So the club asked me to put together a piece about my training for the outlaw triathlon and also the race itself. I suppose it’s best to break it down into 2 sections, the training and the race. I would normally write this for myself anyway so apologies in advance if it’s long and boring!
So, first of all, why go long and why do Outlaw. 2017 was a good season for me, I got a 6th place in the age group sprint National Champs and then a 20th overall including the elites at the Olympic distance National Champs. This meant I would be racing draft legal in some races in 2018 against all the lads representing Ireland around Europe, you have to be a top swimmer for these races and for me it would turn into a race trying not to be lapped and hanging on until the end. This got me looking at something else to do for 2018, I sat down with Laura and we talked about me doing a full distance triathlon, what it would mean training wise and how much time I’d be putting into it. We agreed that this was probably a good year for doing it, not much going on at home and work wouldn’t be too bad so the decision was made around September 2017 that I’d be going long in 2018.
Why Outlaw? I wasn’t sure how well I would hold up training wise and if I would enjoy the race so I didn’t fancy spending the big Ironman money on entry fee’s, I wanted to try and go fast too, if I was only doing one long distance race I wanted to try and get a fast time. I’d done the Outlaw half before and knew the course was very similar and also knew where to stay and how to get there. I’d be able to get the ferry over so could take plenty of gear and there is a campsite about 400m from the start of the race so it made the logistics very easy and so the decision was made to enter Outlaw.
Over the winter I kept my training up, nothing too focused and was more going through the motions keeping my fitness levels up, I didn’t worry too much if I missed sessions, once the plan started I wouldn’t be missing much. I used the winter to plan my training, using a combination of a few different plans and what I know had worked for me over the last few years. I also started looking at people’s reports online who had done full distance races and trying to find out what had worked for other people and what hadn’t worked. I found out the on-course nutrition for the race and started using it a bit in training to get my stomach used to it. I started to think about what gear I would use for the race and where I might be able to make up a bit of time from gear choices.
The training plan started on the 22nd of January and I’d follow this until the race on 29th July. At the start, it wasn’t too bad, but gradually it built over the months. An average week would be 2/3 swims (depending if I’d get up in the morning or not), 4 bikes with 3 of these being on the turbo and about 5 runs a week including one long run and a brick session. This wasn’t too much more than I had done the previous season but the longer bike spin at the weekend and the long run at the weekend was a big difference. For my training I used power on the bike, I’m lucky that I have a power meter on my bike and all my training would be based around these numbers, this let me track all my improvements over the months and made sure every session had a goal. For the run I used heart rate, again this let me see improvements in pace for the same heart rate over the training. Over the months training, I found this very important, the training is hard enough but when you can see some improvements in your training it makes it worthwhile.
Training gradually built over the months and from around May to the race I was averaging around 17-18 hours of training a week. The body was tired but it was a different type of tired than what I was used to, it was more just from time training rather than any particularly hard sessions. I didn’t race a whole lot leading up to the race, it was hard to find a race that suited timing wise and I know I usually suffer a little with recovery from a race so wasn’t prepared to miss the training during my recovery. Instead I planned 2 long weekends of training for the bank holiday weekends in May and June, these involved a cycle and run all 3 days of the weekends, averaging around 12 hours on the bike and about 4/5hours of running, I felt that this training would really stand to me come race day and would have a better training impact than a race would have. Stand out sessions were 2x 3 hr runs feeling comfortable for the whole thing and covering around 37km. 2x200km+ on the bike, one with a 1.35 half marathon off it.
Plans were made over what gear to wear, the weather for the race was predicted to be hot so I was going with an aero road helmet, this would be more cooling than a full triathlon helmet and also lighter, I was prepared to give up some of the time benefits from the helmet for the comfort the aero helmet would give, especially when you have to run a marathon off the bike comfort is important! I also sorted out my nutrition, sticking to bars for the first 3/4hrs of the bike before moving to gels and what I would wear for the race, making sure all of it was comfortable first by wearing it in training and making sure it fit well and there was no chaffing. I brought my disc wheel, deep back wheel, deep front wheel and normal front wheel to cover all wind conditions and lucky I did!
