It’s funny how fast time passes by. I hadn’t raced a triathlon for over eight months until Outlaw Half. EIGHT MONTHS! That’s almost a year.
I started my season far, far later than usual. Historically, I’d probably have at least a couple under my belt by now. Granted I had ticked off a marathon, but no triathlons. Could I even remember what to do!?
In the days leading up to the race, I wasn’t in a good place. I’d had a bit of a crazy month – ever since the marathon in early April, in fact. I have been ridiculously busy with work, trying to juggle training and ‘life’ in the midst of it. I’d also travelled a fair bit – I think I had spent only five nights at home in the past three weeks. It just felt pretty full on, and it was getting to me.
Those that know me, know that I'm pretty resilient. Most of the time. Sometimes though, however robust you try to be, stuff ends up breaking through the layers.
I had spent the week away in the Peak District but it wasn’t a relaxing holiday. I was on work calls every day and sat in the cottage working most of the time, with a few chickens for company and only really leaving the place to do a few training sessions. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure with work and to top it off, I had my first elite race (also my first triathlon of the season) looming over me the whole week. "Want a glass of wine Amy?". My family were so understanding. *Sigh*.
The day before the race, I think I was the closest I’ve ever been to pulling out of a race, and I had no tangible excuse. I felt emotional, stressed and exhausted and quite frankly, all I wanted to was to go home. There was a part of me which felt like I had to get on the start line because I had sponsors and people I knew there, I’d spent money on hotels and all sorts, and actually, training sessions were showing that I was in good form. I almost craved an excuse not to start!
In the physical world, I was in great shape to take on the race and everything was on point, even the conditions – the weather was amazing! I couldn't even use rubbish UK weather as an excuse. In the mental world, though, I was nowhere near as good a shape. My body was ready. My head just didn’t want to race. I wasn’t one bit excited. Instead, I was filled with dread.
I woke up, and I think given that it was 3am, I was too dazed to think or feel anything, so I just sort of cracked on. As I got to the race venue, it was when I had stopped faffing that the nerves set in. It felt like I was lining up for my first ever triathlon. I had completely lost all sense of racing.
In all honesty, I felt like a bit of a fraud lining up in the elite wave. I know I am not good enough to be an elite and when stood next to Lucy Charles, it just felt a little farcical! I was proud that I'd managed to get an 'elite' wave but it did feel like I was a bit out of my depth.
We started out on the swim course and I felt fine. My biggest worry about the cold water turned out to be redundant as it wasn’t actually too bad at all! Woohoo! I started to feel a bit tired around half way and had a few men from the age group wave overtaking me at this point. It felt flipping long. When. Will. It. End.
I (finally) exited and glanced at my watch: 34 minutes something-or-other. Ok, not the best swim time but not waaaaay off where I usually am.
I ran towards my bike, knowing exactly where it was. But, in some moment of total amnesia, I stopped a few feet away from it and just looked confused. My boyfriend shouted – “here!” as he was on the grassy bank overlooking transition and right above my bike. What a muppet.
Out on the bike and I spent the first 30k thinking that this isn’t going to be as fast a course as they say it is. My power average was the highest I have ever raced at – I knew my bike fitness was in a pretty good place but what the hell waas with this course! It just didn’t seem to be translating into speed (or at least, the speed I expected), especially for a pretty flat course.
The road surface was absolutely atrocious the whole way along. I thought I was in a tractor. Maybe having recently spent a week in Mallorca my view is tarnished but it honestly felt like I was in some Xterra parallel universe. It was awful, the vibrations were so pronounced it was making it uncomfortable. But worse, when I hit bumpy sections of road, my front-mounted aero drinks bottle unit like to just pop the straw out like a floppy, slinking eel trying to escape.
At around the half way point the straw came completely out and I held on to the end for dear life. It must have been quite a sight. It was all slimy with my sugary energy drink so it was slipping out of my grip like some comedy sketch. I almost lost it a few times as I tried to feed it back into the stiff plastic straw holder. I reckon I was faffing for at least a minute while in straw-ville, promptly getting overtaken!
Sadly, I eventually lost my battle with my straw, losing it completely while I was gripping the handlebars for dear life on a particularly bumpy section of road at around three-quarters of the way into the bike. Well that puts an end to that nutrition source then! I had a small amount of gel/water mix left in one bottle. That would have to do.
