Ironman Cairns 70.3 2017 marked my second foray into the world of long course triathlon. I was a lot more prepared this year for the event and trained a lot more (and better!) for it.
When I signed up for Cairns 70.3 this year I had an overall time goal of 5:30 and a stretch goal of 5:15. I figured these were reasonable and achievable year on year improvement goals from my 6:09 time in 2016. As much as I wanted to go better than 5:30 (or even 5:15) I do not believe in setting unachievable goals. Shoot for the moon and you’ll still land among the stars sounds fine but at the end of the day you still failed at what you worked so hard for!
Before the Race
About 5 weeks out from this race I was feeling fantastic. Hitting goals left right and centre. I had a few setbacks, the biggest of which was my power meter failing (serves me right for by a first production run unit… You’d think I’d have learned by now about that). The lack of a power meter made training outdoors a fair bit more tricky as I have become very heavily reliant on it for pacing when doing time trial work. I did however do most of my bike training this year on my Tacx Neo trainer which negated the lack of a power meter somewhat.
Regardless, was feeling great at 5 weeks out. At 3 weeks out work sent me out to Normanton for a week and everything kind of fell apart at the seams. I ended up having some medical issues (ended up with an infection of some kind) that stopped me training for a good week and a half. After that it was suddenly taper week and I ended up in Ravenshoe for a few days. In the end I effectively ended up with 0 training of any sort for the last 3 weeks leading into the race… Not exactly the ideal taper plan!
Woke up at 4am with my wonderful fiance cursing my name (ok maybe not but I’m sure I wasn’t her fondest person that morning for waking her at such an ungodly hour). Had a quick coffee, some museli and yoghurt and followed it up with about 600ml of water to rehydrate after the nights sleep.
We bundled into the car and took off to Palm Cove (had to pick up a work colleague along the way who was also doing the race). It was a spectacular sunrise at Palm Cove and the water looked amazing. Met up with a few of the PRG boys who were doing the 70.3 as well and we all decided to take advantage of the rolling start by jumping in the water at the same time! Made the race more interesting.
Swimming is definitely not my strong suit. I can just never get super excited by it and with my job constantly taking my away to little country towns with no swimming pools I really struggle to get the hours in the water up. That being said, the swim course this year was fantastic, it was setup so that the 70.3’ers were swimming with the current the whole way. As well as that the water was as flat as it ever is at Palm Cove. I will be 100% honest here and say, while I improved on my time from last year by a solid 6 minutes (a fair bit down to the conditions I suspect) I enjoyed the swim more last year. The challenge of swimming in horrific conditions just did something for me.
The transition at Cairns 70.3 is long. Really long. My age group are all racked right up near the mount line so I had a fairly long distance to run just to get to my gear. I stash a small bottle of electrolyte with my bike gear and make sure to drink about 300-400ml of fluid during transition to try and get ahead of the days dehydration. I ran a new nutrition strategy this year, High5 Energy Source drink mix made up slightly stronger than normal to give me a 90g/hr carb intake from a 100% liquid source. I also added a hydration tab to each bottle (I carried 3x on the bike, I still can’t use the on course nutrition and this was enough to last me the full bike leg)
Time: 00:38:21 (T1: 00:07:18)
The bike leg is my favourite part of a triathlon and definitely my favourite sport individually. The course was the same this year as it was last year and thoroughly enjoyable. The weather conditions this year were that much better and the views from the course were stunning. It was a bit hotter this year but the tradeoff with no cloud cover and les wind was worth it!
I wanted to hit a 2:30’ish bike split this year, ideally sub 2:30. This would be a 30min improvement on my time from last year. Modelling from Best Bike Split indicated that with a 0.85IF I could hit a 2:26 bike split with 180’ish TSS. Ie right on the money as far as numbers go.
I lit out of T1 and got myself comfortable on the bike. For the next 60km I was cruising along happily at my target power of around 235-240watts. Passing heaps of people and constantly slingshotting around for a little aero boost. Had no worries with my nutrition intake and felt pretty damn strong. Unfortunately at around the 60km mark it all fell apart a little when I felt a twinge in my right quad. Cramps. Crap. What on earth was causing this?! I knew if I was starting to cramp at this point I was going to be in trouble. I dialled back the power and pushed through to the end managing the onset of cramps as well as I could. In the end I only lost a few minutes on my goal time and finished in 2:32 with an IF of 0.78. Given there was 30km of cramping to manage I am pretty happy with how the bike leg went.
I got to T2 and dismounted and my legs pretty well went solid for a couple of counts. Had to do a stiff legged walk for the first few paces before they loosened up enough for me to run the rest of the way to my bike rack location. I racked my bike, downed a bottle of electrolytes and cruised out to start the “run”. Over all it was a pretty successful transition marred only by concern for how the run was going to go.
Time: 02:32:01 (T2: 00:02:59)
This is where the day fell apart for me and left me close to swearing to never do another triathlon as long as I live. I knew from 60km on the bike that the rest of the day was going to be a struggle. Running out of T2 I realised just how much. I had to sit right on the knife edge of “too slow” and “I’ll cramp if I go faster”. There was a “sweet spot” of agony in there that kept me moving forward. It truly wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t keep remembering last year and the cramping that happened then. I was doubled annoyed as I felt I had nailed my nutrition this year and also nailed my power targets on the bike. I just couldn’t understand what had happened and why my legs wanted to lock up. I unfortunately had damn near 2hrs to think about it all and stew on it. By 18km I was ready to swear off triathlon I was that cheesed off with the situation. I upped my water intake during each aid station thinking perhaps it was just hotter than I had expected and while it helped it didn’t help enoug.
In saying all that, I did feel good in a lot of way and felt like I had heaps of energy. There was no wall in sight. Of course the corollary of that was knowing that if it wasn’t for these damn cramps I could go heaps faster.
Emma reckons I looked happy as and like I was having a great time. And I guess I was, I knew I was on track for a massive PB and to smash all the goals I had set for this race. Mentally I just kept thinking I could be doing better though and it made it hard to keep going.
Crossing the line at 1:50 was a fantastic feeling, if only because it was over! I sprinted down the finish chute simply because I could and my legs locked up the moment I stopped.
Time: 01:50:53 (Total: 05:11:32)
In hindsight I am really quite happy with how I went in this race. I really struggled mentally througout the event but the results speak for themselves, despite my setbacks I PB’d by nearly an hour and if I had not started cramping I feel I could very well have cracked the 5hr mark.
On the cramping note, post race analysis of everything that happened revealed that I simply did not drink enough between waking up and starting the race. I tend to dehydrate a fair bit overnight however I was very nervous about over drinking in the morning as I didn’t want to have to stop after the swim or during the ride for natures call. This was definitely the wrong call and in future I will be smashing down a heck of a lot more water after waking up and just dealing with it. It is a far better than the alternative.
All in all the 2017 Cairns 70.3 was a great race for me and I hit some fantastic number relative to last year. I also hit all the goals that I set for myself when deciding to attempt the race. If that’s not a success I don’t know what is!