Rich and I enjoyed our first trip in our campervan for Southport Standard Triathlon held at Waterside Lodge (our campsite). We couldn’t really believe our luck as our van was right next to the finish line and about 100m from the swim start. We were parked right amongst all the action. We didn’t want the usual race day rush so drove down Friday night for Saturday registration and recce then Sunday morning race. 

It was so amazing to have time to settle in and take a look around. We tried to recce the bike course but got beeped and swerved at by lots of horrible drivers so ended up calling it off. We also tried to recce the complicated run course but all the signs and maps actually ended up confusing me even further and I was convinced I would get lost on race day unless they had amazingly helpful marshalls every step of the way. However, I loved the camping experience before the race and can’t wait for future triathlon adventures in Victor Vivaro.

We had prepared as much as possible, but the race day nerves were high. I think everyone was feeling the same as most triathletes haven’t raced for 8/9/10 months. Pools have only been open a matter of weeks and the water is so cold this time of year that only the brave souls have been practising. Rich and I had only managed testing out our wetsuits in the lake with a dip and 1 minute swim a few days before the race.

The swim was the biggest concern. I was worried about the temperature of the water and had also heard many rumours about Southport Marine Lake being very “pongy”, “pooey” , “aromatic”. The lake is very shallow (only waist high) and the whole floor is bird poo. The lake is a bright blue (portaloo not Caribbean blue) and it smells. 

I was excited to prove myself on the bike as my bike training has gone from strength to strength. My 4 months off running with my hip injury allowed me to focus on my cycling and increase my FTP month by month. I had been practising increasingly in TT position and felt ready. My aim for the day was to get the fastest female bike split.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the run but wasn’t expecting miracles. I have been over the moon to come back from injury and have discovered a newfound love for this third discipline. I used to hate running and it was just something I had to do to complete the triathlon. However, now it has overtaken swimming to become my second favourite discipline. (Nothing will ever compare to my love of cycling!) With minimal speed work banked due to my hip, I had no idea what pace I would be able to produce on race day. I knew I would not be able to keep up with strong competition so the run for me would just have to be a case of trying my best.

Race Morning

Rich and I woke at 5am and ate our race morning porridge and we tried to chat and keep nerves at bay. I was able to watch Rich’s 7am swim start and even see him in transition as I was setting up my bike when he came past. He looked very cold and very serious! I then faffed around and saw Rich a couple of times on the bike before realising I should probably get ready too. 

I broke the rules of never trying new kit on race day as my neoprene cap only came just in time. The only way I could get it to stay on my head was to wear my swim hat on top AND race hat….so 3 swim caps in total! (Anything to stay warm). 

I had soooo much time to get ready for my 9am (time trial style) swim start and I had hoped to position myself near the start of the female wave. However, typical Sophie style, had a mad rush last minute panic, managed to break (then fix) the zip on my trisuit in my awning as I heard them call for all women to come to the start. I quickly smeared some vaseline around my ankles to help with pulling my wetsuit off in T2 and grabbed my goggles. As I ran down to the waterfront, I felt like I had forgotten something important but couldn’t put my finger on what. The race commentator was saying “Where’s Sophie King?” to the crowd of female athletes. I thought I had done something wrong, like racked my bike wrong or dropped something or forgotten something. I waved my arm at the commentator and it turned out he was just sharing stories….So he announced to everyone that I had moved from sunny Singapore (to race in rainy, cold, windy Southport). I put my goggles on and couldn’t see a thing. I had somehow gotten vaseline all over them. There was no way I would be able to sight! I couldn’t believe it. As Richard would have predicted, I was flapping!!!! I ran round the side of the lodge to find a water tap and was desperately rinsing off the vaseline but it wasn’t working! I ended up LICKING the vaseline off the goggles lens in a desperate bid to be able to see during my open water swim. Everyone was walking past me to the waterfront now so no more time to flap. I positioned myself around 5th in the line and was ready to go. I had to ask the lady in front and behind me whether it was buoy 4 or 7 we were meant to swim around for lap 2 and thank goodness I did because I would have swum wrong otherwise. (This is all despite checking the swim map many, many times). 

The swim was nowhere near as bad as I had been expecting. I think I had built it up in my head to be so bad, that I actually didn’t mind it at all in the end. I never found any feet to draft on but I was confident with my sighting and happy to just swim solo. I got into a rhythm and, actually, it ended up being one of my more enjoyable open water swims. I came out of the water and into T1 still near the front of the pack. I think perhaps 3 or 4 women had overtaken me. Rich was there cheering me on as I came out of the water and made my way down a longggggggg transition. I had the genius idea of using the bright pink inner lining of my dry robe stuffed in an open bag as a colourful marker to help me find my bike since there were no distinguishable markers around to help. It worked a treat, I found my bike quickly and I was excited to get out pedalling. 

The bike course was a 2 lap out and back very flat course. I LOVED it! I tucked into aero position and started pushing out the watts I hoped I could maintain. The first lap, I was a little hesitant on some of the roundabouts, corners, U turns (bike handling skills always need improving) but by lap 2 I had grown in confidence. I quickly overtook three women and was passing male triathletes, picking them off – one after another after another. It was an amazing feeling and I felt a little unstoppable. I was aware there were a couple of very strong triathletes up ahead. They had already been announced as race favourites. I knew the bike was my chance to catch them and I knew their running would most likely be stronger that my own at this stage. My aim was to get the fastest female bike split of the day so that’s what I did. At each U-turn I could see that I was catching up to 1,2 and 3 and by the time it was time to dismount I had made up significant time. They were all in sight during T2.

I was happy with my flying dismount and had to run a LONGGGGGG way with my bike to rack it near the far end. I was out on the run and ready to finish off a race that had gone surprisingly smoothly so far. I saw Rich out on the course and he thought I was 4th female, encouraging me to try and catch the top three. I enjoyed the run and, thanks to the amazing marshalls, didn’t get lost. I was able to maintain an average pace of 4.26 minute kilometers. This is a huge improvement for me and I was so happy. I knew my chances of podium were slim but I also felt like I was giving my best and that’s all that mattered. I sprinted the final 500m and crossed the finish line, very very happy. I wasn’t sure what position I had come and results were slow to come through. It turned out I was 2nd in my age group, 5th female overall and I had the fastest female bike split. I was ecstatic with this result. 

Rich and I chose a standard distance triathlon as a practise race for our 70.3 triathlons coming up later in the year. It isn’t the distance we train for and we knew we didn’t have the speed to be competitive. I hadn’t expected to be able to keep up with some of the amazing ladies in the swim and the run so I was so pleased with the end result. I felt fine at the end of the race. I felt like I could have easily swum a further 500m, biked a further 50km and ran a further 11.1km. For that reason, the race had served its purpose. Usually after a hard 70.3, my body is broken for a few days afterwards. However, Rich and I bounced back after Southport. Other than a little achey the next morning, we felt ready to continue our training.

Next up is Elsinore 70.3 in Denmark for the European Championships at the end of June. All fingers and toes crossed that travel will be possible because I cannot wait to see what I can do with my favourite distance.

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