My run taper started 3 weeks out from the race with my last long run of 3hours and then the bike taper started about 10 days out with some hard sessions done on the turbo. My training had all gone really well, I think all my power records on the bike from 5 mins up to 5 hours were set from Feb of this year. I don’t think I missed one bike session and only had to change 2/3 sessions due to fatigue. I missed a little bit of running around March due to a niggle in my foot and after this I stopped doing any hard running in training, I wasn’t too worried about this, I swapped all the run sessions for bike sessions and I was still able to do plenty of steady running, and felt this would be more important for the marathon than hard running. Swim went fairly well, I averaged around 2 swims a week but at least 1 of these was swimming with people who were better than me so was working hard. I probably could have swam more but at the same time, I knew I would get around the course, maybe not as fast as I could but still in good shape and a decent time. I knew going into the race that I had done everything I had planned and hadn’t skipped many sessions so the confidence was high, the long-range weather forecast looked decent, probably a little hot but looked like it would be a good day.
Training figures (approx.)
Feb hours—52 hours
March hours – 57 hours
April Hours—58 hours
May hours—72 hours
June hours — 75 hours
So we traveled over to Nottingham on the ferry on the Friday before the race. The drive took a lot longer than expected, planned was 3.5hours and took around 5.5hours because of traffic. We still got there with plenty of time and were set up with no hassle. It was very hot though at around 31 degrees and was playing on my mind a bit for the race on Sunday.
Saturday was spent with a quick spin on the bike in the morning to make sure everything was working and then a short run off it just to get the legs working. After this was off to the registration and then the briefing. Nothing major other than the fact that the wind had really picked up and there was a lot of hoarding and tents being blown over. The initial forecast said it wouldn’t be as bad on Sunday but this changed as the day went on. Bike went into Transition with the normal front wheel and deep back wheel, deep front and disc would be too much for me to control in the wind and I played on the safe side. I did a few walks through transition just to figure out where I would go after getting out of the water and when I came in on the bike. My 2 bags were racked in transition and again I walked through a few times just to figure it out in my head. All set and then spent pretty much the rest of the day sitting down and relaxing. We all got an email that evening to say that because of the forecast wind the swim would be changed from 1 big lap to a 3 lap swim which meant getting out at the end of each lap and a short run before getting back in. This didn’t bother me too much, it was going to be the same distance and would be easier to break down mentally because of the laps. I did have some worries about the bike though, parts of the course were very exposed and the wind would have a big impact on the day. Went to bed at the usual time, didn’t see any benefit of trying to go early, felt I was better sticking to my usual routine and it worked, pretty much straight to sleep and felt like I got a good nights sleep when I got up at 4.
A quick breakfast and grabbed my packed bag and down to the swim start. The day was awful, from 31 degrees on Friday to around 8 degrees on the morning of the race as well as 45kmph winds and rain. Wasn’t what I was expecting to be racing in but it would be the same for everyone, was still looking forward to it but in my head I was thinking that the 10 hour target I had set for myself was out the window, my bike time would be up in the air and had no idea how it would go. Changed with plenty of time and down into the sub 60 min pen for the swim. We weren’t held too long at 6 in the morning the race was off.
