It feels like it was only a few weeks ago that I took the bold decision to push my newly found sport to, what I would consider, my extreme. I only did my first novice triathlon in January 2018 and since then only did one sprint in August 2018. It was after completing the sprint and being on a total high that I decided to throw my name into the proverbial hat for the Outlaw Half. A middle distance triathlon consisting of a 1.9km (1.2m) swim, a 90km (54m) cycle and a half marathon run. After signing up and paying my fee I sat down and the reality of the task ahead hit me. There was a few things that drove me. – I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. – I wanted to make my family proud. – I wanted to honour the club by completing because I would be wearing their colours – I wanted to see if it was possible for me to follow in the footsteps of someone I hold in high regard. I never shared this with anyone but Nick Bester, a South African ultra champion is family of mine and I find him inspiring even though we never met. Winter 2018/19 was a long hard slog trying to lay a base fitness and then starting to build up to race day and due to my own issues with mental wellbeing I had ups and downs, good days and bad days and times where I couldn’t face another session on a turbo trainer. I pushed myself as much as I could to get some training in and, before I knew it, it was race weekend.
On arrival in Nottingham the first thing that I had to process was the expanse of the water. All of a sudden it wasn’t about doing 100 laps in a pool. The massive orange square turning buoy looked minuscule in the distance. I spent some time taking it in and trying to commit the layout to memory to make sure I don’t get lost whilst in the throws of the event on race day. It was 3am when my hotel phone rang and the dude announced that this was my wake up call. I got up and followed a routine I am used to; shower, dress and eat. It might be early but routine keeps me from falling apart sometimes. The National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham was a hive of activity. Almost 1350 athletes trying to set up their kit in a confined space, putting on wetsuits, sucking on gels and generally just being nervous. I found some calm in that and hearing these chilled bodies talking about being nervous reminded me that i am doing this for the 4 reasons above. I am not racing them. I did not need to worry about the bike they have or how fit they look. It was about finishing, even if i had two drag myself across the finish line with my tongue. It is 6:12, the gold and yellow caps set of and my wave gets the opportunity to get into the water to get the body acclimatised to the 15.2°c water temperature. I religiously followed the advice given in the athletes briefing the day before. Get into the water, lie face down and breath out, lift your head and inhale, repeat a few times. This worked like magic. Within a bout 4 cycles I was able to settle in the cool water and control my breathing. I settled into. A position in the deep water and waited for the hooter. 6:24, the hooter sounds and we are off. The water instantly becomes a mess of arms, legs and bodies all trying to move forward. Visibility in the water is about 20cm. I can’t see a thing but decide to just keep moving. Don’t panic, just keep thinking about crocodile eyes to sight and move the arms. I took a knock to the head followed by a kick in the ribs. I didn’t enjoy that but thought that I had endured much more in lay life. Just keep swimming. The feeling of excitement is difficult to describe when you see the first turning marker. I remember thinking about seeing it for the first time on Saturday thinking it was so far away and tiny in the distance. Man that thing was big! I turned and knew that I had done more than half of the course already. I felt good and this spurred me on. I upped my pace earlier than planned and kept going past fellow orange caps and even some of the slower yellow cap swimmers. Crocodile eyes, 20 meters to go and I took a huge knock to the head. I turned and realised it was the same guy who swam into me abut 30 meters earlier and it sure felt like a fist. I was dizzy but knew I had reached the end of the swim in a time of 0:40:34 T1 was a bit of a comedy affair with me trying to get my wetsuit off whilst not falling over.
I always get slightly ‘unstable’ after a long open-water swim. I put it down to the buoyancy of the wetsuit and something I will try and get used to this summer. The bike leg went way better than expected. I was planning on a 4 hr ride but quickly realised I was maintaining a pace quicker than usual. Whilst out on the ride I did realise one thing. All those TT bikes were going to pass me. The speed and power of some of those athletes are amazing. Back in my own mind though, it is my race against myself. Stay upright and finish this leg.
Along the 90km route it was amazing to get encouragement from fellow athletes who recognise your effort and spur you on. Even the spectators were a boost of energy every time they shout your name. A quick calculation and I realised I was under my 4hr target.
I entered T2 in a ride time of 3:36:01. T2 was just a blur. Rack the bike, change my shoes and head off on the run. Yes, the run. Up until this point I thought I could smash my initial planned time of 7:30:00 for the event but every step on my dead legs made it more clear that it would not be possible. I refocused and accepted the challenge ahead of me.
I had made up some time on the bike leg so I will use that buffer and keep pushing to the end. It was a long, hard and painful shuffle all the way to the end. Eventually I decided to forget about the time, think about completing. Every step was a step closer to the end. I have nothing more to say apart from the fact that the run was both horrible and fantastic at the same time. Horrible because of the pain and dire pace but fantastic because off the support from spectators and athletes alike, especially the club gang who spotted me a few times. It always put a smile on my face. The last 100 meters or so was amazing. I remember seeing familiar faces from the club rushing to the fence near the finishers chute and spurring me on. They might not know it yet but they they gave me the strength to finish the last stretch. As I stepped onto the orange carpet I probably had about 50 meters to go and all I could hear in my head was still their cheers. I thought about my family that could not be there and the fact that I was steps away from completing the biggest event of my life. I held back the tears and, with a smile on my face I crossed the finish line.
This was probably the most amazing experience of my life. I was able to challenge myself and show that I am able to do so much more than I think. Thank you to my wife and kids for their support, to the club guys who spurred me on, the spectators and fellow athletes and also to those who donated to my cause.