2017 Ironman Cairns was a turning point in my career. I won the race in a course record time, and became an Ironman Champion in my rookie season at the distance. It marked a successful arrival to the Ironman racing, a transition which doesn’t often come easy to a lot of athletes. Ironman is a very daunting thing. Whether you’re experienced or not, we still all have anxieties surrounding how the day might unfold. Will it be a perfect race? What happens if something goes wrong? What about my competition? Did I do enough training? There’s a lot of questions, and a lot of them start to get answered as we progress along the course throughout the day. Whether things go well or not so well, finishing an Ironman is a remarkable achievement. On that particular day in 2017, I happened to have a perfect day and finished in 8:02. Just 8 weeks before, I completed my first Ironman in South Africa in 8:42. It was a massive leap in performance in a short period of time. But I put it down to experience, determination, and a willingness to endure, both in training for the event, and on race day. Given the right amount of luck, and our own will to endure, the perfect day out at Ironman Cairns awaits us all!
Here’s a few things that stood out to me about Ironman Cairns.
It’s an unbelievable place to race. I’ve raced all over the world. Australia, Asia, North America, Africa, Europe… and Cairns has got to be one of my favourites. As soon as you fly in, look out of the window of the plane, and take in the view. It’s a monumental landscape, and at once that instantly inspired the thought of, ‘we’re here to do something epic’.
Every part of the race presents unique challenges and often unique weather environments. In 2017, we had a very choppy and challenging swim, but this is mostly the case each year. In fact, Palm Cove seems to almost will the same tough conditions each year. Perhaps take some time before the race to familiarise yourself with the condition and take a crash course on finding a ‘rough water’ stroke. Often this involves focussing less on technique based objectives, and more on achieving a higher stroke rate any way you can. To save on time, I found a swim before or after bike check in on the Saturday worked pretty well. I also used a short sleeve wetsuit. Because of the stingers, Cairns will always be a wetsuit swim. I often produce a lot of heat in the water, so I opted for a sleeveless suit on race day to negate as much heating effect as I could. I’d encourage some thought around the variation of wetsuit you use, or at least make a conscience decision to swim a bit easier so as to produce a bit less heat. I feel like there’s nothing worse than being too hot in the first hour of the race!
The bike is a great course. While I normally prefer a looped course to an out and back course, I’ll still give Cairns the nod because of how stunning the Captain Cook Highway is. The rolling and hilly features of the highway also make for great stimulation and serve as a constant reminder to check in on your pacing and your perceived exertion. If you’re over doing these little poppers, you’ll pay for it in the back half of the course. Enjoy the tailwind out of Palm Cove while you can, because most often it’s going to be blowing in your face when you’re coming back the other direction. This also potentially means the last 70km back into Cairns can be really tough, so be prepared for a difficult back half of the race, but also don’t forget to relish in the fact that it’s almost over and there’s only a marathon to go!
The run was a lot of fun and definitely the highlight of the race for me. Because of the design of the course, there’s a lot of opportunity for crowd support. I had the opportunity to get feedback from my coach at multiple points during each lap, and it was amazing to always have a steady stream of cheer from supporters on the side. The other good ting, depending on what kind of athlete you are, is you can check your competition frequently, and quite easily see who’s probably gone out way too hard! I found the 14km loops a really good distance. 4x10.5km loops is often very mentally challenging, and sometime one or two loops courses are boring. Enjoy the 14km distance and the fact that there’s a clear beginning, a middle and an end!
To me, Ironman racing represents a sort of pinnacle of human achievement. There are more extreme events you can do, you can do longer multi-day races, or some trans-continental crossing for instance. But Ironman is easily the most extreme one day race in the world, and the key word here is that it is indeed a ‘race’, no matter whether you finish in 8 hours or 16 hours. As athletes, what we put our bodies through in that one day is torturous. Most often, we willingly race like there’s no tomorrow. We know how much pain we’re going to be in, we know we won’t be able to walk tomorrow, but oddly enough it’s all worth it for the experience. For most of us, it’s not just about completing the distance, it’s about doing it in the best possible time and having the best possible result in our category. It’s a journey towards not just athletic fulfilment, but also personal fulfilment. It’s a compelling thing, to ourselves as finishers, but also to others as onlookers. I’ve done 6 Ironman races now. It might sound like a lot, or it might sound like a little. But no matter what your number is, each Ironman race is very special, and represents significant investment from all stakeholders; yourselves as athletes, your family or friends as supporters, you training partners, clubs or sponsors, local communities and councils etc. It’s a big thing, and each Ironman race should be celebrated equally, as a monumental achievement. So don’t forget to feel the culmination of that effort and achievement as you run down that finish chute; crack a massive smile and fist pump like you’re never fist pumped before!