It’s a month and a half since my third ever triathlon and first middle distance event – about time I wrote up my race report! Since the Outlaw Half in Nottingham (21 May 2018), I’ve had a number of other life pressures to contend with; juggling a busy full time job in marketing with a diploma in Nutritional Therapy, I went straight from the event into full on study for my final exam and clinic examination, so I’ve barely drawn breath.  This is actually characteristic of my life most of the time – a constant juggling act, keeping numerous plates spinning; study, work, training, family and a social life.   People ask me a lot how I fit it all in.  Yes, it may seem like madness to take on a challenge like a half ironman while holding down part time study and a job, but the truth is most of the time I’m doing it on autopilot and have developed coping strategies to make most efficient use of time and to keep myself sane and as healthy as possible.  And, the structure of training and the joy it gives me has been a great escape and stress reliever most of the time.  Like everything though, when you take a lot on, it only takes one of those pillars to get a bit too heavy to throw everything out of balance.  So, working with Karl in the run up to the Outlaw was key in keeping me on track and focused on the long game when things got challenging.

I first met Karl about four or five years ago when I decided after years of running that I needed a new challenge – triathlon seemed like the next obvious step.  After not swimming for about 15 years, I got back in a pool, bought a road bike, learnt how to cycle ‘clipped in’ and completed my first sprint distance at Galashiels.  I was completely oblivious to what time I completed it in, but I think it was somewhere in the region of 1 hour 30 – what’s certain is I wasn’t breaking any records! After that Karl made some recommendations on half IM races, but life took over, I moved to London, my bike was stolen and triathlon was off the table.

Fast forward four years, I was back in Edinburgh and after picking up an injury training for my first ultra marathon, and was forced into cross training.  I found my way back to the Masters sessions at the Commie, got myself a bike on the bike to work scheme, joined a cycling club (ERC) and worked on the two other neglected disciplines.  Open water swimming had always felt like a huge hurdle, but I fell into a couple of groups who went out every week to reservoirs around Edinburgh and found my confidence there too.  Initially, the cross training was just about keeping sane and holding onto fitness, but surrounded by a community of triathletes I quickly got the bug and was itching to put the work to use in a race.  With running pretty much off the table for the whole of 2017, I wasn’t able to compete, so going into 2018 after watching friends race for the past year, I was determined and keen for my own challenge.  A friend Tracy who’s conquered many full IM events recommended the Outlaw Half – I trusted her judgement, signed up and enlisted the help of Karl.  In the run up to that event, I plotted in a few events as part of my training – Galashiels sprint again (which I completed in 1 hour 19 mins showing the training must’ve been working), Tranent sprint (which was cancelled due to snow gate) and the Loch Ness Etape (66 miles completed in 3.28).

Training was never really a chore – I loved the structure and trusted the process.  I gave my limited availability each week and Karl plotted out my workouts – because of the hideous winter we’ve just gone through turbo featured fairly heavily and a busy schedule meant lots of 6am starts and double day sessions to squeeze in the training (I’m not complaining because I love the lifestyle).  There were a few wobbles along the way, mainly due to my paranoia after being injured for a year, which Karl managed well.  When I felt a flair up I’d just substitute a run for a bike or swim session; the beauty of triathlon, there is always a fall back. In fact, I did very little running comparative to the other disciplines – I’m not sure whether this was because Karl was trying to keep me injury free, or that I didn’t need the mileage with a solid base already in place or both.  Even up until the event, I’d still been aware of niggles and at many points wondered if I’d get round running off the bike for 13 miles.

But, I made it to the start line. It was a roasting hot weekend and after registering the day before and attending the race briefing, I resisted the urge to sit in the sun all day and put my feet up at home.  I was staying with family friends who were very intrigued by the whole affair and eager to come down and support me, which was lovely.  Looking at the start list, it was a huge and impressive field, with Lucy Charles and Lucy Gossage among those competing, which was exciting / daunting.  In my category (W35-39) there were 42 others; being such a newbie I had zero expectation.

