I have a soft spot for Cairns. This was my first ever 70.3 back in 2014 so it will always be my favourite course I think. Since my first race, I have completed several sprints, a couple of Olympic distances and an IM. I thought I would head back to Cairns and race the 70.3 again as I had unfinished business...
In the weeks building up to Race day, training had been going well. All 3 legs had improved and I seemed to be on track. My swimming was coming along nicely, 2 extra squad sessions a week chasing the fast guys always makes a difference! My goal was under 30min for the swim. My cycling always seems to be improving. I just love the bike. I had been working extra hard, getting in a few extra sessions on the wattbike as well as I had a new goal time to beat of 2h50min. I was well on track to achieve this time. Running is something I have always struggled with. It's not something that comes easily to me like my swimming. I really mentally block myself with this one. I had been working hard, running extra when I could. Working on improving and speeding up my run cadence which definitely had improved my running…funny that! Speeding up the cadence also meant I found comfort, I was more in control of my breathing and able to float through the run much easier. I was super keen to get out there and run to see what I could do. My goal was 2h20min.
We arrived in Cairns 4 days before the big day, giving ourself a few days to acclimatise to the heat as Sydney had been so cold. Luckily I don't mind the heat and humidity - my advantage! The weather was perfect. Hot and sunny, about 28 degrees and 70% humidity, just how I like it. We had heard the weather was due to change towards the weekend and would become quite windy and wet. We were doing a weather dance each night praying the perfect weather would say.
The day before race day we had to check everything in to transition. Cairns is different to your usual race as T1 is in Palm Cove and T2 is in Cairns. With everything packed and ready to go, we checked our bags into T2 before heading up to T1 where we would stay the night in Palm Cove. The ride up was a lovely, sunny, 28km from Cairns to Palm Cove. Such and enjoyable peddle where we averaged 30km/h, so I was really feeling ready now for raceday!
When we arrived in Palm Cove, the weather started to turn. The wind picked up and the beach was blowing a gale causing rough, choppy conditions. The beach looked awful! We checked our bikes in. What can I say...transition was about 600m from the beach to my bike...more running!!!! Luckily with the long line of bikes, mine was in a spot I could easily find. I just had to head to the play equipment and my bike was in the middle. Few!! Once we had T2 sorted, we checked into our hotel where we spent the night relaxing, preparing for raceday. We decided to head to the pub for dinner and meet up with the rest of the crew. About halfway through I felt a dark cloud roll over me. Suddenly I didn't feel so well. I had energy, just very jittery, hot and short of breath. I knew it wasn't nerves as I don't really get nervous before a race. I tried to shake it off and ate my dinner. About 10min after dinner, my throat was really sore and I was struggling to speak, almost like I was about to lose my voice. I figured maybe it was due to talking in a loud pub and trying to speak over the strong winds. Once dinner was over, we stopped off at the local supermarket and picked up a lucozade and strepsils to help my sore throat and a few last minute brekkie needs. Once we had settled in for the night, I was still feeling quite off so I made myself a lemon and honey tea and put myself to bed at about 8pm. I was hoping an early night would make it all go away!
At about 11pm I woke up feeling even worse. My throat was so sore I knew I was about to get sick and went back to sleep. At about 3am I woke again, this time I woke feeling like death. My throat was on fire and my head felt like it was going to explode. I knew that's was it, I had fallen sick with swollen glands and had tonsillitis. I was gutted. Of all times to get sick, it was on race day. My heart sank. That hard work just flew out the window and I felt miserable.
So it began...race day had arrived
I was so sick, I could hardly breath my glands were so swollen, like golf balls in my throat. I had been advised not to race as I would only get worse over the course of the day and given the horrendous conditions, the advise was right. But me being me, as I'm pretty stubborn, wasn't going to let anyone tell me I couldn't race. I knew myself that energy wise I felt OK. I said to myself, I'll start with the swim, if struggle in the water, I would stop.
Overnight it had rained, and I mean rained. It was hard to tell if the rain was heavy or if it was the crazy wind. I looked outside, it was both!
With the weather always playing into things, Cairns welcomed athletes to the start-line with torrential all-night downpours of tropical rain and hectic winds, the rain started to clear just in time for the swim start. But then starting again, and stopping again, and starting again, all day. As soon as we got used to the downpour, the clouds would break and the sun would shine through like a laser and heat up the course. But of course, then it would rain again. And the wind provided the classic tailwind out/headwind back scenario to keep the us on our toes. It was brutal.
So how did it all play out?
IRONMAN 70.3 CAIRNS
The expectation I had of reaching my goal times were now starting to fade. Feeling The way I did, I knew I would have to take it easy if I wanted to finish....alive! With the sun barely peaking above the horizon, shedding little light on the moderate chop and large swell that the wind and current had created, I headed off in the first wave under 30min in the swim, exiting the water in 35min, I was guttered. What a shocker! Yes, it was an awful swim, stroke was all over the shop and I was gasping for air on every stoke, but I survived. The water was too warm and quote murky. Luckily I swam in my new swimskin, I think I would have died in a wettie. Im sure the water temp was above regulation! I did also swim over 2km but 35 min was not acceptable.
