Thursday, 16 June 2016

Ironman Cairns 2016

*Edit - my thoughts and prayers for the family of the Japanese athlete who died in hospital on the Thursday following the race. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition after being pulled unconscious from the swim during the race. May he rest in peace. News report here.

Ironman Cairns have always had a special place in my heart, being my long standing Ironman PB when I last did this race 4 years ago (race report here). With my DNF at Ironman Malaysia in November last year, I was keen to redeem myself but with our newborn being only 7 weeks old on race day, I wasn't so sure how things would pan out. Still, I continued training as if I was going to race. And when it was rumoured that entries were selling out, I got the green light from my ever supportive wife to sign up. Luckily, I did as it did sell out soon after.

Pre race

So fast forward to the couple of days pre race. Caught myself the first flight in the morning and arrived in Cairns at about 9.30am. I stayed at Caravella Backpackers, something I don't mind putting up with travelling solo. It was clean and I had a private room with ensuite. The staff were pretty strict with a 11pm curfew in common areas, so it was quiet at night too. With about 15 minute walk from the race expo, it was near perfect. The line for race packs pick up was pretty long and I was glad to use the AWA priority line. The stuff at the expo was pretty standard, so I didn't buy anything apart from a couple of co2 canisters. The video race briefing sort of repeated the info in the athlete's guide, so while I sat through it, I didn't pay much attention. After I unpacked my bike, the screws to the cap covering the Di2 battery couldn't quite go in all the way. I asked the on-site mechanic for help and they reckon the screw thread is partly damaged. Anyway, we got them as in as they could. A quick spin and drop off for the bike transfer.

There was no carbo loading dinner, as we were given restaurant vouchers instead. But there was a welcome function at the convention centre but I have to say, there wasn't much of an update from the race director, so I could have saved myself the 20 minute walk to and from. A nice sleep in before catching the first shuttle bus to transition 1 in Palm Cove, about 30 minutes away. My bike arrived soon after me and once I have my gear bag checked in and have it all set up, I had a quick swim practice, my first swim in this new wetsuit - talk about not using anything new on race day! Water was pretty choppy but manageable. I met Harum and Knut, from Malaysia and they gave me a ride back to Cairns. The rest of the day was just taking it easy preparing for the big day.

Race morning

Alarm set for 4.15am but I was awake since 3am. It's okay, because I did sleep pretty much through the night since 8.30pm. Got ready and a calm walk to the shuttle bus. The other competitors were surprisingly chatty on the bus. I was on the phone with Li-Ann for some final words of encouragement.  When I arrived at my bike rack, I was surprised to see the plastic bags I had covering my saddle and arm pads were removed, with a yellow sticker placed on my seat post. I was worried I was going to get an infringement before the race even started! Went around looking for a technical official as the volunteers couldn't quite tell me what it meant. Finally found one and was re-assured I won't be penalized. Phew!

With a 7.45am start, there was still plenty of time to get ready. The toilets outside of transition were pretty quiet and I had one final visit before putting on my wetsuit. Then it was go time. It was nice to bump into Tom from Break Your Limits, my old training group back in Perth while walking towards the race start.

Swim 3.8km

The water did definitely get choppier from the day before. It was a rectangular shaped, two lap swim course in anti clockwise direction. Along the shore and back, repeat. The first swim out to the first buoy was rough with waves keep on pushing us back to shore. After the right turn, it wasn't as bad, but I've given up swimming in a straight line. As long as I was heading in the correct direction, I was happy to keep swimming. It was difficult to draft too - one moment you can be next to someone, the next moment, they'll be a few meters away with the waves. I did swallow a few gulps of sea water but I tried not to get too worried about it.

My watch showed about 30+ minutes after the first lap, so I was on target to swim about 1:05 or so. Going through the second lap is always mentally easier as it seemed more familiar. Towards the end of the second lap, My eyes somehow caught hold of the start buoy rather than the end buoy, so I was swimming in the wrong direction. I went about halfway before realizing this and quickly made the detour. I arrived at the beach somewhere in between the two and had to run towards the swim finish gantry. It was nice to hear Trent from Red Dog was cheering as I got in. Crossed the first timing mat in 1:06:03, my slowest Ironman swim in a wetsuit, and about 3 minutes slower than 4 years ago. But the swim was in the calm waters of Cairns jetty then, so I was willing to accept it.

Transition 1

Wetsuit came off without too much drama. Quick wipe off the sand from my feet, socks on and two Clif Bars into my rear pocket. Fasten helmet on as I ran out of the change tent. The transition area was all wet from the rain and my socks were already getting soaked. It's a pretty tight area with plenty of kerbs to hop over and a small bridge to cross as well. It's a good thing my bike is racked in a straight line from the exit. Steadily mounting the bike, ensuring I don't wipe myself or any other competitor out in the process. Time 4:26

Bike 180km

Unlike 4 years ago where the bike started in Cairns CBD so there was plenty of bumps and turnarounds we had to get through to get to the highway. This time it was just a short U-turn (so that we don't collide with the 70.3 competitors who started earlier, coming in the opposite direction) and straight out onto the highway towards Port Douglas. The ride started with a south easterly wind, so although it was a bit of tailwind, there were definitely cross winds in the open sections. And I had to get off my aero bars onto the side bars to make sure I don't get blown off my bike. With a slight tailwind, the average pace climbed steadily towards the 34kph mark. But, as it was raining every now and then, and there were quite a few puddles on the road, I was really cautious and didn't hammer the speed up as quickly as I would have liked.

