Finding home / leaving home: Ironman Cairns 2014

A couple of weeks ago I predicted how race day would pan out based on past experience and my training form.

I think it's safe to say that with 11 days to go, I probably wasn't as prepared as I should have been, either physically or mentally.

I don't think I was lacking focus or passion, and I definitely had both on race day. But on the flip side, there was more water than I imagined possible to contend with.

Here's how Ironman Cairns 2014 compared to the predictions I made earlier... and as I turn my focus to ultra running, I've thrown in some nostalgia for good measure.

Prediction One: I would cry on the morning of the race

For the first time I can remember, I did not cry on race day. I did get very emotional and nervous (like normal) and was extremely grateful for my friend Dave.

I had laid awake for a couple of hours before my alarm went off, mulling over the dulcet tones of rain falling on the roof. Solidly. Consistently. Never ending.

When I got up, Dave was already up. When I mentioned the rain, he said, "it could just be a shower."

I told Dave how I'd been mulling over the dulcet tones of the rain for the last couple of hours and broke it to him.  "It's not a shower."

So while he drove us out to Palm Cove in the rain, I ate my breakfast (chocolate soy milk and a Carman's muesli cookie). Once parked I did my final preparations (applying my race number temporary tattoo and my race tape) before donning a rain jacket for the walk down to transition. My setup there was fairly quick, and before long we started the walk up to the swim start.

There was ages still to wait for race start.

Dave took matters into hand and announced, "let's go get a coffee". So further down the esplanade we went to a place that provided Dave with a couple of coffees and saved me from a trip to a portaloo. At just the right time, Dave got me outside, into my wetsuit, and back to the swim start.

After just the right amount of time for me to get nervous enough to look like I needed a hug and get said hug, the pros were introduced and were away, and next it was time for the age group mass start.

Anxiety, yes, but no tears.

But that's not quite the full story. I *did* cry on the day before the race.

On the day before the race I drove myself out to Palm Cove to rack my bike and drop off my gear bag. Normally I'd have KKB with me but flying solo I managed to work myself up into a bit of a state. When I entered transition I said a quick hello to the technical officials but by now doubt was creeping in. Did I have all the stuff I needed packed up? Should I empty everything out and do a double check?

Just at the right time, I spotted my fellow TO John. John is an older gentleman who despite being a newer TO, is calm and gentle. I assessed him when he first did his TO course and he always tells me I'm his "favourite TO boss lady". He was busy racking a bike when I spotted him so I waited at the end of the row to get his attention. When he saw me and came up to say hello, I just blurted out, "John I need a hug!" And the tears welled, and a few spilled down my cheeks, and I got a hug from John and I felt OK again.

Prediction Two: I would get out of the swim feeling like death warmed up

When it was time for the age group start I strode into the corral and went to the right hand (southern) end. I'd managed to tap into some local knowledge that the sweep at Palm Cove is northerly, so although I'd opted not to do an ocean swim before race day, and had not trained enough, and hadn't swum in my wetsuit since Ironman Cairns last year, I was at least armed with knowledge.

Pretty soon we were away and I picked my way out trying to find some space. Not all that successfully - it was fairly crowded and the swell, while not as bad as I'd prepared myself for, was formidable.

I kind of lost myself for the first 500 metres or so. When I looked up to sight the buoy, I always seemed to be at the bottom of the swell, so all I could see was the next wave, and risked getting smashed in the face in the worst possible way. I remembered the text I'd gotten the previous night from a friend. "Experience counts and you have a s&!tload of it."

So I focused. I tried to feel how the water was carrying me so I could sight at the top of the wave. I reminded myself that I am a confident swimmer and I don't freak out in open water (while others do). And this allowed me to keep stroking away and stay on track.

When I climbed out of the breaking waves at the end of the swim I didn't know how long I'd been swimming, but the main thing was that I did not get out feeling like death warmed up - I actually felt reasonably good. I was delighted to find later that it wasn't my worst swim ever, considering the amount of training I'd done in the latter part of my preparation.

Prediction Three:  The bike would feel long and lonely.

I entered the change tent at the end of the swim feeling optimistic. Wetsuit off, quick towel down, jersey on, helmet and glasses on. Carmans cookie in the gob. Sit down and towel off the muddy feet and get the socks and shoes on. Gloves... would not go on over the race tape. Ok, no gloves. Arm warmers on, rain jacket in the back pocket.

I picked my way out through the mud pit that transition had become trying to limit how much of the mudpit got into my shoes. When I got to my bike two things struck me. Firstly, who did I think I was kidding with my rain jacket in my pocket? It's raining. You will definitely be cold, I told myself. Just put it on. So I pulled it out and put it on.

Secondly, I saw how much of a mud pit the this transition area really had become. I joked to a fellow competitor that it was like Tough Mudder and Ironman all in one. So I took my bike off the rack and carried it to the exit, anxious that at any moment I'd end up on my bum right in the middle of it, doomed to spend the rest of the day looking like I'd had some other kind of accident.

Happily, that didn't happen, but the next challenge was the first and worst bit of the bike course. Countless very bumpy speed bumps, and some dips in the road flooded with water. But pretty soon it was out onto the open road. I pulled up at the first aid station to see none other than my new friend Stacey about 10m on from the portaloo I required. I called out to her and from then on each time I passed that aid station I had a cheer saved just for me.

