was phenomenal, Dave Tinker popped up at the side of the road in different locations urging me on which was a great motivator, and the crowds as we sped through Car Colston lined both sides of the road cheering everybody through with Luke, Clive, Lee and Andy adding to the noise and support giving the ride the feel of a big event and adding a couple of mph to my efforts, the course takes you through Car Colston four times and it gave a fantastic boost every time.
What seemed like a constant stream of bikes was coming past me, riders on all sorts of bikes, different ages, genders, clubs and age groupers I was convinced I had to be near the back of the field at that point so many had come past, Graeme’s voice popped into my head “Sh#t swimmers” and this made me chuckle and kept me entertained for a good while. The miles rolled by, I chatted to a few fellow riders briefly some good natured banter with a guy on another Mekk and a chap called Mike who took a very liberal view of the drafting rules and admitted that he had been sat on my back wheel for a few miles! I went through the aid stations without too much drama clearly indicating what I wanted on the way in, dropping the empty bidons in the correct area and grabbing the others on the move, half a banana for a change in nutrition at a couple of the stations then back on it.
The road conditions were not good in places, potholes a plenty and chattering road surface which increases fatigue and makes it more difficult to maintain a good rhythm on the bike, traffic was problematic in a couple of places where there were traffic islands or the road narrowed and they lined up behind cyclists in front of me, there were a few casualties as well, bits of hydration systems and other bike bits littered the road in some sections, riders at the side of the road trying to effect repairs to bikes so they could carry on and inevitably some riders that had come to grief requiring medical assistance, ambulances wailed past here and there and I was worried that it might be one of the guys, as the course is three loops I had expected to see more of them but I had only seen Craig so I knew he was ok but I thought that David would have caught and passed me by now as he is a beast on the bike, but not yet, so I tried to not look but look at the downed riders and thankfully didn’t recognise the bikes.
10 miles to go, I was trying to remember all of the advice I had been given by the guys that have done long distance before, Lee “ironmon” Sivill’s voice popped into my head “spin the legs jockey” “to get them ready for the run” so I upped the cadence and started stretching out my legs by standing up on the small climbs back into Radcliffe on Trent. Next on the list was the last bit of fuelling and hydration so I took a salt tab, finished a high 5 bar and drained a bidon, I was going to need both hands on the bars for the last section as its more cyclo-cross than road bike territory as I was negotiating potholes, speed bumps and gravel at high speed catching up some of the TT bikes that had passed me earlier as they were being much more cautious than me, round Holme Pierrepoint Hall and onto the final bike stretch overtaking a Ferrari that was crawling over a speed bump as I bunny hopped it and then the last right hand back into the venue. Crowds of supporters lined the bike in, all cheering which only made me go recklessly quicker but I was fully charged at that point and didn’t care, then I was at the dismount line and realised that this was the first time I had unclipped in over 6 hours and my legs were like jelly when I hit the ground running into T2.
Sticking to my plan I kicked off my cycling shoes and ran in my socks with the bike to my racking point, pocketed my Garmin, grabbed a half full bidon, sipping it I headed to the T2 tent stopping briefly on the way, at least I knew that I was fully hydrated! Strip change again into my TTC tri suit, number belt on, trainers on, bag racked and out on the run being directed to run a short off road route before hitting my first lap of the lake, I was just inhaling a Jaffa bar when Andy, Lee and Clive appeared from the car park spurring me on yet again! then I was on the path heading down toward the finish line that I would pass 3 times before I got to run down the orange carpet. Passing the run out and David shouted out to me as he was just starting the run, I couldn’t believe that my bike had been that good, thought he must have had a mechanical? but knew that he would catch me on the run, pleased he was back I pressed on with legs that felt like they were not mine past the crowds at the finish and off towards the Trent.
The support on the other side of the lake was equally as astounding with shouts of “well done Richard” “go Telford go” and other words of encouragement which made the legs ache a lot less and I started to stride out a bit. The girls were all by the exit from the lake so I ran up the grass and gave them a high five letting them see that I was Ok then I trotted into the first of many aid stations and took some fluids, walking while drinking them as that’s what my plan was, Chris popped up with the camera for the first time of many that afternoon having cycled over to Nottingham to support, always giving sound advice about pacing and hydration etc. which really helped to keep me focused on it. As expected David caught me up down the side of the Trent and we had a brief chat making sure each other were OK then he trotted off into the distance, also saw Paul coming the opposite way looking strong, a brief well done, a high five and he was gone.
You should never underestimate the power of someone calling out your name and telling you “you’re looking good” “fantastic work” or a simple “well done” and having your name on your number means that everybody knows it and as you see the same people a few times it feels like your own personal support squad and really helps to lift you up on the run when you need it the most. The miles ticked by, the aid stations kept coming and I kept on taking water, High 5 and some limited cola on board, eating orange slices as the half bananas were starting to look a bit manky, still applying a run walk strategy as my side and back were hurting a bit off the bike and I found that walking eased it, and to be honest my legs still hadn’t woken up properly then about 10 miles in they kicked into gear and running became much easier and the pain in my side eased off. As I looped back around the lake again the gang were all by the exit back toward the Trent and Lee shouted out that Craig was just ahead of me, “thank God for that” I thought he is back off the bike and knowing his nature if he had to crawl the 26.2 miles to the finish he would make it, and as the other guys were still in front of me I knew that they would finish as well.
A random supporter said that Craig was just in front of me, initially I thought “That bugger knows everyone!” then realised that he must have his TTC shirt on as well and this guy had seen his name, his shirt and mine and put 2 and 2 together. I caught up with Craig at the Forest ground and ran walked with him for a short while chatting away like we have done for many training miles, we wished each other well, said we would see each other at the finish and I ran on knowing that now I really was on the home stretch and just had to keep moving forwards, I concentrated on achieving better than 12 minute miles as I worked out that that would give me a sub 5 hour run and I would be happy with that, I was chatting with fellow Outlaws listening to how their days had gone, sharing experiences and congratulating them on their achievements, this really helped to pass the miles as at around 18 miles I was starting to struggle after hitting that wall and the doubt demons had started to creep in.
That last lap of the lake is the cruellest 5k in history, you approach the finish and others are diverting onto the orange carpet to rapturous applause and in the din you almost feel forgotten, the gang had now moved into the grandstand and I could hear them over the other noise, it gave me just the lift I needed and I raised a finger into the air and shouted “one more ######### lap” and picked the pace back up a bit. Anyone who has run around the lake will tell you that the far corner is like a desert mirage you never seem to be getting closer to it so it seemed to take an age to get there, then I was on the home straight, I’d made sure to thank all of the volunteers on the aid stations etc. on the last lap as they had done a fantastic job all day, had a brief chat with another Outlaw who had been around and about me for most of the run, we congratulated each other then started to spread out to make space for individual finishes. I made a few final adjustments, took my sunglasses off, checked my emotions and had a moment of reflection before approaching the finish. It is difficult to explain the feeling of entering that finishing chute, I have done plenty of big running events in the past but nothing compared to the sheer energy that was coming out of the Outlaw crowd, Sarah and Isabel had made it to the front so I high fived them on the way past before raising my hands in the air and crossing the finish line to the strains of “I am the one & only” I was an Outlaw! and no one can take that away from me.