The Outlaw Full Distance, July 2017
Race Report by Gill Fullen
The weather wasn’t looking promising for the Outlaw weekend so there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from friends and family to accompany me camping in Nottingham; wimps! I understand other competitors suffered similar fates (Steve le Page). So I set off on my own on Friday afternoon hoping to get the tent up before the rain started, which I duly achieved as well as managing to fit in a run lap of the lake with intervals before settling down to re-heat my turkey meatballs with quinoa on the camping stove. Sadly missed Lucy Gossage’s inspirational talk that evening though, which I had hoped to get to.
The rain arrived that evening and stayed all night. My over 20 year old tent stood up valiantly, but there were wet patches inside in the morning, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the weekend. I had intended a leisurely lay in, but was just too excited to sleep late, so messaged my buddy Lou to hurry up and arrive so we could hassle coach together.
I was really uncertain of what shape I was in. The first Outlaw half had gone brilliantly for me resulting in a win, but the second half distance in Holkham had been very disappointing with the swim slower than I had expected despite working really hard, my legs simply didn’t want to know on the bike and the only strong part of the race was the run, where I had to make up all of the lost time to get near the podium. Overall I didn’t have much confidence in my fitness and hadn’t done any significant iron distance training, including not having run over 16 miles since Boston in 2016! Coach however was confident that if I could get myself in the mix with the swim and bike then I could run well enough to be a contender.
It rained again all Saturday night so my thoughts were with my poor Cervelo racked out in the pouring rain but luckily the tent held out and the campsite woke up to an overcast 4am but the rain had stopped. The joy of being on site is to be able to get changed and pootle over to transition without the worry of car queues or having to park some distance from the event. 5am final sorting of transition bags, attaching shoes to bike, putting bottle and fuel securely on-board, climbing into wetsuit and dealing with pre-race nerves. I was so nervous that I really wasn’t sure I wanted to start at all, but by this point it is an inexorable slide into the start pens and the somewhat murky water of Home Pierrepont, punctuated by customary numerous trips to the decreasingly inviting portaloos.
Almost from the start I was comfortable with the swim, soon finding a solid pair of feet to follow, reliving me of the need to sight for a while. So solid was the draft that I stayed there for almost the whole of the outward leg, only switching to the inside line as I saw the turn buoys coming up. I had intended to push on towards home and set off with a higher effort level, but soon noticed my draft buddy swimming alongside me. Neither of us were making any significant headway but I was working much harder than before, so I made the tactical decision to go back to following feet. Amazingly we started overtaking other swimmers on this stretch, something that rarely happens to me, so I was really encouraged and kept pushing on into the finish.
I couldn’t quite believe my watch when I saw 1.05 and wondered if my eyesight was still blurry from the swim but I had the rest of the race to worry about so I was speedily stripped of my wetsuit by a helpful stripper and ran into the transition tent. I had arm warmers on but cycling out of transition I was freezing! I hoped I hadn’t made a mistake in not putting on my gilet. Without giving any specific race instructions coach Perry had made a point of telling me how Daniela Ryf cycles her bike leg, so I had in my mind that I needed to not blow the race in the first 40k by pushing too hard too early but to give it all I had by the end. The course was riding pretty quickly though so I needed to take advantage of what I thought must be a tail wind, as speeds were higher than I expected. The roads were fairly slippery after the amount of rain we had seen and when the rider in front of me lost his back wheel on a corner within 10 minutes of setting off I made sure I took the corners with care until the roads dried up more. Trying to break free from a loose bunch that was threatening to form I was enjoying myself way too much and I pushed on past the chap at the front of the line singing away, “You gotta move it move it” which at least made him smile or possibly grimace. There were plenty of people around for the first southern loop of the course but as we headed out towards the north and I upped my effort level the cyclists thinned out a little until on the way back there were only occasional cyclists ahead. The odd quick chap would whiz past and remind me that I needed to keep pushing the pace and as I started the second southern loop I decided it was time to light the blue touch-paper and head for home. The tv camera picked me up at about 80 miles and barely left my side for the rest of the race, (calling a halt to any thoughts of bladder relief on the bike). Call me dense, but even with the arrival of the camera motorbike I didn’t realise that I was in the lead. I thought I might be in 3rd but didn’t think I’d overtaken the leading ladies yet. I kept pushing trying to catch the leaders and eventually, just before the cyclo-cross section at the end of the route, caught up with Lou, who was part of a relay team, so not in direct competition but gave me some idea of how I was doing.
