Monday, 21 December 2015

ETU Long Distance Championships. Weymouth 140.6

It's only 3 months late....The season is now over and having had time to reflect and enjoy a bit of down time I am in the mood for finally sharing the excitement that was the European ITU Long Distance Championships, and my last minute entry for GB.
I went into the race below par, as most will be well aware from my previous write up, but I have only with-held this blog post because the official ITU results took a long time to be finalised and confirmed. How they shaped up really would affect my overall feelings on the race and what I wrote… That finally happened last week, they were released and when all said and done I am now officially the 16th fastest European in my Age Group at the 140.6 miles that is Long Course Triathlon at the first attempt, and while a top 10 would have been tasty, I’m not complaining. All things considered I can happily live with 16th (This year anyway).
13th September was race day, down in Weymouth. I simply hadn’t had time to reccy the course given the distance, and for the first time travelled to a big race armed with nothing but several virtual Google map tours of the race in my mind. Playing this now well-trodden online route in my mind I set off just before 5am on the Saturday morning to arrive early enough to park at transition and walk the couple of miles to registration.
The journey was uneventful, save for the frustration that Ella also had a race in Lincoln, a season finale junior tri, as a warm up to her having a crack at her first adult sprint in the hometown a few weeks later. So the time in the car was spent chatting with family track side in Lincoln where possible, getting updates and race reports. It fired me up, knowing she was out there giving her best, motivating me to do the same.

A selection of images sent through to me of Ella in action back home motivating me to give it my best.
Parking up at T1 gave me the opportunity to walk down the run course along the sea front, see the start line & sea swim section setting up, and then the exit to T1 along the way. This was going to be a steep run up a shingle bank and then down a path and across the main road. I could see the run was flat, it just stood to be windy given the exposure to the south coast.
I got to the briefing early, and enjoyed a pot of tea in the old Victorian pavilion and walk round the stalls before registering, and listening to the GB team talk. I remain in awe at the rudeness of some fellow athletes who rock up to this kind of thing late, sit in the isles and talk incessantly throughout it. They should ban late entry to the briefings. If you can’t be arsed to be there on time and take it seriously don’t bother coming.
Setting up the red carpet finish - the sunniest this would look!

Race briefing in a proper Old English Seaside style Pavilion.
After the briefing and the acquisition of my pretty smart new race rucksack I sauntered back along the beach to the car. Focusing on the job in hand. Taking my time, idly wandering in the break of the surf, staring at the shells, doing little sprints in the sand. 
I haven’t mentioned that this was also the first race I’d come to alone. No family, no friends, no broader support or familiar faces in the crowd. My interest in the sport over the longer distance bringing about the inevitable need to tread my own solitary path. It’s of limited interest to the majority of team mates, and is more functionally supported using the live stats facility throughout the course of a day from their phones as they go about their daily business, and for family and close friends you can hardly expect anyone to be thrilled about standing on a pavement in the hope of a glimpse or 2 of you as you shoot past over an 11hr period. 140.6 is not exactly support friendly. Being here and genuinely enjoying it, having served all that training time alone certainly served testimony to myself now that I genuinely do love this sport. If I was the only man left on the planet I would still Swim/Bike/Run.
This solitude didn’t bother me, and it afforded me the opportunity to be completely selfish. With nobody to worry about but myself I could take my time and totally prepare for the morning. As I said the walk back to the car was slow and thoughtful. I had confessed to Sarah that I was fully committed to accepting further injury and was ready to hurt myself in pursuit of my desire to compete in the race, but that if I felt like any permanent lasting damage was being done I would withdraw. I resolved to uphold that promise and decided I would tackle the race without any painkillers so I would have a true understanding of the state I was in throughout the event. That’s what I spent my time on that walk chewing over. Competing was never in doubt. Not only had I earnt the suit I’d also already worn it in competition, so now it was definitely time to go out and own it.
Chewing over the race plan
Enjoying the view.
Once back to the car I unpacked the bike and spent time going through the kit, slowly, methodically, as ever, before wheeling it through to transition. Each transition bag was laid out in the appropriate isle, and then finally the bike on the rack. There was a kerfuffle among the race officials as to whether disc wheels would be permitted given the predicted weather. An unexpected advantage of being a Working Class Triathlete reared its head here - my disc was a recently fashioned MK2 (or should I say 2.0 in modern vernacular) homemade affair, and if the ruling of no disc stood in the morning I would simply tear it off and race without it. Only a couple of quid of plastic sheet and an hours labour wasted - While all around me were losing their head at the best decision to make regarding thousands of pounds worth of wheel, knowing they would have insufficient time in the morning to lug different sets of wheels to and from transition thus forcing the gamble of leaving them exposed in transition, my shunning of conventional expense allowed me to keep composure and be free from this worry abounding around me. I did the usual copious dry runs between transitions and counted steps to the bike, wrote figures on my hand to memorise key stages, and repeated until I was happy. Chatted to others around me and then headed back to the car.
The usual steady preparation.

T1 bag drop Saturday afternoon
This was also going to be my first time camping before a race. The campsite was terrific, plenty of other competitors with the same idea, so all planning on an early night, the tent went up without issue, the bed inflated, I put some music on and went through the finer details of my kit and race nutrition, prepping bottles and pockets with food,  laying everything out clearly and concisely ready for a quick getaway in the morning. Chatting with family and friends over texts and calls I savoured the ‘campsite toilets of the year award’ facilities on offer before indulging in a very French style onsite food service with a delicious pizza of unlimited toppings from an open air wood fired oven.
Everything set out ready to go.

This photo pretty much sums it all up. SWIM/BIKE/RUN
And tea. There's always room for tea.

An impromptu open air pizza oven on the campsite

Not exactly on the pre race diet plan, but to tasty looking to pass up.
A hot lazy shower, and then I stood and stuck my numbers on my arms to save time the next day. Afterwards I struck up a conversation with a guy who had walked into the wash room, trying my best to be friendly and enthusiastic - but he seemed on edge, unsure, and keen to get away from the off… as he left I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and had to be honest enough to conclude if I’d been approached by this sight around some urinals I'd have acted the same. Hey, this sport isn’t a fashion parade, and when there’s no family around I had enjoyed letting myself go a bit!
Fancy a chat mate?
Sleep was comfortable and reasonably uninterrupted, but by 3am I was staring at the back of my eyelids in excitement as the race day adrenalin had started to course through my veins. Rather than sit and lay there I decided to get up, eat my porridge, enjoy a good stiff cup of tea and then head down early. So I did. Transition opened at 5am. I had the luxury of being in the car park right next to transition at 4:30am in the best spot possible. A 200m walk from transition entry. I watched the marshals turn up for their days work and have their briefing while eating the remainder of my breakfast and enjoying dozing on and off while I waited, trying to keep a lid on the nerves.
I had beaten the marshals. Still dark waiting for their briefing.

2nd Breakfast. Chia seeds, homemade 'stuff' & Nat. Yoghurt.

T1 Bags. Ready to be grabbed.

T2. Full and ready. Always gotta check everything is still
as it should be.

A sea of bikes.

Last minute maintenance.
5am, and I was first through the gates. Drizzling with rain, dark but for a small break in the clouds as Venus shone down promising dawn was only an hour away. I pumped the tyres to an eye watering 200psi, and got confirmation that the disc was allowed so didn’t have the bother of messing about with the rear wheel. Or so I thought. One last check of all the kit and I  noticed the back wheel catching just slightly on the left side rear pad, so a bit of poorly lit 11th hour mechanical tinkering saw the grub screws adjusted while a few of the competitors around me held their torches so I could see what I was doing. Something learnt for my future long distance endeavours - bring a head lamp. Even in Summer its dark when you start. A few more transition dry runs and I left the bike.
A lot of people about now. The testosterone fuelled buzz starting to rise in volume around me. Stay focused Martin. A long day ahead, no time to get distracted.

Venus. 1hr Before dawn.
Canned Adrenalin.
(That's a wetsuit, not a colostomy bag)
 At this point I decided to take a punt. I swapped out the trainers in my T2 bag for my racing flats. Weighing only 16g each they really are a couple of pieces of paper, and offer zero support. Might seem daft for a man with nasty abdominal issues, but I also knew that I hurt, a lot, every step like a knife at The Outlaw, and that these trainers forced me up onto my toes, which made it hurt less where it hurt most……. Gambling my ankles and claves would stand 26.2 miles in trainers designed to run 5k at most in absolute flat out sprints. I had nothing to lose.
The rain now poured down delaying the sunrise as heavy cloud prevailed. I sat in the plastic bliss that is a multisport portaloo and talked to Sarah on the phone, who wished me luck and lifted my spirits against the weather. It was dark and smelly in there, the pitter-patter of the rain on the lid, her voice muffled and warm and snuggled under the duvet at home.  A promise to call as soon as I finished. A final poo.
Chucking my track pump, distance trainers and my clothing in the boot I was now stood wetsuited, and ready to rock. I caught myself growling at myself and had a word to calm down. Nothing left to do but race. This is the strangest time, absolutely chocked to the gunnels with adrenalin, the mind racing, forcing the muscles not to jump and twitch until required, almost like waiting to be shot.
Transition closes, and I wander down to watch the Professionals begin their day. Stood on the prom leaning over the sea wall down to the shingle I admire the ferocity with which the lead women attack the course from the off, and disappear out into the English Channel. This is then repeated by the pro men. I watch them as I try to ascertain how the current is affecting them, and what the best course to plot will be, sea swimming is hard, and getting it wrong can soon cost positions and energy. Soon it will be time.
Not long now.

