Be careful, it's a long one! Just like the race ;)
Our journey to Cairns on Thursday night started off with a bit of a hiccup in an hour delay to our flight. But no big fuss, if anything we arrived at a less ungodly hour at 5.30am the next day. We were lucky to be given our rooms early at Cairns Plaza Hotel instead of the usual 2pm check-in, which meant being able to get more rest. I had a bit of a shuteye, then assembled my bike and taking it for a spin. It was raining in Cairns for most of the week, and today was no different. My newly polished bike was covered with mud and sand just after the 30 minute ride!
The expo was a lot bigger than the one at Ironman WA. I was there on my own while Li-Ann was working on her thesis back in the hotel. I had to refrain myself from several occasions from buying something I WANT but don't NEED. Proud to say, I left the expo with nothing except the registration pack, which came in an Ironman Cairns bagpack - nice touch! The welcome dinner at the Convention Centre was a bit of a walk. I arrived late as I thought it was at the park. It was a table served meal, a nice change from jostling with other hungry triathletes at the buffet trays. I sat with my friend, Wilfred from Singapore and his fiancé. Wilfred used to swim with me at UWA when I was studying.
The swim practice the next morning started a bit late at 7.45am. It was a controlled entry down the pier. The water was murky, I could barely see past my forearms but it was very calm. One thing I noticed was the VERY long run into transition. Bike check-in was very quick, I wasn't asked to weigh in or register my timing chip. I later took the shuttle bus up to T2 where I checked in my run gear bag, the transition area was muddy from all the rain. I thought I would get my timing chip here, but the volunteer told me I am to collect it in the morning.
A later start at 7.10am means I only had to be up by 4.30am. The 15 minute walk to T1 helped in calming the nerves. But that didn't last for long. Remember I mentioned I was to collect my timing chip in the morning? Well, I was told wrong. I finally met fellow BYL compatriot Trevor and he said he collected his at bike check-in the day before. I must have missed it somehow. I ran around like a headless chicken for quite a bit, before an official finally directed me to a very inconspicuous cabin where I could collect my timing chip. Phew!
Swim 3.8km - target 1 hour
Li-Ann wasn't allowed onto the pier, so I kissed her farewell and took the long walk down. It was a bit of a bottleneck getting down into the water and organizers were rushing us so we could start on time. It was a 45m swim from the steps to start point, so that was my warm up. And barely a minute of treading water... bang, off we go! This is the first time I did this, but I spat some saliva into my goggles before the start to have a clearer vision. And I should have done this ages ago! I could see clearly throughout - above the water, underneath it was still very murky! I swam in a straight line and kept close to the buoys.
It was a two lap swim, the water was calm with some slight chop coming from the paddlers every now and then. My swim cap was slowly sliding upwards and I decided to knock it off completely partway. About 200m left to go, my watch was showing already over 59 minutes and I knew I'm unlikely to finish under the hour. Don't ask me why, I thought I was swimming well - just one of those things. Came up the steps and crossed the first timing in 1:03:07. The sub 1 hour swim will have to wait for another day!
Bike 180km - target 5 hours 30 minutes
The run into transition felt like forever. But as it turns out, my T1 time was only 45 seconds slower than Ironman WA. The grass coming out from the change tent was all muddy, so my socks were soiled before I even started my ride! I almost missed the exit out from transition and had to do a short detour. It was a bit crowded at the bike mount line, so my attempt at fly mount got a bit messy but no big dramas. Li-Ann caught me just before I left town, and because of the course layout, that will be my last time of seeing her until the second half of the run.
The first 30 minutes of the bike was a bit hairy, going through speed bumps and roundabouts. But once we got to the main section of the Captain Cook Highway, it was truly stunning! You have the view of the mountains ahead of you and the ocean by your shoulder. The earlier parts were pretty shaded, we went through some small inclines and I was anxiously waiting to see that big hill in Wangetti. It was a nice, calm weather, some light winds were present but not particularly strong in either direction. It seemed like the rain gods took pity on us that day, and the skies were clear and blue.
I got to my first special needs stop and had to wait for about 30 seconds before I could get my vegemite sandwich. Li-Ann's simple but splendid idea of cutting the sandwiches into half made it a lot easier for me to have them on the go. Within minutes after that special needs, we came to the infamous Wangetti hill. It didn't feel too bad - very similar to the climbs in King's Park, no where as steep as the ones in our Perth eastern hills. But having to climb it 4 times through in an Ironman race will take its toll!
I saw Trevor slightly ahead at the Port Douglas turnaround, which is a bit after 60km. I felt strong coming back and even chased a couple of Perth based XTR Tri club members. At 90km, my bike time was 2:37, which I thought I might have the legs to even split to make it 5:15 for 180km, but I wasn't going to get over excited. And indeed, I felt the energy began to wear off. Still, I felt strong, I think I have my nutrition sorted this time, my stomach could handle a gel each hour now. I passed Trevor at the 120km mark, which gave me a bit of satisfaction - after a couple of fun pre race smack talk on the BYL blog. But this is still an individual race of beating our own targets.
