Cometh the hour cometh the man! So almost a year after entering my first long-distance race, the big day suddenly arrived. 6am start times for races do seem a bit intimidating. But at least I live close to the Outlaw course so I got a decent night’s sleep in my own bed before getting up at 4.30am and getting into ‘the zone’.
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Triathlon has always been the craziest sport to prepare for any race day. I cannot be the only athlete who has to verbally call out every piece of equipment to my support manager (aka wife!) before I dare get in the car to the event. The likely hood of 11 hours, 12 hours or maybe even 14 hours on the course generated more "what if" thoughts and fears than my normal OCD pre-race paranoia allows.
You see, no matter how much training is completed and how much you plan the race before hand, there really is no guarantee that things will turn out as expected. The weird thing about this distance is that (unless you are completely bonkers) there is no way that you can complete the whole distance in training. So, de facto, if this is your first iron distance, then it follows that this will be a territory that is completely uncharted.
No such thing as bad weather…
First consideration: weather. Not that there is any way of controlling this. But you can at least prepare for what is to be faced on the day. Most modern weather apps are pretty accurate if checked as close to the event as possible. I have heard it said that there is no such thing as bad weather, merely bad choice of clothing in many cases.
Rain was predicted at 12 noon. I planned to be just finishing the final loop of the bike course at that time. So what to wear? Temperatures are not predicted to be too cold so a sleeveless gilet should do for the cycling. This really did pay dividends when the rain came bang on the predicted time.
Given the weather predictions, the mini aero mudguard attached to the saddle proved to be a real bonus. This has a variety of good features... It looks cool, like the telemetry antennae that the Tour de France cyclists have. It is inexpensive, unlike most triathlon equipment. More importantly it saves a gallon of water being splashed into the chamois of the tri suit, and this saves a lot of chafing issues that then occur when running in what feels like a very wet nappy!
The gilet proved a good call and I stuck with that into the first 10km of the run. By that time the rain had eased off and I felt settled enough to discard this at the next feed station. Near the 10km mark the motorbike filming the leading female athlete came past me. I managed to blurt out "I want to make 10km before getting chicked". To which I got a reply, “We've done 10km, you’re over a quarter of the run completed". Jenny Latham went on to be first female home in 9:55hrs – pretty impressive for her first time at this distance.
Jenny Latham wins The Outlaw
The race plan was built around the bike section of the course. My aim was to get the optimum bike split but without leaving the tank too depleted to achieve a reasonable marathon run at the end. The Outlaw Triathlon essentially has three loops on its course, a southern loop, northern loop, once more on the southern loop then home. Rather than considering speed, heart rate and cadence, I work to hold power at targeted levels.
The plan was to ride negative splits of the three segments of the bike course as measured by power. As ever I went out a bit quick, due probably to the adrenaline rush of a race. I held this nicely for the second segment but fell back a touch in the final part of the bike. No matter, overall I nudged 2% above my target for average power.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, food was always my worry for going long. However, on the day this really was a piece of cake.....well not literally.. cake is a bit awkward to carry! The feeding plan was basically little and often, but with variety. I needed to avoid over-sweetened gel sickness. So in T1 I had Soreen malt loaf and half a banana. Next up was a "breakfast sandwich”, in reality my own designed and homemade cheese and nut (plus chorizo) rissole.
Through a feed station for fluids, I always start empty (less weight to carry) and then pick up bottles on the course. Coffee time was of course "Espresso Love" from Gu, these really are a treat in any race. The half bananas then became a habit at subsequent feed stations with alternating bottles of either water or High5. One more homemade rissole on the way home followed by "Chocolate Outrage" for pudding….who knew food on two wheels can be fun.
So with a decent swim split and the bike done and dusted, there’s just the marathon to tackle. The best advice I had for iron distance was take a bit of time in transition. To me this meant calm down, put on socks (something I have never done before in triathlon) and generally keep it together. T2 was my only loo stop of the race…. Be practical most of us need this, but don't overload with fluids and spend all the race in portable toilets.
Highs and lows
Support pulls people through the run. Family and friends help enormously. Race organisers One Step Beyond have a fabulous team of volunteers and this race had comprehensively stocked feed stations every 1.5 miles of the run. I was smiling and felt good right to the end… Though my wife points out that I did struggle to walk up a flight of stairs when I stopped!
So in at 10:24:36, my first iron-distance race was a success. Train well, prepare for everything, then just race hard – it works. As I crossed the line the commentator called "Andy Keetley, second in his age group" – that was almost overwhelming.
The only sad postscript was that my wife had to tell me (after I had hobbled up that flight of stairs) that I had been DQ'd six hours earlier. I could write a full blog on the unfairness of no appeal, no warning, no road safety issue disqualifications. However, I know my times, I know I raced fair and I had a great day. So much so that I have entered another iron-distance race next month, Challenge Weymouth!
And training track of the month this time? Well how about this for something a bit off the wall. The Pimps of Joytime playing "Freedom Dancer" live. This is a Jam in The Van track. Perfect to stick in the beans when setting off for a long run on a hot day. It would be cool if these guys could turn up at some summer triathlons!
(Images: Dave Pearce / Andrew Keetley)
For lots of long-distance advice, head to our Training section