The Outlaw – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham
By David Cunningham
Saturday 23rd July 2011 was the beginning of the end of what had been an epic journey for me. I arrived at Holme Pierrepont National Watersports Centre in Nottingham with my partner Julie in a car full of multi-sport paraphernalia, closely followed by another car that was full of our son (4 YO) and his Nana. (They were checking out parking, vantage points for spectators, and most importantly, if there was a bouncy castle). Parking, however, was plentiful and so after making use of that facility we all took a stroll towards the main building and registration.
A short walk through the woods and the realisation of what I would be doing the next day slapped me in the face like a wet fish. There was the rowing lake stretching out to the left and the main building, and a long way to the right was an orange dot in the water which was the half way marker buoy, a little over a mile away. A butterfly tried to escape from my throat.
Registration was straight forward and the mandatory peruse of goodies for sale in the expo followed. A new sweatshirt was purchased as there was a cold wind howling along the lake; not an unusual weather condition but I had my fingers crossed that it would slacken off the next day (It did a bit, which was nice).
At 11am there was an opportunity to take a swim practice in the lake and so I took advantage of that. The majority of my swim training had been either in the pool or in the sea and so it was interesting to see how different it was to be in fresh (fresh is a relative word) and non-tidal water. It was great and my confidence was lifted. The rest of the day was spent eating, briefing, packing and racking transition gear and so the little guy and my mum took the opportunity to leave me to it. Saturday was also the day of the Speedo Big Swim races: 3k, 1.5k and 500m events were held through the afternoon and it was great to have that as a distraction while I was doing my admin.
My alarm was set for 3am on Sunday morning but it didn’t need to go off as I was already awake and on the process conveyor belt. Any time that I thought about the magnitude of the event as a whole the nerves would kick in and so I had broken each aspect of the day into a series of micro tasks, giving each one a reasonable amount of contingency time just in case. My mum and Julie were also up and about as they would be coming to watch the start and so the plan ticked along nicely. Coffee, porridge and banana for breakfast, then Julie woke Sebastian before I grabbed a quick shower and got ready.
“Wakey wakey Little Man” said Julie. “But it’s bed time!” said Sebastian. Wiser words have never been uttered!
There was a hum of activity at the venue and I left my supporters to grab a coffee while I went to check my gear for a final time. More friends arrived to support and I donned my wetsuit. It cannot be underestimated how much of a lift it gives you to have friends and family there to cheer you on at such an early time of the day. At 05:45 it was off to the start line along with the other 599 entrants.
It was cool with a light breeze. The water was a balmy 19 degrees. I positioned myself in the second of the four start bays as I was aiming for between 60-75 mins on the swim. Sub 60 mins would have been optimistic but I set myself towards the front so that I would be able to latch onto the toes of a speed snake if I got a good start. The hooter went at 06:00 and I did get a good start, initially fighting my way through the melee before settling into a decent rhythm while drafting off various competitors. It was an out and back course and at the turn point I was feeling fine having paced myself relatively conservatively. The chap I was drafting had been holding back too and took the opportunity to up his tempo as we started on the return leg, I clung on and we started to pick off one after another swimmer. I was 91st out of the water in 1:06:03 and felt fresh.
Transition was pretty slow at 5:47, but that included having to replace the wrong bag that I picked up and then having to fix the lens of my sunglasses that had fallen out, but a methodical approach to the task ensured I kept calm as I headed out for my weakest event. The course was 1 lap of the lake and about 20 miles out towards Southwell where 3×25-ish mile loops kicked in and was followed for the return leg of 20-ish miles back the same way that we went out. It wasn’t a terribly hilly course (apart from Oxton Hill – 400m of 12% climb on the loop leg) but it was undulating and the wind was a little unfriendly. However, once I dropped onto the aerobars I managed to keep a good rhythm going and with the support of the crowds and the fabulous people at the aid stations keeping me fed and watered (plus my gel strategy), I returned to T2 in 6:17:07. I was very happy with that.
T2 and out onto the run. My quads were heavy and my hip flexors were tight as I started but my pace was steady and my first lap of the lake (3 miles) was comfortable. I was making good time as I headed onto the River Trent towpath on the City loop (5 miles) and made sure that I was taking on fluids, carbs and salts at the feed stations as the sun had come out and it was becoming a hot old afternoon. My pace slowed down as my legs demanded more fuel and salts in order to keep on moving forward and I had to resort to the run/walk strategy if I was to be able to finish. Each feed station was fully utilised, stretches were had and I ticked off each of the subsequent loops of the Lake and towpath until I arrived at lap 4 of the lake. Julie had cheered me through each of my visits past the main building and for the last lap she was joined by more friends and family for my big finish. I could see the finish chute at the other side of the lake and the sound of the crowd’s cheering was mesmerising, drawing me on. A final burst of adrenaline, a cheer from Julie and friends, a hand from my son and the voice of Ian Hamilton screaming “David Cunningham, YOU ARE AN OUTLAW!” over the tanoy lifted me until I was across the line in a total of 12:47:47. 5:14:40 for the run was way off my run target, but overall I hit my generous goal of 12-14hours. I was ecstatic! Overall position 318.
The Outlaw has been an amazingly well managed, well supported and well structured event. The venue was brilliant and the course lent itself to keeping the crowds entertained all through the day, however, a bouncy castle wouldn’t go amiss for next year.