Earlier this year I hadn’t really put much thought into going back to Ironman Kona, I’ve been there twice so I was happy. However after my disappointing DNF at Ironman NZ in March we decided that we would just go over to watch as I had a few athletes I coach and mates who had qualified for 2017, and then suddenly the threat of FOMO kicked in. I decided I wanted to join in the fun and race there too. The best (and cheapest) option for me to qualify was at Ironman Cairns as it was the Asia-Pacific Champs, and had a massive 75 spots on offer. Last year my AG (40-44) had 9 spots, and the final spot was just shy of 9:50. I was still dealing with a 4 month Achilles tendon injury, but I thought if I could get 2 months of running in then I should be able to get safely under 9:50.
So Kellee and I were off to Cairns, with one goal in mind…..KONA QUALIFICATION. I wasn’t focusing on anything else, whatever came with it was going to be a bonus. As it happened I got the spot, but not without a few points where I had to make a few race defining decisions. Ironman is not a walk in the park and there are always a few things that happen to test us. I constantly tell my athletes not to panic on race day when things don’t go to plan, it was good to see if I would heed my own advice.
I was fortunate that Foot Traffic Coach and Professional Ironman Mark Bowstead had some space at his accomodation. It was actually great to see how the Pro’s deal with race week, I reckon I was more relaxed and rested for this race than I’ve ever been…Mark seems an expert at race week prep and resting, and I benefited from being around him (he finished 8th in 8:16).
I’d had a good chat to my mate and training partner Brodie Madgwick, the day before the race, who had cleared my head about a few things. I was worried that I hadn’t done enough training, but his advice was to not focus on that, instead to stay in control all day and focus on being inside the top 9, and then with 10km to go in the run let it go and get stuck into racing. I really liked the idea of this, basically spend about 9 hours enjoying it, and then the rest of it hating myself….I could do that.
Race morning was dawning and before we knew it we were in Kellee’s Dad’s car boosting it to Palm Beach where the swim and T1 is located. T2 and the finish is in Cairns, so there was a bit of traveling to work around the split race venue. It’s a nice leisurely start, with the Pro’s starting at 7:35 and the rest of the field from 7:45.
The weather in the days prior had been pretty mild, but quite windy. Race day was still meant to be a bit blustery but with some cloud cover. I wasn’t too worried about this as the wind makes the tougher, and with my cycle training having gone well in the build up I wanted to have an advantage here. Because of my Achilles injury I wasn’t able to run as much as I’d like, but my biking had ramped up quite a bit.
The race had a rolling start which is a new trend for most Ironman races around the world now. It’s intended to spread the start out so it’s not as crowded early on. I’m not really a fan of this method as straight away you don’t know where you are placed in the field. I was about 30seconds behind the first athletes going in, so I knew I’d be near the front. In the end it wasn’t too bad racing in this format, but I still prefer a single start wave.
Watching the Pro men and women swimming out I could see they were getting drifted a fair bit to the left, so with this in mind I adjusted my line to the first turn buoy. Having not swum in the sea for a month or so, and being in a brand new Blue Seventy Helix I was a bit apprehensive about going out too hard. After the first 100m or so I was feeling good so settled into my rhythm and quickly found some feet to swim on. It was fairly choppy (not Kohi swim choppy but still a decent roll). The swim felt like it took forever, and I think the chop took more time than I expected, and it seemed many of the AGers were slower than expected.
Running out of the water I saw the time on my watch was 1:02, arggh, that’s about 5 mins slower than I was expecting. But I reminded myself that today was all about qualifying, and not going for time, this was going to be an enjoyable day out. Running out of transition I wasn’t in a rush, just being smooth and efficient.
Once on the bike I quickly settled into my target of 225w (75% of FTP). This was going to be the power I’d need to hold to deliver myself to the start of the run in the best possible shape without giving up too much time. One of the good things about the rolling start is the fact it wasn’t crowded getting on the bike. I was quickly into my rhythm and had some clear space on the road. After about 15km a few similar guys had come together and I had a nice line to follow, always keeping my power in check, and not being too worried if it dropped down. I wasn’t going to get trapped into a bike race today as I had done in previous Ironman races. I was super paranoid of getting a drafting penalty so sat well back, which incidentally meant I was getting pushed further back as people would pass me and drop into the gapping space between me and the bike in front, but I was cool with this, I was still riding at 36kph. I wanted to maintain 16:00-16:30 per 10km to be hitting around 5 hours for the bike time, and this was happening so I wasn’t stressed. I noted there were about 4 or 5 guys with the ‘K’ on their leg which meant they were in the same Age Group as me, so i made sure I knew where they were the whole time. I sat back and watched what was going on up front.
The bike course is a little bit lumpy in the middle so I tested the legs on a few of the climbs and found many of the guys were good on the flat, but not really on the hills, so I stored this fact in the back of my mind knowing it might come in handy later in the ride.
At the 80km mark we reached Special Needs and I had a drink bottle with Ketone’s and MCT powder in it to pick up. This drink was a key strategy for me, and I had finished my first bottle, so I was looking forward to picking it up. Slowing down and calling my number out no one stuck their hand out to give me the bag. Suddenly I had gone past! So I had to stop, turn around and ride back to the bags, a lady found it and started WALKING towards me. I didn’t get annoyed, these people are volunteers, and do it to help us out, so I took my bottle, thanked her and took off knowing I had to get a wriggle on. Suddenly the security of my nice pace line had gone and I was on my own, with a few dribs and drabs around me, but no one I wanted to ride with.
