Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Outlaw Triathlon - Part 3 - My Race Performance

This is one of a three part set of posts about my first iron distance triathlon: Outlaw Triathlon 2017. This post contains the analysis of my race performance. You can also read about my training and my review of the event.

In this final post in my series on the Outlaw Triathlon I want to review my performance, look at what I learnt and how to improve if (when) I do another event of this distance in the future.


Prior to this event I'd never done an iron distance triathlon before. In fact, apart from the middle distance event I did in the build up, the longest I'd gone before was an olympic distance tri. I'd also previously run two marathons, including a 2:59:34 at London in 2016.

I've already covered training in another post in this series and felt that I was going into the race in the best possible shape that I could be. No injuries or niggles. Calves felt a fraction tight, but I find that's quite common for me after a taper period.

The Swim

I've been working really hard on my swim in the build up. Made some huge improvements. Prior to starting the training plan the longest I had ever swum in one go was 2.4km. Target pace was 2:00/100m that I'd been practising in training.

The main thing I don't like in a mass start swim is the washing machine that occurs while everyone gets going and jostles for a good position. I hate having my legs pushed down from behind. However, over the last couple of races I've been made a real effort to start in the middle of the pack to help overcome this fear. It worked!

I positioned myself at the front of bay 3 (70-90 minute swim time), figuring that my target time of 75-80 minutes would let me swim at the same speed as those around me. As it turns out this was a great decision. I was able to get away cleanly and by the time we merged with bays 1 and 2 the fast swimmers were already away and I had got into a good rhythm.

I managed to get in with a good bunch who all seemed to be able to swim in a mostly straight line. Got my stroke nice and smooth and my breathing nice and even. Being in a group like this creates a great drafting effect, meaning it's possible to swim quite fast with far less effort. Also the nice straight Outlaw swim course meant I didn't have to spend much time sighting as I have the fortune of generally being able to swim in a straight line in open water.

The swim seemed to fly by and I came out of the water with a swim time of 1:13:52 at a pace of 1:54/100m, so significantly quicker than expected. Got my wetsuit off fine, but a slight touch of cramp in both calf muscles while doing so was a bit worrying. Fortunately it didn't turn into a full cramp and eased off as soon as I started moving into the change tent – but did leave me with calf muscles tighter that I would have liked.


I swam with my tri-suit under my wetsuit, so no need to get changed in T1. Just a quick foot dry and put some socks on. Number belt, gloves, sungalsses and bike hat plus a few essentials into the rear pockets. Transition time of 5:37, which I would have liked to have been at least a minute quicker. Need more practice getting stuff in and out of kit bags!


I had a brilliant bike leg. During my long training rides I'd been averaging a speed of just over 29kph on a slightly hillier route than the Outlaw. I was therefore hoping that less hills and race day fitness would allow me to push that above 30kph and thus hit the sub-6-hour bike split. It worked!

The bike course is made up of three loops. Over the first two I was averaging around 32kph. By the third lap I was starting to tire a bit but also my calf muscles continued to tighten up. Knowing that I'm prone to tight calves at the end of a marathon I took the decision to back off just a fraction to preserve my legs for the run as much as possible. However, I was able keep the average speed high and come home with a bike time of 5:58:26, so job definitely done.

Given that prior to starting training for the Outlaw I'd only ever done one ride over 100 miles, to achieve such a good bike time was more than I had hoped for. I also feel that I got the bike nutrition pretty much spot on (but that's covered in its own section later).


Nothing particularly special about T2. The marshals rack your bike for you, which is most welcome. Then it's into the change tent to switch to run gear. I decided to run in my Saucony Type A6 racing flats and go with tie up laces. I felt the few seconds spent tying laces was well worth it given the extra comfort and fit over using elastic ones. Time in T2 was 3:15, which was good considering the amount of kit bag faffing involved!


The run was tough: far harder than I was expecting. Given that I did a sub-3-hour marathon in 2016 I was hoping to breeze round a 3:30 with the goal of pushing for a 3:20 if possible. Having never done this distance triathlon before I was slightly caught out at just how hard the run would be directly after such a long swim and bike.

(Note: actually a 3:46:58 as my watch died 8km from the end!)

My run problems were three-fold: not getting my run plan right; not getting my run nutrition right; and the tight calf muscles carried over from the end of the swim and the bike leg. This resulted in a 1:43:53 first half of the marathon, followed by an abysmal 2:03:05 for the second half. I've certainly learnt some good stuff for the future! I think the main problem was that I approached the run as if it was a standalone marathon (something I was already familiar with) rather than the third element of a long distance tri.

A happy face at the start of the run

I'd done all my long brick sessions with a run at target race pace of 3:37/km, with runs up to 1 hours duration. Throughout the training I always felt comfortable at this pace so set my race plan accordingly to just come off the bike and hit and hold this as a steady pace. I also planned a run nutrition strategy around what I would normally do for a marathon (see the nutrition section below).

What I discovered about 18km into the marathon was that this strategy didn't work. I then had to slow down quite a lot and take more time in the feed stations getting my fuelling correct. However, the constant stopping and starting really aggravated my tight calves, meaning that for the second half of the run my form and efficiency were way below normal. The result being that the run became even harder and my pace slowed down to about 5:30/km, which is way slower than even my typical long run pace of 5:10/km.

