I sit down to write this report around 36 hours after the 2013 Outlaw Triathlon shut out the lights in the finishing chute and everyone went home. I’m struggling to type as my hands, especially my right one is still numb but more on that later.
I’ll start my story on the day the final race pack was published and found the time cut off for the swim had been adjusted – no longer would I have 2h15 to be on my bike but there would actually be an enforced cut off at 2hours out of the water. Easy for most but being a very lacking swimmer all my swim training has been geared to building up the endurance to swim for 2 hours and suddenly a minor tweak had suddenly cranked up the pressure.
My last few weeks of training had been OK but I’d missed a couple of sessions convinced that I was coming down with something that thankfully never happened. I’m told this is quite normal behaviour and I’m no more neurotic than the next long distance triathlete approaching a taper. Earlier in the week a bit of a sniff moved further down my list of worries when the stream of heat wave forecasts started coming in. It was going to be around 30°C and I never race well in warm conditions – I’d never swam in warm conditions either so had no idea how that would work.
I’d always planned on doing my race packing well in advance but kept finding excuses to putting it off so didn’t really do any until the Thursday and then on the Friday sat watching TV coverage of last year’s event while packing everything up. Not sure if that was wise as it looked both daunting and inspiring.
We set off for Nottingham around 2:30 on the Friday evening and had a nice relaxed evening and once again I was able to get a good 8 hours of sleep in. I’d written off being able to sleep before the race so had been advised to bank as much sleep as possible in the build-up.
Saturday morning and we headed to Holme Pierrepoint and I was registered in no time at all. A daunting pile of bags and bits in hand and the wrist band firmly secured I found a piece of floor in the centre and watched the Lions game – a great atmosphere in the room among other likeminded triathletes. The inevitable temperatures were the main topic of conversation with seasoned athletes suggesting it would be the hardest ever Outlaw and on par with some of the recognised hot weather races.
Test series wrapped up we went into the briefing where race director Andy started by emphasizing the importance of the swim cut off and I felt the colour drain from my face – he spoke for another hour but I’m not sure how much went in. I went up to him afterwards and explained my fears – he asked a few questions and said that they’d probably be fine with anyone doing 2h5 but much more and they’d have to have a serious look at you and get you through T1 sharpish. I felt a bit better now and speaking to the NEWT guys (Richie, James and Simon) they were great at helping me calm down a bit.
Time was going on by this stage and I went to fetch my bike finding I was missing a bar end cap – no sign in the boot – but K popped along to the expo area where they were doing bike maintenance and managed to blag one. Finally bags were sorted, bike ready and I headed down to transition but at the last minute K suggested I follow my coach’s advice and go for a short spin. I was reluctant but did it anyway and it was a good job I did – my front derailleur just wouldn’t shift at all. I poked and prodded but no joy. I decided to bite the bullet and give the TFN maintenance guys 20 quid to sort it out. Had to leave the bike with them and I was amazed to find them re-cabling the front gear workings when I returned – apparently the cable had completely seized in amongst the internal routing – the heat was causing all sorts of mechanical issues by all accounts. By this point I’m not sure how much more stress I can cope with so quickly hung my bags, racked my bike and headed back to the hotel.
I eat a bowl of pasta and garlic bread, get my swimming kit together and put my head down for the night. I don’t sleep but I’d planned for that so tried to stay relaxed but worries about the swim cut off keep resurfacing and getting me worked up.
Alarm goes off at 03:30 and the toughest sporting day of my life is about to commence. An instant porridge pot is forced down and then at the venue I eat a banana and keep sipping at a drink. I’m putting my nutrition on the bike realising I’ve forgotten to put any liquid in my drinks bottle so again K pops off to sort that out. Final touches done to the race bags and I’m into my wetsuit. Walking to the water I pass the race director and do give real consideration to handing him my chip and calling it off. At this point, just as I needed it, the NEWT guys saw me and I went with them to the start.
Despite his ambitions at the front James was especially helpful and pretty much put me in the water. It felt warm and actually pleasant and I lay on my back and took a few deep breaths. My mantra for the swim has always been “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and that’s what I needed to do. I’d never done more than 1.9K in OW and never race distance in the pool.