While I am watching, enjoying the calm before the storm I feel a tap on my shoulder. It feels familiar. I turn round and see first my Mum “Now then boy” with a smile on her face, then my Dad, my Brother and my Sister in Law (and their stinking dog) all stood behind me “Now then. Fancy seeing you lot here” is all I can think to say at first.
They had secretly driven down the night before to cheer me on. My parents in their usual luxurious style quickly regaling how, with it being a last minute decision to come down didn’t pack an air bed and had slept on the hard ground bar a duvet between them and the earth. They all looked a bit dishevelled - but full of enthusiasm, and I saw no need to disguise my appreciation of their efforts. It would be great to have people cheer me on. That gobbled the last few minutes chatting before I was in the holding pen and ready for the off, wave one gone, and suddenly I was on the start line.
Staring down at the sea, lapping the shore the shingle made that hypnotic and repetitive noise as it counted down the last few minutes. I could hear athletes around me breathing, muttering, preparing. A couple leant down to dip their goggles in the water and splash their faces in preparation.  As I have gone up the distances I have watched as the general height and build of competitors increase, and here, now, I am decidedly small against other Iron Distance specialists. Not that this bothers me, they just have more to carry, but I can feel them around me.
Always good to psych out the opposition with some
start line random growling.

And a gurn for the camera.
I am acutely aware of how much this means to everyone on the start line. I know what I have given up over the last 10 months to stand here. The early mornings, the early nights, the countless hours of lonely training and focus to get myself here stood in this suit to represent my Country. There is no doubt in my mind that I stand shoulder to shoulder with people from across Europe that I do not know, but admire their dedication, their commitment to simply get to this point. Even more, I am excited that nobody here is ‘just having a go’. I’m not racing people who want to finish, I am racing people who want to achieve their best possible time, not any time. I can feel my pulse against the tightness of my swim cap as I gurn at the cameraman walking past in an attempt to distract myself from the anticipation and pressure in the air. I am fascinated by the caricature-esque overly dramatic behaviour of the presenter. Are all hosts like this??
“30 seconds” comes the call. My throat is tight. I love it. I absolutely flipping love it. Ready to roll like a bullet from a gun..... I position ready to run, finger on the watch, staring out into the stone grey sky blurring against the sea, the chain of buoys strung out ahead of me.
“10 seconds” I start counting down in my head.
3..2..1…. ‘HHHRRRRRRRRRRRRR…’ the air horn pierces the silence, the crowd cheer and I lunge forward. Everything leaves my mind. Muscles fires into action, this is why I am here. The rush of energy through my body is insane.

I feel the guys beside and behind me trying to push past so for the 10 metres or so we are sprinting the sloping shingle I force my arms out and carve out space ready to hit the water. You ain't coming past pal. You are my enemy now. 
A few steps out and the shore drops away quickly forcing a dive. Under, stretch, focus the eyes on the translucent water. Up, breath, heart pounding like a jack hammer - the arms go into auto pilot. I feel them whirl around me, looking right I see a man to my side, and can hear the melee close behind me.
Keen not to get involved in any undue argy bargy resulting in a lung full of salt water I am determined to get a clean start and kick like hell for the first couple of hundred metres. Once out the surf and in the open water I become aware that my feet sting from the unforgiving sprint over the stones. I hope they haven’t been cut open, and chose to ignore the sting of the salt on them. A few concerted efforts to ensure I am sighting well, timing my stroke against the rise of a waves to give maximum view. I see the bead of buoys strung out before me.
The pain in my foot reminded me of the Henna Tattoo Ella
had given me a few days before, no doubt to the delight of those
behind me :-)
 A successful start, I glance back as I roll with a wave and see the vast majority behind me. Doubtless people will pass me, but I have got the clean start I wanted. I spend the next few minutes getting a feel for the waves, the current pulling away to the left, and settle into a decent sustainable iron paced rhythm. I take some time to enjoy the early morning light colouring the water, trying to gauge the depth to the sandy bottom below.
The swim comprised a 2.4 mile swim over 2 loops, exiting and running the shore at the half way point. Just shy of half a mile out, across the sea horizontal to the shore, back in and repeat. Looking at the furthest point rolling in the waves from the shore it seemed a long way out. Swimming out towards it, it seemed further.

The tide pushed left and in as we swam out, and it was critical to remain focused on tiny adjustments in the course so as not to drift wide. A few times I glanced left and saw a competitor who looked to have caught up, but who had gone with the drift of the tide and swam wide. They would lose a lot of time come the turn right at the top of the course. At the furthest out point there was a steady stream of Jelly fish, and the first few glances at them caused me to swerve, but after taking an unavoidable knock to the head and neck from one as the current pushed it past it was clear they didn’t sting and any caution abated. From then on in I was free to simply swim through them.
The first loop gave me chance to get the measure of the swim, and I settled behind a pack of faster feet comprising 3 athletes who were jostling their way past me. They continued their mini rumble with me in tow as we rounded the 2nd big buoy and went with the tide towards the shore.
Every wave heading in helped surge you forward, and it was easy to elongate my stroke and maximise the benefit. We were soon out on the shore to the cheers of the crowd and as I stood myself up my brother was stood right by the side of the gantry cheering me on. A quick thumbs up and a sprint away down the shore. Ahead of me I could see a pro-male racer. OK, it was a blind Frenchman who swam literally tethered to his guide, but I sprinted past regardless, and had lapped a professional full time athlete. All’s fair in Love and war.
A pretty shoddy dive back in, my feet curling over my head from the sudden fall away of the shingle, it was good to be swimming again. The current was stronger now, and the wind had picked up considerably, taking it from relatively flat on the first out to a decent current pulling against us this time round, and plenty of spray off the wave tops. By now I was part of a tight pack, and enjoyed trading turns at the front, working as a unit to make our way as quickly and efficiently as possible.
1 particular moment sticks in my mind that showed me the subtle power of the forces at work in the sea. Side to side with a competitor he breathed left as I breathed right, we were almost nose to nose. Looking at each other through the tints of our goggles. Face down, stroke, stroke, breath left, stroke, stroke, breath right. I come up expecting him to still be beside me. Instead he has gone, drifted a good 20m+ to the right. Next breath he is close again. Then he is gone. We are both swimming in what we consider the same line, in water side by side, but the forces of entropy and chaos converge to drive us our myriad of independent paths at the mercy of the waves. It is fascinating.

At the first buoy of the 2nd lap the waves are considerably higher than the last time round. The land and horizon disappear as the length of my body sits in the dip of the rolling waves, and I adjust my breathing to catch air at the crest of each roll so I can sight with maximum effect. It’s tricky, and took more than a couple of misjudged mouthfuls of water before I had it down. That and the fact that I rolled perpendicular to the waves instead of into them quickly made me sea sick. As we reached the next turn to head towards shore I had suffered a few mini mouth sick’s as a consequence.

Once facing shore and spotting the inflatable gantry in the distance the umph in the waves made for a cracking bit of body surfing all the way in to the beach. Making the most of every second kicking for home a final mini battle neck and neck with a competitor we climbed out and up the beach for T1.
Such an attractive sport.
Running over the beach, and then down a path and across the road it was lined several deep with spectators cheering and clapping, a great feeling, all the while unzipping and pulling the arms free, now running though the T1 process and getting set for the bike in my mind.
I grabbed the red bag, no problem spotting it neatly positioned in my quadrant exactly how I left it. Into the tent, suit off, shoes and helmet on, making sure to stuff all the food in the right pockets so I didn’t have to think when I went to grab stuff later on. Out to the bike, again no trouble finding it through counting strides and making use of a lamp post reference near its station. Running to the mount line.
Being so light I have never had a puncture in a race, and I was equally prepared to take a punt on this occasion. Running tubular tyres meant that a flat was a major issue and I didn’t see the point in carrying limited kit that would be of little use. I either had to take the full tape/glue and a whole tyre or nothing. I chose nothing. They were good quality tyres and I had faith in them.
A steady mount, feet smoothly in and straps fastened through the cheers of the crowd again I met the claps and smiles of my parents positioned at the side of the mount line. 3min 20 seconds from out of the sea to sat on a bike riding out of town. I was pleased with that.
Out of the park and onto the main promenade heading east, I took a quick drink and settled into position turning the legs over and getting a feel for the next 5+hrs of work.
The road was closed and the tarmac fresh and flat. It felt good.  The promenade bank shielding the riders from the wind.

