Where’s Wallis? Clapping in Cairns, QLD

The ‘sunshine state’ of QLD was not especially sunny for my visit last weekend.

Where we stayed: AirBnB, Cairns

What we did:

Where we ate:

It was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and the Ironman Cairns triathlon was on.

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Ironman consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run. It’s funny how when I was in the UK people considered an Olympic triathlon an achievement, here in Australia they don’t seem get out of bed for less than a half.

Ben was competing in the full ironman, and other friends from Coogee Tri Club were racing in the half.

I flew up on Friday night, after attempting to board the wrong flight (why do they have no flights to Cairns all day and then two by the same airline leaving within 5 minutes of each other?)

We were sharing an awesome big house up in the hills with a Kiwi collective: Ian and Tamsyn from Dunedin who were both racing, Victor and Kirsty who were meant to have been racing and had to pull out beforehand but came along for the trip, and Natalie, Bevan and Chris, all of whom were over to support. Chris is actually a fellow Brit so I shouldn’t lump her in with the Kiwis, but she has lived in Auckland a long time.

Triathlons traditional come with a lot of faffing. The quantity of faffing seems to grow exponentially with the length of the race, which doesn’t entirely make sense since fundamentally you are still doing the same 3 things, in the same order. However, you obviously need more food and drink for 12 hours of exercise than 1.

So it turns out that an Ironman requires c 3-4 days of faffing. Friday was building bikes day (after they’d been taken apart for flying) and race registration. Saturday was bike registration (this is different to race registration) and ‘gear drop’. Made more complex in Cairns by the fact that the two transition zones were in different places (T1 (swim to bike) being up in Palm Cove, c 20km North of the city, and T2 (bike to run) being in town). Sunday is RACE DAY. Monday is un-building bikes day, presentation day and no-one is able to walk anywhere properly.

Given that I could not really contribute a huge amount to the faffing, I took the opportunity on Saturday to go on a tour to Green Island. I ended up doing the exact same trip that I did when I first visited Cairns in September 2015, because I’d enjoyed it so much.

 

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Green Island is the most accessible part of the barrier reef from the mainland, being about a 45 minute boat ride. Big Cat Green Island cruises offer half-day and full-day trips to the island, where you can snorkel and go in a ‘semi-submarine’ to see the fish.

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I’d love to do a full day boat trip to the outer reef one day, but I thought I might be needed for Saturday afternoon pre-race faffing 🙂 I met a couple of lovely English women, Amy and Lou on the trip, whose husbands were both racing the next day and they’d had exactly the same idea at me!

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I had a double scoop ice-cream (not a holiday without one!) and spent a wonderful few hours relaxing on the beach and snorkeling. It’s hard to believe it’s so close to the city!

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Once back in Cairns I bought some prawns for lunch from the ‘Prawn Star’ boat and then got a lift back to the house with Bevan (I promised him I’d include this in the blog haha…Bevan you guys get better coverage later!)

In the afternoon, Ian, Tamsyn, Ben and I drove up to Palm Cove for them to get their transition set-up sorted.

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I enjoyed the sea views, and the accompanying jellyfish and crocodile warning signs :O

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Ready to rescue

Everyone may have been slightly more on edge than usual in an Australian ocean swim (sharkies) due to the fact that a woman was taken from a beach by a crocodile in Queensland only a few weeks ago. Ben’s theory was that the full Ironman race started at 7.30am (an hour or so later than usual), so that the sun was up enough for water safety to see beasties in the water. However this doesn’t explain why they set the half Ironman racers off at 6.30am… although, as I said earlier anything less than a full here seems to be poo-pooed…Darwinian organisers perhaps…

Dawn Patrol

Sunday was race day. I mean, it felt like an endurance event just spectating! I racked up over 25,000 steps for the day rushing about.

We were up at 4.30am, and out the door by 5am due to Ian’s insistence that he’d like to arrive 2 hours before the start. Hilariously (and admirably) probably the most relaxed person I’ve ever seen before a race was Tamsyn, and she was racing in the professional women’s race. Ben is probably a close second for pre-race chilled nature, which meant they basically just both teased Ian about his preparation routine.

I dropped them off, and found an official Ironman field to park in. I then walked down to the beach and watched the half-ironman (’70.3’) racers start. It was a ‘rolling start’ meaning that a couple of athletes start every couple of seconds, which avoids the usual start of race scrum.

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Nervous energy radiating from the 70.3 start pen

Ian’s meticulous planning paid off and he was the first man in the starting chute 🙂

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“All by myself….”

Once all the 70.3 guys had been released to the crocs it was the turn of the pros, so off went Tamsyn with her group.

Female pros on the start line

And then the guys started to filter through for the full race. I saw Benny before and wished him luck and then him and Ian were off across the line together.

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Benny’s departure

Chris, Bevan, Kirsty, Victor, Natalie and I all then made our way down the beach to the swim exit. It was rather choppy and we saw a lot of people coming out looking very disorientated, or being helped out by the water safety. Tamsyn came out clutching her stomach which didn’t bode too well, and it turned out she’d swallowed water and got sick during the swim 😦

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Ian emerged next, he was wearing a silver wetsuit so was easy to spot like a giant sardine emerging from the shallows, followed shortly by Benny.

