At the start of the 2016 season, I had two very clear objectives with an eye on a third if the first one came off.
Winning the Outlaw Half in 2015 gave me an opportunity to do something amazing by attempting to win both the Outlaw half and the full distance races in the same season, something that as yet, has not been done by anyone. My attempt last year didn’t go quite according to plan, a last minute decision to race The Bastion another Iron Distance event just 2 weeks before hand put paid to that and I failed to really perform at either.
Fast forwards to 2016 and my first major race of the season, The Outlaw Half. As defending champion I came into the race as one of the favourites but it wasn’t without significant competition, notably from Joel Jameson - the course record holder over the full distance, Matt Bottrill - British Time Trialling Legend turned triathlete and for me at least Simon George who finished 4th in last years race but following on Strava I could see had some serious training under his belt.
Unusually for me, I came into the race feeling very relaxed despite being a favourite which definitely contributed to my performance, I slept well the night before the race and woke with the alarm on my phone with ‘Time to RACE’ as my wake up call and headed Holme Pierrpont for the start.
A change to the swim course had been announced in the race briefing but aside from a slightly longer run to T1 I wasn't at all concerned, water is water when it’s in the same lake and it only meant turning left instead of right and since I’m not Derek Zoolander I wasn’t worried…
Swimming hard, I left the water in the top 10 and set about picking off athletes ahead of me which I did in quick order, getting further and further into the ride I still hadn’t caught Simon George and I began to wonder if I was ahead of him, but at a turn about 40 miles into the bike a marshall shouted ‘third place mate, a relay and a single’ I knew that had to be Simon.
Head down now I pressed on and despite losing 30 seconds or so behind a vehicle towing a hovercraft (I know right!!) I was into T2 in second and closely followed by Matt Bottrill - having learned from prior experience that a half marathon without socks can be a seriously uncomfortable affair I took the time to sheath up and I left transition almost shoulder to shoulder with Matt Bottrill.
Knowing that Matt had recently run a 1:28 half marathon from fresh, I wasn’t too concerned but I wanted to quickly deaden legs and set off at a fast rate, I didn’t look back at all for the first few miles knowing that the out and back turn point would let me know how far back Matt was but more importantly how far in front Simon was. As we crossed, I looked at my watch and took note of where we were, I was just under 5 minutes down and I began to think I was running to 2nd.
Coming off the out and back and onto the loop of the rowing lake I was given a time check from a spectator - 4:15 I was closing - not massive inroads but the right direction. Coming back through the start/finish area I was given another time split… 4:15 we were matching one another, my heart sank. But despite the fat lady warming up I wasn’t done, I had 10km and 4 minutes to make up, and it came down to who would be able to suffer the most. On the out and back, I had cut his lead from over 1km to less than 500 meters and wasn’t done yet.
Coming onto the lake, I could see the fluro yellow of the lead biker but couldn’t see Simon in the now busy run course. I looked at it as if they were steps, each person ahead was another step to Simon and with less than 400 meters to go I arrived on his shoulder, utterly spent from the chase I wanted to ease up but with him turning to look at me I knew I had to go now as hard as I could and leave nothing behind.
Crossing the line I was emotional, I had defended my title (the first person to ever win back to back titles) and renewed my objective of doing the double.
Just two weeks later I was in race mode again, busy preparation for The Outlaw at Holkham and racing Windsor Triathlon would provide some hard race mileage. Whilst my result wasn’t brilliant, 11th in the Elite wave my performance was solid as I build towards the Outlaw full with as 20:09 swim, 58:57 bike and 35:58 run shows that things are definitely headed in the right direction.
The thought of the triple hasn’t escaped me, but I’m remaining realistic, my aim is the full distance, of course I’ll be there to race but I’ll also be midway through some hard training and I’m sure a certain Simon George will have a score to settle…