About a mile in things quickly changed as the road turned north out of the town and a climb of about 5 miles began. It was gentle at first, but gradually increased and eventually turned off down a side road that meandered and wound higher and higher up into the hills overlooking the harbour. At one point there were a number of marshals and carpet thrown over the road, with sand and grit laid beneath it. Seemed strange, and the slip of the carpeting on the tyres forced me (and others around me)  to stand and grind out a climb for around 100m until the section was passed. This was the tightest and steepest part of the climb and the summit as it eased off had me sweating and heaving like a pig as the road gradually levelled out and the first drinks station approached.  We found out after that some jerk had thrown oil and nails/broken glass all over the road in an attempt to sabotage the course. Thankfully it was spotted and the marshals dealt with it as best they could. That explained the sand and the carpet.
Because of the swim my first drink bottle is heavily salted to replace electrolytes. The effort of the climb meant I finished it all off and ditched it just in time to grab a replacement. About 100m before the feed stations these races often have framed nets, like a small goal mouth to aim the empty bottles at, and I was chuffed to bag a point as I tossed the bottle at it.
The next 20 miles were rolling high countryside with strong wides, and I got my head down and ground them out, trying to focus on cadence and gearing throughout. I was regretting leaving the disc on at this point. With the volume of climbs and strong wind it was bringing nothing to the party and I toyed with the idea of stopping and ripping it off. The back wheel regularly skipping out and the bike snaking as it took gusts through hedgerows and over crests.
As we dropped off the first set of hills for the final 25 miles of the first loop we hit small back roads with more rolling dips and mounds, tree lined on either side. The countryside was beautiful, but the going was tough and I found myself going through the motions and an emotional low creeping in.
Looking back I can honestly say that if the race had been cancelled at this point I would probably never have put a tri suit on again. I went through a 10 mile phase of shouting and swearing at myself to get a move on, frustrated and angry at my lack of progress and effort as competitors seemed to stream past, wasting the great advantage I had given myself in the swim.  I was counting the age group markings on the calves of the people passing me, and I knew I had gone from around 6th out the water to 20th already. Tears and snot of frustration flowed at the weakness I felt in my limbs against these people. Hindered by my injury, I was very aware of a constant throb with every rotation of the pedal, and the harder I tried the more the wind seemed to laugh and blow in my face. Pure frustration is all I can say to describe that time.
The 2nd feed station came at the end of a long straight downhill,  which then did a 180double back at the bottom. Going down meant passing everyone grinding it out the other side back to the top. It was a long climb. To the south you could see a cross country rally and MOD tank training zone. The men inside throwing their machines with abandon over the huge obstacles and hills. Right then I would have traded all my kit for one of those.
I continued to struggle on, seemingly unable to snap myself out of the slump I had found myself in. It wasn’t until the last 5 miles of the first loop that we finished yet more unforgiving climbs that I hit the seemingly unending downhill section, that my mood lifted. For the few miles before then the wind & hills had continued to sap everything from me. For the first time ever I genuinely considered stopping at the half way point. Retiring from the race. I even visualised hopping off the bike and the feeling of walking into the tent, hanging it up on the rack and sitting there dejected. The thought that I wasn’t even half way almost ruined me.  I couldn’t believe I was here doing what I wanted, what I had worked so hard for, only to be thinking like this. I can honestly say that if the race had been cancelled at this point I would probably never have raced again.
Then I rounded the peak of a hill, and stretched out down before me was the English South Coast. Frothy and wild from the wind in the distance below. I grabbed a snack from my back pocket, took on some juice and squeezed into the most aero position I could muster, scrapping any care for personal safety. Laying stomach first on the seat, my bum could feel the breeze of the back tyre millimetres away as it hung over the rear. Chin on the bars. Screw it, I was going for broke down this.
Screaming down the hill, I finally smiled as I tripped a speed camera at 44mph, pace still increasing. Pedalling and pushing it beyond what was safe I reclaimed a good slug of places. As we finally got back onto the promenade I levelled out and had a clear headed chat with myself. If I was going to continue then I needed to buck my ideas up, get a grip on the ride and accept my lot.
The dead turn came. Metres from T2, I rotated 180degrees, cheers of the crowd, and headed back out. This time I knew what was coming. Another long 56 miles of hills & wind.
This next 3 hours were at times a dark place. Emotionally the lowest place I have ever been to in competition. If you ever want to do some soul searching and really get to know yourself – embark on long distance triathlon. You will go to some terribly lonely places, leave no stone unturned in finding out about yourself, your limits, your strengths, and more than any kind of physical limit, the absolute limits of the mind to push yourself forward when you nothing left.  And at the end of it all, your body can endure. The training has been done. The body  undoubtedly will go on, if the mind is willing.  And for me, at the end of it all is acceptance "I am Martin, this is my lot. For the next 3 hours you pedal. No more. No less. Just pedal". And when this point is reached nothing is going to stop you completing. Nothing.
Going back through the wooded area at around mile 80 mark I passed a glut of competitors with flats. Then I recalled I had seen a few here first time round. Again, I found out afterwards people had again thrown glass/nails/tacks on the road at this point to sabotage the race. I was lucky. I had risked not taking any spares, but you cannot mitigate for this kind of deliberate stupidity. I just feel bad for those that fell afoul of the malice.
Through that 2nd 56mile loop I focused on the downhill I knew was coming at the end. The reward for the slog.  It kept me going, hardened the resolve and stopped me bleeding places. The effort wasn’t electric, but it was sustained and productive. Finally the downhill came and again I gunned it for home. As long as I live I wont forget every second of that downhill, and relive it in terror, wondering, even in my mind if I will come off at the rashness of the descent. Enough said on that.
Genuinely, a few times I thought I had lost it. The front wheel wobbling, the back wheel snaking from a gust of wind against the disc. Just relax and let it fizzle out. I did, and it did.
I could see now the wind was really whipping off the sea, and a few competitors on the sea front already on the run were being battered by salty sea spray & lashings of sand as they strode out. Down along the sea front road, and before I knew it I was again into the park and suddenly the dismount line was upon me. Slowing down and jumping off my legs went to jelly. I could see and hear my family cheering, and I tried to smile as I went past, but my legs were all over and I had to lean on the bike as I ran to avoid collapsing while the muscle groups adjusted.
Bike handed over, run bag grabbed. I got my kit off, trainers on and a replenishment of my food supplies. I had stuffed my baseball cap into the run bag, and was glad to pull it on now. Something to keep the wind and sand out of my eyes as I ran. Pulling the run flats on I stood up and felt surprisingly comfortable. The legs soon settled within 10 strides, and as I exited the transition at 2min 51seconds, my brother jogged alongside – camera in my face,  grilling me on my freshness and thoughts on the course so far. The stride and pace soon arrived (aside from the stabbing pain in the gut at every stride) and I felt almost immediately happier than I had on the bike.
The run was 4.5 loops of the promenade. Flat, with plenty of spectator support throughout, and a great view of the English Channel. It also made for easy pacing off other competitors as they were regularly passed in each direction.
Striding out I settled into a rhythm. Within 3 miles I was comfortable with the position of the drink/fuel stations, the crowds, the weather and the nature of the course. I had only run half of 1 loop, but could see the return leg, so knew what was coming. After passing The Family a few times and soaking up the cheers of the crowd through the section that ran through the main high street I felt great, and took time to take stock of the feelings I had experienced on the bike. Feeling this good, knowing I was here, on the final leg, feeling quite strong,  and with the physical issues being managed so I knew I would finish respectably I felt fantastic. A true natural high. I could not comprehend or conjure those feelings of abject misery a few hours earlier on the bike. It felt so alien, and I wondered at the craziness of the brain to be able to change so completely in its operation and outlook. A slave to my emotions on some level.
The start of the run before the weather blew in.
Every time I passed the family it amused me to see their increasingly tired state. I had more than one chuckle to myself a the though of them all snuggled up in their tent without any kind of insulation or padding from the ground beneath.  In contrast I'd had a great nights sleep and ironically probably felt less stiff from the days endeavour than they did. Treading the promenade in the worsening weather, sometimes with a bag of sweets, often with a cup of tea, always with a smile and cheer, there was the odd shout of "how many more laps?" - the answer seemed to disappoint them if I replied 3 more, or 2 more..... they were tired and keen to get home!! Hahaha....
Running on and the weather gradually worsened, the wind whipped more and more,  and clouds began to blow in. It was clearly eventually going to start raining. Heavily.  Making the most of it while I could I passed my family again on the 3rd lap.  A kink in the road and my Mum gave me a cheer, asking me if I was OK? All I could think to say was ‘Thanks for coming’. It was after all good to have them there. The comment seemed to amuse her greatly, and they laughed at me. When you know you are racing to make up numbers and not at the knife edge of competition the feeling of support is worth more than anything. Otherwise you are a faceless man in the crowd.
By the time I approached the 4th lap my legs were fading. With each feed station I would take a drink, and eat some crisps. Maybe some sweets, but not often. Then I would feel a surge in my speed as the body converted the intake to energy. By now every step hurt a lot. I will never know if the hilliness of the bike just took it out of me, or if the injury contributed. It was all melting into 1, and at the end of the day nobody cares. It is what it is… You play with the cards you are dealt at that time. So after taking in the feed station I would feel the boost of energy soak through my system, and consciously force an increase in the pace. That conscious effort with every stride in your mind saying “lift your leg, thrust it forward, land, push off, repeat” Then it would fade a mile or so later. With that fade the slow bit got slower. The legs heavy, and the feet weak. A shuffle. It becomes almost funny. Inside your brain you feel great, physically you are wrecked, and absolutely empty. Energy goes in, Energy goes out. There is no reserve. The body and the mind depart. A party in the mind - Goulags for the body.