We then tackled the traffic to drive the 20km back to Cairns. The bike course of the race goes North from Palm Cove and then South back to Cairns. This means that the 2 lane highway needs to become 3 lane: a shoulder and part of a lane for bikes, and then the remainder divided into two makeshift car lanes, requiring a lot of cones. Combine this with the LASHING rain, honestly I could not see out the windscreen and I was terrified I’d either hit a cone or a bike (obviously would rather a cone!) The drive took 1.5 hours because the road is full of roundabouts and so at every one where cars needed to go across the stream of bikes this caused delays. When I got back to Cairns I found a magical special Ironman car park at Lake Street Parking (in case anyone needs to know in future) which was free and close to the race.

I bought myself a well overdue breakfast (I told you supporting was tiring!) and a poncho (yep) and found myself a central spot to watch the 70.3 racers on their run leg. I felt like I was the only person in the crowd clapping…I know it was rainy, and a long day, but I know what a difference a little support can make when you’re racing, so I did my best. I saw JA and Nicole from Coogee and our friend Laura, who must have qualified for the 70.3 world championships about 5 times already this year 🙂 JA ended up qualifying as well at Cairns, so they’ll be off to Sunshine Coast in September to race, as is Bevan, everyone is such high achievers….

The pro males sped in off the bike shortly after, and the Kiwi contingent had found a great little spot about 1km into the run course. Lots of the pros seemed to know Bevan so throughout the race it became like a little counselling corner/confession booth with everyone giving us snippets about their state of body/mind as they passed. Bevan and Chris have a podcast called Fitter Radio and I think they were tempted to record a few snippets 🙂

Ian came onto the run and was looking happy and strong…until Kirsty gave him an exuberant high-five which nearly took his arm off. Ian had come onto his second lap and there was still no sign of Ben. You can track people’s timing splits online and one on the bike had suggested a mechanical issue, but it was horrible waiting as I thought maybe he’d had an accident (see spectating is emotionally as well as physically tiring!) I walked back to transition to see if I could find out any information but was told that… “There is someone with a laptop but they’re not here…” …. right. Then I saw Ben’s friend Wissam running out of transition who was completing his first Ironman, he told me that Ben was right behind him.

When Ben got around to where we were he stopped for a little chat and told me how he’d got a puncture on the bike and the pit stop (goo and air that you put into tubular tyres for a quick fix) hadn’t worked, so he had everyone’s worst nightmare in a race of having to change your tyre. However, he said even before that, he wasn’t feeling strong and wasn’t on track for the time he wanted. Combined with a 15 minute mechanical that blew any time hopes out the water.

Whilst he was telling me all of this in the back of my head I was thinking “So are you still racing? Because you should probably stop chatting and keep running…” but he said he was just going to do a little run and so did a 4km out and back and then came and sat with us, race over. In anyone else’s eyes (well mine anyway) he would still have got a very decent overall time, and far faster than I ever could. But for him, where this was maybe the 10th or 11th Ironman, it wasn’t about completing an Ironman, it was about completing it in a time, so I totally understand why he wouldn’t run a marathon for the sake of it (!!! even that sounds mad to me who hasn’t run a marathon full stop).

***Secretly…I think he spotted this dude out on the run and realised he’d been ‘out-hatted’ so called it a day:

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Tamsyn had continued to be sick on the bike and on the run, and wasn’t in a great place when she came past us. Bevan suggested she run the 4km out-and-back, try and take on some fuel and then see if she could continue, she came back looking marginally better and carried on to finish, and place for a prize. A great achievement, even more so considering this is her second race back since having her little girl 8 months ago!!

Ian recovered from Kirsty’s high-five and continued to have an excellent run, except on the final loop where he was a little green.

We were also cheering on two other Coogee athletes: Skye whose first Ironman this was, and she smashed it looking happy throughout, and Rodney, who pulled his calf and ended up walking the majority of the run. I have great admiration for his dedication, and I think back to when Smart and I walked the 10km around Ayers Rock and I could barely handle that…

Skye loving the race

Skye loving the race

Bevan is also a triathlon coach and one of his athletes, Heidi, came 2nd out of all the age-group (i.e. non-professional) females. An incredible achievement.

Both Heidi and Ian qualified for the Ironman world championships in Kona in October!

Monday actually involved remarkably little faff, and we had a lovely day playing tourists, with a trip up the Kaunda scenic railway, lunch and wandering the markets in Karunda, and then the Skyrail cable-car down.

Scenic railway

Scenic railway

Skyrail

Skyrail

Tourists

Tourists

Bit of tree hugging

Bit of tree hugging

Conveniently for Ben, there was “the largest artillery and armour museum in the southern hemisphere” at the foot of the Skyrail. Ben has told me that I must include that I was a little tired and grouchy and not very keen for this. Especially when I found out that ‘armour’ didn’t mean like shiny silver suits of armour, just more guns….

'Armour'

‘Armour’

Roll on the ‘Bovington Tank Museum’ when we’re back in the UK. What Ben apparently wants to do most in my homeland. Although, my friend Dave has actually informed me that this is right next to monkey world, so maybe everyone is a winner.

That night we had a celebratory dinner at Waterbar and Grill in Cairns, which was delicious, with GIANT portions. I had one of the biggest meals despite the fact I had probably done least activity over the weekend, and got to wear a bib, AND they had those little ‘magic flannel’ hand towels that looked like marshmallows.

Now for a wintery 6 weeks in Sydney before heading back to the UK in August, with a brief stop in Bangkok en route. It’s the first time I’ve been back since October 2014 and I can’t wait!!!

Xx

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