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.
In the words of my wonderful mum, "Sport can be about winning and losing, the excuses, the what ifs and if onlys. But sometimes it is about accepting your current limitations and with a mixture of positive thinking, grit, and determination still achieving a result to be really proud of."
Six weeks ago, I badly sprained my ankle and having previously suffered with a similar injury I knew how long the recovery times can be. I had pretty much ruled myself out of any further races this season, including Brighton and Hove Triathlon, which frustratingly had been my A-race post Pontevedra World Duathlon Champs in April - to finally give ETU Triathlon Champs qualification a go.
However, me being fairly competitive (okay, I am very competitive), I was determined to recover as quickly but as safely as I could. Working with a physio through work, I gradually built up my strength, going from non-weight bearing to mild strength exercises over a few weeks; plus a lot of icing, elevating and rest!
Within 5 weeks, to my absolute surprise, I was able to swim, cycle (without cleats) and do short, slow runs on soft surfaces such as on grass or the running track. I had missed the deferral/refund date for Brighton, so with the support of my physio, we thought I could possibly give it a go if I was really careful. It is a multi-lap course, so I had the option to easily pull out at any point if I began to feel the slightest bit of pain or discomfort. The worst thing would be to make it worse and prolong my recovery time.
Aside from the horrendous M25 traffic on the way there and back, it was such a great weekend. We were extremely lucky to have beautiful weather and little Ellie, chief supporter, loved her first splash in the sea! Me and my mum traveled down to Brighton on Saturday as registration and bike racking had to be done the day before, which meant we could wander around, soak up the glorious sunshine, and generally have a relaxed pre-race day. Relaxing that is, until I stupidly decided to try and put on my race tattoo without taking the plastic backing off, resulting in it just sticking to the plastic and not my arm.. But clever mum to the rescue who used a hairdryer to reattach the number to some cardboard and then reapply to my arm - genius!
Come race day itself, I had a pretty relaxed morning with a start time of 11:15am meaning a lie in, which is usually unheard of in the triathlon race world! Frustratingly, the sea was pancake flat first thing in the morning when we initially got to the start to watch the sprint race. But by the time my wave was due to start, it had become fairly choppy, but at least nowhere near as bad as at Redcar last month!
Following a hug with fellow competitors, and a 3,2,1 we were off...
The initial few hundred metres to the first buoy, I have to say, were not enjoyable at all. I got kicked in the face and had to rearrange my goggles having got a load of seawater in my eyes. Once it had all calmed down, I managed to get into a rhythm and relax. By the final buoy all I could think about was drinking some water as my throat was so dry from the salt water. I definitely prefer lake swims that is for sure!
Surviving the swim, I then ran up the beach into transition and onto bike leg.
It was my first time in cleats since my ankle incident as I knew I could rely on a flying dismount, so I was hopeful to try and push for a decent bike time. At Brighton, the bike course is an 8 lap out-and-back flat course on closed roads, so it was fast but I have to admit I did get bored. The tactic to keep myself occupied was singing baby shark to myself... it got me to the end anyway! Overall, my power was down by about 10%, but considering my time off training due to injury, I was fairly pleased with that and my bike split was actually faster than the Age Group winner!
The run was the bit I was most worried about. I hadn't run further than 2km on tarmac or 7km on a track surface post-injury. All of which were pain-free, but it was still an unknown as to whether my ankle would be okay over this distance.
As it was 4 laps, I knew I could easily stop if it did become at all painful, so I set off at an easy pace and adopted the run-walk strategy (I did 4 minutes running, 1 minute walking), to be mindful not to set myself back with any additional stress to the injury. Baby shark returned and the laps were slowly ticked off, all the way to the finish line!
Never in a million years did I think I would be racing at Brighton, but the human body is a wonderful thing. It was possibly my slowest ever 10k, maybe even slower than a turtle in peanut butter, but I couldn't be any happier that I got to race and finish, which is the most amazing feeling having initially thought I would be sitting this one out only a few weeks ago.