The race starts and I’m off and going, I see K walking alongside on the bank and I find that helpful. I glance at my watch halfway down the lake and I’m well ahead of schedule and feeling good and hit the turnaround in 55 minutes. Suddenly all my fears of the cut-off disappear and I know I’m in control. My only niggling doubt is that any swim in the pool of more than an hour and a half has caused me to hit the wall but then I’ve never fuelled well before an early morning swim before and I stay strong. I slow a bit but finish in a comfortable 1h55.
I take it easy through T1 to clear my head a bit – I always feel a little dizzy exiting the water – and can hear a swimmer being let through in 2h07 and wonder what I was worried about. I’m out to my bike and set off around the perimeter of the lake. Disaster strikes. I’ve forgotten my HR monitor. All my training done to HR, this weather making pacing critical, and I’ve not put my damn monitor on.
I ask myself any number of questions as I ride the lap and in the end jump off my bike at the end and ask very nicely if I can pop back into transition to fetch it. I have to run a fair way but luckily I put my hand on my bag fairly quickly and I’m then back out onto my bike. So if my pretty poor 12 minute T1 wasn’t bad enough you can add another 6 minutes for my rather unique T1b. So unsurprisingly I’m now in last place of the entire field and all my good work in the swim is undone.
I ride well to start knowing that I’m going to be much later than expected into the first time check at 16miles and I don’t want people following the tracking to panic. I ride to 35KM before I see another soul but at least then overtake some people and feel I’m making some progress. I come towards the end of the first Southern loop and the leaders are coming back after their trip around the North loop. This is going to be a long day but I see James pass so know he’s going well and then see K on the side of the road. The support around the course is generally good but at Car Colston it’s pretty special as hundreds of people line the road. Sadly most of them are facing the other way as I ride through clearly watching the leaders. I complete the Southern loop in 1h52 (27kph) and then head onto the lumpier northern loop. This is fairly uneventful most of the way round as I take it easy up the one real climb on the course and for the only time on the course follow a group of 2 for a while. A draft buster pulled alongside and I blurted out “surely that’s OK!?” and he laughed and asked if I had enough water and reminded me to keep drinking. He shot off down the road and I looked forlornly down at my Garmin wishing my bike would go that fast. Bored of being sat in a line I pulled out, sped off and continued on.
Approaching the one busy roundabout on the course I went to follow a caravan around and he braked at the last minute and I had to stop in a hurry to avoid ploughing into the back of it. That would have been a tough DNF to explain. North loop finished in 2h18 (23.5kph) and I’m aware than both my hands are really starting to cramp. I’ve been on top of my nutrition and drinking plenty so I guess I’ve just been gripping my bars too tightly – it’s never happened before but it’s not getting any better.
I get to the penultimate feed station and the last of the bike timing mats and decide to take a short stop. The Pirates on this station are great and they get me plenty of water swapping bottles for me like an F1 pit crew – I try to mix a gel into the drink and realise my hands have seized so they even do that for me.
I think this is the point where something in my mind changes and the day becomes all about survival. I can no longer shift my gears up and I’m riding mostly one handed holding my more painful right hand as if in a sling. The heat is up to 32°C and I’m beginning to suffer. My speed is dropping below 20kph far more times than I want it to and my average speed is falling. I’m now aware of the 8 hour cut off and cursing my 25 minutes of my split transition – should I puncture now with my hands how they are its game over.
I plough on and curse the people at the last food station for going home early – I prepare my rant to staff in T2 and continue on passing some people who are off their bikes and sat on the side. Didn’t I feel silly when I rounded a corner and saw the feed station – I’d miscounted my miles to kilometres and put them in a different position? I put a half drunken bottle of water over my head, they provided a new one and I necked most of a bottle of High5. 12 miles to go and I can get off this bike.
Southern loop 2 completed in 2h07 (23.5 again) which showed I was still slowing in real terms. There are a few lumps on the last section and to change gear I had to use the opposite hand to pull my levers – these gearing issues meant I spent large chunks in the wrong gear often pushing harder gears than I would normally do and slowing my cadence. I had concerns as to how that was going to affect me when I started the run.
