My training for the Outlaw started in earnest 16 weeks before race day when the ‘beginner’ ironman training plan that I had downloaded for free from Active Training World kicked in. With a session pretty much every day it followed the Base-Build-Peak-Recover cycle and I managed to stick to it with only minor alterations due to weddings and significant birthdays. Coupled with daily stretching & foam rolling I made it through the training without any injuries. The only hiccup was a heavy cold that kept me off work the Monday & Tuesday prior to the race, however this cleared up quickly, leaving me fit and healthy to race.
The journey up to Nottingham with my girlfriend on Saturday was incident free & having done the Outlaw Half in May I had a good idea of the setup for the race. The normal registration, race briefing and racking of bikes and bags was simple and straightforward. I also attended the Outlaw Prayer, a Christian based service but open to everyone that happens before many iron distance events and is designed to give time to reflect on the build up to the race, and what will happen the following day. Saturday evening was very much a case of deja vu. Having successfully completed the Outlaw Half (particularly with no GI issues), we went back to the same pub for dinner, for exactly the same meal as before, then returning to the same campsite at Holme Pierrepont.
My alarm went off at 03:25 on Sunday, signifying the start of race day. As we were camping on site, once I’d had breakfast I only had to walk over the road to be in transition. After a quick trip to my bike to pump my tyres up and put water bottles on, I found a quiet area to do my final preparations and put my wetsuit on.
The swim is a deep water mass start but split into four bays and competitors are advised to sort themselves into the correct bay. There was a bay for the under 60 min swimmers, 60-80 min swimmers, 80-100 min swimmers and 100-120 min swimmers. I went into the 80 – 100 min bay and did a few strokes to warm up, then spotted a couple of friends who were at the front of the bay in kayaks as part of the water safety team so went to say “Hi” to them. I then noticed that most of the other swimmers were at the back of the bay, leaving me with plenty of space at the front. At 06:00 the claxon went off and the race had started! Going at a firm but steady pace I started to find my rhythm and was surprised at how quiet it was around me; I was going the right way but no-one was punching me, no one was trying to undo my wetsuit, no-one was trying to drown me. After all I’d heard about large mass starts I was almost a little disappointed that it was so calm! The swim was a single large rectangle in the regatta lake, meaning that we swam almost directly into the rising sun for 1900m, turned right, swam across the lake for 50m, did another right turn and swam back down the lake. On the way out I felt my stomach turn and some of its contents hit the back of my throat…I hadn’t given enough time for my breakfast to digest. In addition my goggles felt extra tight, as if they were being crushed into my skull and I was overheating in my wetsuit as I was swimming hard in a warm lake, this was made even worse when I had to pee! I knew that the issues with my goggles would clear as soon as I took them off, although I wasn't keen to pause and adjust them, in case I got mowed down by others, however I didn’t know what would happen with my stomach. I was aware that a race of this distance would have highs and lows, however wasn’t expecting a low to kick in so early. The turn buoys marked the halfway point of the swim and I spent the remainder of the swim dry retching, letting water into my wetsuit to cool down and trying to ignore my googles. I knew I’d slowed down as swimmers started coming past me but was amazed when I exited the water and the volunteers were calling out the time “one twenty three”, despite my issues I was only three minutes slower than my target time for the swim.
I’d already decided that I was going to change fully in T1, so that I was in cycling kit for the ride. There were no issues with doing this but it did mean I got what was probably my slowest ever transition time. Once out on the bike I started to feel a lot better and was able to eat and drink, meaning that I could focus on the ride. The route was completely flat in comparison to the training rides that I’d done in the Chilterns and along with a significant number of coned off sections of road to ride in and traffic managed junctions, as well as nearly every pothole being marked in orange chalk it made for a fast course. Through the ride my focus was to ride at a steady pace without pushing my heart rate up too high and eating and drinking as much as was sensible. Supporters were congregated in Car Colston, which hit you as a wall of noise when you rode through it between the northern and southern loops. The miles ticked by on the bike and were only interrupted by the aid stations which were about 20 miles apart, where we could pick up new bottles, bananas and gels. Once I’d finished the southern loop for the second time it was time to head back to transition and whilst I was glad the ride was over, it wasn’t as if I never wanted to see Catherine (my bike) again.
T2 was another full kit change for me, so a slower than normal transition and after a very brief and over enthusiastic start to my run where my watch said I was doing 8:00 min/mile, I knocked my pace right back with the aim of running steadily to each aid station, then walking the aid station to take fluids on. This plan worked well up to mile 9, when I realised that if I carried on like this I’d start to slow down to the point that I’d only be able to finish the marathon by walking. Going to Plan B, I ran for four minutes, then walked one minute, which I was able to continue with to the finish. Two other friends had joined my girlfriend on supporting duties and had helpful motivational signs for me, such as ‘You’re Running Better Than The Government’, though even I thought that may be a little unfair on the government! Going around the regatta lake for the last time was a mixture of joy and just wanting to get the job done and finally being able to turn left into the finish funnel was a relief. Down the red carpet, a quick kiss with my girlfriend who was waiting there for me, then I crossed the finish line and heard the words “Richard Vaughan, You are an Outlaw!’.
I finished in 13:27:36, a time and a performance that I was really pleased with. You have probably worked out that ‘slow and steady’ was my approach to the day and looking at my splits post race it seemed to have worked. Whilst I lost positions on every split upto 64 miles on the bike, after that I moved back up the rankings at every split, eventually retaking 183 positions by the finish. All told, not only was it a fantastic day out, but a journey that I’ve really enjoyed, right from the beginning of my training.
A Supporter's viewpoint
I knew the training would be significant, and I'd heard the term 'Ironman widow', but to be honest, with the training plan Rich was using, he wasn't 'missing' as much as I feared. With a mixture of using annual leave for the long runs, and me joining him for some of the sessions ('easy bike rides', with the all important cafe stops!), we still managed to spend some time together, although it often meant the wine was left for me to drink!
Come race day, I don't think I'll ever get used to triathlon start times, but there we were, walking over to the site before sunrise. Soon enough, I'd wished him a final 'good luck', and I joined the other supporters (all carrying their athlete's track pump!) on the banks of the lake to watch the swim start. With no chance of identifying individual athletes (he's one of the 900+ in a black wetsuit and white cap), I spotted him coming out of the water, then out on the bike.
The organisers had laid on shuttle buses to take spectators out to Car Calston on the bike route. The athletes pass this point 4 times, and fellow spectators lined the road on picnic blankets and camp chairs, with cow bells and encouraging cheers, creating a great atmosphere. The village pub were also doing sausage and bacon baps, plus teas and coffees all morning, which were greatly appreciated after the early start!
After lunch at the pub and seeing Rich pass through 100 bike miles, we headed back to the watersports centre to watch the run. With the multi-lap nature of the run route, I think I saw Rich 9 times, with only short walks across a cricket pitch required, and we were always surrounded by other 'spectathletes' also cheering the runners on. Spectators were well looked after at the main HQ, with multiple food and drink stands, plus grandstand seating at the finish funnel, with music and an MC giving constant updates of who was coming down the red carpet, and keeping the crowd going. Many of the spectators were families, and I was impressed with how well the kids kept up their enthusiasm throughout the long day!
You can see the event organisers put a lot of effort into ensuring the athletes are well looked after, but it was clear they also put a lot of thought into the spectators too. It was a great event to watch, with multiple opportunities to easily see your athlete along the route, and really feel a part of the event.