The time did not matter on this occasion - for once it was the taking part, enjoyment and finishing that mattered! And I did just that!
A big thank you to my amazing mum who acted as top supporter, dog looker-after, taxi driver and general awesome helper over the weekend!
About the author: Helene Wright is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Have you ever had a race where everything just falls in to place and it all just feels ‘right’? I had an experience of this recently, when I travelled to Kazan, Russia to compete for Great Britain’s Age Group team in the European Championships.
Lead up to the race
This year was my second year trying my hand at age group triathlon racing, having raced in Glasgow last year. My first big race of the 2019 season (Weert, Netherlands – standard distance) went well and I came 8th in the 30-34 age group. I was left feeling that I could have done better though; I had struggled with my confidence on the bike and my pacing during the run was not as good as it could have been. Based on this, I made a very last minute (comparatively speaking) decision to go to Kazan for the sprint distance event in eight weeks’ time. This left me with some homework. First, I had to sort the logistics; travel, where to stay, a Russian Visa and insurance! Second, my coach and I had a plan to work on some of my (perceived) weaknesses from the Netherlands.
Before I knew it, the end of the school term (I’m a teacher) was here and it was the summer holidays. My taper week during the first week of the holidays passed in a haze of nerves as I made my final preparations; I had never travelled to such a complex location to race and I was doing so on my own! It was some comfort to know that I would be meeting other familiar faces once I got there, alongside two fellow members of my triathlon club. Strangely, as soon as I landed in Kazan on Friday (very early in the morning!) these nerves disappeared; I was ready.
Arriving in Kazan
There’s a lot more to preparing for a European Championship event once you arrive in the host city, compared to doing a UK or local triathlon. I had to register and sign a disclaimer confirming my participation on Friday, attend the ‘Parade of Nations’ and official opening of the Championships and go to a race briefing at the team hotel on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, I collected my bike from “Tribike Transport” who had transferred my bike overland from the UK (way less stressful than travelling by air with a bike, even if I had to do without my bike for two weeks beforehand and two weeks after the race!) I then did a recce of the bike route before attaching my race numbers and racking it in transition during the afternoon. There was an opportunity for a swim recce, however I passed on this as the water looked less than appetising and I didn’t want to risk picking up a bug the day before the race!
There was also the opportunity to watch the elite women’s and men’s races which were on throughout the day, and pick up some tips ready for the next day! Saturday evening was spent preparing for the race itself; laying out kit so it was organised, putting on race number tattoos and making sure I ate and rested.
Sunday morning dawned grey and overcast, with temperatures considerably cooler than the previous few days. Despite this, it was confirmed that the swim would be non-wetsuit as the water was higher than 22°C; this suited me as the swim is probably my strongest discipline and not wearing a wetsuit doesn’t bother me. I feel that when the officials make this decision for me, I’m happier as it levels the playing field and I’m not left wondering whether I’ve made the right call to wear or not wear my wetsuit!
Other than that, it was a standard set up in transition, warm up and get to the starting pens ready for the start. This was a great opportunity to suss out the competition; I was already familiar with the other Team GB girls (Sarah and Ty) in my age category as we had taken the time to meet and get to know each other beforehand.
Before I knew it, it was time for my wave start; we had to get into the water from the pontoon and await the start signal. Ty and I had come up with a plan to try and get out of the water together in order to work together on the bike, however as soon as the whistle went I lost her in the confusion of the start!
I got a good start and found myself out at the front drafting another girl, however we quickly ran into the back of the men’s wave in front and I lost her too in the confusion. From that point on I was on my own in the swim. I paced it well and got out of the water feeling as though I had made a good start, although I had no concept of where I was in the field. I made my way along the long swim out route (almost 500m) and clocked into transition in 12 mins 55 secs.