Riding into T2 the commentator announced me as the leading lady – a surprise to me! I had expected to be trying to catch runners ahead of me. As I ran out of the change tent I was sure he said that the next lady was just coming into transition, so I didn’t think I had much of a lead. The awesome James was there waiting for me as ladies’ lead bike. I’d met him the day before going through my plan for transition so I shouted hello to him and said I hadn’t expected to see him so soon (if at all). I was now fresh out of race instructions so as I ran past coach I asked what I should do; he told me to give it all I’d got, so I ran off with little consideration for the distance ahead of me, hoping that my traditional strength on the run would not desert me this time.
The initial pace was great, but it didn’t take long for me to settle back into a more realistic rhythm and although I maintained this pace fairly well for the middle section of the run, it became harder and harder work. Anyone exchanging witty banter with me on the run got short shrift I’m afraid as I had no energy spare for unnecessary interactions. Fatigue finally took its toll on the last lap of the lake. I ran past a spectator with an ice-cream and suddenly developed serious ice-cream envy. If Kit Walker had tempted me with a 99 at that point I would not have got near the course record and he would be have doubled his prize purse! With the pace gradually dropping towards jog mode I had a Johnny Brownlee moment where my legs started to wobble and lose direction and my head was spinning. Luckily I was near to a feed station, so I dropped the pace further and took on a whole cup of Coke and a water, refocused and listened to James on the lead bike telling me I only had 1.5 miles to go to the finish.
From the start of the run I knew there was an unbelievable chance that I could break the course record, but by now I had given up hope of that happening and accepted that the lead I had over the second lady meant that the win was mine if I just kept going, but breaking the record was not going to happen. Nearing the finish funnel James turned to me and said, you know you can still beat the record? Seriously? Was my response as I dug into my very last reserves and picked the pace up for one last effort. Out of the window went my visions of a Lucy Gossage-style red carpet, high fiving all round and smiling at everyone; the thrusters were lit and as near as I could get to a sprint meant that once again I powered down the finish chute oblivious to what was going on all around me. It’s a shame as I’m told the atmosphere was incredible and the reaction as I crossed the line was uproar in the stands.
I just needed to stop. I needed to breathe. I really needed a wee. I had no voice whatsoever and trying to interview me must have been incredibly frustrating as replying was completely out of the question. I couldn’t believe I’d broken 10 hours. I couldn’t believe I’d won. I was completely astounded to have broken the course record. It was all a bit unreal. To be honest it still is.
It was lovely to have some gorgeous people at the finish to celebrate with … the guys from Outlaw who are always so incredibly supportive, Lucy duracell-bunny Gossage, Lou, whose team mate Clare had rudely overtaken me in the last few 500 metres of the run and of course my ever-supportive husband Steve.
After a much needed shower and meal I went back to the finish stands to cheer home the finishers in the final hour of the race. These are the people who have really given their all and their endurance certainly deserves recognition so the wild party on the red carpet was a superbly fitting way for their race to end. Cheers, beers (not for me), fireworks, ticker-tape, commentators barely able to speak having cheered people on all day and the whole crowd shouting, “You are an Outlaw”. The atmosphere was awesome and I’m so glad I could be there.
At this point I need to thank some of the most important people who have helped me get to this point. Sadly it would take way too long to include all the friends and others who have helped and supported me through a somewhat tricky last 12 months, but you know who you are and I would hope I’ve thanked you in person by now. I have been incredibly fortunate to also be supported by some seriously good professionals:
Tilly Vesely of Lake View Osteopathy (who for some reason keeps treating me despite the generally disgusting state of my feet)
Mark Buckingham of Witty, Pask and Buckingham (and the brilliant Performance Team camp including seriously the best physios in the country)
Snugg Wetsuits (the first wetsuit I have owned in which I can actually swim comfortably has been a revelation)
Box End Waterpark (a superb facility luckily on my doorstep which allows me to get all the open water swimming I need and believe me I need plenty!)
Mick Pinsent of Mick’s Bike Shack (deals with my many and various bike issues and keeps me on the road despite my near criminal bike abuse)
Perry Agass of Trisutto (The orchestrator of all this madness. Chasing the rainbow. Puts up with me, keeps me motivated, if Carlsberg made coaches