If I had have written my race report in the days after the event, it probably would have been a lot about how I suffered on the run and didn't meet the goal I'd set for myself.
Time often changes perspective though, and I'm now feeling much better about the race. Especially as I have it on good authority that despite how I was feeling, I kept on smiling.
At the start of the day, I wasn't so shiny.
I always have a feeling of apprehension on race day. It was a bit different this time. I'd had quite a different leadup, having been only 11 weeks since Ironman Melbourne. I'd also stayed with good friends up in Cairns, who weren't racing and aren't triathletes.
It's been just KKB and me for the last few Ironman races so this was unusual. My friend Dave, looking back now, was pretty funny.
I'm sure his strategy was to entertain me to keep my mind off my race, but an important part of my preparation is always taking time to think about my race - preparing mentally through visualising my race and making sure all my equipment is packed, double packed and triple packed, and .
He had lots of suggestions to keep me occupied, including ten pin bowling and at one point he asked me how I was at planing, because he had some DIY to do... Manual labour? Are you kidding? I think I might have been just a little bit tetchy with him on a couple of occasions. If I was, Dave, I'm sorry. I know you had my best interests at heart.
Race day rolled around and Dave, KKB and I headed in to transition. The boys waited patiently while I went in to do my last preparations - a fairly quick routine for me these days. I still managed to take my time though, double and triple checking everything, and I think I made up for some of the mental preparation I had missed out on over the last couple of days.
After that... well there was a lot of waiting for the start of the Ironman, as the 70.3 went off first and they had allowed time before the Ironman start to clear the course enough to give everyone space. Soon enough though it was time to get into my wetsuit and drop off my gear bag.
We headed out to the pier, by this stage it was competitors only so I gave both Dave and KKB big hugs (with a few nervous tears) before walking the remaining few hundred metres to the swim start.
Well. The swim start. I should have known from my practice swim the day before that there would be a bottleneck to get into the water. The entry ramp was no more than a metre wide - not a lot of space to allow 1500 or so competitors to get into the water quickly. As I passed the event staff at the top of the ramp they gave a time call and I knew I'd be pushing it to get to the start in time, but I didn't panic - there was no point. I calmly made my way down to the pontoon and jumped in. I'd only stroked a few times before the starting hooter sounded. I stayed calm but sensed that others around me were a little more stressed about the minute or so lost than I was.
The thing I did learn from the practice swim was that it would be easier going out than heading back in, when it would be a little more choppy and with a current dragging you off course to the right. I took it a little easier on the way out knowing I'd have to give a little more on the way back in, but I still felt like I swam reasonably aggressively the whole way - standing my ground when I got crowded and swimming strongly all the way.
I exited the water to hear "Titanium" over the PA - the same song I'd finished Ironman Melbourne to - which made me smile.
It was a long run into transition but I was feeling pretty good. I took time in transition to grab some food to eat as I carried on into the bike compound, knowing I'd been swimming for a good hour and a half. Official time was 1:33:08 - nothing special, in fact my worst swim time ever,
My main goal for this race was to set a run PB but I wasn't prepared to sacrifice my bike time for it so I set off at a good pace... such a good pace that I was unsure whether I'd be able to maintain it. But I felt good so I didn't back off.
The course headed up the Captain Cook Highway before heading out towards Yorkeys Knob. I started seeing 70.3 competitors, I looked out for my friend Kate's cousin, Frank, with no success. Not surprising. I just met him the day before. How could I have expected that I would recognise him in lycra and helmet?
Finally, the real views came. I rounded a corner at Palm Cove to get my first view of the coastline and the ocean. It was worth the wait. This is what I'd trained for, to be able to take in the view and enjoy riding what must be one of the most spectacular Ironman bike courses in the world. Definitely the most picturesque in the Australian region.
This isn't to say the ride was easy. There was significant headwind when headed south, there was a decent climb over Rex's Lookout and noticeable rollies much of the way up the coast. But I was in good spirits and kept my pace at one that I was happy with - 24.7 kph by the end of the ride according to my Garmin, so not far off my best Ironman average pace of 24.9 kph.
When I jumped off the bike at T2 I was thrilled that the announcer (Noel, the same guy from Melbourne) mentioned my by name and acknowledged me not only for backing up from Melbourne, but also as a 'leading technical official'. It was satisfying not only for me, but I feel it's good for all TOs to be recognised as athletes as well.
I was happy with my transition, managing to get in quickly despite an amusing conversation with a fellow competitor. As we were sitting in the women's change tent she asked a volunteer where the changing room was. She was of course told that she was in it! I told her to be thankful that we weren't in a unisex change tent, like my experiences in European races. We all had a good laugh at this!
I headed out onto the run feeling pretty good. I'd packed potato chips into my T2 bag and started munching on a couple of these. They tasted so good after hours of Enervit, bananas and GU chomps!
I set a pace I would have been happy to hold for the entire race, for the first 15ks. From then on it was pretty much survival. My tummy was dashing all of my plans, even with the potato chips I'd packed to calm it down a bit. I'll spare you the details but suffice to say, I either need to go back to square one on the nutrition front or start incorporating Imodium into my race plan.
I was happy to get to the finish line, having been buoyed along the way by many people.
- Rachael, Darian and Ronan who staked me out on one of the aid stations between Yorkeys Knob and the City. When Rach tried to get the kids to go to bed when they got home they begged her to take them in to the finish line!
- Jill and her brother Andrew, who upped the ante on the sibling rivalry with a 10:57:17. Coming out of retirement, Jilly?
- Sarah, who ran alongside me giving me encouragement, advice and assuring me I was looking strong.
- Deb and my TO mates - Deb offered me her rain jacket during a particularly persistent shower
- The Red Dog Triathlon squad tent. You guys know how to put out a vibe!
- KKB and Dave, who put in the hard yards all day with plenty of coffees, beers and snacks while waiting patiently for me to get back in to town. It's a hard life, I know.
- And last but by no means least... Coyotes Charlesy, Shannon and Rhonda. Rhonda and I don't know each other but she realised she had been cheering for me based on my name and race number after catching up with the others post race. She said everytime she saw me I was "running well with a big huge smile".
Even writing about my seventh iron-distance race, on a day that didn't quite go to plan, I always feel all warm and fuzzy when people say I smile when I compete. Whether it be from friends or strangers, I feel like this could almost be the biggest complement someone can give me.
I was extremely uncomfortable for most of the run in this race, and I was disappointed beyond belief knowing I was not going to meet the goal I'd set for myself.
I'm sure a lot of people find it impossible to understand why I'd be smiling in this situation.
But Ironman is a pretty special thing to me. Every time I get to the start line, and every time I finish, I am doing something that I once thought would be impossible for me. When I started triathlon, every training session was difficult beyond anything I'd ever imagined, both mentally and physically. But now I benefit every day from the physical and mental strength I've built through this sport.
Race day has always felt like a culmination, and in some ways a celebration, of all the hard work that is training. Let's be honest, training is often lonely, it costs a bomb, and you share the roads with motorists that don't want you there. Race day is different. It's catered, there are thousands of others out there with you, there are spectators there to cheer you on (usually including your nearest and dearest), and you have an open road to ride.
When things go to plan, it's easy to smile. But if things don't go to plan, well, I guess I find it easier than others to accept that sometimes that's how it goes.
All I need to do is remind myself that I do this for fun. I don't get paid to do it! If I can't find pleasure in just being out there doing it, regardless of the outcome, well, maybe I need to find a new way to spend my time.
So when things went to shit in Cairns, I smiled. I hope next time something like that happens, I keep smiling again.