It’s hard to summarise a race that you haven’t quite decided how you feel about. But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It was an elephant sized day but will attempt to summarise it bite by bite… I’ll keep it honest, try to keep it interesting but can’t guarantee I’ll keep it short… It was a LONG day out, so here goes…
Ironman Cairns, set in tropical Far North Queensland (which happens to be my birthplace) always promises to be a spectacular race. Swim 3.8km in the stunning beaches of Palm Cove, ride 180km along the Captain Cook Highway up to Port Douglas, taking in breathtaking views of the ocean and rainforest then run 42.2km along the Cairns Esplanade with unparalleled atmosphere and crowd support.
However, being a tropical climate comes the unpredictable weather. Queensland used to have a motto ‘Beautiful one day, perfect the next.’ Last week should’ve swapped out perfect for horrendous and we would have race day. The weather itself didn’t actually bother me before the day, everyone’s experiencing the same conditions so it’s just a battle of who’s the toughest. Outwit, outplay, outlast, an Ironman is kind of like Survivor right? I’ve raced pretty well in the past when odds were against me, so thought I was pretty tough… But we’ll get to that later.
When I arrived at Palm Cove (the swim start) on race morning it was still dark and had been sprinkling/drizzling rain. I was quite early but keen to set up my nutrition, double check my bike, drop off my special needs and gear bags and pick up some spare CO2 canisters I frantically had arranged the night before. Thanks to a Lauren and Toni for saving the day, I forgot to buy spares at the expo and whilst I didn’t end up needing them, given the number of flat tyres I saw on course I was glad to have them as backups.
Once everything was dropped off and under control I felt like I could relax, get in the zone and work out where exactly the swim start and finish were… Looking at the ocean it didn’t look appealing at all, the water was brown and choppy, the 70.3 athletes had already started and I was meant to do a warmup swim but was reconsidering. The nerves were just kicking in when I saw one of the best people I could’ve seen at that moment. She gave me a huge hug and insisted on taking a few photos… Thanks for distracting me from the nerves and taking my mind off things Hannah, oh and you captured the sunrise beautifully!
Bumping into another friend Jules from Noosa we decided to brave the water together for a warm up and it’s probably one of the best decisions I made all day. A few hundred metres rolling the arms out and we realised it wasn’t as scary as it looked, allowing me to relax once I started the race for real. Just before I lined up for the rolling start Mum, Joel my brother and his girlfriend Alice appeared on the beach, perfect timing for a quick hug and good luck. They had driven up from Townsville leaving at 2:30am and arriving minutes before the start. Talk about perfect timing and luck in finding me amongst thousands of athletes and spectators.
The swim was somewhat uneventful for me, I know it was rough and a lot of people were thrown around out there, quite a few were pulled out by rescue boats so I guess I was kind of lucky. I got caught up for a little while battling with a big guy in a green cap. He kept whacking my arms and swimming in my space so I broke free and swam a few metres to the left of the pack. This meant I didn’t get free speed drafting on anyone’s feet, but I just swam along, did my thing and eventually made it to the beach. I was relieved to feel the sand under my feet and hear my Mum on the beach cheering. I ran up to transition, unpeeling my wetsuit when I spotted my brother Joel, another yippee moment, let’s get this show on the road…
The ride began pretty nicely, despite having rained whilst we were swimming it was clear to begin with… For about 7 minutes. Just as I got around the first little corner and was heading on the Captain Cook Highway it started to rain, then pour. My nutrition plan was to get some Infinit in and a Cliff Bar eaten nice and early to replace what energy I had used during the swim and set me up for a good day. The rain meant I needed both hands on the bars and my full attention on the road, not unwrapping a bar. I tried to drink a bit but the swim was probably rougher than I realised and a belly full of seawater made stomaching anything quite difficult. There were a few salty grape flavoured mini-vomits in the first hour, so I eased off and knew my decent breaky pre race would have me covered for a while.
The ride course is definitely interesting and variable, no one can argue with that. The hills are rolling, you pass through parts where the rainforest meets the sea, acres of cane fields, townships with people braving the elements to cheer and of course the famous Rex’s lookout. Riding towards Port Douglas there is a longer gradual climb to the lookout, and returning it’s a shorter steeper hill. First time round it wasn’t so bad and you wonder what all the fuss is about. Second time when there’s strong headwinds, horizontal rain and my legs were cramping I wasn’t loving it.
