What was a brief write-up has turned into an essay. I can only apologise.
The event came around quicker than expected. I had tapered properly and loaded on carbs for three days before, so was feeling confident. I meticulously plan everything, so for the umpteenth time the night before, I laid out my kit, pre-organised my nutrition, and decided to carry it all to avoid any problems. I like to leave no doubt or room for ‘what if’. Some people enjoy the chaos. I like it to be carefully controlled and preferably labelled. We racked on the Saturday but arrived early Sunday to check transition was sorted and put on swim gear. Conditions couldn’t have been better and Outlaw was well organised. Here I must thank my driver, bag carrier and chief-supporter Katie, who managed to be both annoying and helpful at the same time. The efforts were very much appreciated.
I’ve never done a mass start before but was not unduly bothered. How hard can it be? The answer is: very. The race starts and within moments someone kicks me in the side. It’s quite disconcerting having masses of bodies thrashing about you. My mind came to the conclusion that I’m absolutely, definitely, 100% going to drown.
The body decides to join in this coup and promptly has a panic attack. For a few horrible moments, I suck in breaths – forcing out a few mangled strokes before having to breast stroke to suck in more air. In ancient times ‘shitting it’ was a good thing. Adrenaline was a handy aid when you needed to punch a bear in the face or outrun whoever was trying to steal your potatoes. Adrenaline was a survival tool.
Unfortunately, it sucks in the modern world – I have to breast-stroke for a bit before I can convince body and mind that I am in-fact breathing AND swimming, and as we have done this innumerable times before, it would be handy if they just got on with it. They agree. So off we swim.
I’m well behind the pack now and as I look into the distance, can’t help but feel my day is already done. Oddly, this completely takes the pressure off and I hit a comfortable pace. It doesn’t take long for me to begin overtaking people and I start feeling great. From here on in, I love the swim. I’m moving quickly, hunting down people one by one. The contrast isn’t lost on me and I try not to get complacent. I leave the water in 1 hour 36 minutes, I’m happy given the stuttering start and time taken to weave through the mob. That leaves the bike…
The bike is my weakest discipline. I’m not a big lad, nor am I able to put the power down. I’m a steady eddy plodder. The bike has caused me the most anxiety, an irony given I wasn’t bothered about the swim and that’s the one that surprised me. (My main piece of advice on the day would be to only ever concentrate on the small segment you’re doing, and once it’s done, completely forget about it.)
Transition was a bit twitchy as I was keen to charge off but I forced myself to go steady. A lot of bikes were still racked which boosted the confidence. A few fruit pastels and glucose drink later, and I’m walking to the mount line. As we glide off, I chat to whoever is around me. Some were chatty, others aren’t keen to talk about the abundance of geese at the park – there loss. Lots bomb past me but I refuse the bait because I have a cunning plan. For the first time in my life, I actually have a game plan. It’s elegant and simple. Nuanced and yet sublime. It is thus: ‘DON’T STORM OFF LIKE A D*CKHEAD’.
I’d worked out that 8 hours cut-off would mean I needed a minimum pace of 14 mph. The strategy all centres around two big hills I had to conquer at miles 50 and 55. I intend to make sure I never dropped below 16mph for each 5 mile segment until I reached those hills. Once over the bumps, I could carry on aiming for 16mph but had bought myself extra leeway. If I storm off and go at any higher pace, there’s a real possibility of my legs falling off.
For those who don’t know, Nottingham is basically three loops. Loops 1 and 3 are mild undulations through villages, and loop 2 is hilly around country lanes. Now, I’ve already admitted to being a very mediocre cyclist but there is something galling about being overtaken on the downhill by the larger lads and lasses. I’m only little so even if I pedal like crazy I’m not getting much speed on these downs. Lots of people overtake me – Even under this duress, I remain a gentleman and only swear at them after they’ve gone around the corner. In truth, I’m not bothered. I have a plan. I want to finish and don’t care about anyone else.
For what it’s worth, I actually enjoyed the bike. Perhaps ‘enjoy’ is the wrong word. I didn’t hate it as much as I expected. I had a wobble at 45 miles as I was feeling the legs and there was still a long way to go. Another blip occurred at 80 miles. The elation of having nailed big numbers thoroughly muted by the realisation of having 30+ miles left. By mile 90, I’m pretty much on my own. Then the wind picks up and there’s not many places to hide. Morale is low and I’m just moving forward for the sake of it. This was the biggest mental challenge of the entire day. I know most competitors have already finished and are on the run, but for the last hour and a bit I’m cycling alone into a headwind. It sucks hard. Nottingham doesn’t bother to give you a downhill at the end so it’s a savage slog that I’m glad to see the back off. The roll into transition is a relief.
Transition 2 is steady. I take on some nutrition. Grumble a bit about how many bikes are back. Change my socks, and hit the track. I have over 7 hours to do a marathon. I know that I’ll finish now – it’s just a case of mitigating pain and keeping a steady pace. Lot’s of people at TTG have given me some great tips but thanks to Tim.H for a sterling piece of throw-away advice, ‘don’t look at your watch, just pick a pace that feels comfortable.’ It sounds simple but it popped into my head as I set off, and so I stuck with it. My comfortable pace is apparently a super steady 10.30-minute mile. After the first lap, I’m feeling good. My pace is holding up, and I’m whittling away at the cut off time. At mile 13, my watch gives up the ghost so I’m flying blind. Nevertheless, I crack on through lap 2, and check the time on the finishers clock. Pace is steady. Even if I break down, I could limp around and still make the cut-off.
For the following hours I can’t really tell you much about the run. I zoned out and spent most the time striking up conversation with strangers – mentally playing point to point with the feed stations, and generally feeling a bit smug. I kept leap frogging the same faces, and everyone was friendly but exhausted. Heavy leg syndrome kicks in at mile 18 and my pace went downhill skiing. The wave of emotion is strong. The wobble seems a good sign of low something; energy, glucose, the will to live. Whatever it is, I decide I need to fuel, so smash anything I can get my hands. Only another 8 miles to go. I’m going to die.
I stop showing off around crowded sections, where you run a little faster and stand a little straighter to pretend you’re not in the pain cave. Now I simply don’t care if a I look a mess. I just want to finish. I’m shattered at the sheer restlessness of it all. I start paying more attention to the non-vocal members of the crowd. You can tell the ones who’ve done some form of heavy-duty event before because every time I made eye-contact there’s a look of sympathy and jealousy that it’s not them racing. The zombie trudge took over my last lap, which is the walk / run shamble – anything to get over the line.
And then I’m on the last lap. Every step is toward the finish. I can hear the cheer. One selfish person has the absolute gall to finish in front of me. I slow down. I’m not sharing the finish-photo with anyone! The path is finally clear and I pick up my pace to run through the flags. It’s over. Finally. It’s over.
There are so many people at the club who have offered tips and tricks over the training period. When amalgamated it really does come together to make race day a lot easier. A big thanks to you all.