I was quick out of transition and did my best bike mount to date to get out onto the bike course. I quickly caught up with Siobhan, a girl from a different age category, whom I had gotten to know before the race. As a draft legal race, the rules had specified that we were allowed to draft anyone of the same gender regardless of their age category, so Siobhan and I clubbed together to push each other through the first half of the bike course. We worked well together and soon managed to pick off several men ahead of us, although we did not see any other women!
As we approached halfway, I got the feeling that my pace needed to increase, so I was pleased when another group of girls caught up and we could work as a bigger draft pack. I quickly clocked that none of the girls in this group were in my age category, therefore we were able to work together without directly impacting on each other’s finishing position.
I was feeling really strong at this point and knew I could go faster; fortunately another girl (Holly) felt the same way so we agreed to push on and leave the main group behind. Holly and I worked brilliantly together, forging ahead and opening up a gap between us and the girls behind. Whilst we didn’t know it at this stage, we were also closing the gap on the girls in front too. I clocked into transition at 33 mins 34 secs and an average speed of 34.73kph!
As I ran into transition it was at this point I realised I was in the lead for my age group as mine was the only bike racked; all I needed to do was hold onto the lead and the win was mine for the taking!
Another quick transition and I was out on the run; I felt stiff to start with but soon eased up and settled into a strong pace. The support on the run course was fantastic; having spent the days leading up to the race with various members of the GBR team and their friends/ families, I was certainly not at a disadvantage having travelled out there alone!
So many people were cheering me on and this really helped to get me into ‘the zone’. I focused on picking people off in front of me; most were men and irrelevant to my race so I just concentrated on maintaining the pace I had set. The 5km course felt like hard work towards the middle, but as an out-and-back course I was able to see how far ahead/behind the competition was.
As someone who likes the thrill of chasing and being chased, this really suited me and before I knew it I was at the finishing straight. I had a tough sprint finish and a head to head with a Russian girl from another category but finished strong and in 5th place overall; I had achieved a run split of 19 mins 42 seconds and an overall time of 1 hour 9 minutes 24 seconds, meaning I took GOLD in the 30-34 age group!
The rest of the day passed in a blur; there were my team mates to cheer on, photos to take, cola to drink (after that swim this was essential!) and most importantly of all, the medal ceremony to attend! It was a fantastic experience to hear my name read out “The European Champion for the 30-34 age group is… Anna Larkins!” and to go up onto the podium to receive my gold medal. I still can’t quite believe it was me! Ty and Sarah had done well too, finishing 2nd and 4th respectively.
Some races go well enough, some go ‘ok’ and some you just want to forget. This race was in a class of its own. Everything went to plan; I was mentally and physically prepared, I played a good tactical game out on the course and raced well. It was an experience I will never forget regardless of how any future race goes! Age group racing may not be elite level, however it gives anyone who is willing to put the time and effort into their training the opportunity to experience a taste of what high level sport performance can be like.
I’ve made so many friends through my travels to Russia and the Netherlands this year and I have made memories for life. Whilst Kazan has been a highlight, it has been a huge honour to wear the GBR colours in all of the races I’ve done and I hope this continues for years to come!
About the author: Anna Larkins is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador
The Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon is truly iconic and is a bucket list race for many. The weather in San Francisco to greet the athletes this year was extreme: boiling hot temperatures, crystal clear waters, and a beautiful pink sky for sunrise.
After a few days of acclimatisation, race morning came and on the bus from Marina Green to Pier 33 it all began to sink in. Having visited Alcatraz Island the day before to get the pre-race atmosphere, I was completely in the zone and ready to go.
Boarding the paddle steamer with all the history behind it, we set sail for Alcatraz. The atmosphere on board was electric and a mix of all different types of athletes who had been carefully selected and invited to race this series. A race briefing followed and the ship's horn sounded.
The race starts with the athletes diving off the vessel into the shark-infested waters. That should spur you on to get a swim PB! The swim passed really quickly and I remember running up the beach at the boat club sooner than I thought.