The rain slowed to a slight drizzle a few times through the bike but I'm pretty certain it never stopped entirely. The roads were wet, lots of competitors got flats, my gel chews and the pieces of energy bars got all slimy from the rain falling through the mesh top of my bento box.  I took it a little easier than I normally would to make sure I stayed upright. I hadn't had a lot of time on the road lately.

I recorded my third worst ever bike split at an Ironman, which initially disappointed me. With some time now passed, I have to be honest. I didn't really do any bike specific training for this event. I built up my distance, sure, but hadn't done specific strength or hill training for a couple of months, and hadn't done any speed work like I normally would. So I couldn't realistically have expected a PB.

So yes, the bike was long, and apart from the Wangetti Beach aid station it was lonely. For some reason I seem to have lost my ability, or perhaps desire, to spend time trying to pick out friends in the crowd. (I did start but trying to pick out Coyotes and Cycos was impossible. Who knew so many people wore green race kit?)

Prediction Four: The run would feel long and lonely, but I would enjoy the run.

I rolled in along the Cairns Esplanade towards T2 to see countless runners competing their laps along the foreshore. This is what I had ahead of me. 42kms in the rain...

I didn't spend too much time in the change tent, but on seeing how crinkled up my feet were from the water (I learned the heard way that there are advantages of wearing triathlon specific shoes on the bike - drainage), I feared how they would look after another five hours and more of punishment.

I reminded myself that this was what I had trained for. With one eye ahead to my next challenge, I had sacrificed some time on the bike to run more in my preparation for this event. Now was the time to see if that had paid off.

For the most part, I have to say, I think it did. Running felt, if not good after 180ks on the bike, at least natural. I settled into what I thought was a fairly constant rhythm. (On reviewing my splits later I saw that my pace slowed fairly consistently the further I got into the 42k run, which gives me something to focus on in my next phase of training - pacing.)

The run primarily was dark, so there wasn't much to see except darkness and other runners, nor much to think about but not tripping over in the dark bits. I cursed that I had not thought to pack the headlamp I swore I would use, after running in the dark last year. There's always next year, right?

The aid stations were well stocked and cheerful places mostly. I availed myself of vegemite a few times, but also the cola. With a few gels, this got me through. My tummy mostly behaved and I was thankful for that.

From time to time I chatted with fellow competitors, but like on the bike, had less interaction than I have in the past. Am I becoming a bit too serious about this stuff?

I saw Dave every lap, worried that I'd missed Rachael and the kids (I hadn't, they'd wisely stayed home because of the rain), saw Charlesy and Shannon, and Craig and Karen early on. Less than a k from the finish line, little Sarah popped up, cheery as always. She ran with me for a couple of hundred metres I guess, chatting away about how Nick had just gone to the toilet and missed me. (He'd earlier broken ten hours in an Ironman for the first time. He deserved to be doing whatever the hell he wanted, really!)

Prediction Five: I would hopefully have a loved one at the finish line

I picked up speed from then, and bounded down the finish chute to cross the line in 15:31 and change. Not my best Ironman, but a long way off my worst. I found out later that several friends were watching online and said I looked fresh and exuberant. I kind of felt that way too.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit - but it's important to acknowledge - that I don't know whether Dave saw me cross the finish line. I don't remember seeing him. I suspect he may have been waiting over to the right just past the finish arch, where I greeted my friends last year. But you don't get much of a chance to look around - the catchers usher you through to recovery fairly snappily. But a few of my technical official friends wholeheartedly cheered me in from the VIP area, and announcer Pete Murray has almost become a stand in loved one. So I felt sufficiently special and cared for.

The wash up: My "home" Ironman

I think it's fair to say that overall, Ironman Cairns 2014 was a success. Apart from a few low patches during the run (I think I walked for a total of maybe one kilometre and stopped in a portaloo once), and a not so great experience post race (everything I ate and drank straight after the race came back up not long after) I got through it feeling good and have recovered relatively well. Completing an Ironman seems to have become a normal thing for my body to do, both physically and mentally.

Ironman Cairns is the only iron distance race I've done more than once and that's for good reasons - I have good friends in Cairns, so stay in a home environment rather than a hotel, I know a lot of the organising staff from my officiating, and lots of my friends travel to the event either to officiate or race.

For these two reasons, and not just because it's a Queensland event, I've decided that Ironman Cairns deserves to be my home race.

While I've committed to concentrate on ultra running for the next twelve months, I don't think my desire to compete in Ironman events will fade too much. I love the variety of training to swim, cycle and run. And I know in my heart that I still have my best Ironman within me. I know what I'm like - I think this will remain unfinished business to tick off the list when the time comes to once again commit to a specific Ironman program.

So Ironman Cairns - I know I'll be back home sometime, but it's hard to say when.

1 comment:

  1. Unfinished business eh? LOVE IT!

    When you step up to the start line you can't control the rain, and you can't change what you did or didn't do in the lead up. It sounds like to me you made the best of what you were given on the day - which is what every other athlete on race day faces too.

    Amazing effort!