Cairns was a fantastic race to end this block of training and racing for me. I’ve have many challenges over the last 12 months and to finish with a tough and successful race is really positive and has made me more enthusiastic to continue racing and improving. 12 months ago my mindset was all about the end result but I have learnt that there are many smaller victories along the way and enjoying the journey and the racing is the most important thing. I am now a better athlete for all that I have experienced.
Ironman 70.3 Cairns is a little more complicated than other races with the travel from Melbourne, organising my bike and kit, planning nutrition, different start, transition and finish locations, and of course keeping my diabetes under the best control possible. Cairns is a huge event that felt like it took over the whole region with the Ironman atmosphere. Getting that buzz when you arrive is great and gave me that little kick to get through to race morning.
Coming to Cairns with a season worth of training and racing under my belt I was focusing on the other important things including; nutrition, hydration, rest and of course my diabetes. Leading into the race I was in such a positive mindset that everything felt like it was running to plan and even my BGLs were stable and predictable. I had everything planned out and I just wanted to get to the start line and race. I have not felt like this for over 12 months and it was really energising to go into a race knowing that everything was under control. I was really enjoying this and being positive was also making me feel physically buzzing also.
Race day I was up at 3:30am to get to the bus terminal for transport up to the start at Palm Coves (45mins trip from Cairns). My BGLs were running perfectly at 6.0mmol/L from 3:30am to when I arrive at Palm Cove at 5:00am. My plan was to setup my transition, do a short warm-up, get into my wetsuit and then have something to eat about 30 minutes before the start. For the hour before the race start it was raining heavily and the winds were picking up making things a little awkward getting ready squeezed under the limited available shelter. With my BGLs still tracking at 6.5mmol/L I got down my carb/protein/coffee shake at 6am and was ready get on the beach for the start.
As a sub-30 minute swimmer I started in the first couple of groups off the rolling start. I was relaxed and enter the water calmly duck diving a couple of times and then swimming to some clear water around the first buoy. It was a little funny when I realised that I hadn’t done a swim in the “ocean” for a long time with all of my recent races in protected water. The ocean swells and choppy conditions were certainly a little challenging but the swim course was straightforward and passed pretty quickly. I was able to swim in clear water and sighted the buoys clearly. 29 minutes out of the water, feeling great and even giving my support team (Inge, Mum and Ken) a quick smile as I started the long long long run to my bike in T1 (I’m guessing this was about 500m and a pretty unique transition).
I am always happy to get onto the bike as I feel relaxed riding and it gives me plenty of time to check my BGLs and adjust if need be. Starting on the bike leg my BGL was at 10.0mmol/L that was a little higher than I thought it would be after the swim but still in a good range. Using the new Freestyle Libre Flash glucose monitor for the first time in a race it really made checking my BGLs easy and I trusted that the reading would be accurate. I wasn’t wrong and I honestly thing that this little device relieve the one of the stresses from previous races when my CGM wasn’t accurate I was finger prick testing during the race.
Not needing to eat straight away I got in plenty of fluids (no carbs Endura) and settled into a steady rhythm (aiming for 85 cadence at 250 watts). There had been plenty of chatter about the drafting enforcement and there were a lot of TA official’s on the bike course. I had ended up in a group of 4 riders with each trying to push away but all seeming to remain together generally at a legal distance. The Captain Cook Hwy is a beautiful stretch of road and with the rolling hills and the ocean almost within reach the kilometres passed really quickly. The rain was pretty constant and at times so heavy that I couldn’t hear myself think as the massive tropical raindrops hammered into my helmet. After the turn-around point at the 30km mark I was feeling great and still in the group of four. There was now a slight head wind and the heavy rain continued. At around the 50km mark just as I had pushed to the front of the group I noticed my front end go wobbly and looking down I could immediately see that I had a flat tyre. Having had not handling issues on the wet and slippery roads to this point I nearly came off when trying to come to a stop now. Heart racing and legs pounding I was immediately annoyed but quickly got off, flicked off my front wheel and changed the tube. It may have taken 5 minutes all up but I didn’t worry and I was quick to get back into my rhythm heading to Cairns back past Palm Cove.
With 15 kilometres to go I was feeling the power draining from my legs and after checking my BGL realised that I hadn’t eaten enough in the last hour and my BGL was down to 4.0mmol/L and dropping. I had to ease up at this point and find a more comfortable rhythm so that I could eat and get my BGLs back up to start the run leg. My last 15 kilometres were slower than I would have liked but I just focused on being smooth, eating and drinking, and then checking my BGLs every 10 minutes. When I got to T2 my BGLs were back up to 6.5mmol/L and having eased off for the last part of the ride was feeling great starting the run (in the pouring rain). I got a little extra boost from seeing Inge and Mum again as I ran out of the transition and I may have even given someone a high-five!
Having put extra hours into my running over the last month I was looking forward to seeing how this training would pay off. I wanted to set a 4-minute pace to start with and I looked to find someone of a similar pace to work off. I was able to stick with this pace until the 8km point where the hurt set-in and I needed to slow. This was a little mental hurdle to overcome and I told myself to stick tough and maintain a steady pace, picking it up if I could. For the remainder of the run I was pacing around 4:30/km with a couple of faster and slower kilometres as I pushed harder or checked my BGLs and sucked down a gel. The heavy tropical rain continued to come and go and there were plenty of big puddles to run through (sort of good to take your mind off the pain). With my BGLs being on track I also enjoyed a few pieces of watermelon. Being my weakest leg the run is always tough but having my BGLs under control meant that I could focus on the running and not my diabetes for the first time in several races. With the atmosphere at the turnarounds and the crowds spread out along the whole run course the kilometres did pass quickly and the Ironman red carpet was underfoot with my arms in the air (still in the rain) before midday! BGLs finished at 6.0mmol/L, treading slightly downwards which allowed me to indulge in the recovery tent with a few big slices of watermelon and a protein recovery drink.
I finished with a time of 4hrs 38mins in 9th place in my age and 35th place over all. This was the toughest 70.3 race that I have completed and not worrying about the time or the place I am ready happy with my performance. There is always room to improve but I raced with the best mindset and with excellent control of my diabetes. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face after the race!
I take some real positives out of this race. Firstly, my mental state leading into and during the race had the biggest impact on my performance including my diabetes. Being able to overcome several challenges and then keep going is a real strength that I am proud of. I have now learnt that my mental state is the most important thing for my performance and something that I will continue to work on for every race. Secondly, my diabetes plan worked perfectly with the basal program I set allowing me to eat and keep my BGLs stable. Finally, my swim and bike legs remained consistently strong and if not for the puncture I think that I would have been close to a bike PB for the 90km. With my diabetes plan working perfectly I did forget to eat during the bike leg (possibly because of the flat tyre) that led to a minor hypo. My nutrition and hydration are elements that I need to work on. Finally, although my run was OK I do want to improve this and be able to run consistently around 1hr 20-25 minutes for the run leg.
I actually feel like a different person to 12 months ago when I performance like this would have been picked apart negatively. Being positive really changes my whole performance and as hard as it has been to get to this point I am so glad that I was able to get here. I’ve had the best support from my partner Inge who has really shown me how important your mental condition is and how it impacts all other aspects of your body and your performance. Of course the rest of my family has been wonderful support and they’d enjoyed a few little trips away to support me. I’m now looking forward to a little break and then getting back into it for next season, new races and new goals.