Saturday, 30 July 2016

Outlaw Triathlon 2016

After kicking off my triathlon career at IM Wales in 2011 I decided to find out what distance I suited best in 2012, by racing all of them. The Outlaw was my chosen iron-distance so I returned to it this year to see whether I've improved.


Registering for the Outlaw was something of a knee-jerk when places went on sale last year - which unfortunately meant I only had a few hours to discuss with my wife whether it was OK to 'go long' again. We agreed that so long as it didn't alter my original plan of around 10hrs training a week, it might be allowed.
A lot of guides on the Internet suggest more training than that is required just to finish an iron distance triathlon; I had an extra target - I wanted to break 10 hours for the distance - a PB by 30 minutes. Plainly a long term plan was needed - so after an October break I started my 9 month plan.
I'll go more into my training strategy in another post; the basics were an emphasis on recovery, long aerobic distance a la Maffetone (difficult with only 10hrs to play with!), minimal swimming, and a 'reverse periodisation' with speedwork in the winter and slower training in the spring/summer. It certainly achieved something. By spring my legs were completely useless at any kind of power effort and I felt like I was about to have my worst season ever. The one small glimmer of hope was when I was asked to take part in a VO2 study at Leeds Beckett, and they struggled to make me stop burning fat on the treadmill - I eventually switched to carbohydrate at 96% of my max heart rate! Perhaps I was becoming a distance machine?

Pre-race problems

Six weeks out from the race I was a bit of a fool - I was on a week on-call so the only time I could exercise was on my commute. I made it a heavy run week, clocking up nearly 60 hilly miles (I'm normally 25-30) and finished off with an olympic distance triathlon on the Sunday. My right achilles tendon was not a fan and I developed a painful nodule about the size of a large marble. I decided on a risky strategy of continuing to run - on the basis that I knew it could handle 30 miles a week - whilst doing what I could with exercises and self-massage. As a result, it improved slowly, but continued to grumble right up to race day. Could be interesting!
Another query was my new bike. I bought a Canyon Speedmax at the start of the season, but a broken saddle clamp and a 2-month wait for parts from Canyon meant I still hadn't ridden it. The parts arrived with only a couple of weeks to try to dial in some kind of position - or should I play it safe and stay on the bike I knew could handle 112 miles without incident? Again, I took the risk, and I was still changing the height of my aero bars less than 24 hours before bike check-in.

Race weekend

Arrival at the watersports centre always focuses the mind -  I remember seat-racing there well from my rowing days. I hadn't realised quite how early I would have to lose my bike into a locked transition but managed to get a quick ride in before dropping it off, where I met Damon Street from Zoot UK who was racing Team11Up - a team of female triathletes (and apparently one chicken) - in a (fairly) good natured battle of the sexes. He was kind enough to let me gatecrash a pre-race meal with his family, and Simon and Lee also from Zoot UK, where I had too much race-head and bored all with exciting tales of ibuprofen and gut monosaccharide transport (or 'why having 36 gels caused you to have GI issues'!)
Then, after a night of car headlights and pumping bass, all too quickly it was 3:45am and time to join the queues for the toilets.


I'd forgotten that the Outlaw has a mass start swim - perfect! I'm not frightened of a bit of 'biff' and I like the reassurance of knowing that the people in front of me are beating me and the people behind are not. Having said that, the amount of 'biff' was remarkably small. Perhaps because of the nice straight 'up and down the lake', there wasn't such a clear 'racing line' and there was plenty of room for everyone. The only exception bizarrely came on the way back when a fellow competitor and I both ended up trying to draft the same pair of feet. We bumped into each other (just one of those things, or so I thought) - but he decided to take it very badly and tried to force my head under the water! Luckily I had enough speed to get away and I didn't see him again - presumably a case of the 'red mist' of competition; but I think we need to accept that in general everyone is just trying to make progress and contact is more or less inevitable when 1500 people are swimming in the same murky water!
As I've been doing very little swim training, my target was 1:10 to match what I did previously, so I was pleased to be out of the water in 1:06 and, after a brief pause to slather on suncream, out on the bike.


First real test of a new bike, new shoes, new cleats, new power meter, new drink system, new position. Not recommended or sensible, but after Canyon Bikes taking well over 2 months to deliver saddle clamp parts I was concerned I'd never get to ride the new bike at all!
However, within a few miles I'd forgotten most of the curse words I'd been saving for Canyon as it's evident the Speedmax suits me well - I was comfortable, and nicely above my planned speed despite being well within my power target. I was cruising past other competitors, and only rider who managed to overtake me (from the Heathen Kings relay team) couldn't keep up the speed and had to let me come past later on.
With a target of 5:15 on the bike, I went through halfway in comfortably under 2:30 and started to wonder if I might break 5 hours. Knowing that the last part of the bike course is a hellish track of speedbumps, potholes, and cattle grids, I realised I'd have to build up a small buffer so pressed on with that in mind. With 10 miles to go I was on schedule and still feeling good. But at that point the Speedmax decided to show its true colours. The saddle clamp came apart and I found myself nosediving into my aero bars. Very luckily, and in view of the last-minute nature of my setup, I'd strapped a multitool to my bottle cage - and was able to use this to put everything back together once I'd retrieved the bolts. But the sight of the people I'd worked so hard to overtake rolling past while I was stationary was excruciating. A few minutes later I jumped (carefully) back onto the saddle and pushed hard to regain those lost places. By transition I was back where I'd been, position-wise if not time-wise, but with my race-head slightly gone and unfortunatley just missing the sub-5.