Retrospectively I often wonder what on earth I think about during a race. We were some 11hrs down here, and I could not tell you now more than maybe 1 minutes worth of consistent thought. Outside of the focus on the job in hand, going through the motions, trying to stay focused and study the mechanics, the efficiency and form of the body and its effort over the distance the one fantasy that rolls in my mind is tea. 11+hrs of slog interspersed with an absolute burning desire for a big fat mug of tea.

And onto the final lap. Collecting wrist bands each loop to denote your position on the course - my wrist is now full and I take delight, as I have throughout the run in scanning the wrist of competitors not yet sporting a full complement of red white and blue. I see envy in their eyes at my wrist and as the rain and wind now beats down relentlessly. I am soaked through, cold and wet mixed with sand, the spectators have thinned in the weather, I can smell the finish line.  I put my head low behind my caps visor and round the pier for the final time. A big gust of froth and sea spray smacks my face, the now familiar salty taste, and home is only 500m away.
I manage to sneak past a few final competitors, and as I hit the red carpet can hear someone sprinting to close the gap behind me. I have no sprint. Nothing. I have my single speed. I am handed a Union Jack flag, and wave it as I enjoy the bedraggled wet and windy cheers as I cross the line. A split second behind me the sprint finisher crosses. I can’t help but think he didn’t try hard enough if he had that much energy left at the end.
The clock reads 11:14hrs. A good hour over what I had hoped to achieve, but I take stock. I have raced against proper athletes, not disgraced myself, and this is (hopefully) the first of many. All valuable experience. And I am stood with GBR on my chest. That won’t be taken away. When I am old and grey in the old peoples home I will bore the life out of the nurses wiping my backside as I regale them of this day.
My family congratulate me, a worried look on Mothers face ‘Are you OK, are you OK?’ ‘Never better Mum!!?!’.  I head to the old pavilion to change.  There is no shower today, other than the rain, which is  disappointing, and I have to beg the help of a volunteer lady to  stoically hold my towel while I hobble from my suit and pull on my jogging bottoms and hoody.
The after race changing/canteen is a special experience at Iron distance. Something every triathlete should go through at least once in their life. It is almost worth the race to experience this alone. The room is filled with quiet personal  pride. The fittest and most capable of athletes a Country can muster, crammed into a small space, all completely spent. All without dignity, covered in the sweat of our efforts, dried and crusty salt and tide lines down our bodies. Snot in our hair. Blood in our trainers. Unable to walk, hobbling and limping, shivering as our bodies try to readjust to the pummelling they have just been dealt.  It is a moment to be savoured. Knowing looks and nods abound, nobody has much to say. Just mutual respect through-out.
Coming out we walk the mile and a bit to the car. Just what I needed. It was slow, but it stretched the legs. The car got loaded somehow with all kit and the bike, and we drove back to the camp site.
Everything in the tent was set for me to roll into it. It looked comfy in there, and I was a little bit tempted to stay, but I can’t say I was sorry not to be spending the night in there. We dragged it all out and shoved the tent, wet, unfolded and unpacked into the back of the car. My dad happy to drive me back. Remembering the warm cosy sound of Sarah under the duvet at the start of the day, and the thought of being able to climb into my bed that night a god send.
We got going down the motorway, and the usual post-race shock kicked in. Its as if the body goes into shock, it doesn't know if it is hot, or cold, well or ill..... I can only apologise now to the unknown motorists behind us on the A350 dual carriageway that got more than they bargained for as I hung my head out the window and chucked my guts up on the way home. My dad wasn’t stopping. "I'm going to be sick" got a "The cars got a window, you'll be alright" reply.....He’d had a long day and wanted to get home. That would do for me!!
After that I felt better and relaxed.  Finally home that night to clean sheets and a warm wife. Content at my efforts, and planning my next, improved attempt!
Up in the morning to a hearty feed.


Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Straight after the highs (and lows) of The Outlaw we packed up, & through the kindness of a Tri club friend had the use of their cottage to spend a few weeks in Scotland with family. This included a recovery plan that involved plenty of down time with the children, a lot of eating, and sea/loch swimming where possible. A trip up to the far north coast line was the highlight that served up some truly amazing beaches, and some fantastic swims with my girls in water as blue, and sand as white as the Caribbean. Just without the temperature. I recommend them to anyone.

One of the best. Just west of Rispond Bay. Absolutely beautiful Swim.

A worthwhile scrabble down a steep bank to swim Loch Ness with Ella.
I made a promise to Sarah not to speak about Triathlon for 2 weeks, and I think I just about managed it. It was tough though. I would even go so far as to stick my neck out and recommend the Edinburgh Fringe to anyone who hasn’t been. You won’t come away with a new turbo sprint set, or an endurance swim winter plan, but strange as it sounds it turns out it’s still pretty good fun.
Half way through the holiday I embarked on some runs around the hills to test the legs, and instantly found that despite the rest the injury to my groin/stomach/hernia wasn’t subsiding and the pain was more acute than ever.  Being chased by a dirty great big bull over the heather was a motivating distraction from the issues over the short term, but isn't a practical tactic to take to race day. While I knew this would happen that little bit of hope in your mind always tricks you into believing that with a quick rest it will have miraculously healed itself and I would be back in fighting fit form. Nope.  It now flew its dirty little flag of victory in the battle to spoil Weymouth 140.6 and my first time racing for GB.

