To Become an Outlaw

Avid Marham Matters readers may recall an article published last summer describing the journey of two II(AC) Sqn personnel to the finish line of IronMan Zurich 2013. So inspiring were their efforts and those of their fellow triathletes, that I couldn’t be content with simply saying “well done”. Instead, I resolved to train and complete a long distance triathlon the following year, conquering a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a marathon run to become an “Outlaw.”

The Outlaw Triathlon is held annually at Nottingham’s Holme Pierrepoint Watersports Centre. In 2014, it hosted over 1000 triathletes, helping them to realise their goal of completing one of the toughest tests in triathlon. This year, 30 RAF triathletes made it to the start line, and I was proud to be one of them. Getting to the start is a feat in itself, following months of mental preparation and training in some pretty awful British weather! Throughout my 6-month training programme, I adopted the mantra “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”, so that by race day, I felt that I had done all I could to prepare. All I had left to do was to swim, cycle and run my heart out, and hopefully finish with a smile. And so that’s what I did.

At 0600 on 27th July the sun was rising over the lake as the start gun sounded and 1059 competitors began churning through the water. This part of a triathlon can sometimes feel like more of a fight than a swim, with arms, legs and feet flailing everywhere, and impossible to avoid in crowded, murky waters. After the first mile, however, the pack had dispersed a little, allowing me to settle into what turned out to be a surprisingly  enjoyable swim. Competitors must complete the 2.4 miles inside of 2 hours, so I was delighted to look at my watch as I trotted into transition to see that I had completed the swim with more than 40 minutes spare. A few  minutes later, I was out of my wetsuit and grabbing my bike to begin the 112 mile ride through the Nottinghamshire countryside.

I had never cycled such a considerable distance before (especially without a cyclist’s compulsory break for coffee and cake!) so my master plan had been to take things easy – you never know how dehydration and fatigue might affect you. However, my cautious plan unravelled almost instantly. The sun was shining, I’d had a good swim, I was finally doing the race that had occupied my mind for months, and I felt great. Eating up the first 30 miles in 90 minutes I was having the best ride of my life. But the good times weren’t to last. As the day got hotter and hotter, the building headwind seemed to have an increasing effect on both my speed and morale. With hindsight, this was probably a sign of mild dehydration setting in. My gels and bars, essential to keep the right balance of nutrients and energy, became less and less palatable, and each mile seemed to incrementally longer than the last. Nonetheless, I was determined to enjoy this incredible day and keep smiling – an aim made much more achievable by the cheering crowds along the route, including my family and a fantastic group from the RAF Tri Association.

After seven hours of cycling, it felt good to finally get off the saddle, knowing that only 26.2 miles separated me from my goal of becoming an Outlaw; but these miles had to happen on foot. Already dehydrated, the sun didn’t seem to be losing its heat and I was starting to struggle with the idea of taking on much-needed food. But as they say “teamwork makes the dream work”, and at this point a fellow RAF triathlete made the  unexpected, but extremely welcome decision to join me on the last leg. It’s amazing the difference that company can make, turning what could have been a miserable, gruelling marathon into a relatively enjoyable (if not painless) final stage to the finish. As time went on, and the temperature finally started to fall, I began to feel more human – passing the clock at the start of our final 5km, we knew that we could finish inside of 14 hours. We were going to do it, and much more quickly than I’d dared to hope! So 13 hours, 53 minutes and 49 seconds after the start gun had sounded, I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face to become an Outlaw.

Thank you to everyone at Marham who provided support and encouragement, and to those of you who sponsored me, raising money for Anthony Nolan. Maybe see you on the start line next time?!

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