Hawker Wins In Holkham

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Hawker Wins In Holkham

Hawker Wins In Holkham

I was so excited for Outlaw Holkham. I went to university in Norwich so Norfolk is very close to my heart and I’ve a lot of lovely memories of long rides to the coast. I watched friends do this race in its first year and got serious race-envy.

My aim for the swim was to go hard because in Nottingham I felt like I was too conservative. I did feel like I was going harder but it wasn’t actually faster so maybe ‘relax’ is a better strategy! The lake looked absolutely beautiful on race morning and I was excited to get going but there are a lot of geese and once you were in, it wasn’t quite so idyllic…On the section before the last buoy, I could feel lots of hard flecks of what I presume was goose poo impacting against my hands. But the geese love open water swimming as much as we do, and I love geese, so don’t begrudge them making me feel a bit icky! (Our air-bnb had an amazing pair of geese that came and chatted to me in the morning while I was having tea.)

Out of the swim in third I think. The top 3 were all pretty close through T2 and I had an uncharacteristically fast transition and was out in 2nd. The first half of the bike is quite rolling and windy with a lot of corners and turns so it’s not ‘fast’ but we had a tailwind so there were sections where I felt like I was flying. Coming up to the first aid station, I was planning on getting some water so I slowed down a lot to get a bottle, and… missed it! Damn! So I slowed down more for a second go and… missed again! I was making contact with the bottle both times but didn’t have fast enough reactions to close my fingers around the bottle in time. I was never very good at catching things. I figured I could manage to the 2nd water stop, 30ish miles later (maybe not my best idea…). Soon after this we turned back into the headwind and holy moly was it horrible from then on. I remember the Norfolk wind from living there but I had obviously toned it down in my memory. There is one long A road that’s particularly punishing because it is so smooth with lots of downhill and it’s clear you could fly in a tailwind (which is the normal wind type, lucky us!). So I felt particularly sorry for myself thinking about how much fun we could have had and what could have been!

Anyway after an eternity we turned off this road and came to the second feed station. I was so thirsty by this stage, saturated with energy gels – both in my belly and all over me where opening them had gone wrong. At one point, a gel squirted all down and around my leg into the crease behind my knee so every pedal stroke I felt my skin stick together and squelch apart, urrrgcchhhh. This time ‘Yessssss’, got it, and all the volunteers laughed at me celebrating such a small victory! Best moment of the day so far!

Into T2 in 2nd. I put my hat on and dumped some of the gels I hadn’t used. The run is 3 laps, up a hill on pavement for 1.5kish, across the top on a very gravelly track, down on a foresty path. It felt like the worst run of my life. I walked through every aid station, getting sponges to stick in my suit and drinking as much as I could. It was so hot, the wind kept trying to blow my hat off and the unevenness of the gravel path meant even on the downhill I couldn’t find a rhythm. I was dying for it to be over from the very start. At one point I looked at my watch saw the pace and thought “if you’re not going to be nice you can say nothing and turned off the display”. After the first lap the time gap to 1st had grown and after the second lap no-one told me the difference so I presumed I was going backwards and no-one wanted to demoralise me by telling me by how much.

I was hanging, hoping the whole time I could go just fast enough to hold on to the podium. So when someone told me that 1st was just ahead, I thought they were lying. I had a look though and I could see the lead bike about 300m up the road. I had about 1km to the finish. I’ve always had a fast finish when I need it and as soon as I saw her I knew I could get there. My first thought was ‘Oh no, I’ve gotta go’ – it already hurt so much! But then I thought about how much I had wanted to win this race since signing up to it and I got going. “Is this fast enough? Is the gap closing? It’s not closing. Pick it up. I feel sick.” It was so weird because I went from thinking the finish couldn’t come fast enough to almost immediately wishing it cloud be further away so I’d have more time to catch up. I got there with about 300m to go, she fought back and pulled ahead again but I saw the finish shoot and found some more in there. I got to the line with 11 seconds to spare. My first time breaking the tape! So exciting!

It’s strange because it didn’t feel like I was having a great day at any point during the race but it’s one of the best outcomes I’ve had. It’s made me reflect on how my perception of things can be a lot different to how it actually is, so I should never give in or settle in a race because of how I think I’m feeling. I had a lot of energy left to speed up once I could see someone to chase and hopefully I can learn to harness that energy earlier in the race.

The best part of the day was relaxing afterwards with friends who had done the race or come up to support. We had a picnic by the lake, went to the beach for a swim and got take-away Chinese to eat with our air-bnb geese in the evening. I’m over the moon with this result, definitely the biggest race I’ve won. I’m very lucky to have my coach, Suzie Richards, on my side- she’s been making me do bike sessions in the basement that make me feel nervous-sick beforehand and effort-sick afterwards, as well as telling me to rest and recover when things don’t go to plan.

Thank you to Raceskin for their support; I didn’t think about what I was wearing at any point during the race which I think is the ultimate sign of great ‘go-fast’ clothes, and at every event so far I’ve received multiple comments about how nice it looks. OSB do a great job putting the athletes first at this fabulous race in beautiful Norfolk so hopefully I’ll be back to defend next year! 


Rachel Hawker

Outlaw Half Holkham 2018 champion