Despite this small issue, I had a more pressing worry on my mind. The National Sprint Relays were only 3 weeks away. I had to make a decision, and quickly, to avoid messing things up for the team. Fortunately I had promised Sarah I wouldn’t talk Tri, so I couldn’t seek her guidance and likely words of caution.
I tried to imagine what she would have told me had this been normal circumstances, and after careful deliberation decided it would definitely be “You must race at all costs, and not let your mates down. Your body will heal, but the shame will not”. So with Sarah’s (probable) sage advice ringing in my mind I decided to ignore my groin and stomach and crack on with my best effort.
Besides, I owed it to the other 3 who have all put a lot of effort in through-out the year, and are in great form. Assessing my own form and how I felt I knew that (without emotion or partiality) even pretty badly weakened and off form I could still give them a better account than the next best replacement they were likely to dig up if I dropped out.
With that decided I stopped worrying about it, and balanced my training as best I could, largely leaving the run out completely, as every step feels like being punched in the plums. As a team we were candid and I tabled realistic times. They continued to make me feel wanted and welcome, and it was appreciated. What really annoyed me though was the announcement that Lincoln had turned out a team at the 11th hour, and with some long standing friendly rivalry it would have been great to have been able to go out truly fighting fit on an even footing to give it our best. Looking over the times and the form it would have been close as custard on the day normally, and any minor slip would have given it to the other team, but I knew in reality that with my 60% fitness at best it wasn’t going to happen.
The day arrived and the usual early start ensued, well on the road by 5:30am heading to the venue, the miles flying by talking Tri Trash all the way. Signed in, racked and sorted in good time we found the chairman had erected the club gazebo the night before, so settled in and got ready. Other club members slowly arrived for their racing in the afternoon and the cloudy start began to give way to  decent warm weather.
A cracking set up and atmosphere.
And so the race began, Glenn hitting the water first, handing over the band to myself and then me to Jon and finally Ross.  Everyone put down a good swim, except myself, a good 30seconds+ of what could have been expected. Still, we had the bike to go. The bike, the least hindered because of the position and nature of the effort was my best chance to not under deliver, and we all put down a good bike leg, with only slight decline in my power over the expected. I was happy with the times. The other 3 lads all more than made up for me with pretty consistent 25mph+ paces, against my 24.
Onto the run. Glenn came round the corner to hand me the band and glancing at my watch I could see he had given the run of his life. Definitely a PB. I could see he was hurting and it deserved repayment with nothing but my best. I ignored the issues and pushed through. About half way round it got the better of me, culminating in a few retches of the stomach and ultimately throwing up all over my own feet in front of the cheering crowds about 20m before I handed over the band. As classy performance as ever, but at least I could look myself in the eye and knew I had given my best. Throwing up and keeping running is a truly strange experience.
As expected we didn’t beat Lincoln. It came down to the run, and in the end they had a few minutes on us, and I was pleased to see them take the Bronze as my friends, and fly the flag for our County in the sport we love. We had been reduced from last year’s silver medal position to 5th in the club category, and 13th nationally overall. Not a day’s racing to remember.
Despite everything we were still some 6 minutes quicker overall than 2014, a mark firstly of the much hotter competition in the field and the improvement in the sport across the Country, & 2ndly the teams own huge improvements. Despite me under delivering they absorbed my issues and improved massively on our previous time. A great team response. I owe them one.
A team I couldn't be prouder to be part of.
After that disappointment we went back to eat lunch. By now the gazebo was alive with around 40 or 50 club members to’ing and fro’ing and there was a great atmosphere. We had 4 teams in the afternoon’s race and staying back to cheer was always a must.
If the racing was a day to forget, then the afternoon was certainly one to remember. For me spectating that day really was the highlight. It was great to see the sheer love of the sport across all the competitors, and the improvements that everyone has made over the year. Just standing and watching and hurling encouragement (and abuse where appropriate) to club members and other deserving souls was great fun. To take the time to understand the perspective of family and friends who turn out to cheer me on so often and get a taste for what it’s like. The weather helped immensely and I’m not sure I’d have had the same pleasure if it had been lashing down, but it wasn’t. There were also the inevitable odd bods, with strange ideas about bike set up, or running styles, the kit they chose to carry or wear and the methods that people employ to tackle the 3 disciplines. It was an eye opener, I learnt a lot from all kinds of competitor as they whizzed passed that I can use to improve my own game, and saw some right rare sights. Mostly though it was just a good laugh with friends, and I was proud to be part of the Club.
Moving on from that, last weekend was Louth Sprint tri. I didn’t enter, but thought I might as a last minute thing earlier in the season, but that was never on the cards with current fitness. Ella, my daughter had entered however, the only junior (13 and 4 days old) in her first adult race. Nervous, but as excited as anything. My own training over the last 2 weeks had largely been focused around rides around the course with her, at her speed, a run of a couple of miles, and swim sets with the club.
We got the bike ready on Saturday after helping to spray the road of all the potholes and problems on the cycle route. Registered Saturday pm, the leisure centre had a nice low key buzz of excitement in anticipation of the next day. We went home and got everything packed and prepped.
Sunday morning, and it was novel not to have to wake up at 4am to get to the race on time. We had a lay in until 7, then got up, got ready, and walked down. Un heard of!! We walked to the event !!

Ella giving it all on the run.
Not having any involvement in racing gave me the opportunity to focus on Cheering on Ella as a spectator from the off. Again, a novel experience, and one I really enjoyed. Another highlight was team mates at the relays now going head to head at their local event. Great sportsmanship to watch with close racing throughout.
The morning flew by, cheering on family and friends, dashing from pool to T1, to a place on the bike and the run to grab some action as it happened. Again it was sunny, and it went quick. I was happy to not do it, and be able to watch and ring the cow bell for all it was worth without the stress of my own turn at the starting line.
The highlight for me was undoubtedly Ella, finishing 113th out of some 200 adults. She PB’d her swim by a good 10 seconds and put to bed demons from a nasty crash on the bike at Mallory Park earlier in the year. Couldn’t be prouder, and as I head off this weekend, Ella also heads off to a junior tri with some 400 other competitors. An exciting race weekend in the Ball house coming up!

So Sunday, and the European championships at Challenge Weymouth 140.6 GB debut is looming.
At this point I am a gamut of emotions. Excitement, nerves, disappointment, determination and focus. Joking aside, I am being pragmatic. I have achieved everything I set my stall out to achieve at the start of the year. It has come at a price that will ultimately effect the biggest and final race of the year, but at least I am doing it. It probably isn’t the most sensible thing to do, but I am sure any other athlete will agree that investing a years training in getting to this point, the cold winter 5am mornings, turning up at the pool before work at unearthly hours, the long nights in the garage on the turbo or slogging it out down the road, running in the wet and the cold to achieve the aims can't be wasted. It requires focus and sacrifice, and there is nothing that will make me throw that away.

After the race I can recover and heal properly but I will have gathered invaluable data and experience in the learning curve that will (hopefully) be future racing at the top level. I might not place where I know I am capable of or expect of myself  this time, but I can try,  and it will do nothing but help me at future attempts. For the experience alone it as to be worth it.
All of this of course wouldn’t have happened without the support of family and friends. As part of my drive to get to Weymouth I held a raffle to help fund the cost of entry, kit and travel. The link for the video of the draw is below - sorry I couldn't upload directly, the file was too big for Blogger. I genuinely wouldn't be racing on Sunday without the support that everyone has shown me, it really means a lot. Good luck everyone, and I promise the training program will be to suit you…. Not me!! Thank you again to everyone for your friendship and support. (Apologies for the video quality, I'm not good on camera and probably could have smiled more and spoken a bit louder).


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Outlaw. 140.6 miles.

This time last year my eldest had just left Primary. We were going through all the usual emotions that they get with that. This year my youngest is in the same place, just left primary a few days go. As any of you with children at 2ndry school will know, with that transition comes a daily rollercoaster of nerves and excitement, their worry that they won't find their way around the new school? Will they fit in? All the 'big kids' there that seem so grown up and capable.  Have they got all the right clothes and equipment? Sometimes, sat watching them think in a quiet moment you can see their minds whirring, going over everything and nothing in 1 go. All you can do is give them a hug and tell them to relax, not to worry and just enjoy it, and before they know it, it will all fall into place.

It dawned on me watching Molly go through this process over the last few weeks that I have been no different with The Outlaw. The feeling that I was leaving behind the familiar small pond, where I know all my friends and competitors. Going to play with the Big Boys on their monstrously sized playground that is a 2.4 mile Swim, 112 mile bike and then a full marathon. Would I fit in? Would I find my way around? Would I have the right equipment, and most importantly, would I be able to cope with the lessons??!? So, after a month of fretting and getting myself wound up and in a knot with one thing and another the last week running into it I took my own advise and tried to relax, and just let it come round, and when the time came, just enjoy it.

So after the final sessions of training  the last week was a total rest, bar a swim on the Wednesday, hindered by awful IBS brought on my the drugs for the back and rib muscle issues.

The focus turned to preparation. First things first the bike got its usual strip down and rebuild and extra spit and polish. I definitely didn't want to waste the last years build up to this with a mechanical failure on the course. At this point I realised that I had made a bit of a bodge. I'd fitted new tubs a month back. They're a great tyre, giving improved drive, better grip, lower rolling resistance, but the trade off  is that the inner tube is built in, so a puncture isn't so easy to repair. The whole tyre is glued on, so getting it off is a bother, and a new tyre has to be fitted. To help reduce the risk of a puncture it's normal to add a liquid that reacts to the air & self heals when you get a small nick or cut in the tyre. I'd forgotten to add it at the point of gluing, and without taking it all off and removing the valve there was no option now to add it. So I would just have to risk it, and hope that my run of no punctures ever in a race continued. I remain convinced that the fatter you are the more you puncture, and had to hope that maxim held true.
As part of the next winter plan, I intend stripping back the bike to rid myself of the burden of a white gloss paint-job. It looks great, but is a pain to keep clean, showing every little scuff and scrape as the grime gets trapped in it. The new proposal is a matt black frame, with gloss yellow detail. Embracing the club colours with pride. Bringing some of that plan forward I gave the bars and tyres a bit of an early facelift especially for the race and jazzed them up ready for action.

All new 'Louth Tri Pride' Bars and tubs ready for action.
The box was then packed, double checking and polishing shoes, helmet, and ensuring the wetsuit was in tip to condition. 2 lots of googles for either bright, or cloudy conditions, Vaseline, trainers and socks. I was ready to rock.

The next big thing that had got some serious thought over the last few months was nutrition, and after various successes and failures on training runs I was hopeful it would be OK. It's known in the longer distance community as The 4th Discipline with good reason. If you get it wrong your body will tire and you will fail.

I was keen not to use gels. Reading the ingredient lists makes it clear they are full of muck, and anything I could do to avoid them being a necessity the better. They had to be the last resort.

