Here Comes the Rain Again: Ironman Cairns Recap
Well, my ankle allowed me to get the 4 hours of sleep required by law before the throbbing woke me up, so I might as well write my race recap and my thoughts on the new ownership of Ironman.
Sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, sea lice, and stingrays. Thankful to say none of these play a part in today’s story. Getting ready in transition in the morning, I’m surrounded mainly by Japanese, Chinese and Australian athletes. It’s the first Ironman I’ve ever done where I didn’t know a single other competitor. So when I’m walking to take my last restroom break and i hear someone talking about Ironman Arizona, my ears perk up and I immediately interject myself in their conversation. Turns out his name is Jeff Barrow and he lives in Arizona. In Scottsdale. In my neighborhood. On my street. WHAT?! Yes, the only other American I’ve met racing lives across the street from me. How cool is that?
So then we head down to look at the water. After having meticulously scouted the swim, bike, and run courses and maps by land and friggin sky, I thought I had a good handle on what to expect. The Aussies were all bragging about how the surface of the water was so glassy because of the reef keeping the waves from breaking along the shore. I’m here to tell you that Aussies are full of shit.
I generally find the swim to be my favorite of the three disciplines, and challenges aside for this race, that was still true. It was my first Ironman that was a “self seeded” start and I reluctantly enjoyed it, especially considering how rough the surf was. With the 70.3 going on at the same time, it was logistically challenging figuring out how to get to our start line when they were all coming out of the water into their separate transition which was in between our transition and the start line.
So once the swim starts we head out for the first turn bouy, diving under the large breakers overhead. Over the entire course, the ocean never stopped rolling. It was a giant rectangle, swimming parallel to shore for most of it, so on the long stretches, you were brought up on your side and back down. On the return approach, the bouy was lined up out at sea, and with the high swells, I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway when Wilson was slowly drifting away and just became a smaller and smaller dot in between waves. You couldn’t sight it, you couldn’t see it, and it was the same color as the life guards jackets, so you would occasionally be swimming towards the wrong target in the rain. I did have the occasional person touch the sore ankle in the swim which is understandable since I was dragging my legs behind me like dead weight in the water to avoid kicking with the bad one which terrified me. I knew one solid downstroke too hard and it would be race over. So I would kick extra hard with my other foot for a bit just to either let them know that I was there or that a croc was chomping down on them.
We all knew the bike was going to be bad
when in the change tent, you couldn’t hear each other talk over the sound of the rain on the roof. It was disappointing that the first lap you couldn’t really see any of the ocean views from the rain but once the rain stopped and the sun came out, it was a sauna. My sunglasses and garmin fogged up so when it started raining again I was thankful. Plus, it made the race official that was smoking on this motorcycle have to put it out. But riding with wet socks made the ride longer and harder (that’s what she said) than it should have been. They had one less aid station on the course than last year so they were further spread out (gotta love Ironman) and I accidentally dropped my super concentrated bottle of my Myoplex BCAA after mile 60 so I had to use their super watered down version of an electrolyte drink and try to make it last. And when one of the aid stations had run out of real food, I officially lost my patience with Ironman. I enjoyed the hills more than the flats for two reasons. 1)I am as aerodynamic and graceful as a Sharpei in a convertible and 2) I rented a road bike which climbs better on hills. The flats were relentless with the headwind that accompanied the rain. But the downhills work well for a guy my size and I used them to my advantage.
Then the do-or-die moment I was waiting for. The run. Very spectator friendly which is always motivating. 3 laps up and down the boardwalk and esplanade in Cairns. About 5% was on wooden dock while the other 95% was on concrete. Switching to Zoots was definitely the right decision for the ankle, but man, the knees and back took the impact. I had been training in hokas up until the injury and the lack of cushioning made a difference. The sun went down relatively early being as its winter down here, and there isn’t a lot of street lighting. Race officials were on their motorbikes repeatedly coming up and down the middle of the bidirectional run path with the headlights on bright so they could see, totally destroying your night vision which was not cool. Also, after 9 pm, the run special needs bags were thrown in a big pile in the bed of a truck and if you wanted yours, you had to dig through them to go get it. Not kidding. Since I was doing the “jog 100 limp 50” running method, my blister/bandaid ratio was off, I was looking forward to getting the ones I had planted in my special needs, but when i rounded bend and saw that BS, I just wanted to get the race over with. A little over 15 and a half hours, I hobble my way down that glorious finisher chute where for the moment, all pain was gone and Ironman was forgiven.
Until I walk over to get my finisher shirt and they tell me “sorry, we are out of your size,” even though it’s indicated on my bib number and it was ordered a year ago.
Everything about how this race was organized was a disaster. Different prerace events were held in different locations across town which were not marked. The athlete briefing video was in a hotel banquet room on a repeating video loop, but only for an hour and a half but they couldn’t get sound working for the first 45 minutes. With Mike Rielly unable to announce the finishers, they got some Australian guy who thought he was a comedian who was making fun of all the Chinese names making “fried rice” and “chicken chow mein” jokes, and being the Asia-Pacific Championship, that did not go over well. The swim was a 40 minute drive north of town so you had to schedule a shuttle to transport your bike for you to T1 then take a different shuttle that afternoon to get to it, but you also had to schedule that shuttle or else you couldn’t get there. Ashley sat on a shuttle for 3 hours (not exaggerating) after the swim to get back to Cairns. The aforementioned issues out on the course, only 3 distance markers on the entire 180km bike course. In talking with locals who have done this race before, this isn’t the race they are use to. Ironman, who has just been bought out, has gone cheap. It is a business after all. That being said, the race itself was challenging and rewarding which is why I signed up for it in the first place. Each difficulty added to the satisfaction of its completion.