Ironman Cairns, set in tropical Far North Queensland (which happens to be my birthplace) always promises to be a spectacular race. Swim 3.8km in the stunning beaches of Palm Cove, ride 180km along the Captain Cook Highway up to Port Douglas, taking in breathtaking views of the ocean and rainforest then run 42.2km along the Cairns Esplanade with unparalleled atmosphere and crowd support.
When I arrived at Palm Cove (the swim start) on race morning it was still dark and had been sprinkling/drizzling rain. Looking at the ocean it didn’t look appealing at all, the water was brown and choppy, the 70.3 athletes had already started and I was meant to do a warmup swim but was reconsidering.
The swim was somewhat uneventful for me, I know it was rough and a lot of people were thrown around out there, quite a few were pulled out by rescue boats so I guess I was kind of lucky. But I was relieved to feel the sand under my feet and hear my Mum on the beach cheering.
The ride began pretty nicely, despite having rained whilst we were swimming it was clear to begin with… For about 7 minutes. Just as I got around the first little corner and was heading on the Captain Cook Highway it started to rain, then pour. My nutrition plan was to get some Infinit in and a Cliff Bar eaten nice and early to replace what energy I had used during the swim and set me up for a good day. The rain meant I needed both hands on the bars and my full attention on the road, not unwrapping a bar.
The ride course is definitely interesting and variable, no one can argue with that. The hills are rolling, you pass through parts where the rainforest meets the sea, acres of cane fields, townships with people braving the elements to cheer and of course the famous Rex’s lookout. Riding towards Port Douglas there is a longer gradual climb to the lookout, and returning it’s a shorter steeper hill. First time round it wasn’t so bad and you wonder what all the fuss is about. Second time when there’s strong headwinds, horizontal rain and my legs were cramping I wasn’t loving it.
I absolutely loved the first part of the run, the crowd support was phenomenal. I had spotted Sue my training budding, Hannah and a few people more people I knew and tried to get into some sort of rhythm. I regularly run off the bike so know it usually takes me about 2-3km to shake out the bike legs and feel alright. After about 5km I was struggling, my coach Scotty had written in my race plan ‘You’re never going to feel as good as you do in the first 10km’ which had me worried… You mean to say it’s only going to get worse than this?
I know I have done a couple of Ironman races already, so technically I should know what to expect. Maybe the memories of the other races have faded with the pain. But it felt like I was hurting more than I had ever hurt before. I was struggling and not in a good place mentally or physically.
But just as I was writing the day off as a bad one, admitting defeat that I didn’t achieve any of the goals I had set out to do my coach appeared. I had passed Scotty a few times, the first time I told him I was dying and he answered with ‘Well this is an Ironman.’ Tough coach, thanks for keeping it real… But this time he ran up alongside me and said if I maintained my pace I could make it under 12 hours.
I thought that was already out of the picture, I asked him what pace I needed to run and he said 6min/km. I looked down at my Garmin and was doing 7:10min/km. Suddenly with a burst of motivation and light at the end of a long dark tunnel I picked up the pace and ran it home. I think Scotty was running to make it to the finish line in time to see me to finish so I tried to keep up with him (pretty much impossible). I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face and got so many compliments and cheers on that last kilometre that I looked strong it actually made me feel a bit embarrassed (they hadn’t seen me walking and in despair not so long ago). But I soaked up the atmosphere and loved every minute of running down that finishers chute.
I made it over the line in 11:59:35 and my day from hell was suddenly all worth it, I had finally broken the 12 hour mark.
Until the next one, Chloe.
Read Chloe’s full race report here.