Speaking of the winds… I think they were the main reason you will read the words brutal, tough or challenging on every recap of this race. 30km/hr headwinds aren’t pleasant, especially for the last 80km of an 180km ride. I tried to get aero and just keep on keeping on, making the most of the downhills and pockets of shelter. There were times when I felt like if I weighed less the gusts would’ve thrown me off my bike. Maybe I pushed harder into the winds than I should have, perhaps I didn’t make the most of the tailwinds. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I think I did the best I could on the day considering the conditions.
I came across Jules again, had a brief chat then worked with her for the last 20-30km, we kept the legal 12 metres between us but having someone to get through it with me certainly helped. We battled the winds and I watched my average speed drop but tried to remain in good spirits knowing I had a marathon coming up. I was looking forward to getting off the bike and giving the run a red hot crack.
Coming into T2 I saw/heard Mum again, had a quick change of shoes and I was off on foot. I quickly realised I still had my cycling gloves on, was scanning the crowd for someone I knew then heard ‘Go Chloe Kay’ being screamed, so chucked my sweaty gloves in their direction… Thanks for catching them Lauren and Rob, oh and your loud cheers were awesome.
I absolutely loved the first part of the run, the crowd support was phenomenal. I had spotted Sue my training budding, Hannah and a few people more people I knew and tried to get into some sort of rhythm. I regularly run off the bike so know it usually takes me about 2-3km to shake out the bike legs and feel alright. After about 5km I was struggling, my coach Scotty had written in my race plan ‘You’re never going to feel as good as you do in the first 10km’ which had me worried… You mean to say it’s only going to get worse than this?
I know I have done a couple of Ironman races already, so technically I should know what to expect. Maybe the memories of the other races have faded with the pain. But it felt like I was hurting more than I had ever hurt before. I was struggling and not in a good place mentally or physically.
I love a good motivational quote, and know a few handy tips that can usually get me out of a sticky situation. But I was in pit of misery and couldn’t pull myself out. I perked up running through the crowds each lap, but the lonely desolate areas became pretty average. Kudos must go to Charlotte who rode her bike up and down the airport end of the course all day pumping tunes… Nothing like a bit of Spice Girls to cheer you up when you’re down.
I did think about quitting, I won’t lie to you. My very first Ironman I did in Cozumel my family were very worried about me. I was a long way from home and they were worried about the race distance, several times in the lead up to that race Mum said ‘You don’t have to do it you know, just have a holiday and enjoy yourself.’ Now today she was standing at the other end of the run course, out in the rain and dark having travelled 2000km to support and watch me race and I was contemplating quitting?
I also thought about my blog and social media accounts, I share a lot of my training and stories on there. I was beginning to regret that, thinking if none of these people knew me, if no one was at home tracking me I could do whatever I wanted right now. I could go home, have a hot shower, wash my hair and snuggle up in bed. But they are watching, and I can’t. People I don’t even know tell me I’m a source of inspiration, people I do know are probably sick of my Ironman spam but tolerate it because they love me. What am I even thinking contemplating giving up? These people believe in me, now I need to start believing in myself.
I felt like I lost the mental battle out there and that’s probably what disappointed me more than anything. I can handle the times being slower than I would’ve liked, that doesn’t really bother me. Whilst I would love to have gone faster I did my best physically on the day. Usually what I lack in physical ability I make up in mental strength. But not this time. I walked more than I am proud of, and had more negative thoughts than I thought possible.
But just as I was writing the day off as a bad one, admitting defeat that I didn’t achieve any of the goals I had set out to do my coach appeared. I had passed Scotty a few times, the first time I told him I was dying and he answered with ‘Well this is an Ironman.’ Tough coach, thanks for keeping it real… But this time he ran up alongside me and said if I maintained my pace I could make it under 12 hours.