Feeling the pain towards the end

The final half of the run just became a case of breaking the distance down into a series of short sections from the current feed station to the next, walk through the feed station taking on fluid and fuel, and then sum up the energy to start running to again towards the next feed station. On the plus side I did still manage to pick up the pace for the last lap of the lake and run faster down the finish funnel!

One further problem on the run was that my watch ran out of battery with 8km to go. Not a major issue as by that time I wasn't using it for pacing as I was just moving the best my legs would allow. However, it would have been a disaster if I was close to target pace and relying on the power data from my Stryd footpod.

Overall, happy to have finished the run in an acceptable time of 3:46:58. I learnt a lot and will definitely be planning a different strategy if (when) I ever do another long distance triathlon.


As already mentioned, my nutrition was a bit of a mixed bag. I think I got it pretty much right until I hit the run, as which point my plan was totally broken.

Pre-race was my standard approach of a huge bowl of porridge and a coffee for breakfast, followed by a banana and sipping a bottle of water about 30 minutes before racing.

On the bike I planned drinking four 750ml bottles of fluid: half water and half High-5 Zero electrolyte drink. Aiming to drink every 15 mins. Food wise I went with a mix of Chia Charge flapjack bars and small bags of pretzels. These were consumed as follows:

  • 0:15:00 – Chia Charge bar
  • 1:00:00 & 1:30:00 – half Chia Charge bar
  • 2:00:00 – 30g pretzels
  • 2:30:00 & 3:00:00 - half Chia Charge bar
  • 3:30:00 – 30g pretzels
  • 4:00:00 & 4:30:00 - half Chia Charge bar
  • 5:00:00 – 30g pretzels
  • 5:30:00 – Chia Charge bar

The first Chia Charge bar was to refuel after the swim. Then eating every 30 minutes was a great way to break down the ride into smaller segments (useful advice I got from a magazine article). This plan worked out at about 55g of carbs per hour, which I think was pretty much spot on for fuelling on the bike.

The only complaint I have about my bike fuel strategy was that I struggled with the very last Chia Charge bar being way too sweet. I don't normally each a huge amount of sweet carbs so I think five flapjack bars was a bit too much.

I came off the bike feeling well fuelled and hydrated ready for the run. (The fact I made it 18km into the run before problems hit shows I probably got it right). However, my run nutrition plan turned out to be rather lacking!

For a standalone marathon, my nutrition is usually to just take on a couple of mouthfuls of water every 5km and a 33Shake chia gel every 8km. This has always worked well for me, so that's what I went for. However, I didn't take account of the fact that my normal marathon nutrition is based on having reserves of fuel and hydration in my body at the start of the marathon, so my race intake is just top-up rather than replenishment.

On the first half of the run I ran through each feed station, taking a mouthful of water as I felt like it and hitting my chia gel intake at 8km and 16km as planned. However, the chia gels only have 11g of carbs each and I probably only drank about 100ml of fluid in the first part of the run. Therefore at about 18km I hit both energy and fluid deficit, which massively curtailed my pace.

Realising what was happening I backed off and make an effort over the next few aid stations to walk through them and take on plenty of electrolyte drink, some flat coke and a goodly number of Jaffa Cakes! It took about another 10km of this strategy before I felt my energy levels starting to restore.

The remaining 14km of the run I switched to a strategy of walking each feed station making sure that I kept fluid and fuel levels topped up. No more energy dips, but by this time my tight calf muscles were the main hindrance to me being able to get back to any measure of a decent running pace.


Having never put all three event distances together in one go before there were always going to be lots of things to learn from the experience. This post details my analysis of my race and here are my list of learnings that I will take forward for the future:

  • Pre-race massages for tight calves - I know that I generally suffer from tight calves, especially towards the end of a marathon. However at shorter distances it doesn't normally impact on my performance. For long distance events like this I need to spend more time ensuring that there's no tightness carried over from training into race day. A few visits to my sports massage guy in the weeks before race day will definitely be built into my training plan next time!
  • More savoury items on the bike - fuelling on the bike was sound but too much sweet stuff, swap at least one flapkjack for something more savoury.
  • Different race plan for the run - need to adapt the plan for the fact that it's not a standalone marathon. In particular adjust the target pace to allow for a few seconds of walking through the feed stations to ensure time to fully take on fluid and fuel.
  • Better nutrition strategy for the start of the run - plan run nutrition to continue intake of around 55g of carbs per hour plus aiming to consume 1,500ml fluid over the marathon distance. This requires fully utilising the feed stations in the early stages of the run so that fuel reserves never drop too low.
  • Different watch configuration - I had my bike watch config set to 'Good' GPS quality (rather than 'Best') but this still consumed too much battery. Reduce the GPS quality to 'Okay' for future long distance events .


It was a tough day with both high and low points. However, I finished my first long distance triathlon and smashed my 11:30:00 target by almost 22 minutes!

Will I do an iron distance triathlon again? Yes, probably

Next year? Definitely not!

I'm planning an easier year next year with some shorter distance triathlons, a few more running events and a bit more focus on athletics. Watch this space for a 2019 event though...

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