What on earth is that noise? It’s like two cats in a dustbin fighting over a dead fish. Ah, yes. I remember. That’ll be the 5am repeating alarm I set last night to make sure I don’t miss my 7:00am start wave at the Holkham Outlaw Half.
My tent buddy Chris and I unzip our sleeping bags and crack on with the important task of breakfast. Chris provided the stove (and nearly all the other camping equipment), but there’s a concern that there’s not enough gas in the stove to boil a kettle. Porridge made with cold water is not an appealing prospect. Chris’ reputation is at stake here – clearly if there is no gas, he’s going to be on the receiving end of some well deserved abuse. We are both relieved when the canister survives and we tuck into a warm bowl of energy rich breakfast goo.
We get changed into our race kit and make our way to the start. It’s a 10 minute walk and we are cutting it a bit fine for Chris’ 6:30 start. At the race brief yesterday, the presenter commented how there would always be people rushing back to the camp site right before their race to collect some random bit of forgotten kit. Chris and I share a quick joke at one chap’s expense as we see him running back towards camp. Then the inevitable happens: I realise that I’ve left my timing chip in the tent. That’s tactical error number one and the race hasn’t even started yet. Chris heads off to the lake (probably sniggering) and I head back to the campsite trying (but failing) to preserve any appearance of dignity. Fortunately I’m not in wave 1 so it’s not a big deal.
Getting ready for the swim brings another challenge. When zipping up my wetsuit, I manage to catch the pull cord on my Tri suit zip (which also zips up the back) in my wetsuit zip. It’s like that scene in “There’s something about Mary”. I get another swimmer to free the zip and whilst he’s doing it, another guy with a similar zip related problem asks me to sort his stuck zip out. The three of us inadvertently form a strange conga of middle aged men in rubber, grappling with each other’s zips. No wonder that old couple standing watching look a bit bemused!
The 1.2 mile swim itself is pretty uneventful. The lake is warm (suspiciously so in the vicinity of the start line) and only about chest deep at the start. The bed of the lake is really silty mud which instantly churns up when the 200+ swimmers in my wave set off. The first few hundred metres are inky black when your have your face in the water and you can’t see anything except blackness. You’d completely miss the lake crocodile that the chap in the race briefing warned us about yesterday if it was right in front of you. After using the Force to navigate for a couple of minutes the water soon clears. There is a little bit of pushing, shoving and toe tapping as I find myself in a small group all swimming at a similar snail’s pace, but it’s all polite – at least no blood was drawn that I could see. My old friend leg cramp pays me a visit towards the second half of the swim, but I fight him off. He’s about as welcome at this stage of the race as a tramp turning up at your wedding reception. Sighting for the swim exit was actually pretty tough as the low early morning sun was right in the swimmers’ eyes and it was a job to see the pontoon. I stagger out of the water and into T1 in 46 minutes.
My strategy to transitions on this race is to take them easy. Sure you can save a fair chunk of time by doing a quick transition, but as this is my first 70.3 mile race I’m concerned about nutrition strategy (I don’t really have one) and whether I’ll actually survive to the finish line. I contort myself into positions that would make Beth Tweddle wince just to get out of my wetsuit, then I take the chance to munch an energy bar and drink some of the concentrated sugar solution that is a “sports drink”. I then commit my second tactical flaw of the day: I put on my lovely Tri-Anglia rain jacket. As the wind blew my soggy skin in T1, I mistakenly thought “it’s a bit chilly, I might be cold on the bike”. As a veteran of a grand total of four triathlons I really should know better. I headed out of T1 onto the bike leg, my jacket inflating like a parachute behind me. That’ll help my average bike speed won’t it?
The 56 mile bike course is lovely and I try to ride it as though it is a training ride. I’m quite happy taking in the scenery and watching the world go by. 56 miles will rank as my second longest ride ever so I am not in a hurry. Every once in a while I’m overtaken by a triathlon bike/missile, often with a Tri-Anglia member on board. My club mates are great and everyone who passes me shouts encouragement.
After a time, I start getting uncomfortable. REALLY uncomfortable. My back, shoulders and neck ache and there’s a region of numbness where a gentleman really does not want numbness. I’m also too hot, so I begin the complicated process of removing my parachute jacket and stuffing it down my Tri suit without stopping. For the birds lining the hedgerows witnessing this feat, it is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. I have every chance of crashing and ending up head first in a nest.
The last six miles or so are tough, especially as I have a binding rear brake which is doing nothing for my speed or mood. Finally the ride is over and I’m into T2. I’m knackered and there is still the small matter of a half marathon to complete.
My goal for the run is to take it easy and make sure I run the whole thing. The first of the three laps goes well and I manage to keep a half decent pace. I’m even enjoying it! At the end of the first lap though something weird happens – I see Nikki, Lily and Oscar (my lovely family) in the crowd. I wasn’t expecting them to be here given Oscar’s sickathon yesterday. I’m so pleased to see them I start getting all emotional. My breathing goes really ragged and I lose concentration completely. I find myself thinking of the finish funnel and telling them all about the race. I think of Lily running down the finish funnel with me. I’m lost in these thoughts for ages and in that time, I also find I’m on empty. I’ve got no energy and my “no walk” policy turns to dust. I can’t face another energy gel, but I don’t have any left anyway. I make do with bananas at each aid station. Finally I’m at the end. I’ve seen the last of the flies that were annoying. I’ve run alongside a sheep that ran onto the trail at the end of the course (yes, really!) and I’m here at the end. I see Lily in the crowd and she shouts “Daddy!! Can I run with you?”. I grab her hand and she runs with me to the finish line where the gantry clock reads 7 hrs 11 mins, which gives me a chip time of 6 hrs 41 mins. Thank you, I’ll take it. A bit longer than I hoped, but it’s a Personal Best.
The only things left now are to pick up the race bling and Tee shirt, eat like a starved pig in the post race feed station, pack up the “Palace Tent” with Chris and head on home with Nikki, Lily and Oscar. My little family. They are the thing that makes Endurance Daddy – all this other stuff is incidental.
Andy Ives. 7th July 2016.