With the road still wet from the torrential downpours that had been going on throughout the night and early morning, I tried to settle into the aero position and stick to my planned pace. I was enjoying the ride, despite the downpour and rain that felt like nails hitting my skin, I was on tack and at a comfortable pace. I kept peddling trying to not let my average speed drop below 33km/h. The turnaround point arrived at 30km. 30km down and 60km to go. Wow... What a headwind. Luckily training at Kurnell gives you plenty of practice cycling in the wind so I was ok despite nearly being blown off my bike several times. It definitely got hard as the wind picked up, so did the rain. I remember being passed by an official on a motorbike, she was yelling at me and at that point, the rain was so heavy I could barely see her. She yelled, "I feel so sorry for you, you go girl" at that point, I raised my head slightly and gave her a smile. It was perfect timing for a pick me up that's for sure. Even though my bike was leg was going well, the only nutrition I has was x1 bottle of High5 electrolytes, x1 bottle of water and 6 strepsils. There was no way I was able to swallow anything the way my throat was feeling. The ride is along the coast and scenic route back down into Cairns. Im sure it’s very pretty and tropical, however Im still yet to see Cairns in all its picture postcard glory!
I was so relieved to be 10km from T2, the roads were soaked as was I. I had seen plenty of flats and crashes, one in particular was very nasty. I was ready to get off the bike and start running. Coming down the Esplanade (the main drag in Cairns) was awesome. The roar and cheer of the crowd was amazing. I flew off the bike, ran to row 8 and headed for the light post (luckily my rack was right in front of the post as T2 was just a sea of red and white gear bags)! It was so good to put on a dry pair of socks and shoes, however this only lasted about 1km into the run. I was off... the run and final leg of the day. I was feeling ok despite my throat still being sore. I had a great 2km holding 5:40 pace as I got the first aid station and then it hit. My lungs started to burn, felt like someone was sitting on my chest and I could hardly breath. I volunteer came over to me and asked if i was ok.. She thought I was having an asthma attack! I knew I had to slow it down or I was not going to finish. Talk about a kick in the guts. I had worked so hard to run my 21km. I took a moment, regained my thoughts and said to myself that I had 2 options... Give up or keep going. Yes, I was sick as a dog but I couldn't give up. I'm not a quitter. I started shuffling at a pace that was tolerable and where I could keep a steady breathing pattern. It was going to be a long run so I turned my watch around and stopped looking at it. The run in Cairns is fun. It’s a two lap run course (for the 70.3) where you end up coming back on yourself a few times and looping at the top end of the Esplanade near the waters edge with aid station about every 2km. It’s quite pretty and fun to run. Flat as a tack, no hills what so ever and plenty of spots for spectators to support, its awesome.
8km into the run and I had not seen any of my teammates. I was getting worried. Then I thought maybe I was doing much better than I had anticipated?! I had plenty of emotions running through my mind at that point. At 10km, my mate Brad had caught me and appeared out of nowhere. Given that he is an incredibly fast runner, this was expected. Brad also looked like death, at this point I realised he had also had a shocker race so far. I realised I was halfway. I kept shuffling from aid station to aid station just ticking the legs over. I finally arrived at the last aid station. At that point, I had about 2km to go. The last 2km back down the Esplanade was the longest 2km ever! I could see the blue Shimano arch which was right near the finish line. As I was getting the closer to the finish I could hear the supporters getting louder, it was awesome. The music was pumping and Pete Murray could be heard on the microphone. As I turn at the last 500m I saw the red carpet which lead to the finish shute. As I approached the red carpet, I was so overwhelmed with emotion I didn't know what to do. I was trying so hard to hold back the tears and at the same time, I wanted to jump in the air as I crossed the finish line. I managed to shed a few tear as I attempted to raise my arms above my head. Talk about lame finish but that's all I had left in me. As I had come to a complete stop, my emotions caught up with me and I broke down. I could hardly catch my breath, no words were coming out of my mouth and I wanted to collapse. My tonsillitis had hit me like a tonne of bricks but a relief the race was over.
What an experience. It took me about 30min to realise what I had just done and how far I had gone in the condition I was in. I was proud of what I had achieved and how far I was able to push my mind and my body given how sick I was. It was disappointing that Raceday was nothing as I had planned, however you can't change the weather, nor get over the flu in a few hours. These are things that are out of your control and you just have to accept what life hands you on the day. Pain is only temporary and if you want it bad enough, you'll find a way.
Overall I had a 10min pb from my first race in Cairns so I can't complain. After all, Coach did say "hurt yourself. Get a reward" thanks Coach, pretty sure I didn't that. Next time it will be under different circumstances!
Didn't crack the 6hr goal, however there is always another race. I love racing triathlon, you don’t have the be the best of the best, or the fittest to race, you can be any age, shape or size and be prepared to give it your all to reap any sort of reward. One day I may be fast enough to qualify, however im out there having fun and doing what I love with amazing inspiring, likeminded people and at the moment, that’s what counts.
Bring on the next 70.3 at the end of the year. Plenty of training to do between now and the end of the year!