My lead up to Cairns 70.3 was fairly unconventional and massively interrupted by having to work two full time jobs starting from March until the event. This meant my ability and commitment to train to my program was often compromised and a few missing sessions early in the block lead to a majority of missed sessions by the end.
With Cairns IM70.3 fast approaching, I was increasingly unable to get out the sessions I wanted or for the full amount of time. I found as this was case, my nutrition and diet also went out the door as I began to doubt the performance I was going to be able to put in on the day of the race. My only hope I was hanging on to was that my times in training weren’t as bad as what they should be considering the amount of missed sessions and also the conditioning I had from competing in Husky Long Course in February and improving my times considerable. (Note: In the space of a year, I managed to go from having to walk my first ever triathlon - Husky enticer in 2016 to competing and finishing the Husky Long Course in 2017 in 5hrs 48mins).
Anyway, I was really hoping the conditioning and fitness was there to at least get me to the finish line in a decent time in Cairns.
In the lead up to the race, I managed to take annual leave from one job although still had numerous commitments with the other as a school teacher. I managed to get the majority of sessions done and by Friday afternoon, bag and bike packed up, I left straight from school and met my partner at the airport and arrived in Cairns Friday night.
I was up early Saturday morning, bike back together, tyres pumped and headed out for a short ride to make sure everything was running perfectly. I get out on the ride and start heading towards Cairns Airport.
I straight away notice two things: 1. I’m feeling a little heavier than what I would like to feel heading into a half ironman and 2. The wind will prove extremely difficult if it was blowing strong on race day. I arrive back to my hotel, put on my shoes and go for an easy 15 minute run off the bike. I manage to hold around 5:55/6 min pace as this would be the race pace I would like on the day although, I notice I am blowing for air far more than what I should be and sun was hot. I was breaking into a sweat when I should been running this pace easily. I got straight back to hotel and I tell Kristen and SMS my dad saying I feel underdone.
Nerves on how I would go started to creep in as I was fully aware that my training before the race was not up to scratch. I was started to feel doubt and just hanging onto the thin hope that everything on the race would fall into place. Afterwards, I walked down to the esplanade to go through registration and have a walk around the expo. I didn’t have a wetsuit so I walked into the Xterra wetsuit stall and picked up a great wetsuit. I was sold straight away from testing it in the lagoon.
Registration done, now it was time to head to Palm Cove, check the bike in and go for a swim on course. Arriving into Palm Cove, it was swarming with athletes and as I looked over to the swimming location, the wind had come in and the water was extremely rough. I wouldn’t mind this as I felt I could get through the rougher conditions a little better than most in the swim. The transition area was extremely long and I found myself situated right at the end near the bike mount spot. This would prove a long distance from the Swim exit which everyone would have to cover. I thought I would rather run it without a bike. Bike racked and back in town to now sit up and rest the legs, get some dinner and an early night.
In the afternoon, I spoke with my Coach, Brad about feeling under done and he completely reassured me that if I raced smart I could have a great race. This would prove imperative throughout the race. The plan was simple although was invaluable in giving me the right information on what to think about leading up to and during the race. The plan proved to be in my opinion what lead to me completing the race.
Pre - Race
4:20am alarm and I managed to get a reasonable night sleep. All gear needed was checked and nothing forgotten. Arrived into Palm Cove and head straight to my bike to get my drinks put on my bike and ensure everything is ready for transition. Once that’s all done, I manage to put on my wetsuit and walk down to the swim start location across the beach. As I was doing this, the sun started to appear and offered a beautiful sight as it rose over the beach. I managed to stay calm and relax prior to start. I kept thinking of the plan, fully aware I wasn’t going to competing, more so just doing my own race.
The swim start was a rolling beach start separated by zones on approximate finishing times. I was in Zone 3 – 35-45min finishing time for the 1.9km swim. As many of the athletes ventured off on their swim, everyone was moving forward getting ready for their turn. I crossed the start line and hit my Garmin button. First few strokes I realise the water is extremely brown and visibility under water is non-existent. I found it difficult to sight the first buoy so I more or less followed the general direction of everyone until I got sight. I was on the right course and went around the first turning buoy to now swim parallel with the beach following the yellow buoys until the last pink buoy which then was a diagonal swing to the swim exit. I managed to contain myself at the start knowing I wanted to start easy and come home stronger in the last 200-400m.
I managed to latch onto a guy’s feet but then realised he didn’t have much an idea and wasn’t swimming straight. Every time I would sight the buoy I could see swimmers all over the place spread over an area of around 20 metres either side of me. This made me question my line and not wanting to be lead astray, I kept to what I thought was the best direction as I also didn’t want to sit up and lose my form or momentum. I found sighting consecutive buoys difficult as soon as passing one and looking for the next as they were spread out every 400 or so metres. As they got into sight I made a bee line for the buoy. After the early stages I found there was not too many people swimming a similar pace so I was constantly finding feet and then going past them or they went off in a weird direction or was it me?
I stuck to my guns and went with my gut. I felt good and had my watch to alert every 500m to give me a sense of how far in I was. I was expecting to swim the course in 38-40 minutes and I told Kristen that if I had kept to my training I would’ve liked faster but that was my expectation. I had swam Western Sydney 70.3 in 42min with barely any training and used that as a guide as my prep was fairly similar. Turning the last buoy I still felt solid in my form. I realised the majority of swimmers were taking a far wider angle to the exit than what was needed. Therefore I found myself swimming over a large group of people and then as I do this, instantly see them change course and follow me. The rush and frenzy of the last turn and visibility being poor made it difficult to determine what was the right line. As I came close to the beach I saw several people get up too early and try and stand up only to be up to their neck in water. I managed to catch a little current in and as my hands touched the sand got up and headed straight for the swim exit chute. I check my watch to see 32 min and was instantly shocked and stoked.
