Race spotlight: The Outlaw

Neal Robertson wins his age category at The Outlaw.
Neal Robertson, middle, wins his age category at The Outlaw.

In a new series of blogs for Glasgow Triathlon Club, we speak to the triathletes from our club who took part in The Outlaw, an Ironman-distance event in England.

The Outlaw is popular with athletes who want to stay in the UK for an Ironman and who prefer their racing to be faster and flatter. This event is famed for its speedy bike route.

On July 26, five GTC members joined more than 1,000 other triathletes at Nottingham’s National Water Sports Centre to complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

Neal Robertson was first to the finish line in 9:41:35. He was seventh male overall and first in M30-34.

Neal was followed by Lee Campbell, in a speedy long course debut of 9:55:31 (4th in M40-44). Then came Elton Hall in 11:18:37, Paul Lucas in 11:54:02 and Christine Catterson in 13:35:10. Christine was also second in F55 to 59.

Here we reveal some of the highs, lows and lessons learned from each of the Outlaws.

The age group winner

11180314_10153485682703967_4825744246053285144_nNeal Robertson, 32, lives in Glasgow’s west end. He works at the Emirates arena as a Glasgow Life Assistant. He has been a member of GTC since 2012.

Neal has always been a keen runner and took up cycling in 2011 after being hit by a few injuries. Triathlon was a “logical” progression and Neal joined the club to learn how to swim front crawl.

He says: “I had not swum much since primary school and this is still the sport in which I struggle the most but the club sessions helped a lot. I also joined the running sessions and found I ticked off a few PBs thanks to the training.”

Neal has twice competed in The Outlaw. The first time, in 2013, came after he heard GTC’s Jo Hewitt praise the event. Neal says: “The Outlaw looked ideal for a long-distance event and suited me logistically. I liked the idea of a lake swim rather than a sea swim. The event also had a good reputation and the first time I did it, it was a few weeks before my 30th birthday, which was perfect. I wanted to do an Ironman event before I was 30.”

Neal’s first attempt was a highly respectable 10:10, which simply urged him on to go under the magical 10-hour mark.

Entering again this summer, Neal reports that the swim was still his toughest part of the race. He says: “The swim is always a struggle. I like to know how I’m doing in terms of time and speed and you can’t know while swimming so I just go on feel. I felt like I was going okay but I struggled to get into a rhythm.

“I had to remind myself that I get better as the event goes on, with the bike then run.”

Neal came out of the water in 1:09:05 – “annoyingly similar to the last time,” he says – and pulled off a swift 4:11 transition to head out on to the fast bike course. He was pleased with his ride in 5:17:08 although at around the 60-mile mark he worried he had pushed himself too hard.

He says: “I was sure I would bomb but in the second half of the ride I managed to keep a good tempo. The last 30 miles where pretty hard with the wind picking up and then came the rain in the last 20 miles.

“I just made myself focus on my heart rate and count down the miles.”

While Neal is a strong runner he says the transition from the bike is painful. He says: “My thighs ached badly from about the six-mile mark, probably because of the rain and cold, but I just kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other. This sounds like a cliché but that was genuinely going through my head to get through the marathon.”

A superb run time of 3:09:03 – eight minutes faster than 2013 – saw Neal finish exhausted and vey emotional. He says: “With 1k to go I started to get really emotional, realising it was almost over. The finishing line itself was a bit of a blur and just passed me by but the run to it was the bit that got me.

“I finished with a PB of almost 30 minutes and I was delighted to win my age group.”

Neal credits a few things for his Ironman PB. He says: “I trained hard and put in the miles over the last eight months. I also bought some better kit, including a bike and helmet. I was also more experienced having raced quite a lot over the past two years.

“And most importantly there has been the support of my girlfriend Shona. She has put up with my training, which has been a lot to ask, and on the weekend of the race she was calm and understanding when I was a bit of a mess. I really couldn’t do as well with my triathlons without her.