I think in an iron distance race, the marathon is where the race really starts. Despite the fact you've been going for around 6 hours at this point, it's all just to get you to the start line of the run and to let you see what kind of shape your legs are in, and how you've managed the delicate balance of energy intake, sodium, and potential GI distress. After having GI problems previously I'd taken it quite light on the bike in the hope that my new-found fat burning ability would help. Trying to put the saddle-clamp frustrations behind me, I set out onto the run course.
I found my legs felt surprisingly fresh, and tried to strike up a conversation with an athlete I found next to me before realising we were running 6:50 miles and that I would never keep it up. I had planned for a 3:30 marathon, though my speed on the bike meant that 3:45 would now do. So I let him go and slowed to what felt like a comfortable 3:15 target. At this point I realised that in my end-of-bike fluster I'd forgotten to visit the T2 toilets, so had a rapid portaloo dash before rejoining the course to find Julian, with whom I spent the next 10+ miles.
I've tried to rediscover the art of chatting to people on the run. In my first full racing year I remember coming off the bike once and trying to strike up a conversation only to be thoroughly rejected by my fellow competitor - I hadn't realised we were competing for a top-10 finish at the time! I decided that it just wasn't the done thing. But in a couple of more recent races where I knew I wasn't going to do well I redisovered the comradeship of triathlon - it's entirely possible to run together and still be in a race. And luckily Julian appeared to feel the same. Even though my legs felt fresh, and a couple of people crept past us, I resolved to stay with him at a steady 3:30 target pace until at least the half way mark - a marathon is a long way and there would be plenty of opportunity to speed up if I still felt good!
I firmly believe that in all long distance racing there will come a point where you find yourself in a 'Dark Place'. You can only hope to delay it as long as possible, and react well to it when it comes. In my case, this arrived at about 16 miles. Still quite a long way to go, and I found my legs getting slower and slower. The only glimmer of light was that at least I'd not pushed harder when I'd felt good earlier! I resolved to take each mile as it came and try to keep within 30 seconds of my original plan. It wasn't easy, but I plodded on - and noticed that other people seemed to be slowing too! And more than me! My tortoise-like approach was going to pay off.
Somehow my legs had enough left to pull off the obligatory sprint at the end - covering the last 200m in 30 seconds (for reference my 'race pace' for the marathon was half that), and blasting through the finishing tape before near-collapsing with the sudden onset of cramp in every muscle my legs possess.


9:47. Well under the 10, so very pleased. Apart from the saddle clamp failure, a near-perfect race for me. And when Simon from Zoot told me I'd hit the podium in my age-group I was stunned. Obviously it helped that Karl Alexander couldn't finish the run but even so, perhaps I should focus on long distance more?
After a massage from the excellent physios in the massage tent I managed to watch Damon finish; he had been struggling with ITB pain during the run and nearly had to quit - but managed to push on through (with some slightly worrisome ibuprofen!). Much respect to him; I know how painful it can be (and have resorted to lignocaine in the past which is probably even less advisable!).
The award ceremony was fun; I hadn't remotely expected to have the extra day so didn't have any clean clothes and had planned to look after my kids on my first rest day. Thankfully my hero wife Helen stepped up and managed to rearrange everything for one more day of triathlon abandonment. And also thanks to Damon, who had a clean Zoot top so I didn't have to attend the presentation in sweaty, High5-soaked lycra!


And the reason this has taken so long to post... As with the salmon swimming upstream who succumb to infections at the top, extreme exercise is not great for the immune system. So I sit here, sofa-bound with a nasty head and throat. I'd planned to have most of this week as recovery anyway but I'd have preferred to spend it having quality family time rather than snotting everywhere!
On the plus side I was given permission by British Triathlon to come in as a late entry for the ITU World Long Distance Duathlon in Switzerland in September. I gather it's hilly so not exactly suitable for me, but hopefully next week I can start getting back into training. And with two runs to consider, it's time to start thinking shoes. I've been using the Zoot Makais this season and have been impressed with the comfort (no blisters!) but I'm keen to see if anything a little more neutral might suit me even better - thoughts probably in my next post!

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