The day after completing my first half ironman, I entered my second. It’s difficult to explain the different waves of emotions you experience throughout the day; you can go from the absolute highs of seeing a familiar face cheer you on, to the pits of despair during those final few kilometres when your energy levels are well and truly depleted. But, the feeling of absolute euphoria that comes over you once you cross the finish line is indescribable. Not just because of the sense of satisfaction when finishing the race, but the hundreds of hours of training, the early mornings and the blood, sweat and tears that are usually associated.
After almost walking the final 10km of my first race, I was after a little redemption. I had made enough mistakes during the race and learnt enough lessons leading into the event to know there was plenty of improvement to be made. I picked Ironman Cairns as it worked in well with my race calendar, gave me suitable amount of time to get in a solid block of training and the weather is usually favourable during the winter months.
At the end of the domestic triathlon season, I took a few weeks off and travelled to New Zealand to completely forget about triathlon and the training associated. It’s been a welcomed change to my approach to triathlon training, as I’ve felt as though I’ve returned more determined and focused after the break.
With five weeks until Cairns, I had one last block of training before a taper leading into the event. Our approach has been simple: fitness trumps all. Before I can properly start addressing the one percenter’s, I need to build a fitness base that I’m able to work off.
Without being too specific, I’ve given a rough outline below:
Monday: AM Recovery Ride (50-60km) PM Swim (5km)
Tuesday: AM Hilly Ride (40km) or Swim (4.5km) PM Track session (14-18km)
Wednesday: AM Cycling session (90-100km) PM Swim (5km)
Thursday: AM Long Run (20-23km) PM Swim (5km)
Friday: AM Cycling session (90-100km) PM Socialise
Saturday: AM Run session (14-18km) followed by 2-3km ocean swim PM Recovery Ride (40-50km)
Sunday: AM Long Ride (110-130km) with a 60min run off the bike (16-18km) PM Socialise
My weekly training hours alter between 25-30 hours with a large portion of time on the bike or in the pool while dedicating enough time to maintain my running ability with quality run sessions.
You may have noticed I included my ‘social times’ in my schedule above. This doesn’t mean that I don’t make time to socialise during the other times. Any cyclist would know that coffee proceeds most rides and that run sessions are usually hours of ‘smack talk’. I think it’s important to allow yourself time to maintain a healthy balance - therefore Sunday afternoon beers in the sun is justified as all part of the process.
This recipe seems to be working well for now after a successful outing to Cairns. My main focal points going into the event were to stay relaxed in the swim, maintain good body composure on the bike while keeping the power output consistent and to stay patient on the run while taking on plenty of nutrition at the aid stations.
Easier said than done.
Anyone that was in Cairns on the days leading up to the event would have been convinced we would be doing three swim legs after the amounts of wind and rain we received. Amazingly, the morning of the race, the rain had stopped, and the wind subsided. Unfortunately, we were still blessed with some chop and cross currents as we headed off on the swim from Palm Cove.
I’m not the strongest swimmer, so as soon as I can find some feet to hold onto, I’m going to take the opportunity. I worked in well with some of the relay competitors; which saved me having to waste too much time sighting buoys. Overall, I was happy with the swim leg, as I exited in 26th position with a time of 28:51.
For now, the bike leg for me is all about damage control. I know I’m going to give up time to my competitors, so my race plan was to try and minimise the bleeding while trying not to overcook my legs. Just my luck, I ended up dropping my bottle full of nutrition within the first 50m of the bike leg which meant I had a long stretch of road surviving on water and the salt on my lips from the swim. Fortunately, we did have a tailwind on the way out to Port Douglas and the views of the coastline and national park are insanely beautiful.
The 60km ride back to Cairns includes some small hill kickers and a headwind that just drains the energy from your legs. I tried to remain composed while keeping the power output consistent, but I started to realise that I lacked the ability to maintain a sustained effort for a long period of time. By 70km, I started fidgeting and needed to stretch out my back and shoulders. Not the most aerodynamic position to be in. Obviously, this is a weak area for me and something I’ll need to continue to work on. I can’t be too upset with the overall ride though as I hopped off in 29th position and approx. 15min down from the leaders.
This is where the fun begins. Learning my lesson from my first half, I exited T2 at a sensible pace and stocked up on as much nutrition as I could carry. I settled into a good rhythm and started picking them off one by one. By 2km, I’d moved up to 19th with my confidence growing each kilometre. By 10km, I was in 8th as I slowly began to turn up the pace. At this point I’d seen how far 1st was ahead and I was keen to see how close I could get winning overall. I had plenty support on the run course which kept my spirits high even when at times I started dipping into that red zone of negativity.
My final 5kms were at approx. 3:25 pace as I managed to run myself onto the podium. With 2km left in the race, I was less than 7min down on the leader. I gave it a nudge, but after 4 hours of chasing I was running close to empty. I finished with a 77min half marathon split and unlike Husky, I didn’t need to crawl across the finish line. While the time may not be flash for a runner, I’m pleased that I was able to manage my levels of perceived effort so that I was able to finish strongly. I’m confident going into my next race, I won’t be afraid to push a little harder and get close to that 70min range.
Overall, I’m wrapped with the result as I executed my race exactly how I intended. I’m learning that I’m no longer a track athlete that needs to cover moves and make split second decisions. A lot can happen throughout the day, so being patient and managing energy levels is key to a good result. My take away points for this race are:
- More time on the saddle including sustained efforts on the bike maintaining % of FTP.
- Greater bike strength through hill reps
- Better understanding of fitness levels so perceived effort during the race can be managed
- Experiment with different nutrition as this was the first time I’ve taken on flat coke and Redbull which seemed to work well. I need to practise with these in the future.
- Travel management – Don’t book flights a few hours after the event and expect to be able bodied.