Race day arrived with the alarm going off at 4am.  Breakfast was almond milk porridge with chopped banana, blueberries, honey and half a toasted bagel with peanut butter.  I got myself down to the event and set up in transition, climbed into my wetsuit and looked for my friends Carolyn and Tracy – missed Tracy but managed a quick good luck hug with Carolyn as we watched Lucy Charles whizz through T1 before the start of my swim wave.

Even being fairly prepared for the swim it was a scramble to start.  Despite people swimming into me and over me, I kept calm and by the time I made it to the furthest bouy and turning point, I was in a good rhythm.  It was a straight out and back course so figured even with poor sighting you couldn’t really go wrong.  The main thing going through my mind at that point was the comment someone had made the day before about the water quality of the lake, so I was conscious to not take in too much water.  I was also sure I’d been pretty slow, but making it to T1 I spotted Tracy who’s a super swimmer and thought I must’ve done all right. 

On to the bike.  The course took you round the lake once before heading out on to open roads.  Of all three disciplines, the bike was by far the most enjoyable.  It was a fairly flat and fast course but it was also an honest course, and the organisers had laboured hard on the drafting rule, so being a newbie to the sport, I was careful to keep my distance and overtook whenever there was a hint of a chance to do so.  Somehow, I realised about halfway through, despite my bike being by far one of the least shiny, aero, fancy bikes on the course, I was making pretty good time.  I’d estimated I’d probably take 3.5 hours to complete the bike, but figured if I kept the same pace, which didn’t feel tough, I’d finish in less than 3, meaning even if I had a terrible run, I’d hopefully still make it in under 6 hours, which was my self imposed goal.  But, I also knew I’d been dealing with an injury for over a year so I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so kept my head down and kept plugging away.  I’d practiced my nutrition in the run up to the race, making sure I ate every 20 minutes (a mix of Trek bars and homemade flapjack), so this actually kept me pretty occupied! I also saw Tracy again out on the bike course a couple of times, which was a lovely boost.  The last couple of miles of the bike course had already been badged a ‘nightmare’ by the organisers – speed bumps, gravel, narrow – so there was no option but to slow down.  It was no bad thing as it allowed the legs a wee rest before they had more work to do. 

Into T2, which was a bit of a faff – went down the wrong funnel for my bike and had to go back on myself (note to self for future!).  Quickly racked the bike, pulled on my shoes and visor and I was away again – running out realised I’d left my gels by my bike, but figured I’d get some at the aid stations out on the course so kept on going.  My plan for the run was to keep the pace relatively easy, at least for the first 10k, and if I was feeling good at that point I’d pick up the pace.  The run was hot and hard – I was so grateful for my visor and at each of the aid stations stopped for a quick drink with electrolytes before pouring a couple of cups of water over my trisuit to keep cool.  The course was two laps of an out and back run along the canal path followed by a lap of the lake we swam in earlier.  I always find laps of a course more difficult to deal with mentally so I knew this was going to be a challenge.  Just as I was about to start the second lap, another friend Jon ran past me as he headed for the finish which was another welcome boost to push me on to the final 6 miles.  The support out along the canal path was amazing, but the run round the lake was a bit of a solitary plod so it was hard to ignore the pain.  My original ambition to pick up the pace didn’t become a reality, but I managed to maintain consistent mile splits for the rest of the run.  Ironically, the only thing I noticed was how hot and sore my feet were – not a fraction of the old injury / niggles to contend with which showed most of what I’d been worrying about was all in my mind. 

I crossed the finish line in an overall time of 5 hours 36 minutes.  Splits were 42 minute swim, 2.56 bike and a 1.50 run.  I finished 5th in my age group out of 42 competitors and was 39th female overall out of 332.  It took a while for it to sink in, but I was so proud of myself and what I’d managed to achieve, particularly when I’d been questioning whether I’d even make it round in one piece.  My biggest surprise was the bike, being a new cyclist and that turning out to be my strongest split of all three, I was chuffed to bits to break the 3 hour barrier.  There were many learnings, all which have only given me more motivation to keep pushing to improve.  It was my third triathlon, my first half IM and I’m sure it won’t be my last!