Everything I had read from the seasoned long distance athlete, and found out the hard way in training confirmed that nutrition was key, and if I got it wrong I was doomed.

No pressure on Sarah at all then.... she refined the kitchen trials and eventually after much hunting and tweeking of this recipie chucking in some extra seeds and bits, came up with the 'Power Ball'.

Some of the ingredients.
The nutritional nuke that is the patented Power Ball.

On top of this I also got the Juice Lady Junior into overtime action and prepared a Ball Juice consisting of Apple, Carrot, Kale, Brocolli, Beetroot, Cucumber, Ginger, Strawberries, Cherries, Melon, Pineapple, Lemon, Redcurrants, Blackcurrants, Pear, a few Nettles and Honey. Everything possible was picked fresh from the garden, or had been collected out the hedgerow that day. All reduced down into 1 bottle of an eye wateringly strong nutritional hit boost.
100% Natural Ball Juice.

My plan was to take 6 balls in my back pocket in my suit on the bike, along with a small bag of mixed nuts. The Ball Juice was marked for 1/5th to be drunk every 20 miles. A separate bottle of coconut water with a salt tab to replenish me & wet my whistle after the swim, and I could rely of the feedstations to swap this second drink bottle as often as required. I would eat a ball every 15 to 20 miles, wash it down with the dose of Ball Juice, Chew some nuts if needed. Hydrate as required. It looked sparse compared to most, but I was confident in the plans efficient ability to keep my strong.

Saturday Morning we relocated the girls and got the car packed and set of early. A bit of a queue to get parked but it was efficient and clearly well organised from the off.

First things first, I got registered. No requirement to queue at all at this point. Just bish bash bosh and I had my hands full of all the necessary numbers, hats and tags. I also got an unexpected pretty decent Outlaw rucksack as an early registerer. An unexpected treat to remind me of the weekend.

After that we wandered around the very uninspiring and overpriced merchandising arena, and just as quickly left again, instead meeting with various friends, chewing the cud while watching the Nottingham Big Swim of 5km being held in the lake that afternoon. There were a couple of club members swimming so it was good to be able to cheer them on.

After seeing the swim off we went back to the car to sort all the kit bags. The transition experience is one of the main differences between this and any of the other distances. First you rack your bike the day before,  it's given a raincoat, and security guards supervise the  pit over night. You are allowed in to add bottles and pump the tyres in the morning, but the bike already has to be in position.

You are also issued with 3 big bags. 1 for everything you need in each transition, and then 1 final kit bag for clean clothes and aftercare. So we sat on the grass enjoying the July sun, talking to others doing similar, taking my time, filling each bag as required, putting stickers where needed and going over the bike one more time.

Prepping the transition bags.

The £million transition pit? Some serious bike porn to guard that night.
Once the bike was dropped off we timed it just right to see the 5km swim winners come in. Craig bagging a decent 5th in what he described as hard work with sighting, and very weedy conditions in the lake. That was a useful insight to keep in mind for the morning.

Not knowing what to expect I then went into the Transition tent. Every athlete is issued a peg, and much the same as with the bike pit I found some markers to run too, practised the strides and hung my kit in the order I'd need it. I got a bit lucky that there was a bench right next to my peg which would give me a place to park my bum while pulling on socks while I got set from the swim and the bike.

Come race time the bag pit was a heaving sweaty mass.
Next up it was the briefing. This was a thorough and informative effort by the organisers, chairs and drink laid on with a decent video slide presentation of each aspect of the course with questions and answers and a re cap of the rules. This was the final briefing of 3, and what went from amusing at a few embarrassed athletes sneaking in a few minutes late soon turned to what I felt was pig ignorant at the number of people waltzing in 20 odd minutes late without so much as a sorry to the race director, causing disruption while a seat was found and they settled. There was a decent rule that if your phone went off you had to give 10 press up to the group as an apology. 1 late arrival sat on the floor like a teenage girl, and twice his phone went off, he sat there like he owned the place. Eventually he was bullied into 10 press ups, but clearly struggled. He sat back down red face and flustered. Jerk.
After that we left the site, checked into the hotel about 10 miles down the road, and headed out to find a nice country pub for the final meal. A big juicy rare steak and chips, with a pint of fresh orange and lemonade later, and Sarah having polished off a tasty looking lasagne and glass of wine we went back for a good nights sleep.
Once there I did some final prep and showered, laid all my kit out including the wetsuit to avoid having to pull it on when we arrived. Number attached to belt, nutrition laid out to put on the bike, timing chip, transfers, and finally a row of drugs to keep the medley of injury pains at bay.

Everything laid out for the morning.

More kit laid out ready for 4am.
I volleyed a round of texts to the multitude of good lucks from friends and family, all as encouraging and supporting as ever. A quick call to a friend who had unexpectedly had her baby 12 weeks early, but all are doing fine. We watched some telly, talked things over and unwound.

I promised Sarah if I felt like I wasn't just hurting, but doing some lasting or serious damage, particularly to my stomach,  I would withdraw and with that we settled down. By 8:30pm we were both sound asleep.
I woke briefly a few times when doors banged in the corridor, but slept very well until the alarm went off at 4am. Straight out of bed, I made a brew and poured water in the porridge pot while Sarah had a shower. I have an awful habit of talking loudly from the off which drives Sarah mad, and I was repeatedly encouraged to whisper given the time of the morning. It wasn't happening.
Almost instantly the surge of adrenalin and the reality the day was here hit me. I've never felt adrenalin like it, I can normally get a lid on it quickly so as not to tire and waste energy, but I was wired to the mains from the off and struggling to focus. Wetting the transfers I stuck my numbers to my arms and my legs and kneeled by the table while I went through my kit. Dressing, number belt, fastening the timing chip etc etc.
I was pretty disorganised and all over the place with my mind, suddenly realising Sarah was sat on the sofa quietly laughing at me. I looked up and she said "I've just watched a man throw his keys in the bin". "Ey?" I replied, looking in the bin along with the tea bags I had dumped in there I could see our car and house keys.  That's how deranged with excitement I was, like a kid at Christmas. If she hadn't been there to keep an eye on me and keep me focused I wouldn't have made it to the start line. I kept having to smile at the thought of me tearing the room apart waking the whole hotel up looking for what I would have no doubt decreed were my stolen keys while everyone else was starting the swim. Disaster avoided. Sarah calmed me down, kept me focused and remained a brick through-out the day forcing me to focus and concentrate on the task in hand.
Arrived. Queued, the parking took about 20 minutes, but moved swiftly and efficiently. There wasn't much time to spare, and again I lost my keys in the boot of the car on arrival. At that point they were confiscated and I was told to get my game face on, and we headed to transition.
As you would expect the start was a heaving throng of bleary eyes, family and friends wondering where they went wrong in a former life to have to endure this unearthly hour surrounded by freaks in rubber suits. Contrast that with 1250 odd Athletes as hyped as myself and it made for a unique experience. Sarah stood in awe of a female athlete who had found the time to apply a full face of make up, and we parted ways, going into the athlete only zone. Next time she saw me I would be an Iron Man. Having had to endure just shy of 3 months of being called 'Half Iron Boy' at home following the Beaver Middle, there was NO way I was wasting the opportunity to put that casual spousal abuse to an end.
I pumped the tyres, and was sweating and nearly spent before I even started after I had finished forcing 200psi into the back and front tyre. Putting the juice and drink into the bottle holders I went over the bike tyres one last time, brushing down any dust or stones, and threw my clothes and the pump in the kit bag, and hung in on my peg in the finishers tent.
The 10 minute warning had gone now, and I rushed to a friendly face and grabbed some help zipping up my skin suit and wetsuit. Donning the cap, vaselining the neck, googles on.

Down to the lake, passing over the tracking matt it was like being back at assembly at school. Marshals scanned everyone eagerly for appropriate attire. Just before I went through the man ahead was stopped and the marshal asked "where is your timing chip?" Panic flashed in his eyes, he swore and ran back in the other direction. I can only imagine the faff of retrieving that, which of the 3 bags had he left it in? Pushing against the surge of athletes coming against him. Rather him than me.
And so into the water, it gently steaming, warmer than the cool morning air. A few practice strokes, google adjustment and I waved to the compare Kyle (The Celtman) Campbell. He reciprocated with 'Hey Martin' (over the microphone, held up his hand and continued) "I AM SPARTAUS". Raising his hand in battle cry mode.  I was puzzled, but replied "Oh, that's nice for you" and decided the early mornings were getting to him. He shook his head in disgust and sighed, then shouted "Hey Everyone, I AM SPARTACUS". The throng replied "I. AM. SPARTACUS".

