To truly get the feel of the trepidation I felt before Cairns I need to rewind to 2013 when a close friend ("Roberts") returned from said race with tales of horror. Heat, humidity the whole lot. To boot a slightly disappointing marathon time due to a fairly major bonk regardless of countless hours of training. This did little to give me confidence for the upcoming race.
Back to the present and I'm looking out over the usually beautiful Palm Cove beach, 30mins north of Cairns in Australia's north eastern rainforest region of Queensland. Staring at the sea which is showing 2m of swell and is dark grey, I know this is going to suck. I’ve optimistically put myself in the 1hr to 1hr 7min category. looking to my left Roberts is looking nervous, this does little to settle my nerves as he knows what's coming, to my right Josh is quietly serious. All three of us have travelled over 15,000km and spent countless pounds and dollars to be here yet there is a definite sense of foreboding. Ahead of us lies a 2.4 mile (3.8km) swim, a 112 mile (180km) bike and a full 26 mile (42km) marathon. Today palm Cove looks to us less like the beautiful beach resort of postcards and more like a battleground with palm trees blustering around in the wind.
Sweating already in our wetsuits given the 26 degree air temperature and knowing we were heading into 27degree water I was not feeling overly confident about the swim. It took half an hour for us to reach the start line, a quick high five from the race announcer and I ran and gracefully sawn dived (ish) into the sea. The course was a two rectangular lap format down the beach.
I quickly realised that there were many more people who had been optimistic about swim times and far more so than me. I quickly found myself navigating through bunches of swimmers with appalling group swimming technique. The first drag down through beach felt very long but the return journey was much quicker. The swell was enough to make sighting a challenge. By the second lap I was swimming with a group of similar speed which would have been great apart from the guy who decided not to sight and instead pinball between myself and another guy. A swift kick to the side after a particularly bad set of bumps made short work of the issue. By the last 300m of the swim the heat and swell were beginning to make my stomach churn so I took it easy reminding myself there was a long day ahead and I was glad to finally exit the water. To do this we had to swim past a very large ominous looking black RIB speedboat, which it turned out later was the Saltwater Crocodile deterrent. I reached the shore in 1hr 15 which considering conditions I was happy with.
On running up the beach and into transition I became aware it was absolutely chucking it down. This was going to make the bike interesting but play into my hands as a brit. Transition went smoothly and I saw Roberts in there too so he was with me. Out onto the roads, and up towards Port Douglas we had a tail wind which made the outbound leg about a 38-40kph avg for the first 40ish km. It was amazing how many people were shooting themselves in the feet my conserving speed terribly from downhills and pushing huge gears up the climbs. I overtook countless people by simply dropping it into the small ring, sitting back and spinning the legs up each hill. Thanks for the high cadence drills Blair! The rainy conditions made my helmet visor a bit of a problem. The for the first time 50km it spent most of its time upside down on my forehead. An excellent feature of the Kask Bambino if anyone is considering buying one.
At the turnaround at Port Douglas we got a taste for the headwind we had for the way back. Later weather reports put the wind at 27-28kph. It was pretty savage and I just tried to make myself as small as possible and churn the legs. Burning a little higher than the plan but with the intention of taking it a bit more easily on the tail wind section back to port Douglas again. By this point (approx 90km in) James had made up the 1min deficit from the swim and we were basically taking turn at pace setting. Eventually James made his way away from me but our two supporters confirmed that by the end of the bike leg there was less than 10min between the three of us. The last 30km of the bike were pretty dark and I was keen to get off the bike by the end of it. Coming back into Cairns and getting my first feel of the atmosphere was incredible, the entire Cairns Seafront was packed and all the bars along the Esplanade were packed with thousands of people out to cheer on the racers. I decided at this point that the flying dismount would be a good idea as it would get me a cheer most likely. Fortunately it did and I sort of nailed it rather than landing square on my face which considering condition would have been more likely.
Into transition I felt pretty good. I was through whilst taking my time in a few minutes. Out onto the run my legs felt great and I knew I’d paced my bike leg well. It was now going to be a battle for me to pace the run properly. The run leg was 3 laps of a spider-leg style out and back course along the incredible promenade. By this time the sun was now fully out and temperatures were hitting 32-35 and the challenge became cooling. Amazingly aid stations were every 2km on this course being both sides of an out and back and I quickly strategised to run between them, walk in them. Every second one I took on energy, mostly based around Gels but whatever my body needed and took on water and the aid station in the middle was water and cooling only. This worked and I caught my team mate at the 10km mark passing him when he looked pretty bad, feeling happy I was not…yet.
At 22km I was on for a sub 11 race, all I needed to do was complete the last 20km in under 1hr and all would have been fine and dandy. Then it all went to pot. It wasn’t my legs, it wasn’t energy, it wasn’t hydration as I had expected it to be. In any other situation I would have found this funny, but it was gas! Wholly unfunny try-suit ripping (almost) gas. This on it’s own would have been OK and I could have even passed it off as jet propulsion but unfortunately it brought with with crippling stomach cramps. These unfortunately stayed with me and resigned me to a slow shuffle for the remainder of the marathon, annoying as the rest of my body and energy levels felt fine. Nevertheless I shuffled on to the very end making a good go of it and finally crossing the line in 12.32.
Not a time that I had wanted, yet knowing without the gut’s playing up things would have been much quicker has given comfort. Job done, tattoo got, t-shirt in draw, medal on wall.
What’s next? Thanks for reading.