Race report: Laguna Phuket Triathlon (1.8km/50km/12km)

After a rather muted 2017 tri season due to a very annoyingly timed stress fracture back in May, my revised A race finally arrived. We were off to Thailand, baby!

As is often the case, the run-up to race day did not go quite to plan. Looking back at my Strava feed, I’d begun getting chesty in late October. Like a numpty, I continued through it for a while, including a long cold solo ride to Hartley Wintney to meet my good friend Ben for lunch. A lovely and well-overdue catch-up, but in hindsight I should have driven. The next day my lungs felt terrible and I was coughing up green gremlins, and I just couldn’t muster up any energy to do anything. A few days laying off the exercise unfortunately wasn’t enough, and after trying to soldier on at work despite almost no sleep and struggling to breathe, I finally bit the bullet and went to my own GP. I hate going to the GP as a medical professional normally, but I was seen by a lovely young woman who gave me some antibiotics and strongly encouraged me to take some time off to rest. In the hope that I could get away without more time off, I went to work the following day; by the afternoon I had called in sick for the next 2 days. I need to learn to listen! Big thanks have to be given to my friend and club-mate Gemma, who sent me some self chest physio exercises which worked a treat in clearing my chest. Lifesaver 🙂

A week later, feeling slightly more human and having spent a day jiggling bags to meet our tight luggage weight restrictions, we were off! I am really bad at travelling long haul, as I get so excited by all the films that I barely sleep a wink. This time was no exception, and I managed 4 on the first flight and a 5th on the next. Don’t even get me started on the plane food, I love it!

Bike Recce

After arriving and heading for an immediate nap, we put the bikes together and had a bit of an explore. Having planned to try to do our own bike recce on the Friday, we (thankfully) got wind of an organised, police-escorted recce we could join instead. “Steady pace” the race director stressed in the pre-recce briefing. Steady my arse!!! Paul and I were still both hacking up chunks, and falling fairly conspicuously off the back of the ride. As per usual, we got to the first significant climb of the route – a short (300m) but unapologetically steep (18%) climb around 33km in – and managed to make up ground on a few heavier riders on their hefty TT bikes, one of whom snapped his chain right in front of us. Thank you, power-to-weight ratio and cx honed bike handling skills.

We managed to stay ahead of the broom wagon for the remainder of the ride. The highlight for me was when a nice American lady rode beside us towards the top of another long, fairly steep incline, just as I was trying to keep my breakfast from making a reappearance. I don’t think I was so successful in stopping the F-bomb from making an escape from my mouth. Having taken a few minutes to compose myself, we got chatting. Turns out it’s only 2 time ITU and 1995 Kona champion Karen Smyers!! She had been invited back to race as one of the “legends”, having been the race’s inaugural female winner in 1994. Smooth Kate, smooth. Back to Laguna Phuket, Paul and I broke off to go and clear out a pharmacy of antibiotics, mucolytics and nasal sprays.

Swim recce happened the next day. The course was 1200m of lovely warm, clear sea, followed by a short steep beach sprint, and then 600m straight across a lagoon. The sea was clear enough though for Paul to catch sight of several jellyfish, just as they stung his limbs. Sea recce curtailed, we tried out the lagoon – more like a more swampy version of our local lake, which smelt less than fresh!! 🙂

The rest of our pre-race build up consisted of trying to rest up, get a beach-side massage and fuel well, which involved a LOT of restraint at the all-you-can-eat hotel breakfast buffet! The night before we went to the pasta party which was actually really good. We got chatting to a couple from Hong Kong who hadn’t done many triathlons before, coming from an ultra running background, so thought we were being “helpful” by giving them bike gearing tips. Little did we know that one of them is so good at ultra-running that he’s sponsored by the likes of The North Face, Garmin and Hammer Nutrition… no suprises when he came 3rd in his age group then! Very lovely couple. https://www.vladixel.com/

Bang Tao Beach

So finally, race morning arrived. Up at the crack of dawn as usual, and forced down the nearest thing to granola/museli we managed to find at the local shop. A short taxi-ride to transition for numbering and then some final set-up in the pitch black. Can of Redbull downed, and it was time to get the ferry to the beach start area. One of my only grips for the whole race was that we were told there was a second bag-drop on the beach, allowing us to go over in flip-flops and not have to sacrifice them.  Could we find the bag-drop? No. Did any of the volunteers have any idea where it was? Nooo. In the end we just had to leave them with a random volunteer and hope they made their way back to the finish (they did). Small thing, but a stress you don’t need when you’re already nervous!