“Then there is the club. Being part of a club is amazing, for the training, support and encouragement that drives you on. It’s traditional for GTC members to track each other during these type of races and as I’m racing I can imagine the comments and it really does drive me on to stick at it and try harder when it gets tough.”

Lee’s 10-hour debut

11826007_931577826906594_6125377784499449461_n

Lee Campbell, 39, is a self-employed builder who lives in Dowanhill, Glasgow. Although he confesses he has not attended many GTC club sessions because of time constraints he believes the Tuesday swim sessions have been a huge boost to his technical ability.

In only his first ironman-distance triathlon, Lee finished in an impressive 9:55:31 and fourth in his M40-44 age group. He said the five months of training really paid off and “all in all I was pleased with my race”.

Like Neal, it was the swim that was Lee’s hardest discipline. He says: “As always, I was late and I ended up being just about last into the water. The swim is my weakest discipline but thankfully I managed to settle into a good rhythm, picking it up after the turn.”

He describes his T1 of 6:14 as “rubbish”. Adding: “I definitely have room for improvement there!”

Coming out of T1 at about the same time, Neal and Lee settled into a “to-ing and fro-ing” bike ride that helped to push them both on.

Lee says: “Neal was looking really solid on the bike and we were a good match for one another. We made up a lot of places up on the bike after the swim and it was great to be able to push each other on.

“During the ride I ate every 15 to 20 minutes and got in plenty of hydration.”

Coming into T2 together, Lee knew he would say goodbye to Neal. He says: “Neal is a faster runner but the bike had been good while it lasted.”

Lee says he went into the run feeling good and immediately began running faster than planned. He says: “It was hard to make myself run slower but after a while the pace evened out and I felt good until about 30km. The last part was very tough to keep. I knew a sub-10 hours was on the cards, however, and that really motivated me.

“As I approached the line my young children were waiting to run down the finish chute with me. Unfortunately, my wife unleashed them too soon and I didn’t even have the legs to sprint and catch them up. I was delighted though.

“The Outlaw has a great atmosphere, despite the weather this year, and the spectators and volunteers were amazing. I’d really recommend it.”

Stepping up from half to full Ironman

Paul finishes one of his races.
Paul finishes one of his races.

Paul Lucas, 52, is a freelance IT Consultant. He recently moved from Glasgow to Tyne and Wear. He competed in the 50-54 age group, in which he was 24th.

Paul has been a triathlete for about four years and last year he completed two half iron distance races. He decided that 2015 would be the year to give the full distance a go.

He says: “I’d heard a lot of good feedback about The Outlaw, including that it was a flat fast course as well as being well organised well supported.”

He reports that his swim went well except for swimming off course for a bit. He says: “In theory, the swim couldn’t be simpler. It’s in a lake and you swim in a massive rectangle. You swim towards one end, right turn for 50 metres and back to the start so sighting is fairly easy.

“Having said that, I did have a moment where my mind drifted. I didn’t look for a while then found myself heading across the lake with a kayak fast approaching. Besides that it was still my fastest 3.8k swim to date in 1:15:49 so I am pleased with that.”

Paul has a bit of advice for the Outlaw transitions. He says: “The transition is in a large tent where you leave transition bags the day before and there are private areas if you wish to make a complete change before the next leg.

“My advice is that you make sure you know what your plan is in transition and where to exit. I ran out the way I’d come in – and for about 50 metres – before realising. I had to run back into the tent towards the correct exit only to be told I should hand in my T1 bag, as I was told during the race briefing but forgot, so I had to run back in, grab my bag and eventually exit T1 for the bike.”

This cost Paul time. ( T1 was 10 mins 40 secs.)

Paul enjoyed the bike course and he was able to maintain more than 30 km/h without having to push too hard. The rain hit him in the final hour of the ride but he was pleased with his time of 6:02:23.

Paul took 12 minutes in transition as he changed into running gear and dry socks.

