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Ironman Cairns dished-out all I signed up for and then some.

Start gun goes off. Realised I had self seeded very close to the front… too close. Oh well, time to punch on. 4 second beep sounds - run down chute, over timing mat, hit the water, high knees, dive, dolphin kick, swim. First Ironman swim since Hawaii 2015. Can't be that hard. One swim a week should get me through ok.

Water is choppy from wind. If the ocean is like this in training I would opt for a pool swim. Oh well - here now - teach myself how to swim in a chop. Back in early 2000’s I remember coach Spot saying something about twisting the upper body? I was passing people which I thought was odd. Started to get tired arms and realise we hadn't made the halfway turn. This was going to be hard.

Scroll photo's above.

Make it to the end of swim with what seemed like a good group. Strangely, large number of orange caps (old guys 50-55) around. Find out later that top-9 of us swam within a minute of each other. Up the beach and immediately spot Nat and kids, run over to them for some high-5 love. 58 minute swim (tick) per plan. In the change tent a mix of no shoulder flexibility, fatigue, dizziness and a tight fit 9 year old wetsuit has me rolling around on the freshly cut grass trying to extract my foot from the wetsuit suction grip.

As I'm running to my bike I hear Mal and Eddie's names called out of the water. I'm very pleased to hear my training partners had such good swims. I also hear Mark Gleason's name called, whom I suspect will finish top 5 in our age group (AG). Great - he's a top cyclist so I will get a tow from him out on the bike as he passes me. Day going to plan.

It's a long barefoot run with bike to the the mount line. Wish I had cousin Dominic's carbon fibre feet. See a fellow "O" category (50-55 AG) and make a friendly comment along the lines that we should use all the 25-35yo testosterone lads around us to our advantage. Get no reply - guess this guy is here for his Kona spot.

Pace on the bike early on is fast. Guys disappear into the distance like I'm standing still. Catch a glimpse of Mark Gleason as he passes me. Before I get to say G'day he is 50m up the road, then 100m and then he's a spec in the distance. Look at my HR to see if settled down below planned 140bpm (yellow zone=ok). It's still sitting at 157 (red zone=bad)! Try to peddle comfortably, shift down a gear, settle in.

The first lap up to Port Douglas I'm pretty isolated and riding solo. Every so often I hear the humming of disk wheel approaching from behind and then the quick pass. Surely all these guys can't all cycle this strongly for 180km?

Time for a drink and to start the well thought through spreadsheet nutrition plan 1-1.5 grams of carbs per kilo per hour (80-120g per hour). Take a sip of my drink and all I can suck is air? Try again, bite the drink bit and suck - still air - what? Drink biddon is full, straw is in. What's the problem? Consider throwing the aerobar drink system away and just using my second drink bidden, but decide to first check the straw which is stuck into the hole very tightly. With one hand on the aero bar steering I pull on the straw. It slowly wedges out at a few millimetres each pull. Getting the straw out takes 15 minutes. Yep, the rubber straw has a tear in it. Try and rip the end of the straw off but don't have two hands. Decide to chew it off which works OK but I'm gagging on the straw ¾ of the way down my throat. Strange sight for the steady stream of riders passing me. Shortened straw now needs to be put back in the tight hole ...with one hand. Another 15 minutes of stuffing around and wobbling all over the road. Straw in, suck, sweat fluid flows into mouth. Check time, it's an hour into the ride. Make the turn at Port Douglas and straight into the expected head wind. Until now we have had a tail wind. Now things get serious. Try and get as low as I can and keep the pedals turning over.

At about 60k I'm caught by a huge pack of guys not even pretending to not draft. They were literally pace lining. I stopped pedaling, sat up, yelled a few expletives, but no one gave a shit. I sat on the back - maybe not quite the full 12m - but certainly not the wheel sucking everyone else was doing. The draft buster (technical official, who's job is to penalise this type of riding) drove past and politely asked them to stop. They didn't and she drove away? Not exactly sure how this happened but at the turn around to head north again the group surged fast and the last few riders including me got spat out the back. The pack disappeared into the distance.

The ride back to Port Douglas for the second time was assisted by the tail wind. As I’m descending a hill and cornering in a full aero tuck I hear a very loud crack! sound and my back wheel locks up. I skid sideways to a sudden stop, but manage to keep the bike upright. My tyre levers taped under my seat had come loose and fallen into my rear wheel. This is pretty much best case scenario given all the other options. I taped my spares, gas and levers under my saddle instead of using a gear bag to be more aero? After twelve Ironman's and countless races over the past 30+years I still haven't learnt NOT to try new stuff on race day. Pulled the lever out, checked the wheel and tyre which all seemed ok? Got back on the bike and tentatively started to pedal back up to speed, hoping my wheel didn't fall off.

I tried to eat as much as I could and stick to the nutrition plan. At about 110k we turned for the final time for the 70k back to Cairns into the increasing headwind. I kept lowering my gears to spin a bit easier but the wind never let up and instead gusted from the sides just to keep smacking you in the face. These last 2 hours were mentally tough and I simply forgot to eat and drink. Plan gone to shit. Just get back to Cairns.

Surprised by the number of riders I passed in the last 20k (still nowhere near the number that passed me for the first 80k. I rode into Cairns with a 5:23hr bike which was my high-end goal range. Maybe plan not completely stuffed?

