Flights home are perfect for writing race reports, so this race reflection has been done in record timing. Before I launch into the longwinded account of the day, and may lose some readers along the way I just want to say thank you to each and every person in my life. My family, friends, boss, colleagues, coach, physio, GP, masseuse, bike shop, guys at the roti stall at the markets (Sunday post ride ritual) even my lovely customers at the pharmacy. It shouldn’t take a race for me to say thank you, and I hope you already know how grateful and appreciative I am, but just in case you don’t… Thank you!
This weekend I completed Ironman 70.3 Cairns, a 1.9km swim, 90km ride and 21.1km run through beautiful Far North Queensland. Having completed the full distance Ironman Cairns the past 2 years I was happy to venture north and take on the half Ironman this time around.
I arrived in Cairns on Thursday which was perfect (I would highly recommend getting to the destination at least 3 days before it if you’re traveling to race). By the time you fly, eat, travel to hotel, check in, buy some groceries, eat, rebuild your bike, sort yourself out, eat again and collapse into bed… The day of travel is pretty much a write off and can be quite exhausting.
I knew heaps of people racing so was looking forward to catching up with them, but on the other hand don’t really like talking about the race prior. People’s energy rubs off on me, cool calm collected people leaving me feeling the same and the opposite effect if I’m around nervous jittery peeps! So I decided to meet up with a few people but spent most of the weekend with the friends I was staying with and Mum.
I went on the Fohette Roll Out on Friday morning, an annual ride with all the fabulous Foher ladies. It was great to have a chat with everyone as we were rolling and left me feeling pretty grateful to be part of this gorgeous and inspiring girl gang.
After that I became a bit of a hermit, Ironman Cairns (and the 70.3) starts in Palm Cove (20km roughly from the city). So bikes need to be racked there and run gear bags in the city. The day before can therefore end up being spent walking and travelling more than you’d probably like to be. I think I recorded about 15,000 steps that day, probably not ideal if you were doing the Ironman!
Fast forward to race morning, I travelled up to Palm Cove with my coach Pete and two other Endurance Collab team athletes who did the full Ironman. The majority of the way we talked about sharks in WA and crocodiles in Cairns… Pete’s theory (or apparent scientific explanation of why we were going to be ok) was that the beach was too cold at this time of year, and crocs can’t digest their food in the cold so die… Therefore they avoid the ocean and stick to rivers. Although we were about to swim 1.8km in that croc infested water, the conversation and trip was strangely calming and beat talking about the race.
Up until Sunday morning I hadn’t really been nervous. But once we did the final bike check, last loo stop and headed down in the dark to the swim start I began to feel nervously excited! 6 months ago a lady held an ultrasound machine to my foot, said I had a tear in my ligament and it would be months before I could run again. At that stage I had been training hard, was feeling the fastest I had ever been and was ready to race, so the disappointment hit me hard. Now here I was finally good again and on the start line.
The swim was a rolling start, that means they let athletes go 2 by 2, about one second apart. This avoids a mass washing machine feel and hopefully reduces injury etc for athletes. There’s big debates over mass start vs rolling, I quite like both. The rolling start meant I swam pretty much solo for the whole time. I can get a bit slack in the swim and drift off without realising. I definitely work better chasing or keep up with someone, but I was on my own. I did try to focus on stroke and go harder when I found myself drifting, but need to work on those cues to keep razor sharp focus for the next race. I finished in 30.06 and wasn’t disappointed with that.
T1… Worlds longest transition? Between the swim exit, my bike and T2 exit there must have been close to 1km. I spent about 7 minutes in there but don’t think I wasted much time fluffing about, it was literally just a super long run.
Bike. Oh the bike. Going into the ride I was pretty nervous/dubious. Last year at Ironman Cairns I rode too hard during the last 60km home into a headwind and smashed my legs for the run. I didn’t want to repeat that again.
Then I also have the opposite that sometimes goes on… Where I’m a bit slack and don’t ride hard enough in training. Not because I don’t want to, there’s just a little person in my head that tells me I can’t, when maybe I really can? A few times in training I literally couldn’t ride race pace efforts.
Ummm how do you expect to go race pace on race day if you don’t do it in training?
I don’t know… I’ll wing it?