I regretted discarding a bottle with the IM Cairns logo, somehow the replacement bottles all had plain designs. The last few kms of the bike could not be longer and I swear, my bike computer was showing 181km and still no sign of the turn in point into T2. Finally, we got into T2, a quick handover of the bike, a quick slip into my shoes and away we go. My bike split was 5:23:16, could have been under 5:20 if it wasn't for the extra kms! A small pat on the back for myself - I actually ranked 5th overall with my T2 time of 1:37 :)
Run 42.2km - target 3 hours 30 minutes
Having averaged around 4:30 per km for most of my long runs, I thought I might give a crack at holding 5:00 per km average including walking the aid stations. Boy, was I wrong! It was really hot and somehow I wished for some rain that was lashing at us for the past couple of days. There were distance markers every 2km and my splits for each 2km went from 10 minutes to 10.5 minutes to 11 minutes. My timing band was cutting into my ankles and I had to stop to loosen it. I somehow misplaced my timing band sleeve, which I found out later I had it conveniently checked in with my run gear bag.
Once we got to the Captain Cook Highway, it was lonely and exposed. There were no supporters, apart from the aid stations every 2km and cars were driving past us. I just had to keep telling myself to keep on moving. This continued until about 22km, where we headed towards T1 in Fogarty Park. I was anxiously looking out for Li-Ann as I told her I would be back sooner. I soon found her before I made my first turnaround near the finishing chute. Seeing her did give me a boost. But it was shortlived as I started getting cramps. I decided to lengthen my strides and somehow that helped.
Heading towards the last few kms, I knew a finish time of sub 10:20 was within reach. I made the final turn into the finishing chute, gave Li-Ann a few kisses before running through the Ironman Cairns arch, gathering whatever strength I have left for a leap of joy once I crossed it. I finished with a run split of 3:42:24 and overall finish time of 10:15:10, slicing 9 minutes of my personal best! I came in 7th in my age group and 81st overall out of 760 who started.
This was probably one of the worst I've felt after finishing a race. Normally I look forward to the warm food at the athlete recovery area but this time I felt like I could puke my guts out anytime and I could barely stand straight. I even skipped the massage tent. I must have been pretty badly dehydrated but I didn't think it was necessary to see the medical attendants. What I managed to do though was to get a picture taken with Chris MACCA McCormack, it was nice to know that I finished early enough to catch him in the recovery area.
This blog post is turning into a novel already and I can't possibly thank everyone who helped me one way or another in making this journey successful for me. You know who you are, and I truly appreciate your support and encouragement. But I'd like to make a few worthy mentions.
Bill Scanlan, my coach and mentor, did give me a hard time in amping up the training right from the start but not without giving me time to recover and craving for more. Thanks mate! The extra miles did pay off, improving 15 minutes off my bike split says it all.
Ray Lampard or Mr BYL who runs the Tuesday morning BYL interval running sessions. Don't be fooled by this man's long locks and grizzly beard. He's a generous and kind hearted fellow, always giving us tips and advice without asking for anything in return. And it's very rare to find FREE training sessions these days, he does it for the passion of running!
The BYL crew and group rides - Steve, Sandy, Wusa, Adele, Kroyer, Wusa, Bokka, Trev and many others. Although you guys (with the exception of Trev) had finished your big season when I had my last few weeks, there was never a dull moment training with you guys from the beginning. Having you pushing the pace surely made me a stronger athlete - much stronger than I believed I ever would be.
The CEO and managers of my workplace, St Bartholomew's House. Noticed the small blue logo on my tri suit? St Bart's sponsored me a spanking new LG tri suit and some other training gear to go along. Although while I'm at work, often my headspace gets clouded with triathlon, these great people appreciate what I do outside work and are ever so supportive. St Bart's does great work for the socially disadvantaged is a great place to work!
Dad, mum, Karen & Keith. Within minutes of finishing my race, the Facebook statuses of my family members were posted congratulating me on completing my 5th Ironman race. From time to time I wonder if I will every grow up and focus more energy onto something more wealth creating for my future. But you all have always supported me in everything I do, I love you all!
Last but definitely not least - my wife, Li-Ann. You're my nutritionist, my race caddy and my biggest fan. Doing this race near your thesis submission and our upcoming wedding wasn't one of the smartest ideas I had. I've been grumpy and sleep deprived, especially in the last few big weeks. But you were very understanding and tolerated me throughout, ever so supportive. Even if it meant lugging your laptop and thesis drafts along this trip. And I haven't been overly enthusiastic when we look at things like which flowers to decorate the wedding car, I hope my mind will be clearer after the race! Love you, muaks!
And thank you! For reading this blog, wishing me well on Facebook, Whatsapp, SMS etc. I'll be triathlon hiatus and possibly blogging hiatus now for at least until end of June. Kuala Lumpur awaits me and soon after, honeymoon in Krabi, Thailand. Until then, see ya!