From about 40km into the bike I felt knackered. I actually remember thinking I could easily just get off and lie down on the road. You'll be pleased to know I resisted temptation. Not good though! It felt like a struggle. Am I not supposed to be doing an Ironman soon!? Doesn't really bode well...
Who knew why I felt like that. I had to plough on. And with these roads it actually felt like ploughing.
The last couple of kilometres of the bike course were actual off-road. It made the rest of the course feel like the surface of a bowling alley. Ridiculous section of gravel with potholes and speed bumps to contend with. I took it really easy, no point in risking anything at this stage. And I had already sacrificed my straw, nothing else was going to be lost to the Nottingham road gods today!
Into T2 and I felt as confused as I did the first time around, pausing to just simply look at my shoes. Yes, that's right. Now put them on.
As I started running I knew I was in for a long day. Last year, my runs off the bike felt amazing and I usually know right away whether it’s going to be a good day. I wasn’t exactly clinging on for dear life, but I just set out at a pace which felt like half marathon pace in terms of effort, and it happened to be about 20s/km slower than it should be. I knew there was no point in trying to kill myself for those 20s it as there's no way I'd be able to hold on. So I decided to just hold it there and hope for the best.
The run was a bit frustrating – the first loop was an out and back section along a very narrow river footpath. It meant that with runners coming in both directions, overtaking people was like trying to cross a busy road – you feared for your life a bit and had to judge strategically when a gap opened up: “go now!!”. The second half of the lap went around the lake with plenty of space and no oncoming traffic. A few Canadian geese but nothing that was going to slam into you. Or trip you up.
After the first lap I had managed to roughly hold onto the pace I had settled into so just decided to hold it there. I knew I was not going for a particularly good run time now but given that I hadn't pulled out the night before, there was no way I was going to do it now, onkly 10k from the finish! I had seen that the two elite women ahead of me were WAY ahead of me, by around 15-20 minutes at least, so there was no point in trying to catch them. I had also seen that the two elite women behind me were quite far behind me now, maybe at least five minutes. So I could probably hold them off unless something disastrous happened.
So, with partially no incentive to try and smash the run, partially feeling a bit knackered, I plodded on.
I came down the finish chute feeling absolutely nothing but relief that it was over. My time wasn’t great. After going sub-5 three times last year on various different courses, I wasn’t very happy with 5:09 on what is expected to be a fast and flat course.
I saw my boyfriend and I said I was disappointed with my time. He said “but you came 4th elite, that’s amazing”. I was shocked! I thought I must have been at least 6th or 7th. Or last. I did feel pretty emotional hearing that. The tracker was saying I had come 2nd in my age group although I wasn’t eligible for age group prizes as I was racing as an elite. Well, whatever. I guess I’ll take that then.
Turns out there were a fair few fast age groupers who came in in later waves and I ended up 12th overall. Not what I set out to do, that's for sure.
I was disappointed with my time as I know I can do a lot better than that. My coach sort of insinuated that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself but it's natural when you're feeling pretty negative about a race. Before and after!
In all honesty, I think that everything has just got on top of me recently and it has taken its toll. I don’t think my performance was way off what I am capable of, certainly, but I feel like I have lost that last few percent that makes the difference at the sharp (ish) end.
When life is manic and too busy, it wears you down, physically and emotionally, and it’s bound to have an effect on your performance. Considering I nearly pulled out the day before the race, I don’t think it was a total disaster. But the other part is saying I can do a lot better than that!
Consolation: Outlaw Half was intended as a ‘warm-up’ for Ironman. The problem with that though is that I now have a sore foot - apparently there's some fluid in my posterior tibialis tendon, whatever that means. It means no running for a couple of weeks and some careful management to sort it out. I might not end up on the start line of my Ironman in the shape I expected to be in, but these things happen. I'll just have to see what happens over the next few weeks.
Funny how the body is good at telling you when to back the hell off. This usually comes in the form of illness or injury. Guess it's time to take stock of my life at the moment and ensure that I can better manage work and life and training without it all getting on top of me too much. After all, we supposedly do this for fun, right!?
Most importantly, I need to find my head and get it back in the game...