Navigating the bumpy section at the end of the bike very conservatively I finally entered T2 after a 7h35 bike split. Taking away the 6 minutes around where my pre-race worst case bike split would be.
If I thought my hands gave me trouble on the bike I wasn’t prepared for how bad they actually were. I took 20 minutes in T2!!! I couldn’t get anything done properly and I think at least 10 minutes of the time were me trying to get socks off and new ones and compression guards on. I had to get a fellow competitor to pull my top down as I couldn’t do it myself.
I set out thinking I’d aim for a strategy of 3 minutes running 30 seconds walking but this soon became 2/30, 1/30 and steadily worse. For those that don’t know the run course is basically 2 laps of the lake (~3 miles each), a 7 mile section into Nottingham, another lake lap, Nottingham again and then one last lap. It was this structure that prevented me from stopping there and then. At 2 miles in I was all set to call it a day and having run-walked a lap my right calf was in spasm every time I ran and then couldn’t walk. Continuing my walking full time now I realised I could walk fast enough to meet the necessary 10 minutes per KM I needed to beat the 11pm cut off. I told myself if I could do the next lake lap without too much pain I’d head out into Nottingham.
Many people were finishing at this point but nearly all were walking and once off and going I made peace with my approach and just got on with it. I saw K and explained it was going to be a late night. I can walk quickly when required and so was able to continually do 9 minute KM giving myself a decent buffer and it was helped by the regular feed stations. By half way several cups of salty drinks had eased the cramp right off and I do think I could have run some of the remainder but having long since blown any chance of a decent time I decided to play the conservative approach and just ensure I finished. I came around my penultimate lake lap with people looking to beat 14 hours but very few of them could muster the jog needed to ensure it – the temperature just hadn’t dropped and around the lake humidity was incredibly high. Out to Nottingham for the final time and I passed a sequence of people pretty quickly and then when I caught the front person of that sequence I started to chat to him and we basically walked together for around an hour. Slightly slower than I’d been going but I was fine for the cut off time and the distraction was welcome. Last 7 or so kilometres I set off again and saw K who had been getting messages all evening and then caught a couple more people around the lake as darkness took over. With a mile left Richie pulled alongside on his bike and kept me going and with about 400m to go I started to jog before getting the full on after-dark finishers chute experience with the remain crowd in the chute giving out high-fives including K and Phil (James and Richie’s dad). I leapt over the line nearly taking the tape with me before being dragged back to the line by commentator where the whole crowd shouted the words I’d been working 16h38 minutes for – “David Manley. You are an Outlaw!”
It was late, everyone was tired and frankly with a 150 mile drive ahead of them I couldn’t believe that the NEWT brigade had stayed to see me finish.
I could have done without having to lug my kit bags and bike from transition and in my weary state my 3 kit bags ended up being left behind on the side of the road but thankfully by the time I worked this out in the morning someone had handed them in to reception. A lucky escape. The marshalls and people at the feed stations were amazing – continuous energy and banter helping keep me going. Always quick to provide what was needed and just fantastic all round really.
I sit here now relieved that I got through it and proud of the achievement but frustrated that my weakness in hot conditions basically cost me any chance of a decent performance. I’m never going to be super-fast but should be capable of something in the 14-15 hour mark but I said I’d be a one and done and as it stands see no reason to change that opinion.
My neck is cut from chafing on the swim, I’ve lost a toe nail and have half a dozen blisters, my hip is in bits from the speed walking and I’m still mentally exhausted. Simon texted me yesterday saying it’ll take me 1 to 4 month before I sign up for another iron distance but I just don’t see it happening. If I was to ever consider it again it’d be when I can swim properly, average high 20s on the bike and perhaps most importantly sort my diet out to one more conducive of an athlete training 6 or more times a week. If one thing really held me back it was picking up infections on the back of every big training block.
It’s been a big commitment and K has been awesome all the way through, Marcus my coach has been great although I suspect I’ve frustrated him a lot more than he lets on. I’ve had loads of backing from family and friends, work colleagues, more recently the people of NEWT, my twitter buddies – I won’t name individuals but you know who you are. I could have given up after that first wander round the lake but it was not wanting to let everyone down that kept me going.
“Just keep walking. Just keep walking.”