Sophie Hodge: The Outlaw 2018

Get a cup of coffee, get comfy, it’s going to be a long one…..

My first attempt at an Iron distance race and as I’m sat in race briefing on Saturday with John and Dan and with the tent about to take off because of the wind I’m wondering what I’ve let myself in for.

The alarm goes off at 3:30am on race day and I force some food and coffee down my throat. Looking out the window I’m thankful that it’s not raining yet. In briefing the previous day the organiser had asked us who was planning on using a disc wheel (a fair few people tentatively raised their hands, Nick and John included) they were then quickly advised not to use the discs because of the 50mph winds that were forecast for race day….. wonderful.

I get myself down to transition at 5:00am and sort out all my nutrition and take the bin bags off the bike, I bump in to Nick who informed me that he had a little note on his bike from one of the marshalls again advising him not to use his disc! I was glad to also see Watson in transition sorting out his stuff, after he’d been running around transition like a headless chicken on Saturday having missed briefing and trying to sort all his stuff out. Having sent a slightly frustrated and already wet Ian back to the van to grab me some wet lube that I was hoping I wouldn’t have to use, it was suddenly 5:30am and I wasn’t even in my wetsuit yet. For those of you who have seen how long it takes me to get into it, this panicked me a bit! However I’ve never got into it as quickly and was soon being herded in to the starting pens. I looked up and saw Ian, Tony, Sophia and an uninflated Dory balloon and with a shout from Soph of “just keep swimming” I know what I’ve got to do! Then a marshal walks past and casually says if you need something to think about just sing ‘Agadoo’……Thanks for that!!!

In the water I get, it was actually warmer than it was on dry land, it was also rather smelly and not as pleasant as the lovely clear waters of Mercers that we’re used to. Anyway after a few “oggie, oggie, oggie” shouts and some waving to who knows who we were off. They had to change the swim from 1 big lap to 3 smaller laps due to the wind making the far end of the lake unsafe to swim in. The start was very frantic and there was a proper bit of argey bargey at the first buoy but after that it was fairly pleasant. First lap done and a chance to have a chat with a few people, in for the second lap and this one was a little bit slower and more at the pace I had planned, it was at this point that I realised that in my haste of getting my wetsuit on I had forgot to put glide on my neck…..oh well nothing I can do about that now! Second Aussie exit done and this time they encouraged us to dive off the pontoon for our last lap, why not??? Might as well after all the practice at Mercers and amazingly my goggles stayed on, so off I swam for the last lap.

I come out of the swim in a time of 1:14:43, considering I was aiming for 1:15 I was pretty chuffed with this! The strippers (people that are there to help you out of your wetsuit) helped me get an arm out and picked my suit up for me after I’d stamped it off. So into transition and time to eat a bit of bagel, dry my feet, put some socks on and off on to the bike. As I walk out of transition I spot everyone up on the bank and have a little chat about what is in the bagel I’m stuffing in my mouth! Off I trot to go and find Bert and then we’re off.