The Special Needs is at the bottom of the Rex’s Lookout Climb, which is about 2mins long. I knew I was climbing well, so I decided I’d have to burn a match here to get back to the guys I was with. For the climb I averaged 370w, peaking at 798w, which was well over my acceptable maximum of 280w on the climbs. I bolted past a few guys, but as I crested the hill I noticed I still hadn’t been able to bridge across completely with, the guys I had around me were the ones getting dropped. Down the other side I pushed hard and decided that I could give myself 10mins at 295w before having to resign myself to the fact I won’t get back those the guys in my AG. Fortunately I got myself back to the group and quickly downed a gel to replenish what I had spent in burning that match. They were still riding at 36-37kph, so it was a welcome respite to the 40+kph I had been turning myself inside out for. I wasn’t too worried about that effort, it was similar to the work I had been doing during my intervals in training, but I knew I had to be respectful of it for later in the day. This was about 3 hours into the ride, and a bit sooner than I’d hoped to have to dig deep. I went to have a swig of my newly replaced Ketone mix and the bloody bottle was gone! Somewhere in my haste to chase back I had lost my all important bottle, and the reason I had lost the group in the first place! Ironman was testing me again, and how I dealt with this was going to determine the success of my day. So I switched to pulling fuel off the race course. I have a strong gut so it was no problem to start drinking and eating something else.
Nothing much else happened for the rest of the ride, there were only about 4 or 5 of us remaining. I pushed a few of the hills a bit harder and managed to shake some guys who were sitting on a bit, so it was just me and another guy in my Age Group taking even turns to keep the pace where it needed to be. As we reached the 150km mark we rode up on a few people who were in a pace line, but because the lane was narrowed due to being part of the main highway I moved to the front to stay away from a drafting situation. I knew that the 10km splits had consistently been around 16 minute so it was going to be well inside 5 hours, which would be the first time I had gone under that mark. There was no way I was going to roll in a few seconds slower than that, so I decided to keep the squeeze on coming into the town section.
Entering into T2 I stopped my computer at 4:56, which was about 7 minutes faster than I had gone in an Ironman before. Ironman Cairns isn’t a particularly fast course, there are a few hills, and some twists and turns, but there are also plenty of flat fast sections. The wind was blowing a bit in some exposed places, but it wasn’t crazy, nothing like Ironman NZ this year. This was the first time I had really raced my Specialized S-Works Shiv with a Hed Stinger Disc wheel on the back and a Nimble Trispoke on the front. I think it was the perfect setup for that course, and there were some points where I really felt a positive lift from the wheel on the back, it almost felt like someone was pushing me from my saddle.
In the end my Average Power was 225, and Normalized Power was 240w. This was a bit higher than I had planned, but the 10mins near threshold, would have driven it up a fair bit. Intensity Factor was 0.80, which is on the high side for an Age Grouper. My Variable Intensity was 1.06 which was also a bit higher than planned, but due to the surges I’m not surprised. My TSS was 315, about 35 higher than ideal, so I knew I was going to have to be a bit careful on the run.
Starting the run I was very cautious, but the old adrenaline got the better of me, and for a few KM was was running under 4:40/km. I had a plan to stick to 5:00/km for the first 30km. In training I hadn’t run over 2 hours, and I had only been over 1:45 once as I didn’t want to risk pushing the run mileage due to only having 8 weeks to run. I quickly put the brakes on my pace and settled back to what felt like a more manageable pace, and I felt comfortable. As I left T2 Kellee told me I was 10th in my AG! I was quite surprised, I was certain that a ride under 5:00 would have me closer to the front of the Age Group, so I was in stress mode for the whole run. Pretty soon in I had been passed by 2 guys, and resisted going with them, which was good as I passed them back again about 20km later.
I really enjoyed the run, Andy Smith took the above pic at a time I was running well. I had been going well, and had moved up to 6th in my Age Group so felt I was safe. Good, as I was beginning to run out of runningness, and needed this race to be over. I was desperate to go for a pee, normally I can go happily while running, but for some reason this wasn’t happening today. I was getting pretty bad stomach cramps, so made the difficult decision to stop at the port-a-loo. It felt like I was there for about 10 minutes while my bladder emptied. Once I was out and back running I felt a lot better, so I think this was a very good decision to make.
I had one of my athletes (Malcolm Cleland) just behind me all day, and he was steaming along. I had noticed at the turn arounds he had pulled back some time on me, and I knew the catch was inevitable. I came sooner than I had hoped, around the 30km mark. Not much I could do about it, I was waiting until the 32km mark before going at it, and frankly my legs weren’t letting me go any faster. I let Malcolm go, and hoped I would catch him back before the finish. Knowing it takes about 20 mins to feel the effect of caffeine I necked a Clif Espresso Double Caffeine gel at 32km and started to go deep.
The final 10km actually went quite well. Kellee told me I was in 6th still but I couldn’t let anyone else past. All of a sudden 2 guys with K on their legs slipped by and they were running a lot faster than me, after 40km of running I had nothing else I could throw at it. I knew I was still pretty safe for a spot, so I focused on catching my man Malcs. I could see I was slowly pulling him back, but as i entered the finish chute I was about 10 seconds short. I was stoked for Malcolm as he had a frustrating day a few weeks earlier at Ironman Port MacQuarie and he took 43 minutes off his previous best time.
Check the finish line vid:
I crossed in 9:34:14 with a run of 3:28. I went into the racing thinking I was good for something under 3:30, so I was right on target for that. I was 8th in my Age Group which was enough for a Kona spot. The time was less than a minute off my best, so on a short run build I was really happy to hit it.
So here I am looking at the season ahead. I am racing the Long Course Worlds in Canada in August, and then 6 weeks later I’ll race Ironman Kona, so there is heaps to look forward to. There’s a great group of athletes around me racing Kona too this year, so there’s going to be some awesome training in the winter ahead.
Catch you later,