5am transition

Paul and I were both in the faster of the age-group swim pens, and at 6:35 we were off. With 200 per wave, it was a pretty good-going thrash-fest, but by about 200m in I had found a couple of hips to draft which was a relief. Apart from taking a kick to the boob at one point (!), the rest of the swim was fairly unremarkable, and if I was stung by jellyfish, I was too focused to register it. The short beach run was a killer though! By the time I dived into the lagoon, my arms were done. Like my club-mate Louise had said when she did it last year, going from buoyant salty sea to warm freshwater was like swimming through treacle. Still, I managed to hold my own and exited the water 10th non-pro and 4th in AG in 32:29. How nice to hear “Kate Robinson, one of the top age-groupers” as I bambi-ed my way to T1, not long behind Karen Smyers 🙂

Save for dropping my glasses and having to go back for them just before the mount line, I managed the “pro” mount I’d been practicing this summer where your shoes are already attached to the bike, and settled down to my strongest discipline. Once off the main road, it was lovely to be cheered on by all the local school kids, and they seemed to whoop even more loudly seeing a lady come past. I passed one or two women during some technical sections on the way out to the highway. By some fluke, at one of the only out-and-back sections of the bike course, I passed Paul coming the other way. I know he feels more comfortable knowing I’m safely racing, so a quick verbal exchange and it was back to business. The 18% hill came and went without incident for me, and another woman overtaken, although I witnessed another MAMIL on a heavy looking TT bike who stalled his gears and had to dismount, alongside some amusing expletives! By the time I got to the next set of hills, I found myself overtaking the last female pro, Shiu Yan Leanne Szeto. Very quick to give myself the proverbial pat-on-the-back, I clocked that her tri suit shorts didn’t seem quite right. Bandaging. She’d obviously come off on a descent and scraped herself quite badly. Ah well, a girl can dream she’s pro standard eh?! She shouted some words of encouragement at me, which was lovely, and we played cat-and-mouse for the rest of the bike. I came into T2 after 1:35:55, 6th non-pro and 1st in age group.

I bottled the “pro” dismount, choosing to clip-clop my way to the rack in my cleats. Whilst scrabbling around for my shoes and gel, I heard shouts of encouragement from  a guy called Jean-Sebastien from our cyclo-cross league back at home, who was out doing the run leg as part of a relay team. Small world! Out onto the run, and the first few km felt hard but do-able, at around 5:00/km pace. Unfortunately, around 3-4km in, that’s when it all went a bit Pete Tong. First came the nausea and bloating, and then the shit started to hit the fan (pardon the pun). It was so hot and humid anyway, that people were having to walk through the aid stations to take full advantage of the water sponges, ice and drinks. But my stomach felt so bad that I could only run for 500m at a time before having to walk, grinding to nearly 8:00/km pace. Jean-Sebastien passed me out on the scorching golf course, and tried to shout more encouragement, unfortunately to no avail (thanks anyway J-S!). By the time I got back to the half-way point near the start/finish, I knew there were some toilet buses there. But they were not nice, grim in fact, and I figured trying to manoeuvre a French-style squat job whilst hot and bothered and wearing a compression tri suit was not going to end well. So on I soldiered, beside Karen Smyers again for a few km (much to the delight of the race compere!).  Around 9km in I realised there was a cafe/toilet block on the exit of the golf course – result!! I had to wait about 3 minutes for someone else with toilet issues to finish, but I was in and out faster than you could say “Paula Radcliffe”. This was an absolute Godsend, as I managed to run the rest of the way virtually non-stop (albeit slowly). My run was only salvaged by the fact that I did manage to re-overtake one woman about 500m from the finish. Not all crap then!

Hot and bothered on the golf course

Across the line in 3:28:05, I got my medal and water, found Paul, and had to go straight to the grim bus loos for an extended stay. Oh the glamorous life of a triathlete! After a bit of a lie-down and some more fluids, we found some other lovely people we’d met at the pasta party, had a quick chat, and then tried to force down some fried rice, before cycling home very, very slowly. After some buscopan, English Breakfast tea and a hot bath, I was feeling a bit more normal, and we made it to the awards party for some beers with Karen Smyers and the compere. Having won matching elephants (and a pair of non-returnable trainers in the wrong size for Paul as age-group winner…?!), we stayed up til the small hours at the beach club before heading for a long sleep.

So all in all, I was very pleased with my efforts, especially finishing the bike only 5 minutes behind some of the female pros. The run was horrendous, and although there may have been some heat/sweat issues contributing, I definitely need to get some more help with my in-race nutrition. Just gutting to go from leading the race to 3rd in the main part because of my stomach. Would I do it again? Yes, if I was going back to Thailand. A very well organized race, friendly atmosphere and great pasta + after parties. Do I race well in hot conditions? Definitely not!!

Until 2018, triathlon xx

His ‘n’ Hers trophies 🙂