On June 6th, despite the odds and a looming Victorian lockdown, I was finally able to complete my 10th Ironman race up in tropical Cairns. And what a fantastic experience it was too.
It was a very tough day with heat and fairly nasty winds from early in the morning, so we had to fight hard just to get to the start of the run leg – but this also made it all the more satisfying to finish, especially with successes and PB’s along the way. As much as I was expecting to be closer to the 10hr mark rather than just sneaking into the high 10’s, you can’t pick conditions and you have to adapt, and race what you’re dealt on the day.
The snap decision to rush to Cairns to beat lockdown was a blessing not only in being one of the few Victorians to make the race, but also in having enough time to sort out the usual pre-race issues: bike service, sourcing replacement parts, body niggles, and a tri-suit zip malfunction (thankfully discovered the day before the race, and not at 3:30am the following morning)!
Race morning started with a beautiful sunrise over Palm Cove and an initially calm day. Once the race started though, the wind began to pick up and by the second swim lap, the combination of swell, current and escalating wind made for hard going. Although it seemed to take forever, upon exiting the swim I’d achieved an 11 min Cairns PB and also overall Ironman swim PB, putting paid to all that hard swim training.
Out of the water, past the crocodile warning signs, and into the really long T1 area, I felt I had actually pushed pretty hard but also felt quite dehydrated with the hard effort in the warm water. From previous testing, I know I lose about 2L over the same swim time in cooler water – but in the warmer conditions, it was likely to have been in excess of 2.5L.
Jumping onto the bike and out of Palm Cove, I focused on rehydrating and trying to make up for what I’d already lost. On exposed parts of the bike leg heading north, I got a taste of what was to come on the way back, noticing I was easily doing 38-42km/hr at points without much effort, while at times I had to get off the bars when the gusts picked up. After hitting Port Douglas and turning back toward Palm Cove, reality hit and it became a slow grind into the headwind. We’ve come to expect this in Cairns, especially that last push into the city, but I’ve never experienced it this strong and this early in the day.
The second lap from Port Douglas was even slower, at points pushing 220 watts on flat road but only doing 10km/hr. Although I still ended up making significant ground in my age-group, mentally it felt very slow as I almost counted every bike passing. But I wasn’t alone, with all athletes lamenting the wind, and one making me laugh when he yelled out expletives at the top of his voice in the middle of a barren section of highway. So, finally capitulating to the conditions, I decided it was going to be a very long day and I just had to forget time targets, stay out of the red zone, and race to my own power numbers. I was also having issues keeping up with hydration, so the bike became a real battle on a number of fronts.
Finally reaching T2, it was a good chance to appreciate the end of a tough bike segment and a chance to make amends on the marathon. Not knowing if the demands of the bike leg would affect my run, I just started executing what I’d been practising for months with nutrition. Heading out onto the Esplanade and immediately hitting my rhythm, I started to feel everything falling into place again and that my decision to stay out of the red zone on the bike was paying off.
By the end of the first of four laps, I’d already overtaken many athletes who’d torn past me on the bike, a number of whom I’d go on to lap again later. The marathon is hard, and your body is constantly pleading for you to stop, but I actually really
loved the run. The revised course was much more scenic than earlier years, with more greenery and palm trees, and the crowd support was some of the best I’ve experienced.
I diligently stuck to my nutrition plan, even though by the 21km mark it was getting a lot harder to get it down, and keep it down without dry reaching, especially with escalating dehydration. In the past I would have stopped nutrition at this point and gone without, only to pay the price later. For this race though I ended up pausing a little longer at aid stations to make sure I got everything down before continuing, which cost me a little more time, but meant I could keep going at a reasonable pace later. Somehow, I’d managed a 16 min Cairns run PB as well as an overall Ironman run PB, coming in at 3:29.
Hitting that red carpet and having Pete Murray call me down the finishing chute was an amazing feeling, one that I’d sorely missed for almost 2 years now. I only realised how narrowly I’d stayed in the 10’s as I hit the top of the chute and saw the timing screen. A fantastic end to the day, albeit a little bitter-sweet without Megs being at the finishing line this time.
The last 10km without nutrition & water had obviously taken its toll after I’d finished, as I had a bit of a stint in the medical tent with dizziness, eventually getting an anti-nausea tablet to assist with getting fluids down. It felt like one of those perfectly timed motor races where the driver runs out of fuel just after crossing the finishing line!
Sadly, while in recovery, I also received a message that family friend and “uncle” Phil had just passed away after a 3 month battle with bowel cancer, so I dedicated my race in honour of his memory.
So much love and thanks go to my amazing wife Megs who continues to support me in this awesome endeavour, living vicariously through my races but not being able to experience “our” finish line this time. Also a huge thanks to personal coach Greg, and also to Ollie and the Tri-Alliance team. Greg put together a fantastic build program and had to make constant program adjustments through these unprecedented and extended periods of race builds followed by race delays.
A big thanks to all my fellow athletes, friends and family for all your messages, support and well-wishes. As suggested by Janine, I became motivated to cross each timing checkpoint knowing that these would send back a race update to followers – each time I crossed I thought of you guys. Congrats also to Dan for completing his first Ironman, all while experiencing his own difficult circumstances and the loss of his grandmother days before. A big thank you also to the team at ElliptiGO Experiences for providing me with one of my best training and recovery tools.
Hopefully my next race will be Ironman WA pending any more outbreaks !
- Bondy, , General News, TA-news, The Weekly Transition, Free Triathlon Training, Tri Alliance, triathlon coaching melbourne, Weekly Transition, 0
- Ollie Allan, , General News, Race Reports and Athlete Stories, 0
Dave Nealon – well know in the Tri Alliance circle as being one of the ‘nice guys’. Always cheerful,...
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