This year, 2021 I did Outlaw long distance triathlon. This is a UK based Iron-distance race.
I did my first Ironman in 2008, but this was the first time I’ve raced Ironman distance in the UK. Mainly because my husband always says if he’s going to hang around and watch me for 15hours he wants to go somewhere exciting and warm!
But with covid travel restrictions I decided it would be better to race in the UK to avoid all the uncertainty of if a race was on or off.
It was also the first time I’ve done a long-distance race that isn’t an Ironman branded race. Back in the day, when I first started, there weren’t many choices for long distance races in the UK. Non branded races were often a lot smaller and being a back of the pack athlete I felt like I wanted a big race to get the support and atmosphere. It definitely feels lonely when the bike course or run course is being packed up around you.
The race briefing was online, and the pre-race admin was all concise and efficient. The race is based at Holme Pierrepoint, the National Water sports Centre just outside of Nottingham. There are camping facilities adjacent to the site. Otherwise, hotels and accommodation can be found a few miles away.
We stayed in a Premier Inn about 10 minutes drive from Holme Pierrepont. It wasn’t exactly glamourous, but it was conveniently near the race. There was a pub on site and another pub a short walk away in the local neighbourhood.
While it was all very convenient and functional it did lack the excitement of arriving at the sea front of Callela in Spain to see the Expo in the distance and the Ironman flags all around the town! It was easy to forget I was there to do a long-distance Triathlon.
You could buy car parking tickets in advance and there was plenty of parking on site over the weekend with lots of friendly marshals helping to direct visitors to the right place.
Registration took place on the Saturday followed by bike and bag check in. This was all spread out throughout the day to avoid any unnecessarily long queues and was all straight forward.
Transition was extra spread out to help with social distancing so was a lot longer than normal. All your kit for transition is put into bags that are hung on pegs in the transition tents. Run bags were at one end and bike bags at the other end so there was a fair amount of walking to do.
Transition was in a grassy field that wasn’t exactly flat and parts of it felt like it was on a grassy bank. It the ground also wasn’t even all the way along but particular dips in the grass had been marked out with red paint.
The expo was small and compact with a few food stalls and a few triathlon stores. There was decent coffee available and some good vegan and vegetarian options. It was all outdoors with nowhere sit undercover so if the weather hadn’t been so kind it might not have been so nice.
It was a lot smaller than expos at Ironman events I’ve been to, so it did lack the business and excitement that you feel at branded races. But it didn’t need to be any bigger because it’s a smaller and different race than an Ironman. It was nicely laid out and gave a nice feel to the event and we enjoyed sitting among the stalls and other visitors having a cup of tea.
There are some events on the Saturday including a 3.8km swim which was fun to watch and support because one of my friends and clients was taking part.
There are two practice swims on the Saturday. I felt this was worth doing so that I could get a feel for the temperature of the water, what it would feel like and also practice getting off the pontoon into the water. The only disappointing thing is it was a very small time window as they squeezed it in before the swim events and they only let you swim 400m.
The swim is a one lap course with a rolling start. Swimmers jump or dive in off three different pontoons. It’s worth practising how you’re going to get in before the race especially if you think you want to dive and going to the practice swim the day before would give you the opportunity to check that out. You might also want to think about which pontoon you start from in order to swim a straighter line round the course.
I started early and found it nicely spread out with plenty of space to swim and easy to spot buoys. The course is really simple, swim up the lake, turn right and then turn right again back to the finish. The water is flat particularly in comparison to a sea swim. However, if the wind is blowing down the lake it has the potential for one half of the swim to feel like swimming up hill.
For me I found T1 to be calm and spread out. It was easy to find my bag and there were lots of benches to sit on. It felt distinctly less stressful than an Ironman because there were a lot less competitors. But it was the longest and most spread-out transition area I’ve every seen! In 2021 it was more spread out because of the covid pandemic.
There were a few spots on the bike with a few supporters but otherwise it was a relatively quiet bike ride. There were enough other competitors around me not to make it feel lonely and it’s mostly flat. There’s one notable hill but lots of twists and turns. So, despite the fact it’s relatively flat I didn’t find it super-fast and struggled on some of the lanes to get my time trial bike to move! Or perhaps that was just my legs! The roads are not closed but there is traffic management in place with marshals giving priority to cyclists at a lot of junctions. However, there were some sections on busy open roads, with multiple traffic islands and a queue of traffic in front of me and a behind me. And there were a few places where it felt particularly dangerous so always remember you have to follow the highway code even in a race and remember to check your race ego in at the traffic jam.
The road surfaces are poor and particularly bad coming back into transition.
I found all the volunteers at every single feed station and all the way through each transition to super friendly and caring. I really felt they wanted me to get whatever it was I needed, and they were there to make my race go as well as possible.
There was motorbike support around the bike course with one rider checking I was OK after I was stopped at the side of the road to do my business. There were also lots of officials, first aiders and marshals on bikes around the run course and I was asked a few times if I was OK when I was walking. It felt reassuring to me to know there were first aiders out there actively looking out for competitors and monitoring the state of athletes around them.
There were plenty of toilets at the feed stations on the run and you can imagine the state some of them get into in an Ironman. At one feed station we reported this to the marshals and when I came back round again the port-a-loos were getting pumped out and cleaned. I’m sure your stomach can’t cope with thinking about the details of this (especially halfway through an Ironman), but I was super impressed that the marshals and race organisers had taken the time to address this.
The run course is multiple loops around the rowing lake and then out and back along the River Trent. It’s mostly flat apart from running up and down the grassy banks by the lake and the bridge over the river. I loved running along the river (but then I have written a book mostly about swimming in rivers and I’ve got a bit geeky about bridges).
There were some supporters along the run course with the large majority being at the end of the laps back through transition. The worst bit of the run course was having completed the little loop and the large loop only to have two laps of the rowing lake to do at the end and this is the bit that totally killed me! There’s not so much support round the lake and it can be a bit exposed to the wind. It’s a bit soul destroying to be able to see all round the rowing lake and see how far you have left to run. At the end of an Ironman distance race 5km feels like an eternity.
Simon Ward does an amazing job commentating on the race throughout and managed to call me out by name almost every time I passed through transition.
Outlaw do a good job of making the finish line area exciting and special with a lovely orange carpet and the usual motivating music blaring out. I liked the fact that the finish line and the finish area was small, compact and all next to each other. Being a smaller race, my family were right at the finish line, and we only had to walk a few yards to find a bench to sit on and some food.
In 2021 there was no finisher tent or food hall. Instead, we were given a food token to be used at any of the food places in the expo area. I ordered a veggie burger and chips and for me this was the best finisher food I’ve ever had (out of all 7 Ironman races). I liked the fact I could choose what I wanted, it was cooked fresh, and I could eat with my family and friends rather than sitting in the finishers tent on my tod with my husband outside waiting for me.
If you want to do a long-distance triathlon in the UK, then Outlaw is a really good option and well worth doing. Its great to support a small UK company rather than the global giant of Ironman. Of course, it’s cheaper to enter than an Ironman and not having to travel abroad saves a lot of money, stress, time and hassle so is another good reason to do it.
Compared to an Ironman it’s a much smaller event which means there’s a little less energy and excitement about the event. But it’s the same distance! And it’s just as hard!
If you’re thinking about doing an Ironman distance triathlon next year and need help choosing a race or planning your training then get in touch to book a free 15min call and discover how I could help you.