Got to Port Douglas and Joel from Red Dog was commentating as we did the turnaround. "Here comes Kevin who just became a dad few weeks ago!" I gave a big wave and the crowd responded. The headwind on the return leg was evident but still manageable. The pace did drop a bit but it was soon over after 30km or so, before we make a turnaround for the second lap. But the energy levels have dropped a bit and I wasn't getting the speed as I did before. The rolling climbs started to take a toll and I wasn't as springy going through them as I did earlier.

I picked up another two Clif Bars from special needs as I finished the first two. But somehow my stomach didn't feel like it wanted any more Clif Bars, so I stuck to the Endura gels for the rest of the ride. After the second turnaround at Port Douglas, I braced myself for the final 70kms back to Cairns in the headwind. The rolling climbs became more strenuous and I was glad to go through the big climb at Rex Lookout for the last time. I've given up chasing my previous time and I was just hanging on the survive.

But once we got into the flat sections with about 30km more to go, I felt a bit more energized and could maintain a decent pace. This kept on all the way back to Cairns. The curvy detours at Yorkys Knob and the airport annoyed me a bit as I rather just hammer through a straight road back. But got to transition 2 in relatively good spirits and ready to run. Time was 5:33:28, about 10 minutes slower than previously. The Garmin recorded about 1.5 to 2kms short but in the end of the day, everyone's cycling the same distance.

Transition 2

No dramas getting off the bike. Having pre activated my Garmin earlier in the morning during my walk to the shuttle bus and the day before, meant it picked up a signal instantly. I was glad to have packed a second pair of socks in my run gear bag as my bike socks were soaked. Quick swap over and shoes on. Race number belt, running visor and sunglasses on the go. Time 1:38

Run 42.2km

The run is 3 laps, out and back along the Cairns Esplanade with a slight detour into the park on each lap. My legs felt good and the crowd was cheering. I probably got way ahead of myself as I was clocking sub 4:30 per km pace for the first couple of kms. But soon settled into a 4:45 to 5:00 range. The rain came again and that kept us cool. The first part of the run went through some wooden board walk surfaces and it was pretty slippery with the rain. The port side section had lots of puddles too. With some mental calculation, I thought if I could run close to a 3:30 marathon, I could still just break my PB. But I was only able to maintain the pace up until 8km or so and then I started going past the 5 minute mark.

Then I struggled even further, even nearing the 6:30 pace. Trent and Ian cheering at the Esplanade and Mike cheering at the boardwalk, kept me going. I had my wife and son in my thoughts, who've given up so much for me to be here. I said to myself, no matter what, I was going to finish.

Somehow, the energy levels got back up on the third lap and with the finish being about an hour or so away, the spirits lifted a bit. I was back onto 5:30 pace. The short walk at each of the aid stations helped refreshed the tired legs and reset the fatigued mind. Cramps were starting to come in the final few kms, so I slowed back down to just under 6 minutes again just so my legs won't seize up. It started getting dark too and volunteers were starting to hand out glow sticks to competitors coming in the opposite direction. When I still could, I was going to make my run without glow sticks, just an ego thing.

Finally, got the cross path where the sign says turn right for finish or go straight for another lap, it was a big relief taking the right turn. Into the cheering crowd and flash lights blazing into your face. Tears welled up in my eyes as Pete Murray the announcer called out my name - Kevin Siah from Malaysia, you're an Ironman!

My run split was 3:57:07, about 15 minutes slower than last time but still happy to stay under 4 hours. Overall time was 10:42:45, about 28 minutes slower than previous Ironman Cairns. But I was happy with how I managed the race to the end. Position 37th/119 in age group and 225th/1309 overall.

Post race and acknowledgements

I went straight to get my phone from the street gear storage to call Li-Ann. I just wanted to thank her for everything she has done, the late nights caring for our young child so that I can be up early to train and the long weekend days while I'm out for my big rides. I'm so lucky to have her support this crazy idea of mine of doing an Ironman when our son is only 7 weeks old. Also, big thanks to mum and mum in law for all the help in the past few weeks, we couldn't have done it without you. And everything cheering on the race course and remotely - the Red Dog crew, Bunanamo Tri Club back home and especially my parents and siblings, tracking my race progress online and catching me on video as I finish. Kudos to my sponsors too - Lifeline IDSaucony Malaysia and Rocktape Malaysia for providing my race and training needs. It's the amazing support network I have keeps me going and continue to enjoy doing this.

I was in the queue in the massage tent but by the time I got off the phone with Li-Ann and checked all the messages, it got pretty late and I was getting hungry. The post race buffet wasn't bad and I was able to stomach some hot soup, pasta and hot dog. Skipped the ice cream though. Then it was picking the bike from transition and pretty long night getting the gear cleaned and packed for my flight back to Brisbane the next day.

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with my race performance and it's nice to add another Ironman finish, which brings to 9 finishes. I've sort of gotten over the why am I doing this and looking forward to my next one. Which one? We'll just have to wait and see.