My first foray into long course triathlon was the 2016 Ironman Cairns 70.3. This was my second triathlon, the only other one till this point had been a local sprint distance at a nearby dam where I ended up with heat stroke… I will write up a report on that one another time *shudder*
Going into this race I had only a single goal: Finish. Well that and hopefully hit a 3hr bike. And maybe a 6hr total time. But primarily finish!
This was to be my first attempt at long course triathlon. I really didn’t have all that much of a clue as to what I was going to be in for. I knew enough training had been done to definitely finish but I had no idea how the fitness I had developed would translate to time on the day.
I was definitely worried heading into this race as work had got the better of me and I had been out of town for the two weeks leading up to the race. Pub meals, long hours and limited to no exercise is not a good taper!
Before the Race
Ironman Cairns and Ironman Cairns 70.3 are held on the same day and on much the same course. This leads to it being quite a well supported race. The course is a point to point race, that is, T1 and T2 are in two different locations. So we swim up in Palm Cove, ride towards Port Douglas and then back to Cairns City where the run course is a few laps of the esplanade.
As such you need to rack your bike and at a minimum drop off your T2 equipment the day before the race, there is no access to T2 on race day prior to rocking up on your bike after completing the swim and bike legs. The race is also a rolling start with self-seeding based on your expected swim times.
I didn’t really have my act together on the Saturday before the race (race day was Sunday) and only got around to dropping my T2 gear off at Fogarty Park around 1pm and then raced up to Palm to rack my bike and drop off my T1 gear bag. Didn’t leave myself enough time to even check out the expo! Oops.
My long suffering fiance woke up with me at 4am so I could knock back a few big glasses of water and some museli for breakfast. Alongside a mug of coffee of course. Headed off and picked up a bloke from work along the way who was also daft enough to sign up. Not a lot else to say, met up with a few friends who were doing the race as well and we all jumped into the queue for the rolling start and played the hurry up and wait game.
The swim… Where do I start here? I imagine that it was akin to being in a washing machine! Or perhaps on a roller coaster? Either way conditions were brutal in the swim and the race director ended up canceling the Ironman swim half way through as conditions continued to deteriorate throughout the morning. I did actually quite enjoy the swim, I am not a fast swimmer by any stretch but there are no other circumstances in which I would have been out in the water in those conditions so the novelty factor for the swim put a smile on my face. My only goal in the swim was to not drown (and make the cut off I guess) so the fact that I am writing this speaks to a complete success!
Once I finished the swim I did my best to run up the beach to the shower station and into transition. Except I somehow couldn’t find my zip and stood there fumbling at the spray booth trying to get it open before realising it didn’t matter and that I should just keep running towards my bike. Did I mention how long T1 was? Because it was long. Very long. A good few hundred meters from the entry from the swim to the bike exit and mount line. My bike was quite close to the bike mount line so I had a long way to run in bare feet on concrete. Not sure which would be worse, running in bike shoes with cleats or running barefoot on concrete?
Time: 00:46:34 (T1: 00:09:23)
The bike is my strongest leg by far, that is to say, not incredibly strong but better than the other two! Had an absolute blast on the bike course. The coast road between Palm Cove and Port Douglas is absolutely spectacular. It’s a beautiful route to drive let alone experience on a push bike. The coast road also keeps you fairly well sheltered from the prevailing winds that make the final 30km in to Cairns City more challenging.
There is only one significant hill on the entire bike course. That being the one at Rex Lookout. It is quite a steep climb but over and done with fairly quickly. Other than that it has a fairly rolling first 60km and the final 30km is pretty close to dead flat, albeit with perpetual headwind. The bike was the one leg I had a good strong feel for. I was targeting an IF of 0.75 for the ride and managed to stick fairly close to this, I was feeling pretty good on the bike so I did push it a little harder and finished with an IF of 0.78. I had managed to hit the lap button on my Garmin during transition so it had jumped over to bike mode a little early. I finished the bike pretty happy with my result but a little disappointed that I had been 3 minutes off my 3hrs. Was very pleasantly surprised by finding out that I did in fact make the 3hrs!
One big issue I found on the bike was caused by the excitement. I forgot to take my salt stick capsules while riding. It was only when I felt a twinge in my right quad at the 80km mark that I suddenly had the horrible realisation that I had stuffed up my nutrition plan and would likely suffer on the run. Oops.
T2 was nice a quick, no surprises and not a lot to write about. Which is a nice, surprises at this stage would be horrid! Downed a bottle of gatorade from my bag, threw my shoes on and off I went!
Time: 02:59:39 (T2: 00:04:19)
I knew I was going to be in trouble on the run from the moment I realised I had forgotton to take my salt pills on the run.
Ok some background is neeeded here. Thing is, I absolutely cannot stomach the on course nutrition. None of it. Winners Gels make me feel queasy and the taste of Endura Pineapple pretty much gets me close to throwing up for some reason. I normally have a pretty darn strong stomach, these are close to the only things I have found that give me issues! And of course that’s what is provided by Ironman. Believe me, I tried and I tried to get used to it during training but I just couldn’t.
So this brings us to the run. I hadn’t taken in any salt except what was in my pre packed bottles of gatorade I had on the bike. And I wasn’t able to take in the on course electrolytes. Or the on course gels (I did have my own gels on me race belt). Ok this gonna be bad.
And it was. I made it to about 7km and then my quads started to cramp up. I spent the next 14km straddling the knife edge between moving forward as fast as manageable and not creeping over the threshold that would put my legs into full lock up mode.
It was challenging. Getting to the finish line was a massive relief. I was ecstatic to have finished my first 70.3 and relieved to not have to battle two cramping quads anymore!
Time: 02:09:55 (Total: 06:09:50)
All in all I am pretty happy with how my first long course triathlon went. I learned a lot about the sport from the experience and had a blast doing so.
Cairns 70.3 is an awesome course (in my limited experience) and I am stoked to have it right on my door step!
When all is done I must say, my favourite part of the day was heading out to the Bavarian Beer House and downing a Litre of beer. Followed by another. Really helped with recovery!