Outlaw Holkham 1

Outlaw Half Holkham – July 2017

I had heard good things of the Outlaw series and OSB events so when I saw that the Outlaw Half Holkham fitted in to my race calendar I signed up straight away. It wasn’t until a quick google map search that I realised how far away the race venue was! The race took place in North Norfolk with the venue at the stunning Holkham Estate. The swim, both transitions and the entire run took place within the grounds of the estate and was full of supporters every inch of the way. The swim takes place in the lake with a simple out and back course around a small island. The bike course was a single loop taking in the coastal road as well as quiet country roads and the run was three loops around the Estate, passing and finishing in front of the beautiful house.

Due to the long drive I left home with a loaded car on the Friday morning. I stayed the night at my aunt and uncles in Market Harborough before finishing the journey Saturday lunchtime. I arrived at the Estate just in time for one of the four race briefings taking place. It was my first time at a OSB event and I was very impressed. Everything looked very professional and I couldn’t wait to get underway. After the briefing and quick bite to eat I took the bike out for a test spin before doing the mandatory pre-race day bike check-in (least it means doing one less thing race morning with your bike already in transition). Saturday night I had a nice chilled meal and evening with team mate Neil Eddy before an early night due to the very early start the following day.

The main reason I wanted to race this race was the new addition of an ‘elite’ age group wave, there’s nothing worse than crossing the line first and realising someone in a different wave/age group beats your time by a few seconds. Due to this new wave we were setting off first at 6:30am. This meant I was up and eating breakfast before 4am as I like to give my food a good 2:30-3hours to digest. I followed my usual pre-race routine on arrival at the Estate. Bike nutrition onto bike, cycle shoes in place, run shoes laid out. There was a great buzz around transition even though it was 5:30am and the sun was already out and shining bright. Transition sorted, torq caffeine gel (banoffee to be exact) consumed, snug wetsuit on and before I knew it I was in the lake at 6:20am doing a gentle 400m warm up with a few bursts. With a minute to go we were all lined up in the lake and we were off.

The first 200m of the swim is never my favourite part, I don’t have that initial speed and always get swam over. Once the speedsters start loosing their pace I slowly start to overtake and get into my rhythm. The swim was hard to navigate with the low morning sun and the curve in the lake. Most of the time I just hoped I was taking the shortest line as I couldn’t see the buoys. The first half of the 1900m I jumped on some feet and got a nice tow, but then the pace started dropping so I went around them as I felt strong and started pushing the second half. On rounding the last buoy I noticed a couple of pair of feet appear from nowhere. I jumped on these for the remaining 50m before exiting. Running up to T1 I notice the two swimmers were Neil Eddy and Simon George who had gone off course slightly due to the sun. Before the race I hoped I would only lose a minute in the swim to these guys so with luck on myside and coming out on their feet put me in good sprit.

Neil, Simon, James Gill and I all hit the bike leg together and went in search of Sam Proctor up the road. It became clear with the first few miles that I wouldn’t be able to keep with the pace Simon and Neil were laying down, my power was through the roof so I had to settle back into my own race pace and watch them go zooming up the road. I knew from Denmark the power watts I wanted to hit so I put my head down and tried to stay as relaxed as possible. I had James Gill for company and we made sure we always kept to at least 15m apart so no drafting was taking place. The draft busters passed us lots of times so was good to see them out in force making sure a fair race was happening. It wasn’t too long before the speedy Craig Twigg went past and around the half way mark uber multiple National Time Trail Champion Matt Bottrill went past like he was on a motorbike! I was confident in my running ability and just kept to my numbers and fuelling well. As I was still coming back from injury and getting some race fitness I just wanted the bike to go without a hitch and make it back to T2 in one piece – which I did along with a new PB average power for 56miles – bonus!

I entered T2 around 6th place and started the chase. I knew 13.1 miles was a long way and anything was possible even though I had a good amount of time to make up on the leaders up the road.

The run course was 3 loops which 2 long ascents on each loop. I know this would suit me well as I heard it was a tough course. The first 1.5miles were up to and over the Obelisk and even though this was a gentle climb I felt strong and knew the legs had a good split in them. Turning left you then headed onto farm road and paths through the Estates picturesque woodland before returning to the road for a fast decline finish to start the next loop/hit the finishing straight. With 3 feed stations per loop too there were plenty of opportunities to refuel/stay hydrated but I always carry a Torq emergency gel just in case. After the first lap I managed to run myself up into 5th place and then within the next couple of miles by the half way stage I had over taken Matt Bottrill and then Simon George. A spectator had shouted out I was moving the quickest out of the leading three so with 6miles still to run knew anything was possible. My focus was to keep to my heart rate zones and not do anything stupid and blow up. I held on to 3rd place for the remaining 1 and a half laps, all the while catching Neil and Craig, but ultimately, they were just too strong for me on the bike and were the better athletes on the day. I was thrilled to take 3rd overall and get another podium under my belt. After such a disrupted winter to come away with two good middle distance performances in 2 weeks I super happy.

The guys at OSB events put on a cracking show and I’ll definitely be taking part in more of their events in the future. The sun was shining and the music was blaring but I had to pack up and prepare for the great challenge. The 8-hour drive home. Next up I have the Ironman 70.3 Dublin mid-August where I will be trying to get early qualification to the World Ironman 70.3 Championships in 2018 and then I have my main A-race of the year in America at the 2017 World Championships. I would like to try and get an end of season Challenge event in in October due to my late season start but will have to see how tight money is and how much holiday I have left at work. It’s good to finally start feeling fit and getting some racing form back, massive thanks to my coach Julian Wills for all his support over the last 6 months and Laura at Verve Fitness & Therapy for getting me ready to race.

As always my kit sponsors were amazing. I love my new Giant TT from Giant-Helston, new Drag2Zero tri-suit from Endura and new Fizik Mistica saddle was extremely comfortable with built in rear bottle cages and didn’t cause any issues. My in-race nutrition is all sorted thanks to Torq, I use their gels, powders, bars and recovery products for almost every session now as I’ve had no GI issues and with their simple to use fuelling system you can’t go wrong. My swim is constantly improving thanks to the guys at Snugg Wetsuits and strength programme from Tri-Force Endurance. As always my Asics Hyper-Gel Tri’s were the best shoe on the day with me picking up the quickest run split, can’t recommend their running range enough, from racing to training, on-road to off-road, they have a shoes for every runner.




Michael Birchmore

Training hard is what I do

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