I thought that was already out of the picture, I asked him what pace I needed to run and he said 6min/km. I looked down at my Garmin and was doing 7:10min/km. Suddenly with a burst of motivation and light at the end of a long dark tunnel I picked up the pace and ran it home. I think Scotty was running to make it to the finish line in time to see me to finish so I tried to keep up with him (pretty much impossible). I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face and got so many compliments and cheers on that last kilometre that I looked strong it actually made me feel a bit embarrassed (they hadn’t seen me walking and in despair not so long ago). But I soaked up the atmosphere and loved every minute of running down that finishers chute.
I made it over the line in 11:59:35 and my day from hell was suddenly all worth it, I had finally broken the 12 hour mark. Albeit not in the time or fashion I had hoped for, but I was happy.
Don’t let anyone tell you an Ironman is easy, anything can go wrong from weather to flat tyres to nutritional issues to just feeling downright average. It’s one hell of a long way to travel by water, bike and foot.
The next day at the Witsup Pro Panel breakfast it was comforting and interesting to hear about everyone’s races and the aftermath. It doesn’t matter if you finish in 9 hours, 12 hours or 16 hours you still hurt the same, the saying really is true ‘It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.’ We all have those same low points where you question yourself and you just need to be ready for them, have your answers ready and push past, knowing the bad patches will be over soon. After all, tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
Thanks to everyone who played a part in the lead up to this Ironman. I have been humbled by it and am very gracious for the support. You don’t just sign up for an endurance race, do a bit of training and make it to the finish line. It’s definitely a team effort, so would like to thank my team.
Mum and my brothers Will, Jeremy, Joel and Dominic, you are my number one supporters and I can’t thank you enough. I think we all have that same determined (borderline obsessed) characteristic when we set our mind to achieving something, so I guess we can thank Mum for that.
Not only would I have struggled to get to the startline without Mum’s support, I would have run out of clean washing a long time ago. Thanks for picking up the pieces, keeping me fed, clothed and sane during the Ironman prep Mum, you’re the best.
To my training buddies thank you and congratulations on your races. When I moved to Noosa nearly 3 years ago I didn’t know anyone. Now I have the most wonderful group of friends thanks to triathlon. The Noosa triathlon community is small but tight, everyone is supportive and interested in each other. I’m lucky to live in such a beautiful place of the world doing what I love, surrounded by great people. Special thanks to my travel buddy Sue who put up with me for 4 days around the race, my emotions were somewhat irrational so thanks and sorry (PS she conquered the Cairns 70.3).
Thanks Scotty from T:Zero Multisport, and all of the team. The thing that has struck me the most about the T:Zero team is the unanimous desire to do their very best at every single training session and race. Talk about covering the 1%ers, the T:Zero crew has that down to a fine art. When I met with Scotty to discuss coaching we spoke about short term goals and long term goals, it was pretty close to Ironman Cairns so we discussed waiting until afterwards to begin. I hadn’t run for 6 weeks due to a hip injury and it was just 12 weeks until Cairns, but I decided to bite the bullet and join the T:Zero team, and couldn’t be happier with the choice.
I’m not exactly a dreamboat to coach, I do exactly what’s set on my program but may have a tendency to whinge/complain and write pretty lengthy and descriptive feedback. Thanks for coaching me, sharing your knowledge and pushing me across the line at the end of the day in under 12 hours. Although I whinge a lot about the windtraining sets maybe you’re right and they really do help!
To everyone else, my beautiful friends and family, my lovely colleagues, the fabulous Fohettes, my Instagram friends, blog readers and each and every person who has played a part THANK YOU. I appreciate it all and am so very lucky to have you in my life.
When you invest so much time and effort into something it becomes a big deal. Without meaning to I put a lot of expectation on myself, the huge build up to the event, massive day out physically and mentally then mixed feelings about the results has been an emotional rollercoaster. Having had a few days now to digest it all, recover and reflect I am pretty damn proud of my achievement.
Although I declared “NEVER AGAIN” more than once on Sunday, of course there will be a next time. I really do love this sport and am grateful to have found something I love so much and all the opportunities it has given me. I just need to learn listen to my heart and not my brain on race day. To stay posted on all things Living in Lycra sign up here.
Until next time remember, if you follow your mind it’ll lead you astray, if you follow your heart it will show you the way.