Dropped bike, ran to toilet, enjoyed a moment of quiet contemplation, into change tent, mandatory boardies, singlet, hat, start running. All I'm thinking is can my legs hold 4.40-4.50min/k pace after that brutal ride?

Felt good running. Surprisingly good? Saw the gorgeous smiles of Jar, Scar, Kiki, Varny and Nat as well as Mal's fam Willow, Mia and Julie. The support squad was in full swing and it felt good. Check the pace at 1k - 4.10min/k - what! Slow down champ. Running nicely now, feel calm and relaxed, check 2nd km split - 4.15 - heh? Ok now J this is not your first rodeo get a hold of yourself. Get back on the plan. 3rd k split 4.30min! I start thinking maybe this is the pace that I can do? That thought lasts just a few minutes until 4km when I realise I'm spending chips I don't have. Energy just disappear from my body - nutrition mistakes on the bike now in full effect. Stop at the next aid station, take on electrolyte, coke and gel. I need carbs and need them fast. Check HR and it's well into the red zone at 165bpm.

I ran through 10k in 48:30min, which was inside my plan range - tick. My run pace was roughly per the plan. The problem now was that I was walking the aid stations to make sure I took on as many calories and fluid and caffeine as possible. Then running to the next aid station to repeat the walk, shovel calories process. I used coke and gels for the next 10k. My 10-20k split was just under 52min, about 4min slower than the plan. Problem was my guts were cramping and sloshing about with coke and gels. Remember that coach Shorto always says salt tablets help get the guts processing again. Did I put salt tabs in my run shorts pocket? Feel around in my back pocket and pull out a salt tab - so happy. Run past the cheer squad as I head out on lap three (of four) - kids cheering and screaming, Nat quietly says “you need to pick up the pace”. She is spot on - I’m not running fast and I’m still walking the aid stations. But I just don't have an option. Over the next 10k I trudge on still focused on calories and a bit of water. I don't bother taking the 30k split - there is no point - race plan is out the window - just finish is the current plan.

I see Mal on the run course and he is having a ball - a huge smile all over his face. He will finish his first Ironman ...actually it's his first ever triathlon, having decided to enter after having a few wines with me over Christmas just 6 months ago. It’s great to see. Eddie is also running great as he always does - he looks happy and his form is perfect. Eddie passes me and we give each other encouraging bum pats (it's an ironman thing).

Slowly my stomach starts to feel a bit better. I start to pick up my run form. Concentrate on posture. “Kick my heels up” was my run cue (thanks Shorto). Approach an aid station and decide to run through this one grabbing a Redbull on the fly. The crowd and my own personal cheer squad sense that I’m coming back and really get behind me. I hear Aoibheann and Cioara yell “kick your heels up dad!” (they knew the cue). Check my pace at 33k for the first time in about 23k - it's 4:46! Keep going. Next split 4:30 - easy tiger. I’m holding 4:45ish pace now and grabbing Redbull every other aid station. Try and do some math to see if sub-10hrs is possible - It's not. But as Nat had reminded me several times leading into the race, it doesn't matter what happens or what position you are in, just keep giving it everything you have.

I see Mark Gleason at one of the turnarounds. He is maybe 500m ahead and running is not his strength. We nod to each other - I kick my heels up again. The last few km I am running (my version of) flat-out. My breathing is so heavy that athletes in front of me are jumping off the course to let me through ...or see if they should call an ambulance.

The crowd dig my shorts and most are yelling some kind of encouragement - watermelon shorts have served their purpose (tick). Alberto is an old Brat that has moved to Cairns and was on the sideline. Every lap he ran with me and gave me a little push. On the last lap past him his push was so hard he nearly pushed me over. The last few km were hard, my legs were screaming, my HR was above what I previously thought was my max HR.

The finish line emotion was one of my best Ironman feelings. 10:08 was not the time I was after, but I was pumped by the overall race.

I didn’t catch Mark, but it didn’t matter. I was super pumped with my race and more importantly my effort.

In the washup I finished 8th in AG, 2min behind Mark who held on for 6th. I was 6 minutes behind 5th place. A solid 58 minute swim, very tough 5:23 bike, and a tail of two different runs for a 3:36 marathon.

I had several goals for the race. I try not to have time based goals as they are subject to the course and the conditions - like massive winds. The main goal was to qualify for Hawaii World Champs, which I thought needed a top-5 AG. However, at 51 I did wonder in the back of my mind maybe I could pull off a race faster than my second best IM (it's a long story) or 9:40-something. Not to be in Cairns 2021. My other main goal was to keep going hard when it was hurting and regardless of my place or goals - but just to go as hard as I could at that moment.

To my surprise there are 8 Kona spots and so I ended up punching my Hawaii ticket. I’m not taking my spot this year (just wanted the kudos of qualifying :)= bigger things to do later in the year!

I can't put into words how much I appreciate everything that Nat does to help me get to the start line and indeed to the finish. From meticulously organising our travel plans - not easy with an inflexible shared care arrangement :-/ to managing Saturday mornings while I biked till lunchtime (then sleep on couch), and not to mention the amazing quality of nutritious meals we all devour. Far more importantly she motivates me to be a better athlete and indeed a better person. Thank you my love.

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