Sundried ambassador Sophie Kennedy is back racing after having her first child and gives a detailed report on the iconic Hever Castle triathlon.
"Did you pack the milk?"
Not a question I normally ask the morning of a triathlon, but this year was different. This year I had a new recruit to my cheer team. My 14-week young baby. The milk was still in the fridge; we were already en route.
Fortunately, the forecast storms meant all races were delayed by 1 hour so back home for milk we went! Unfortunately, the weather was still looking grim for the rest of the day.
I felt very different this year. None of the normal pre-race butterflies. I wasn't nervous about how I would perform. But I lacked confidence in myself through all the registration and set up. Maybe as my head wasn't fully there. Or perhaps it was the realisation I had done about 30% of the 8-week plan, which I started the day after my 7-week postnatal check up. Never mind any chance of practising smooth transitions! But, as I listened to the race briefing I started to feel happy. I relaxed and looked forward to the uncertainty and challenge that comes with triathlon.
The water was measured at a fresh 15 degrees Celsius a couple of days earlier so wetsuits were mandatory. I was certainly not used to these conditions with my weekly balmy swim in the local leisure center! Dangling my legs in the water, the only thing for it was jump in and breeeeathe. Face submerged, goggles checked and next thing I knew the horn went off. The swim was very interesting. In a shallow, murky lake dug out by 800 men over 2 years, the swim meandered around an island along a narrow course. This left little room between competitors and I got the usual few dunkings by overhead swinging arms. My cheer team were waiting for me as I exited the water and I gave the little one a kiss as I passed by.
Transition 1 was neutralised due to the bad weather and ground conditions so it meant there was no pressure to rush through to the bike section. This gave me a chance to double check I had all my gear before I set off. Parent-head could easily have had me set off with a swim cap for a helmet!
I jumped onto my trusty steed of 6 years as the timer started for the bike section. Only to find mud on my cleats ensured there was no way they would clip into my pedals without finding a puddle to splash about in first. My cheer team did try to warn me as many had made the same mistake, but sadly we hadn't learned sign language for 'clean your cleats' in advance.
Cleats cleaned and off we went straight uphill. The rest of the bike course would be undulating and moist, with a few potholes and some of us found ourselves marshalled to a complete stop for a few minutes to allow traffic to pass. I wasn't able to push it on the bike as much as I would have liked as I had left calf pain from kilometer 6. Probably a tight muscle I didn't want to tear. So rather than the normal pain from pushing the pace, I was distracted by this pain and hoping it would hold out and not affect my run… Stay positive. Think about the run when the bike is done.
Transition 2 was smooth and before I knew it I was out onto the run course. Amazingly, there was no calf pain so I got the spring in my step pretty quickly. Somehow I got away without feeling the normal post-bike jelly legs too. Maybe as I didn't push it as hard on the bike, maybe luck, maybe all the recent short distance barefoot running has helped, or maybe I was just loving life.
Like the bike section, the run course was undulating. Unlike the bike section, parts of the course were extremely boggy and muddy hills made for nature's own travelators. I secretly thrived in this. I'm a lover of trails and unpredictable challenges best found in the great outdoors. I let my legs carry me fast and confidently on the down and let my head pick out the best route on the ups. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience and pleased to be overtaking more often than not.
With 5 kilometers to go I told myself 'it's just a Parkrun'. With 1km to go I dug in and got ready for upping the pace for the final 500m. Whatever event I've done I do love a good finish! I heard my boyfriend cheering me at the finish line and couldn't wait to see both my boys on the other side. And that was it. It was over. I'd done it. Not only that, I'd enjoyed it! It felt like a real case of 'she believed she could, so she did'. Perhaps childbirth has also given me a new sense of what hard endurance is and a new level of pain management. My real take-home was that my body had allowed me to grow a baby and complete a triathlon all within a year for which I couldn't be more grateful.
And then there was Sunday dinner and a pint with my boys afterwards.
What was the best thing about this triathlon?
The castle grounds were pretty impressive and would have been moreso in the sunshine. It made for one of the most interesting swims and enjoyable runs, although I don't think everyone will agree with me on this!
It certainly wasn't a course to get a PB on, but the swim and run suited me. The swim course was narrow. Roads weren't closed for the cycle and there were some reasonably treacherous sections. The run was a muddy trail.
What would I do differently?
Not forget the milk. Check my bike the day before to avoid having to fix misaligned brakes. Put the elastic laces on my trainers before the morning of the event to avoid ill-fitting laces and subsequent pins and needles on the run. All things I would have probably done or not needed to do had I not had a baby.
What would I keep the same?
Just having an event in the diary gave me back my identity and purpose after giving birth. Lots of people said not to put the pressure on myself, but I didn't and the training and the event positively impacted my well being. Not getting too worried about the plan; fitting it around my life and family rather than the other way round. Remembering why I do triathlon; for the joy not the stress!
I am currently breastfeeding so nutritional needs differ.
2.5 hours before race start - Overnight oats: oats, chia seeds, banana, vanilla extract, cinnamon, raisins, dates and oat milk.
30 mins before race start - small energy bar
10 mins before race start - isotonic energy gel
T1 - isotonic energy gel
On the bike - 2 bite-sized energy bars
T2 - isotonic energy gel
Half way through run - isotonic energy gel
Morning mug of lemon and ginger tea
Full 750ml bottle of water with two electrolyte tablets consumed on the bike
Few sips of water from feed stations on the run
Terrible sleep the night before due to breastfeeding and general inability to sleep. Boyfriend kindly did one baby feed with the bottle.
Gear and clothing
Swim: trisuit, full length wetsuit, cap and goggles
Bike: trisuit, race number belt, zip up cycle top, yellow lens glasses, bike shoes with cleats, socks, spare inner tube, pump and tools, 750ml bottle hydration
Run: Trail shoes, tri suit and race number belt, energy gel
I had downloaded an 8-week intermediate triathlon plan but what I actually managed to do was as follows:
1 swim per week from the plan.
3 turbo sessions in the 8 weeks following one of the sessions from the plan.
3 outdoor bike rides in the 8 weeks (1h20, 1hr30 and 2h40)
3 runs per week barefoot with a buggy to and from classes/groups. 3-4km each way. Drills from the plan were included where possible. A handful of longer runs.
1 mum and baby yoga class per week
Podcasts: Team Oxygen Addict, Feel Better Live More, Tough Girl Challenges (to name a few)
Books: The Triathlete's Triathlon Bible (Joe Friel), A Life Without Limits (Chrissie Wellington), Bump Bike and Baby (Moire O'Sullivan)
Programmes: Iron Cowboy: The Story of the 50.50.50
I'd love to do a full distance triathlon but with my competing priorities of starting a family and converting a campervan means I'm looking at doing another middle distance triathlon or an ultra marathon next summer.
About the author: Sophie Kennedy is a personal trainer, athlete, and Sundried ambassador.