Swim 59.39 55th (Relays included in it)
Started up near the front, sure why not! The plan was to draft as much as I could for as long as I could. Got pushed around a bit at the start of the swim and was pushed out a bit from where I wanted to be, nothing to worry about though and worked my way back into a group and let myself settle a bit. Sighted every 2nd breath, mainly to look at other swimmers and see who I could jump onto. Worked my way through the groups on the first lap and by the end of the first lap I was leading a group out of the water, I could see the back end of the next group about 20m in front of me so I put a bit of a sprint on to catch them when we got out of the water to start lap 2. Worked well and I started lap 2 at the back of the group. Again swam smart and worked my way through, few sprints to catch faster feet and constantly looking around to see if there was anyone I could draft off. Out towards the front at the end of the second lap too. No one really in catching distance so took it a little handier this time. This was the turning point of my swim, when I got in I noticed a relay swimmer (different colour hats) to my left away from the main pack, he was really moving so I swum over and got on his feet, I was swimming hard enough and only just staying on his feet, judged the pace by comparing us to others around and we were constantly passing. Once or twice I pulled out to try and overtake and I realized how fast he was going! I stayed on these feet from the start of the 3rd lap to the very end of the swim. I have no doubt that this is what got me the sub 1hr swim. Delighted to pass the timing mat and see 59 mins on it. Probably a faster time than my training deserved but shows the benefit of swimming smart.
Took it handy enough through the transition, long enough but no rushing and felt it went well. Socks on and bike shoes carried out to the bike, pockets on the tri top stuffed with gels.
Bike 5.36.46 82nd
Start by saying the bike was around 5km long and 3km of that last 5km may as well have been cyclocross. The route at the end goes through an old private country estate and the surface is awful, potholes, ramps, and gravel all over the place. Not a huge impact on my time but I need my excuses! I stuck to the power target for my race (approx. 75% of FTP) so have no complaints with that but I felt I was fighting the bike for the whole time, I was constantly blown across the road and for one section of around 15km or so downhill into a headwind I averaged around 25kmph. A bit soul destroying but was the same for everyone. Some of the course was on open roads too and I had to come to a complete stop twice at roundabouts and lost a little time, nothing huge but gets in your head a little on the bike. There is only one real hill on the course about 800m long and steep enough for the last 200m and then a good long gradual descent off this, with the wind though we didn’t get any benefit of the descent, this was probably one of the more exposed parts of the course.
The bike started well but was freezing with driving rain and wind, I took it handy at the start to make sure I didn’t get carried away. It took me about 1.5hours to feel someway warm on the bike and at one stage was thinking that unless the weather improved I would have to stop the bike, luckily it started to get a bit brighter and a little warmer when the rain eased. Seen a few people on the ground at corners on the bike so made me take the corners even more sensible than I already was. If I look at the bike splits I lost around 20 places in the first ¾ of the bike but then gained nearly 40 over the last ¼ so I paced it well and I knew based on my numbers on the bike I could run well off the power and was looking forward to getting onto my feet, a long way from when I started in tri!
Normalised power was 175w@58kg on race day so nearly 3w/kg and exactly what I wanted to hold. Little disappointed getting off the bike as it now meant it looked like the sub 10 was off the cards but I didn’t let it get in my head and just stuck to my original plan and tried to make sure I enjoyed the run.
Again in and out quick enough without rushing. Same socks left on, laces still in the shoes and ran in Nike Zoom fly. They had volunteers to take your bike off you and rack it so once that was passed off I was out of bike shoes and into the tent in my socks.