I got my wetsuit down to my hips and start running to my bike. This proved tough for several reasons: 1. my bike was at the end and running on concrete, bricks and pebbles which were extremely sore on my feet. A couple of times I had to stop and walk because my feet were hurting from running for so long on hard ground and 2. I kept slowing down and checking the numbers on the bike racks because I kept thinking it can’t be this far away not wanting to overrun my bike spot. Transition was fairly casual I didn’t rush wanting to ensure I didn’t raise my heart rate and forget anything I needed. I managed to swim officially a 32:46 placing me 343 out of 1300 or so athletes which I was extremely happy about.
The bike leg plan was simple – take it easy for first 60km and if I had the legs to give it a good go up until 5km out from transition and spin the legs. I figured a 30km/h average was possible but thought a little under was more achievable. As I hopped on the bike and headed out of Palm cove, I just focused on not raising the heart rate and burning the legs. This proved to be a slow pace and was where the lack of training started to show. Around 50km in, I started to ready myself to pick up the pace. I was averaging around 27-28km/h and I had pretty much not passed a single person and had drunk far more of my electrolytes and water than I would have normally consumed and hoped this was not a sign that my energy and legs weren’t there.
The course proved a bit more undulating than what I thought but I also didn’t push myself up the hills keeping to my own pace. I hit the 60km mark and started to add a bit more watts to the pedals. I instantly felt happy and motivated as I was sick of twiddling my thumbs and watching people pass as I held back. I straight away passed the riders that were riding around me and caught up to several of riders who had passed me earlier. I looked at my watch and saw I was hitting around 35-36km/h and feeling pretty good as I flew past people starting to struggle. I started to think that it was perfect holding back and not burning my legs and struggling in the back half of the ride. For the next 15km I maintained this pace but that all changed pretty quickly. My legs started to weaken and pushing pedals started to need more effort. By coincidence, I started to feel like the headwind was blowing a gale. In reality whilst the wind had picked up, I had begun to buckle, I decided to back off so I didn’t blow up in the run and give me some sort of chance to finish the run like I had intended to in around 6min pace.
For the next 10km I sat back and cruised into town. It still wasn’t easy as I could just feel my legs hadn’t done the work needed and now this was starting to show. I got into transition and start running to feeling somewhat surprised that my legs didn’t feel too bad and could a decent pace run comfortable. I knew my bike leg was slow but was always aware it had the potential to be knowing my prep. I ended up finishing the bike in 3hrs 10min. I racked the bike and instantly got my shoes on and gels. I decided to take a salt tablet with me due to my legs still felt like they had the chance to begin cramping. I was going to take this at the first aid station.
I head out on the run and focus on a really slow first km to find my legs and see where they were at and then lock in my race pace of around 6min for the next couple km and then quicken if I could. I arrived at the aid station and in a flurry put the salt tab in the water. It was a big mistake to rush this as I had swallowed the tablet as a whole and it got stuck half way down my throat. For the next 2km I felt a constant regurgitating feel as it was in the still in my throat. I was hoping it would dissolve itself so I had more water to try and down it but it still just stayed stuck there. Eventually, it went down but as it did it started make my stomach feel acidic and mushy. Oh well at least it was out of my throat.
I managed to hold around a 6 min pace for the first 5-6km and felt like my form was there. I managed to nail a 5:55 km and was constantly holding my pace to my desired 6 min pace if I felt I was going faster. 6km in and I feel like my pace was drifting. I looked at my pace and it was going from 6:05 to 6:10 to 6:15 and so on each km until I hit a brick wall around 13km out. Instantly I started to feel the muscles in my legs get a bit sore and my feet starting to hurt. With around 5-6km to go, bang struck down by cramp and my left hamstring goes. I feel like I have torn the muscle and try and loosen it up. I decide to keep going maintaining a pace that doesn’t feel like it’s pushing my body for it go and pull again.
Right now, I begin to feel very vulnerable fearing the race was over. This turned out to be bordering on 7min pace as I toiled away. With a couple kms to go I’ve succumbed to having to walk during every aid station and every so often on the course. As the finish line came closer, it eventually turned into cramping up so bad that my left leg went into a complete spasm and I couldn’t go any further. I mentally thought I had to at least jog to the finish and as I did this, I cradled the body to the end continually at the helm of continuing spasms. As I reached the main part of esplanade nearing the last corner, a spasm once again took over in front of all the supporters knocking back a few frothies cheering on the crowd.
A quick stretch and motivating words from the bar patrons and I was back. Crossing the finish line I was happy in the end to get to the finish and reflecting back, I was extremely happy with the overall time of 6hrs 25min. I would have liked to do far better but in reality, I had just not done enough training in the lead up and this showed up when it was truly needed. The plan Brad provided to me proved critical in giving me the best chance to complete a great race. If I had not followed the plan I would’ve burnt myself out using too much energy that I would’ve thought and expected would be there if I had don’t the right training. All in all, it was a great trip away and I look forward to tackling my next race. I learnt a number of important things that will help me in the future as I look to grow as a triathlete. Although, next time I will make sure I have a solid base before going into the race.