A smooth transition followed after the 1km run to get there and the hilly bike course started.
This was technical and fast and to be honest very exciting. My mind was focused on the run and praying the mechanical gods would be kind to me. This event is a challenge as much as a race and the 400 wooden step ladder approached mid-run.
The sun was now belting down and it really made a difference to the course dynamic. I remember turning at the turn point at the run thinking that it was all uphill from here. I ran the beach and started my way back to Marina Green with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge behind me. I could already hear the finish commentary and this really did spur me on. I increased my cadence and felt strong and pulled out all the stops to finish with my head held high and continue to be greeted by my amazing support at the finish chute.
Alcatraz, you didn’t disappoint! It was an incredible experience never to be forgotten. Thank you so much and of course Sundried for your support. Let’s see what comes next. I can’t wait for the next chapter.
About the author: Andrew Jones is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
After coming second in my Age Group in 2018 at the European Age Group Championships in Tartu, Estonia I got a pre-qualification for the Europeans this year in Weert in the Netherlands. I went into the winter training period with only one focus in mind, to get back on the podium, with the hope of improving on the last result.
All was going well until October, when out on my last training run for The Great South Run, I tripped and broke my ankle. Despite this being a set back for several weeks, once I got the green light to get back into training, it was full gas for the European Championships.
The race was on the 2nd June, and having arrived a few days earlier, I had plenty of time to recce the bike and running route and quite quickly it showed that this was going to be a fast race, time to get excited. Having dropped my running shoes off at T2, it was time to cycle down to T1 (split transition, this was new for me!) to sort out my bike and get ready for the race. Being in the 20-24 age category we were first off with the 18-20 category (a wave of about 30 guys).
We were all called up and taken into the waiting pen, and that’s when the adrenaline really started to pump around the body.
The start itself was a running beach start, so we all lined up and waited for the gun. The next 5ish minutes was chaos, with 30 guys all trying to swim in the same bit of water aiming at the same buoy, but I kept my ground and stayed within the lead group. About 750m into the swim it was time to try and break away from the main group and have a bit of clear water, something I have been focusing on in my training. After a push for about 200m, I found myself on my own chasing down the lead group of 3 guys. I came out of the water in 4th place and kept this position through T1 which I was happy with.
Then onto the bike, a fast flat course of 2 and a half loops on some very straight roads. I knew that I was at a slight disadvantage to the guys on the TT bikes but I didn’t let that bother me, and I held my own pushing it hard on the bike (even though I was almost taken out by a Frenchman on a roundabout!) Despite losing two places on the bike I was happy to come into T2 in 6th place, with the guy in 5th just in front, I was able to get my shoes on and get out on the run quicker, sending me into 5th place.
Now onto the run, my favourite part of the race. 4 laps around the town, time to go hunting! After the initial excitement of starting the run, I soon settled into my pace and could see that I was already catching the guy in front. I had to tell myself not to get too excited and just to let it happen as I could see I had a faster pace than him. After the first lap I was now in 4th place and coming alongside the guy in 3rd, another British guy. I said to him as I passed to stay on me and we will catch the guys together. I continued at my pace and caught the guys in front, with 1 and ½ laps to go I knew I was in first position and still putting some time onto the other guys.
As I came round the last lap onto the final part of the loop I heard over the speaker them announce my name. Then it was time to take it all in and enjoy every second of running down that blue carpet. I didn’t actually realise my lead until the next guy came in 1 minute and 40 seconds later.
Overall it was an absolutely cracking weekend and I came away extremely happy with my result. A joint family decision was made to stay around for the medal ceremony despite us missing our Eurotunnel crossing (luckily we got one only an hour or so later).
Now it's time to enjoy the remainder of the race season and begin preparations for next year, as I am out to Edmonton in Canada for the International Age Group Championships and back to Tartu, Estonia for the Europeans. Cannot wait!
About the author: Will Grace is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.