Sarah showed me a snippet of youtube earlier explaining the film. What a tit. I had been handed the honour of being the first to reciprocate with the reply, followed by the masses. My complete lack of interest in classic films had bitten me on the bum, and the prestige of the chance to reply forever lost. I, apparently, am not Spartacus.
So to the start.
As crazy as ever. 1250+ at the wet 6am beginning of their journey.
The video does it more justice than I ever could. The usual frenetic washing machine of arms and legs that I have so often and lovingly described, magnified, bonkers. 1.1miles straight out down a huge manmade lake into the morning sunrise, 200m across and 1.1 miles back.
Once settled I found feet and did what I always try to do. Drafting my way through it, there were plenty to choose from. I was paranoid through out that I would repeat The Amphibian injury and unknowingly wreck my back only to be reduced to a spasming mess when the pain killers wore off half way into the bike.

The original target of 58 minutes had been revised earlier in the week and I swam as fast as a I dare without risk of ruining my race. The first length was tough to sight, the sun glinting low and bright, the buoys difficult to make out in spite of it being a straight line swim. The danger with following the man in front is that he doesn't know where he is going either. Eventually the big buoy appeared, and I slapped it in satisfaction as I passed, surprised by the resistance my hand encountered. A solid piece of waterproofed tarpaulin indeed.
Round the next buoy, and I was on the back straight. This leg was very weedy and genuinely required almost a crawl through it in places, tangling around my wrist, getting caught in my watch strap on several occasions. The finishing gantry grew larger and larger and the push for the end began.
A smooth and economical swim, no danger of injury I was pleased as I exited up the mat, faced with a big timer I could see 1hr 3minutes. Rather than 5 minutes lost I knew I had probably bought myself plenty more time by not risking re pulling any still weakened tissue.
Running into the tent Sarah shouted 'Go Ball' from the bank above, and we exchanged a smile and a wave.
Wetsuits off before you enter the tent then straight to the bag, helmet, glasses and socks on. My number belt already on, pre fitted under my wetsuit. Bag rammed with the swim kit, you run out with it to be hung on your finishing peg, dump it with an official, and then on towards the bike. 3 minutes from out the water to the bike. I'd allowed 5, so had already gained 2 back on the swim. Again Sarah shouted and waved.
Shoes already on the bike, I ran out and mounted without issue, and so the ride began.
Out round the lake to start. This was a good time to settle and take a drink, adjusting the shoe straps and getting into a comfortable place. I had broken the ride into 20 mile segments on a sticker on my headstock, with target times by each at the nearest village. I felt good, there was no real wind, and on closed roads some other athletes were quickly caught and overtaken. The reccy ride the month before was invaluable, and the marshaling was clearly going to be excellent throughout. Every junction, turn, bump and bend manned by a smiling, luminous vested volunteer.
Club friend Simon who cheered me throughout,
fulfilling the special needs quota of the marshalling contingent.
Every time I passed he lifted my spirits. Thanks.
The next block of miles through  20  to 40 were similar, passing some, being passed by others, remembering that the distances remaining were huge, and every man had to race his own game. It was no good getting involved in a battle at this early stage.
A few times by now I was passed by what could only be described as a peleton of riders. This worried me, the drafting rules are clear, and every time I eased off and let them through, albeit annoyed at the clear advantage they were gaining from the group pace as they pulled away. 2nd time this happened I was glad to have not got caught up in the action, as a motorbike official passed and pulled up behind them. All I can say is from where I was sat behind it all observing is that the marshals hung back, watched and gave plenty of opportunity for those involved to rectify the issue. The DQ's this year amounted to about 3 pages worth. Unprecedented, but avoidable. It's clear in the rules and was re-iterated at the briefing. The drafters I saw have only their self to blame.
Mile 40 came past, and I was now 3 minutes up on my target time. The Southern loop finished we hit the drag to the Northern loop and again I passed friends on the main roundabouts, exchanging high 5s and cheers of encouragement.
I had been sticking to the nutrition plan, taking on Ball Juice and the Power Balls. Each time they gave me a boost and I felt normal and fresh to continue. I chewed a few nuts. Around mile 50 I grabbed a banana and exchanged my drink bottle at the feed station. Again I cannot fault the volunteers manning these stations. Each of the efficient and friendly, doing all they could to help.
Hitting the Northern Loop the main steep hill of the course fast approached. I didn't flog it, just sat up and applied consistent even effort. At this point I had been riding consistently in touch back and forth with the lead lady for around 20 miles, but on the hill she left me. No point burning out to keep up I decided, my hill work is a weakness, so I just accepted it and enjoyed the climb. At the top, and down into Southwell, there were some great views and public support for the event, clapping us as we rattled through the town. 
From Southwell the wind picked up significantly and the rolling terrain of climbs and downs were hindered with strong head on gusts. At mile 60 I was now around 5 minutes up on my target time.
This didn't last long though, as miles 60 to 80 were to prove to be the low point of the whole event. I let things slide mentally. Tired now, having been working solidly and unrelenting for the last 4+hrs. The change in weather to a chilly, cloudy, bleak and windy day got to me. I hadn't really seen anyone I knew for a while, and my mind wandered to my family and friends who would be willing me on via the live tracker, travelling to cheer me and support me. I was looking forward to seeing them.

Still over 50 miles to go, it was tough. My bum was sore, and my testicles numb, I had sat up to adjust myself and accidentally sat back down on one, squashing it under me, pushing it straight up back in my body. The pain was eye watering. To boot, the pain killers taken at 4:20am had now properly worn off, and it was too early to re-medicate, leaving a nagging pain in my groin, stomach and left side that wouldn't shift. I knew it was hindering performance. I had to be strict and dismiss the pain, so shifted down a gear to spin the legs and give me something else to focus on. Honestly, this point was tough. Just being on a bike for coming up 4 hours was mentally tough, and I was sick of chewing nuts.
During this time I was dropped by a stream of athletes not in the same phase as me. Cyclists whipping past and a few more peletons making easy work of the wind, I went through the motions back down the drag off the northern loop, into stronger winds and spits of rain. I knew this couldn't continue if I wanted to succeed, and tried to pick myself up. Eventually reaching a roundabout where my friend Vicky was marshalling she smiled and waved warmly, shouting 'looking strong' and with a thumbs up that gave me the boost I turned the corner in my mind.
Hitting the 80 mile marker I had thrown away the cushion on my time now, and was about 3 minutes behind. Angry at myself at having wasted my earlier efforts somewhat, I had stern words, and  with new impetus as I hit 85 miles the back of it was broken, and it was time to get the head down for home.
At this point I re-medicated with ibuprofen, and as much psychosomatically as physiologically the stomach pain subsided and I was able to focus wholly on the job in hand. Passing through Car Colston, a small village for the 4th time, the weather was now foul, strong winds and unrelenting rain. I was in awe of the dedication shown by the unabated crowds clapping and cheering and spreading the love as we went through. Cow bells and clapping galore. It was brilliant.
I quickly noticed at this point that with the weather now properly foul other athletes spirits were breaking much like I had struggled earlier.  And so I began gobbling up athletes crumbling under the weather, those who had put extra layers on, now soaking and cold clearly hurting the most. This motivated me greatly, and as 95 miles came by I re-medicated again with the kick arse pain killers ready for the run, and banged out the last 20 miles keen to de-saddle.
The only bad bit of the whole course was the last mile. A dirty, gritty, pot holed and dangerous track. I passed 1 fellow athlete out cold on the deck, having lost it presumably on 1 of the numerous and ridiculously high speed humps. He was clearly unconscious and being attended to urgently. Not good.
Seeing that calmed me down, and passing under trees I had trouble seeing the floor, the pot holes unclear because of the rain and puddles. Trusting to blind luck I rode them sat up off the bars and finally reached home.
Feeling the love. And the wet. Glad to hit T2.
Coming into base, the first person I saw was my Dad, a grin on his face clapping and cheering, Ella next to him.  A quick 'Now then Dad' as I passed, and I saw Sarah, Molly, my Mum, Sister and Nieces all cheering too. Everyone looked soaked, but chipper. All too quickly they were past, round the bend and peddles off. I'd done the bike in 5hrs 48min, and just about held 20 miles an hour through out. Had I not let the mind slip for that middle section this would have been much better, and is a valuable lesson learned for the future. I must harden off when the going gets tough.
Handing the bike to a marshal, I heard shouts from above and looked above me to see the smiles and waves of the familiar yellow Louth Hoodies with Jackie and Kerry cheering wildly beneath them. Running straight into Kyle he gave me a shout on the tanoy about being the smallest man on the planet and bigged up last years 24hr swim. Jogging into the transition tent I was feeling the love.
Shoes off, fresh socks and shoes on. No point in the hat or the shades. Stuffing a few more Power Balls in my pocket. 3 minutes and 5 seconds after handing over my bike I was running towards the exit and the beginning of a marathon.
I triggered the timing bleep, and set off at the tried, tested and practiced pace. Passing all the family on the first bend I got chance to smile properly and wave my appreciation for their support.
Within 2 miles it became apparent the run needed revision. This was always likely to happen, and was the big unknown.  The legs felt more than capable, but the chest was tight and every step created a sharp stabbing pain like a knife pushing deep in my stomach. Blasted injury.  The more I tried to maintain my pace the more intense it became, and I felt a danger of passing out. Failure is never an option, but I had promised not to do lasting damage, and going home in an ambulance would definitely count as that. So I eased off gradually until it became bareable and manageable, getting on with the job in hand. Better to get round and get the full distance under my belt and succeed, than withdraw.
Round the back of the first lake loop I passed Sarah, my Dad and Ella again, on route to the car to get the picnic. No Ball mass gathering is complete without 'The Picnic'. A little bit jealous, but glad they would be enjoying themselves I puzzled over how they would manage it in the weather we were under. Afterwards I was enlightened.
In lieu of dry grass, they commandeered and blocked a busy corridor to eat!!!
Everyone on the run was soaked, it rained stair rods throughout, and down the embankment along the river to the city it was thick with puddles and mud. Inspite of that the crowds remained out in force, and on each of the 4 occasions running around the lake on the loops, there were corridors of cheers from the crowds, waves from family, and the roar of the finishing chute as people began finishing. Children hanging out there hands to be High 5ed, shouting with joy.
I never normally drink on a run, but did stop a few times here as I took on fluids, and walked maybe 10m each time while I drank. Starting again was no problem, which let me know I was under performing on the run, but as a friend said to me before the race, race smart and race again another day. As hard as it was I was doing the right thing.
The target time of 10hrs 10mins was well out the window now and this was all down to the run. Another marshal and friend pulled alongside on the bike a few times to check I was OK, and he lifted my spirits. A random hello from an old work colleague, and a shout from extended family and another old school friend all added to the day. Coming back round for the final loop I could see the girls waiting to run with me, and as I shuffled past grimly it was hard not to nudge a premature left round the corner and give them a hug. They would be waiting next time round, and as I went round the back of the lake another friend on another microphone cheered me again.
In spite of the set backs, in spite of the miserable weather and the pain, I can honestly say there was no low point on the run. It was all a great experience and invaluable experience for future races.
I think there are 2 types of people who tackle endurance events. The thinking human who spends the lonely hours in the saddle and on the run, trapped alone in their mind chewing over the deeper questions. Wrangling with their soul, and coming to terms with themselves. Then there are dimwits like me. Looking back I honestly couldn't tell you what was going through my mind for the majority of this race other than thinking about the job in hand. The closest I can articulate it is 'Run, Forest. Run'.
That said, if you want to challenge yourself mentally, forget the physical requirement. Doing an iron distance will leave no stone unturned, no question unanswered in your mind as to who you are, your limitations, your strengths and weaknesses.
And so, finally, into the finishing leg. I had been shuffling along with a really cheery guy for the last 3 miles. He grabbed a Jaffa cake a mile from home, and we tried our best to wick it up for the finish.
Wet, tired and in pain, the crowds got louder, the lights brighter and before I knew it I had a daughter in each hand and we were sprinting down the finish chute to cheers of the crowd and the finishing banner. "MARTIN BALL. YOU ARE AN OUTLAW" came the welcome cry.

