Having done 8 Ironman races, doing my 10th in Hawaii seemed like a good goal, in the 40th year of Ironman, also my 40th year! A nice little bit of symmetry.
Better get myself qualified. Ironman Cairns stood out to me for a few reasons:
- The timing of the race worked well as I don’t have the usual month long work trip in winter to interrupt the planned build for Kona.
- Cairns is the only Ironman currently available in Australia that I hadn’t raced.
- Cairns is the Asia Pacific Championship that comes with 80 Kona slots, by far the most in the region and therefore the best shot at picking up a coveted slot.
Work was going to be extremely busy from mid February to mid April, with about half that time to be spent in Queensland, with no access to my bike. It was going to be a case of a solid build up from Christmas through to Easter, maintain what I could through the Commonwealth Games Period through running only, then go all out for the final 8 weeks into race day.
The Final 8 weeks:
Coming back from the Gold Coast I knew there was work to do. Apart from a few runs, the main achievement from my 4 weeks away was a small dose of heat acclimation!
Although it was cold at times, in general the weather was kind on the weekends which helped get in the necessary long rides. I was also fortunate to be able to take Tuesdays off work, which meant I could have one less early morning start each week and go faux pro for the day.
During this final 8 week period I was consistent and focused on the end goal. The only programmed sessions I didn’t complete was a swim on Anzac Day and a supplementary run that Friday when it was freezing cold and raining sideways.
I won’t go into detail on all my sessions as they are on Strava, however will share some numbers on my training hours.
Over the final 8 weeks I:
Swam 75km in just under 22 hours
Rode 1,800km in 67 hours
Ran 550km in 41 hours
Peak weeks were:
Most time invested was 3 weeks out with over 20 hours completed
Swim was 11.9km 2 weeks out
Bike was 280km 3 weeks out
Run was 103km 3 weeks out
The other important piece to my preparation was the 9 days I spent in Cairns prior to the race to help with acclimatization and do some reconnaissance on the course. It’s always helpful to know exactly the difficulties on the bike course. In Cairns it was going to be the Great Ocean Road style undulations and headwinds travelling south. The run course looked to be a beauty, flat all the way with plenty of sections that would be shaded.
It was pretty smooth sailing throughout, but nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. I tried not to let a couple of weeks with a sore left knee and a super tight calf in the final build week worry me, but it was there in the back of my mind that I didn’t want an injury so late to derail the campaign. Luckily they never progressed to anything that affected my training program.
A short, self-inflicted worry was when I first looked at the entry list. He’s fast, he’s fast, he’s super fast. Geez, how am I going to do this? The mind plays funny tricks sometimes. Backing my training and looking at past results put my mind at ease that I could be competitive.
On bike check-in day I noticed that my rear wheel was rubbing on the frame. I’d had a flat on my last long ride and figured I’d put it on wrong, but couldn’t get it fixed. A trip to the bike shop and it turns out the new tyre I’d put on at my pre-race service was too big. So some more money spent and a correct size tyre was on and I was ready to go.
Going into the race I was looking for a top 8 finish and expected around 9:15-9:30 would be the range required. It was a good swim for me. The rolling start spaced the field out nicely, although I still found myself bumping shoulders with some annoying guy in a yellow cap. He’s probably saying the same about purple caps! I even had my goggles knocked out of place. With the direction of the tide it was a difficult first half of the swim but once around the turn buoys I could drop 1 minute for each 400m without increasing in effort.
Out in 1:07:34 in 57th and through transition, ensuring I had all my nutrition I was up to 53rd.
Onto the bike I was feeling great and had moved through the field up to 25th in the first couple of hours. But I also was starting to feel the effects of an average above 36km/h. I took my special needs bag and had a muesli bar and just eased off a little, particularly on the climbs. This helped, as by the time I was back to Port Douglas a second time I felt a lot better. Still, I had to fight back into the headwind all the way to Cairns. Although I was still doing a reasonable pace I did get caught by a couple of groups and couldn’t pick up the pace to go with them. But soon enough I was back in Cairns hearing a “Go Daddy” from Mitchell!
Being off the bike in 5:04:34 was a time I was pretty happy with and I was off onto the run in 28th position.
You never know exactly what your legs are going to feel like off the bike, but today mine were good. I settled into a solid but comfortable pace and started ticking off the km in the marathon. Around the 10km mark I remember thinking how good and comfortable it felt, even though I was running quite quick and told myself to go with it. I went through the first 14km lap right on 1 hour and had moved up to 16th. If only I could have kept that pace up! Early in the 2nd lap it suddenly got really hard and my pace slowed significantly. All sorts of things go through your mind about how hard it was (very) and how hot it was (it had warmed up a bit from the first lap) but I kept on ticking along apart from a short toilet stop and walking the aid stations. Drinking water and a little coke, water on my head and sometimes taking ice to put in my hat or hold in my hands. Despite my pace slowing Narelle was letting me know I was going faster than almost everyone else and I had moved up to 11th by the end of the 2nd lap and by 30km was up to 8th. Happy days. Once I got this information I focused on maintaining my pace and was able to bring it home really strong with my last 4km under 4:00 pace. Into the finishing chute, a quick high five from Mitchell and Narelle and a push to the line to finish in 9:29:56 and 7th in age-group with a 3:10:10 run split.
With the Kona goal pretty much guaranteed, I would have been able to sleep pretty soundly. Problem is you never sleep too well after an Ironman! Muscle fatigue made for an unsettled sleep but I had a race performance I was happy with to reflect on. The roll down ceremony was a fun affair. It’s always good to hear your name called out and receive a cheer from your supporters. Now it’s a couple of weeks of rest before I start building back up again.
The Key Players:
Narelle, chief supporter and main motivator, without her none of this Ironman business would be possible.
Mitchell for being a little superstar.
The TA coaches are a key part of this result, particularly Ollie for putting together the program and also Dan and Scott for the swimming coaching.
I do most of my run and bike training on my own, but a big thanks need to go to the swim squad, particularly David, Emily, Steph, Trea, Tegan and Phil for giving me someone to either chase after or work hard to stay in front of at various points over the past six months.
The Cairns crew was there when it counted. A big thanks needs to go to Andy and Jo for the cheers. It’s a long way to travel and the support on course was greatly appreciated. There was great support on the run course from the TA athletes that did the 70.3 and family and friends of those of us competing. Every bit of support counts on the run!
Well done to the rest of the TA crew on your ironman results. Congratulations to Gary on his podium result and Kona qualification. It’s going to be great.
The Take Outs:
Target your race. This may be any or a combination of:
- Fits around your study / employment / family commitments.
- A destination race.
- Course suits your ability / style of racing.
Be consistent with your training.
Have a realistic set of race plans. Be prepared to back off and pick up the pace later.
Plan and practice your nutrition.
Check and service your bike and equipment prior to the race.
Stick to your race plan and never EVER give up on the run. Everyone else is hurting too – probably more than you.