Needless to say these things can’t be ‘winged’ especially over a 90km ride. It was overcast, with a tailwind heading towards Port Douglas and I rode comfortably getting in nutrition as planned. Then we turned around and got a headwind as expected. At this point I was pretty stoked not to have to do a second lap like the Ironman athletes did.
The last 30km into Cairns city goes through the cane fields, has pretty strong headwinds and isn’t really very exciting. By then my legs were feeling tired, I think I paced myself pretty well without over doing it, but most of all I started getting excited. The swim had been good, bike not too eventful and no mechanical issues (apart from back brakes that weren’t really braking, but I survived all the downhills thank goodness) and I was thinking about the run.
I was thinking about how good it was going to be having all of the spectators and other athletes around, up until then I had swum and ridden pretty much on my own so was looking forward to the atmosphere. My overall bike time was 2 hours 55 min. A PB on my last 70.3 ride time, maybe a tad slower than I had hoped for, but plenty of lessons in there that I will take home for training and the next race.
T2. I rolled into the esplanade and saw some friends already running, Mum in the crowd cheering and other friends also entering transition. One of them racked her bike a few down from me and told me she was stopping there. Not running, had enough, wasn’t feeling it, doneskies. My first instinct was that she would regret not finishing more than she would regret a bad race. So once I finally undid the run gear bag knot, put on some shoes, hat and race belt, I kindly bullied her into running with me… And she reluctantly obliged (considering she ‘wasn’t feeling it’ had a great run and finished the race)! Just being able to start that run together and seeing her smiley face running along the next 2 hours was awesome.
So the run… 21.1km at the end of a swim and ride. I know I have done this before but sheesh it was harder than I remember! I started off ok, maybe feeling a bit too good and hyped up by the awesome atmosphere. Probably went out a bit hard, and started to struggle after about 5km. But I plodded along, loved seeing so many familiar faces out there and was equally grateful for all the complete strangers cheering and giving compliments and encouragement. I ran way faster through these crowded areas than the lonely desolated sections. Not even purposely, just because when you’re smiley and loving life it puts a spring in your step.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, I was struggling there for a solid 10-15km! My watch said I was slowing down with every kilometre. That’s when I decided to stop looking and starting soaking up the atmosphere instead. We won’t remember the pace we ran as much as how we felt out there. I had planned to step on the gas after halfway, then once I got to 10km changed my plans… Decided to try and pick it up when I had 5km to go, but my legs weren’t of the same opinion. They didn’t want to go any faster, then I decided ok when I have 3km to go I’ll get faster… Nope still no response from the leggies.
But with 1 km to go, the crowds were getting pretty rowdy and cheering hard, the finish line was oh so close and I managed to pick up the pace and run home with a smile of pure relief and satisfaction. I finished it 1 hour 55min, in context of the last 6 months I am pretty stoked with this time.
Turning into the red carpet and down the finishers chute… That feeling is definitely my favourite. Whether you are first, last or one of the 3000 people in between, I reckon the glorious feeling is pretty much the same.
We have all swum the same 1.8km, ridden 90km and run 21.1km. We are all competing for our own reasons, only a handful do it as their job, the rest do it solely for pleasure. There’s some sacrifices that come along with training for endurance events, then the race itself hurts (a lot) but seriously that finish line feeling… Makes it all worthwhile!
The finish line and medal should have been the end of this story, but instead it’s the beginning of the next one. On Sunday evening at the insistence of my friend Toni we attended the roll down presentations for Ironman 70.3 World Championships which are being held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I hadn’t even considered attending roll down or the likelihood of getting a place. But we went along and both Toni and I accepted slots, so are heading to the USA in September!
This means in 12 weeks I will once again toe the line for a 70.3, this time it will be at World Champs. I got the spot by roll down, meaning people in my age group who finished before me didn’t accept their places. A tiny bit of me wonders if it makes me any less worthy of going… But World Champs aren’t an opportunity that will come up very often.
Considering 4 years ago I couldn’t run 5km, this is so surreal. If you know me from my pre-triathlon days you will know I avoided exercise for the best part of 26 years… Now I can’t imagine life without it (well I can- I would have way more time, energy and money, but wouldn’t trade that for how much I love this sport). I know I still have a heap of work to do and there’s plenty of room for improvement but I’m so excited, grateful and inspired by this opportunity… So bring on the hard work ahead.
Until next time remember, anything really IS possible.