Down the finishing chute.

An Outlaw in an average 11hrs 14mins. 33rd out of 190 in my age group, and 110th out of 1250 (excluding the relay teams). An Outlaw none the less, and more importantly a sack full of experience to take to Weymouth in 8 weeks when I race for Club and Country. Quite proud to have simply completed it while well below par if I'm honest.
One thing I couldn't resist was trialling the GB suit that had arrived in the week. I was shocked by how small and compact the padding was in the seat, but have to admit it performed brilliantly in the race. I know I was sore but it certainly absorbed a lot of the issues. It felt great. It looked great. I just hope I can do it justice in September.
Afterwards, kit grabbed, and up for a shower in the changing room. A bank of hot showers full of us newly crowned Outlaws, looking spent and bedraggled. It was a unique sight, seared in my memory, and one that only fellow entrants will have the honour (and terror) of sharing. Clothes on, and a classy after race look of track suit bottoms, brogues and a hoodie. Classy. I couldn't have cared less.
The organisers had a tent of free food laid on, so I nipped in and enjoyed a Spaghetti Bolognese and some cake, and finally had in my hand a beautiful cup of tea that I had been craving for the last 2 hours. While in there I bumped into another friend, Lesley, who took me under her wing and helped me by kindly carrying my bags and helping me fetch my bike. We then hunted round for my family. Nowhere to be seen, I assumed they had gone to the car to dodge the continuing rain that was throwing down. Lesley stood me with my bags and went into the busy cafĂ© to see if she could find them for me first.
5 minutes later and a Gaggle of Balls appeared, Sarah close to tears, convinced I had died in the medical tent. We packed up the car and headed home. Bed was pretty much an instant affair, I slept better than I hoped, only waking a few times with stiff legs and niggles. Sweaty in the night while my internal thermoregulatory system struggled to get back full functionality. What I can report is that while this was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done, in terms of psychological fatigue the 24hr swim was much tougher. That took me to the edge and it took days to recover. From getting up the next day I have felt nothing but positive about the whole experience. No post race blues, no emotional slumps, just a bag of memories of 11hrs and 14minutes that went past all too quickly. Certainly I now understand fully where the appeal and addiction to the extreme nature of long distance racing comes from.

Later on I found out that there was an issue on the bike course where some idiot had thrown drawing pins onto the road, and this had cost several people a puncture. I don't know where it was, but my sympathy goes out to all those that suffered because of this.

I want to take the time to thank all the people I knew and who encouraged and supported me on the day and in the months of training before hand too. In no particular order. First on the day - Andy for zipping me into my suit and giving me a hug. Jim on the run course smiling from ear to ear every time I passed despite the weather, encouraging me on. Kyle and Lee and their public bellows over the microphone. Lesley for looking after me while floundering after I finished, and taking all the Balls under her wing, and with Sharpy on 1 roundabout shouting encouragement, and Vicky on another with a big smile and wave that picked me up each time. Paul on his bmx trundling along side me shooting the breeze for a few minutes each time to make sure I was still with it. Alex, getting up early and cheering me on, and general encouragement through out the year. The Louth Tri club duo that is Kerry & Jackie....Both cheering me on from the rooftops off the bike, Kerry, who ran with me from the side-line for a bit towards the end, (but then stopped to avoid it being perceived as outside assistance and getting me DQ'd at the 11th hour) and then again at the end with Jackie when they stripped me of timing chip and bands and both hugged me wholeheartedly. To the numerous club members with their well wishes of support and kind words, and especially to the guys I train more closely with who understood the need to complete it regardless while injured. Where others  have told me to withdraw, these guys understood the drive and commitment, and instead talked through managing the course as best as possible with me. You know who you are, thank you. To all the club for being a great unit to train with and enjoy the love of our sport with. Craig and his swim help. Everyone who sent texts and calls of support before, during, and after. To all my family for putting up with the hours of training and the countless times you have come to support and enjoy your picnics! Anyone I have forgotten, and I'm sure I probably have, apologies, it has still been appreciated.

Part of the reason I mention the above is because the biggest lesson I have learnt in this warm up for Weymouth is that when that big race comes round in a few months I will have none of this. It makes me realise how lucky I have been. At the Euros, as I climb out the sea I will be just another face in the crowd, a random athlete among hundreds collecting impersonal cheers. That will be unusual and tough, in a sport where I have made many friends. It is time to prepare for that, for that I feel will be the biggest challenge.

Before that we look forward to a few weeks well deserved holiday. Covering Scotland from north to south, enjoying fresh food, the scenery, swimming in lochs, climbing mountains. Taking the time to enjoy each others company, and recover.
(Almost) Finally, if you are toying with the idea of doing a 140.6, I can say only this: stop thinking, and get it booked. You won't regret it. There will be trepidation over the training, there will be set backs, there will be progress. The day will come around, and you will achieve something that most people never will. You will always have done it, if you come first or last you are still a winner, and I don't very often say that. Everyone I saw on Sunday was a winner. It is a true test of physical and mental character, and the biggest part of that is having the self belief to enter one. All you need is the commitment from the off that Failure is NOT an option.

The previous paragraph I finished about an hour and half ago. I was ready to post it, felt it complete, but it now needs an addendum. Testosterone and Bravado aside I want to share one last thing as a word of caution now. The image below sums it up succinctly.

Undertaking the race hasn't been without a cost, and I have just spent the last hour and half crippled over with a new back pull all spreading all across my ribs, chest and left lower side. Sure it will heal, but my priority now is to make sure I deal with this to ensure the family get the holiday they are all so excited about and deserve in a few days. Pushing yourself to the absolute limit and more is a personal choice, and one I don't regret, but there is a tax to be paid. Race with care.