He describes the run as the most pleasing part for of the race. He says: “This was uncharted territory because I just didn’t know how my body was going to cope.

“The support was fantastic on the run and again it was flat, like the bike section. At half way I was still feeling fine, while I could see a lot of people struggling.”

Paul was thrilled to complete the marathon in 4:12 and the event in less than 12 hours. He says: “Running into the finish was wonderful with a proper big crowd cheering like mad.”

Paul’s tips include adding strength and conditioning to training, such as yoga, and also a regular sports massage. He says: “I also practice Chi running and I think this really helped with my marathon time.

“It was also fantastic being a part of GTC and having friends competing with you and offering help and support.”

2nd in age group in Ironman debut

11798530_10207497263813496_1025310555_n

Christine Catterson, from Glasgow’s east end, came home second in the F55-59 age group. A part-time supermarket worker and single mum to three children she rarely does things by halves. A veteran of many marathons and some impressive PBs, she decided to take on her biggest challenge yet in The Outlaw.

For anyone who has kept track of Christine on Facebook over the past year it has been impossible not to be impressed. She has quietly and consistently built up her swim and bike distances in training, while maintaining her running. A good example are her Isle of Arran “doublers”, when she  cycled two laps of the island totalling 112 miles.

Christine says: “Only a year ago Christine I did not even like cycling. Now I love it.”

She was determined to enjoy The Outlaw. Despite the weather and the enormity of what she was undertaking, she said afterwards: “I remember being told to train well and enjoy the race experience. This is exactly what I did and it worked.”

The swim suited Christine who is a relative new-comer to open water swimming. She says: “It was as simple as it could be for an open water race swim. It was an out and back in a lake and with a 50m turn. Sighting was about the best it could be and I managed it all in 1:21:53, which I was pleased with.”

Christine enjoyed the bike section and kept a good pace, completing the 112 miles in 7:07:59. However, there were areas that she felt she could improve on.

She says: “The transitions! They were slow. But at least I know I can get quicker in those.”

The run also proved to be far tougher than Christine has imagined. She advises would-be competitors to ensure they do lots of “brick sessions”, running off the bike after every training ride.

She says: “I had to dig very deep on the marathon and I was crying inwardly but I simply wasn’t going to quit. I just had to keep going however painful it was. And it was worth it because the huge high as I crossed the finish line felt incredible.

“Overall it was an amazing experience and I am so pleased I did it. It was a huge challenge but I loved it. And it was brilliant to come second in my age group in my first ironman”

Unfinished business for Elton

Elton crossing the finish line of the Arran Man earlier this summer.
Elton crossing the finish line of the Arran Man earlier this summer.

Elton Hall, 42, lives in Ibrox, Glasgow, and is a learning and development consultant. He has competed in only one other longer triathlon, the Big Woody.

Elton was delighted to finish in what he described as a “decent” time. For many people a sub-12 hour ironman is only a dream so Elton’s 11:18 is impressive.

He reckons he lost quite a lot of time on the bike section due to having a sore back.

He says: “The race was excellent and I couldn’t fault it at all but in retrospect I should have booked a hotel and not slept the two night’s before in a tent. I ended up with a really sore back and this was tough on the bike. I had to keep stretching my back on the cycle and this lost me about 20 minutes or so.

“The run was also very hard. Those final three miles felt very tough indeed.”

But there were plenty of high points for Elton. He says: “The race was very well organised and the marshalls were entertaining despite the poor weather. There were lots of feed stations and the courses were very well marked.

“Having only ever done one other long distance before, which took 13 hours, I was very pleased with my ironman time. I was happy with my result though. My position in my age group was 44 out of 205.”

Elton plans to enter The Outlaw again next year. He says: “I want to improve on my time. I have unfinished business with The Outlaw.

“I think next time I will treat myself to a hotel bed and stay on after the event for a night instead of driving straight back home. That was really hard!”

* We will be spotlighting other races so keep an eye on this blog. We are also launching a member of the month blog.