Run 3.13.41 (14th including relays and think top 5 run taking them out)
Legs felt good from the start, very conscious of pace but was still through the first km in just over 4min so far too fast. Settled well then and pace was averaging around 4.30min/km. Faster than race pace but I had decided that I was going to go for the sub 10, if I blew up I blew up, I decided to gamble on the run. I read a quote on Roman Bardet’s bike during the tour de France, ‘Take the risk or lose the chance’, this was what was going through my head, I had a great training block and couldn’t have asked for much more, now was the time to put it on the line and see if I could do it. I was feeling good so I went with it and would see where it got me. Aid station plan was to sip a gel over 2 stations, new gel every second aid station then. Water at every station, some to drink and some poured over the head, and high 5 zero at every second one. Legs were feeling good and I was constantly passing people. Through the first half marathon in around 1.35 and passed the clock at the finish line seeing I had around 1.40 for the second half marathon to go under the 10 hour target, I knew then that the risk had hopefully paid off, I had a bit of a buffer to get through so I tried to be a bit more sensible and I pulled it back a little but still felt more comfortable around the 4.30min/km mark. Less km’s were coming in just under and usually around 4.33 or so. I knew I was banking time on each of these km’s so went with it. I started to feel like both quads were going to cramp at around 25km but it just stayed like this and never went any further, luckily!. Coming around onto the last lap of the run I knew I had it in the bag if I could keep going and not let the pace fall off. I decided to walk through the last 2 aid stations, these were the only walking breaks I took, to make sure the legs didn’t cramp and this worked well. Second half marathon was in around 1.38, taking into account the very fast first km and then walking the two aid stations there wasn’t a huge variance in pace across the race. Got onto the finish carpet and was delighted to see the time was under 10hours. Let a lad in front of me take his time and then followed him in. Had a little word with myself coming down the carpet and even let myself smile crossing the line. Found out after that the lad was in same age group as me and came 4th in the age group. Should have pushed passed him, I could have, but made no real difference, my number 1 goal since Jan has been sub 10hrs.
9hrs 56 mins 41 seconds. 23rd overall.
So I took a chance and it worked, I came in around 6 mins faster than my best-estimated run time. Delighted was an understatement. I wasn’t passed once on the run, not by relays or people on other laps. A definite top 10 run and I think closer to 5th when you remove relays. A swim and run performance I can be really proud of, the bike was slower than I liked but I’m putting that down to conditions rather than effort, I held the power I was looking for.
I couldn’t have given aanymoreand finished with my legs completely shot. I hobbled through to get a massage and then my food. Completely wrecked but delighted with how the race went overall.
My Mam and Dad made the journey over to watch the race as well as my brother and his wife who came up from Weymouth to watch. Laura came over too and acted as number one supporter as well as their guides for the day. It really helped having them on the run course, they even managed to have a new sign for every time I passed them. Laura and my Parents got a bus out to the bike course and surprised me when I seen them twice on the route. A big thanks has to go to Laura, she was great through the whole effort. Never moaned or gave out about my training and even helped as much as she could with my recovery and would help with my food and nutrition so that when I came back after a long bike and brick I could start the recovery straight away. This time was a team effort and I wouldn’t have got through it without Laura’s support, at times it was like living like a pro, having everything outside training taken care of and just having to do the work.
I’ve said I won’t be going long in 2019 and I’m still sticking to that. I really enjoyed the race and will be back to long distance racing, probably Roth or Barcelona in 2020 with a faster goal, but for next year I’m going to concentrate on short course racing. I couldn’t face the training required for the long distance again, mainly mentally, and am looking forward to a year of short course racing with less pressure on myself. The last 2 years I’ve set big goals and hit them so next year will be about having some fun while still hopefully picking up some good results.
The plan at the moment is to concentrate on my 5km and 10km running times up to Christmas and then start proper tri training then. I’ll still swim and bike but the emphasis will be on the run. I’m looking forward to lowering my PB’s, which will hopefully lead to better run times overall in the future or letting me hold higher power for the same run times.
The other thing I will be having a look at is the bike. I need to try and figure out what I can do, 3w/kg I would have hoped for a faster time than that, maybe I’m too light weight or might be something else entirely but it’s something I need to look into and see what I can come up with to tackle it. If anyone has any suggestions on the bike please let me know! I don’t know if it’s that my overall power number is relatively low but I need to look at ways of getting better return on my power or ways of increasing how much of my FTP I can comfortably cycle at and run well off.
And that is it for the time being, I might do a sprint depending on how I recover, I’m only walking comfortably today since the race. I’ll get out on the bike tomorrow for a little spin. Not really any sprints close to me and don’t really fancy a big journey to do one so that might be it for me. I’ll hopefully get back into a little bit of easy training by mid-August and looking to kick into the 5 and 10km plans in September. Saying that though Tritanium has some club records I would like over the shorter distances, so I might end up going for some before the end of the season!