Outlaw Full 2016 by Owen Barden


Owen Barden 


When I arrive at Holme Pierrepont at 4:50am, the sunrise is reflecting off the mirror-calm lake. It looks beautiful (and also like Outlaw have managed to get their orange branding onto the water, a very neat trick). This is my second long distance triathlon and I am thankful that the weather is warm and still - I am apprehensive about the swim for a few reasons. The loss of the Everton Wednesday night session has really impacted on my time in the pool, because it was the only club session I could get to and it’s difficult to get more than 90 minutes in the public pools in Liverpool. My calves are prone to bad cramp, which I am dreading because when they go properly, it’s pretty much game over. I also tend to get panicky in races and as result never swim as quickly as I do in training. So it’s fair to say I’m a bit anxious about a mass start with 1000 swimmers. I made sure to do the practice swim on the Saturday to get comfortable in the water, and just like IMUK last year my strategy is to try and stay calm, and tell myself to keep blowing bubbles and keep my stroke long. Well before the race, as I am sorting my kit and warming up, I am saying my mantra of Bubble, Bubble, Reach to help myself stay calm and focused.  


As I’m about to get in the water I realise I’ve somehow managed to get Vaseline on my goggles, which together with swimming into the sunrise means I know I’m not going to be able to see very much. But the mantra works because not seeing doesn’t really bother me - though of course it helps that the lake is a perfect rectangle so there isn’t any navigation to do - I just need to keep the bank on my left. I put the goggles on, put my head under the water and blow bubbles a couple of times, and very quickly the klaxon sounds, the cheer goes up, and we’re off. I take a few Tarzan strokes to get going and then as I begin my full stroke I turn to breathe and amazingly see Hannah Moorhouse right next to me, so we hurriedly wish each other luck. Then I put my head down and carry on, reciting my mantra all the way. It’s busy the whole time but I’ve told myself to be ready for that and everything seems to be working because I don’t have a panic. I try not to think about how far it is and focus on my breathing and my form. Together with not being able to see ahead, this means the turn comes as a surprise: a sudden cluster of swimmers and the shouts of the kayakers alert me to it. The second half seems long - the seemingly endless orange barrier tape and car park make it feel like you’re not going anywhere because it all looks the same, but I actually nearly swim right past the finish because I hadn’t paid attention to the fact the exit is at the side of the lake rather than at the end (where it was for the practice and the Half). Then I’m out of the water, having my wetsuit taken off by the “strippers” - thank you very much! - and into the change tent. No cramp! My Garmin only has a ten-hour battery life so I haven’t worn a watch for the swim and don’t know my time. I ask a helper and he tells me it’s 7:22am. This means I must have swum around 1:20, an 11-minute improvement on IMUK last year, which makes me very happy because it’s what I was aiming for and exactly the pace I have swum in training. So it’s my first half-decent swim in a race. Time for a smile! I tell myself that even if the rest of the day goes horribly wrong, that swim is a huge positive. It turns out that my split is bang on 1:20. 


Out onto the bike and conditions are perfect and the road surfaces generally pretty good. My plan is simple: play the long game, try and keep my heart rate around the zone 2-3 borderline, and stay aero. I am aiming for 30-32 kph, again what I have done in training. But I find that I am flying without really trying, and feeling great. At the end of the first loop I am averaging just under 35kph. The second loop is harder. Traffic, poorer roads, and a bit hillier. But I stick to my plan and my speed doesn't drop too much. I’ve ditched gels on the bike to try and avoid the stomach cramps I got on the run last year, so I have proper food all the way round, rotating between rice cakes, fun-size Mars bars, flapjacks and bananas. Rice cakes are great! I actually look forward to eating them. Have you ever looked forward to a gel? I’m still feeling strong at the end of the second loop, and it’s back round the first loop again. Still flying for the first half but then we turn into the stiff-ish breeze that’s picked up over the morning, and the final 40k is pretty much all into the headwind. It's a bit of a grind but I tell myself not to fight it and to save my energy for the run. I finish the ride in 5:31, way ahead of schedule, hand my bike over to a “racker” (thank you very much again!), and head into the change tent. 


It is hot and humid as I begin the run. The kind of weather that has you oozing sweat even if you’re not doing anything, never mind running a marathon. We start with a lap of the lake and I straight away bump in Jonathon Toft and we swap stories on the way round. As we complete the lap and run past the finish the announcer says “Well done - only 23 miles to go!” I’m not sure if this is meant to be motivational or a joke but either way he needs to rethink it… 


Jon and I split at the next aid station where I stop for a drink and a sponge down. My plan is to take it steady and keep hydrated. I eat a couple of Jelly Babies every 20 minutes, another part of my reduced-gel strategy. The first half of the run goes fairly smoothly and I knock out 5/5:30ks, with slightly slower ones where I walk through the aid stations, and I’m happy with that. I can’t do the maths in my head but reckon if I can keep this up I could squeeze in under eleven hours which would make for a perfect race. At the far end of the loop we run over a bridge to cross the Trent. As I return over the bridge I pass a wedding party with bride, groom and bridesmaids in full regalia. I say Congratulations over my shoulder but surprisingly they don’t look too chuffed at sharing the bridge with crowds of sweaty Lycra-clad runners.  

I get great support at the end of the first loop, especially from my family and Jon Moorhouse, who I know is willing me on to that sub-11 even though he never says so. But things go a bit wrong on second half of the run. In preparation I have had problems with a hamstring strain and a couple of calf pulls which have hampered my running, but my guts turn out to be the problem again. I develop a really uncomfortable stitch and stomach cramps. The only thing to do is run when I can and walk when I can’t. This is frustrating because I thought I’d been careful with the steps I’ve taken to avoid this problem. I think that my reduced-gel strategy hasn’t worked. And then realise I’ve made a mistake. At the aid stations I’ve been drinking cups of High 5, which has carbs in, instead of High 5 Zero, which doesn't. So I have probably overloaded on carbs. I resolve to stick to water and hope it gets better. After a while it does, a bit, but it’s still run-walk the rest of the way, with a gradual increase in the amount of running. A quick high-five with David Connor, who’s also plugging away, and I’m back for the final 1¾ laps of the lake. I know the sub-11 is out of reach now but quite frankly I’m beyond caring. I can tell myself it’s “just two slow laps of Sefton Park” and I’ll be done. I run once past the crowd, Jon Moorhouse is there to tell me to “just get it done” when I say it’s hurting, then it’s around again and into the finish chute with my children, Holly and Freddie. We are just about to break the tape when a girl running behind us with her Dad tries to sprint past us...but slips and slides under the tape. A bit of a messy finish but me and the kids are beaming and I’m home in 11:09, a 70-minute improvement on IMUK. That’ll do nicely! 


Lessons learned: 


  1. Outlaw is a very well organised event, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. The course isn’t too tough either so it would make a good choice for first timers or pb-hunters. Know the rules though - I saw one guy trying to rack his bike on Sunday morning and getting shakes of the head from officials. 

  1. Trainer Road and the Friday chain gang made a massive difference to my cycling. I don’t have a very flash bike, deep-section wheels etc but still made up over 330 places on the bike, and was 40 minutes quicker than IMUK the previous year. I think repeated sustained efforts (i.e. intervals of several minutes) at or around FTP were key. They’re horrible, I don’t like doing them and don’t like the turbo at all but consistently doing things I don’t like and was not good at paid off. The chain gang, on the other hand, is pretty brutal but also good fun - if that’s possible. 

  1. Don’t mix your drinks!