Thank you to Nicola Heaton for writing this race report for us. This is a great read for anyone considering doing their first long distance race; Nicola is proof that with hard work and commitment to training you can smash your first time over the distance! Congratulations Nic!
I decided to enter a long distance race after improving lots last year and thinking now is the time. After some winter base building including strength and conditioning and track sessions, I felt ready to start my training in February. I made the best decision I think I could have – to invest in a coach. That took away the need for me to plan what to do and meant that the training I was doing was really effective and was going to get me to the finish line. I decided that my main objective was to finish, and that a 14 to 15 hour time was a realistic target.
I am not the most naturally gifted triathlete but was determined to put the effort into training and relished the challenge. The training load did take over my life and I think that sticking to the training plan day in day out for six months was more of an achievement than completing the race. I entered some events as part of the build up – a 3.8km swim in a very cold Ullswater (awful), a 100 mile Sportive (okay), a swim-run (great fun) and an olympic distance triathlon at which I completely surprised myself and came in 5th lady – a major confidence boost as I am not used to winning anything! The Fairholmes duathlons really helped too as I could see myself getting faster every fortnight.
After feeling confident during training, my pre-race nerves came two weeks before the race and I convinced myself I could not complete the bike course within the cut off time. I did a couple of recces of the bike route, borrowed some faster wheels and decided I could do this. I suppose we all doubt ourselves sometimes and at least it was gone well before race day.
Onto the day before race day – I set up my bike, run bag, bike bag, huge quantities of food and spent time figuring out where to go in and out of the biggest transition I have ever seen. Then it was pre-race briefing, food and an early night. Soon enough I was in the water the next morning ready for the start gun at 6am.
My plan was to pace myself for the swim so I started near the back, found a bit of clear water, went steady and found I was starting to overtake people. I decided to do one manageable chunk at a time, starting with the swim out. The turnaround point came, I mentally ticked off chunk one of the race and started the swim back. When I got to the end, I got out, looked at my garmin and was pleasantly surprised to have beaten my 1.5 hour target time by nearly 8 minutes – a great start.
A change, some food and I was out on the bike, again one chunk at a time, eating and drinking every 10km as I had planned and practised. I quickly got to the first loop (my next manageable chunk) and kept going steady. There were enough people around on the bike for me to not worry about missing the cut off and I overtook a few people. Thanks to the Forge Valley practice, I was able to change my drink bottles without stopping. The bike leg seemed to go really quickly and I felt great until about 140km in. By then my food started to become really unappealing and I had to force it down, I felt a bit sick and I really needed a toilet stop. I stopped at the feed station with 25km to go and had a gel and a banana then felt okay almost instantly and the rest of the ride quickly passed. The last kilometre or two was a bit potholed with a few speed bumps but that didn’t matter as I was nearly there. At 6 hours 35 minutes and 44 seconds, I was way under my 7 hour bike target that I had decided was a bit ambitious (and 2 hours ahead of the bike cut off time just to prove how irrational I had been two weeks earlier).
A change and some food and I was out on the run. It was hot and I appreciated the wet sponges at the feed stations. I was advised that I would probably have to walk some of the run and to try to run the first 10km. My main issue was that I could not stomach the thought of food but knew I needed to eat (in the end I managed on bananas, water and flat coke). After 10km I still felt good and was passing loads of people so decided to run the next 10km. At 20km I still felt good so decided to run the next 10km. I felt a bit more tired at 30km so decided to get to 35km. At 35km I was back amongst the crowds of supporters and was definitely not going to walk now (I ran it all in the end in 4.24.12 which was within 6 minutes of my stand alone marathon time). With one lap of the lake to go I passed the timing board and realised I was going to finish in under 13 hours! I did feel ready for the end by then and was elated to smash my target time and finish in 12 hours, 43 minutes and 55 seconds. I managed to look pleased crossing the line but admit to having a little cry on the lady who gave me my medal as it started to sink in that I had done it.
I absolutely loved Outlaw and would definitely do another long distance race. For anyone considering their first long distance triathlon, go for it! As long as you put the training in, it will be great.