The bike starts with a lovely lap of the lake that was sheltered from the wind, and I’m thinking oooh this isn’t too bad! Out on to the roads and thanks to Pete for lending me his Vector pedals I’m working to power and know exactly what power I should be riding at and what numbers I need to avoid. So without any look at my overall speed I just get the legs going and off I go. There’s loads of support out on the road already so I make a point to try and smile or say thank you to everyone that shouts at me. Quite soon, I hear the Tri Surrey support crew before I see them, as I go past I give them a wave and tell them all is well. First 50km and I’m feeling good, the wind isn’t too bad, my power is at or below where it should be and I’m on the aerobars for the majority of it. I’m overtaking quite a few people and in turn being overtaken by some very speedy people! I try and say hi to most people who I pass or passed me, some were much happier to chat than others. For about the first 100km I was playing cat and mouse with a guy in a Welsh jersey, after coming up behind him for at least the 3rd time I had a little chat with him. His name was Olly and we had a lovely little chat. I went past Dan at about 50km and after saying  hi to him, his words to me were “What the f*** is this weather??” We had a little moan together and then he told me to carry on so I obliged knowing he would be close behind me for the whole bike leg. After seeing the support crew a few more times the first loop was done so on to the Northern loop we go. This involved riding along a main road that going this way was fairly quick and quite pleasant! The weather still wasn’t too bad, yes it was a bit wet and windy, but nothing to write home about. The Northern lap starts with a cheeky little climb that I would normally get out the saddle for and power up, but when I did this at the Cotswolds, Rich Bartlett came up behind me and asked how it felt in zone 5?!?! So down the gears I go and I spin up the hill not once getting out the saddle (thanks Rich!) All of a sudden the wind bites and wow what a difference it makes, it doesn’t seem to matter what way we turned, we were battling a constant headwind. The support crew popped up at an opportune moment then with super loud cheering and cow bell ringing. About 10 minutes later a car pulls up beside me and I look in and see Tony, Ian and Sophia with massive grins offering me a jacket and food. I tell them I’m fine, but have a good little chat with them which breaks it all up a little bit. Then off they go with the promise of seeing me later. The Northern loop was tough, the wind made it hard work, I was in a much lower gear than I would usually be but I was determined to keep my power and heart rate low. My nutrition and hydration was going well, I was eating regularly and drinking one bottle every hour and feeling like a pro picking the bottles up on the fly from the feed stations. The Northern loop done and now we head back along the main road to the southern loop again. This was probably the toughest bit of the entire day for me. I was about 120km in and the headwind along this seemingly never ending road was making just moving forward tough. Just to add to it the heavens really decided to open at this point so we had a headwind and driving rain to deal with……. wonderful! Just keep pedalling Soph, one pedal stroke at a time, with Agadoo still going round my head I was still smiling at all the supporters because I was certain it was definitely wetter and colder for them! I knew I just had to get round this southern loop again, don’t look at the watch, don’t worry about speed, just keep moving forward. The legs started to bite at about 160km, 20km left though, that’s nothing…. get going Hodge! I was having to stand up every 5 mins or so now to loosen the legs off and give my bum a bit of a break. On the little climb back in towards the venue the guys pull up in the car again and I have another chat, this was so welcome, just to break up the monotony of being battered by the wind and the rain. I asked how Watson was getting on and they said he was struggling but they’d given him some food and he’d perked up a bit. Finally we get on to the private road that leads back in to the venue, we had been warned that the surface was a bit dodgy but it was pretty much a dirt track full of potholes, with some very large speed bumps too. The gaps in the hedges here were causing some very strong sidewinds and as I nearly got blown in to someone coming past me he slowed down, we had a chat and rode the last 2km in together. After aiming for a 6:30 bike leg, I’m over the moon with a 6:34:40 in those conditions.

As quick as I’m off Bert, he’s taken from me and into the transition tent I go. There are quite a few people in there and you don’t hear any conversations apart from how horrendous the conditions on the bike were. Oh well it’s done now. Time to dry my feet again, change my socks, stock up my gel supplies and have the first of 5 wee stops! I very quickly found out that my speedsuit is speedy in every which way apart from getting it on! Ah well, emptying my bladder was more important.

Out on to the run and I quickly come across a guy called Jamie who I have a chat to for a while. I then see all the girls on the bank and hear Jenny shouting at me to go right, but Jamie was going left and where I had been chatting I hadn’t read the signs and nearly ran in to the barrier. With a good luck to Jamie, I was off for my first lap of the lake and my surprisingly my legs felt fine. This was a very pleasant surprise. I had decided that I was going to run walk the whole marathon and aimed to run 14mins, walk 1min. Sticking to this at the start when I felt good was really tough, but I did and it coincided quite nicely with walking the feed stations where I had a combination of coke, water and ready salted crisps. One lap of the lake done and I head out for my first out and back, this was the first time I saw Brad and Nick and they were both looking strong, so a little high 5 as we passed and on I went. After my next wee stop I saw John at the feed station ran with him for a bit, he said he was struggling and his legs were heavy (it might have something to do with the fact that he ran 100km 2 weeks ago!) Anyway we ran together for a bit and came up behind Dan so all ran together chatting for a while. John powered on, I had my walk break so we split up again. I still felt ok and was still smiling at all the supporters who were amazing. On the way back in to the lake Ian and Tony had ridden their bikes so they could come out and cheer us on the course. This was a big lift. As I run into the lake the girls are there cheering as loud as ever, it’s time for another wee stop and 5 mins later I get a massive cheer from them as I’m still wiggling into my suit coming out of the portaloo. The guy at the feed station was very entertained by this. One lap of the lake and I’m halfway through the run. Mentally this was tough because as I ran past the finish line to the cheers I knew I had to go and do it all again. But that means I’ve only got a half marathon left, so I shoved a caffeine gel down my throat, picked my head up and remembered some of Pete’s many words of wisdom……..try to float across the ground! I’m not a very floaty person but I did my best. As I was on my way out I see Brad again, he looked like he was struggling a bit more now, but another high 5 and a shout of you’re nearly there and he was off. I saw Watson on my out and back and knew he was closing on me, but at what speed I had no idea. With about 13km to go my watch died as I had forgotten to change the gps settings….not ideal, but nothing I could do about it. So it was time to run on feel. I was still planning on run walking, this time I was going by RPE, as soon as I felt my heart rate go up too much I walked, this seemed to work and coming into the lake I felt ok. I had 2 laps of the lake left and I would have done it. Don’t lose focus now Soph, I was still stopping and walking the feed stations taking on coke and water. As I ran past the finish line, I hear Ian shouting that Watson’s catching me up and as I tell Sophia my watch has died she’s waving frantically at me and pointing at the timer shouting at me to look at the time. I hadn’t once looked at the overall time all day because my one aim of the day was to finish with a smile. However the time said 12hrs 17mins, I was flabbergasted, I could come home in under 13 hours which I had told a few people, Sophia included that I would be over the moon with. This spurred me on so as I ran past transition I asked a lady how far it was round the lake, less than 5km was her answer, my immediate thought was “ahhh that’s less than a parkrun!” What a great feeling. So I upped my pace and ran to the next feed station, why break the habit now, I still stopped had a chat with the marshalls and had more coke, then ran on to the next feed station, same again. Right, less than 1.5km left. I saw Nick on his way to the car, we exchanged a quick well done and keep going and on I went. There were a few people around me so I was trying to see how many wristbands people had on, I didn’t want to run down the finish chute with anyone, so I put on a bit of a burst of speed in the last 500m to get past someone who was finishing on this lap too. I could feel my smile get bigger as I ran on to the red carpet and heard the guy on the PA say my name, this just spurred me on and seeing and hearing all the Tri Surrey support at the barriers with massive smiles after they’d been stood in the cold and rain for the last 13hours was the last little lift I needed. After a load of high 5’s I crossed the line and lifted the tape above my head with the biggest smile on my face…..target achieved in a faster time than I could ever have hoped for. With a run time of 4:46:29 and an overall time of 12:49:02 I am on top of the world.

Jenny has told me numerous times in the build up to this, that her race at Outlaw was the best day of her life and I have to say I think I agree with her. I was on a high all day and just everything about it was amazing. Yes it was a challenge, yes there were ups and downs, there were times when I questioned my sanity, times I sacrificed a social life or a lie in to do a turbo session, but was it worth it??? Totally! Will I do it again??? 110% without hesitation.

The only reason I entered this race and even remotely thought I could do it was because of the inspirational athletes at the club who have taken on this challenge previously Andy C, Andy D, Jon, Lucinda, Jenny, Joe, Pete, Rich, Matt, Chops, Talboys, Roop, Weeksy it’s all your fault that I’ve got the bug. But if I can inspire just one person to take on not just an Ironman distance race, but anything that they once thought impossible I will be overjoyed. When I signed up for this I was injured, I was unfit and mentally I was nowhere near strong enough to complete this challenge. But with the help of a lot of people in this incredible club I achieved something that I once thought was way beyond me and for that I will be forever grateful.

My last words go to the Tri Surrey guys who raced with me at Outlaw, John, Nick, Brad, Dan, Watson, amazing results from everyone and it was so great to share the experience with you guys.

As we’ve all said previously we can’t thank the support crew enough, you guys kept us going when times were tough, Ian, Tony, Sophia, Stacey, Jenny, Lisa, Vicki, Sally, Steve and Anne, thank you so much.

And as always the support and encouragement of the #pinkandbluearmy can always be relied on and knowing you guys were behind me every step of the way kept me going and kept me on track. This club is full of very special people and each and every one of you make it the incredible club it is.

Apologies for the length of my ramblings!