Friday, 16 June 2017

Ironman Cairns 2017

There's something magical about Cairns that keeps on bringing me back. This is my 4th trip to Cairns, 3rd time for an Ironman. The decision to do this race was done rather late. I had a great race at the Kingscliff Olympic Distance in late March, falling short on my PB by just 23 seconds. I progressively increased my weekend mileage each week, with two weeks of traveling in Europe in early May but I kept myself active. The training results had been good and I had no injuries apart from some minor niggles. Still, with a short build and limiting the weekly hours to a minimum (I peaked at about 12.5 hours) so I don't miss out too much of my young son's growth, I can't help being nervous about my preparations. But with 10 Ironman finishes prior to this, I was hoping to bank a bit on my experience.

A fellow Logan Tri Club member drove to Cairns and offered to bring my bike up. I can't thank you enough Shane and Kirsty, you can't imagine how much hassle you have saved me! We caught a midday flight into Cairns. We stayed in Cascade Gardens, a nice self serviced apartment about 15 minutes walk from the race expo and finish. I had an hour before the athlete check in closed. As I was only meeting Shane the next afternoon at the bike check in at Palm Cove, I had it pretty easy going pre race. I even skipped the pre race briefings. Until I collected my bike and I realised the front brake wasn't releasing too well. I panicked a bit and luckily there was a mechanic tent at the check in. The mechanic widened the gap a bit and sprayed some oil, it wasn't 100% fixed but it will have to do. I almost missed the last shuttle bus back to Cairns! I guess a bit of stress was what I needed to get the heart rate pumping before the race!

Welcome to Cairns!
Sebastian made sure I didn't overspend at the expo
One of the last ones to be racked in
Race morning, the alarm clock went off at 4.30am so that I could catch the 5.15am shuttle bus to Palm Cove. We decided that Li-Ann and Sebastian would not follow me that early in the morning and would only catch me after I finished the bike. It was unusually quiet in my transition area as I prepped my bike up. Then waited in queue for the portaloos for one last toilet visit. Put on my wetsuit and then it was show time!

3.8km swim

There were some crashing waves from the ocean into the beach but the water wasn't as rough as last year. The 70.3 swimmers were done with their swim as we started ours. I lined myself up with the first wave (< 1 hour) but in hindsight I should have stuck to my own wave (1:00 to 1:07) as the rest were swimming past me as though I was laying still. The course was a rectangular one. We swim out into the ocean and then a right turn to start the rectangle and then left turns at each corner until we swim back to the beach. It was a single lap swim, changed from last year's two laps. It was difficult to find good feet to draft off due to the waves. But some managed to draft off mine and got a bit aggressive too - this one guy literally grabbed onto my ankles! I was worried my timing chip would fall off! I didn't think I swam too off course, I was reasonably close to all the buoys. As I got back to the beach at the finish, I noticed my watch was already in bike mode. Must have gotten knocked around a bit during the swim. Official results showed 1:09:18, my slowest swim to date including non wetsuit ones. It's a shame I don't have any swim data to check if the swim was a bit longer or not. Maybe I just haven't been swimming hard in enough in training.


Transition 1

It was a pretty long run in and out of transition, I estimate about 400m in total. There weren't many volunteers in the change tent but I got my stuff sorted without too much dramas. After the race, I picked up an extra towel and arm warmers in my transition bag, with a Japanese athlete's name so I had to return them to Lost and Found. There was a bit of crowd at the bike mount line including a fall right in front of me, so I played it safe and slowly got on my bike. Total time for T1 4:54.

180km bike

This was the leg I was most concerned about, being the longest part of the race. Whilst I did build up my training rides to this distance, I didn't do enough of it. Thankfully, it wasn't as windy as last year and it didn't rain as well, only the occasional drizzle every now and then. So my amateurish bike skills can take it easy around the corners. The ride heads north from Palm Cove towards Port Douglas and back, turning around in Wangetti before going back up to Port Douglas for the final turnaround and then all the way back to Cairns. It's one of the most scenic Ironman bike courses I've ever done. And with good weather, you can really appreciate it's beauty, even while racing!



On the first ride up to Port Douglas, I averaged 33kph. There were some narrow stretches on the roads leading in and out of Port Douglas, where part of the roads were coned off for vehicles, which caused some riding packs to bunch up. I felt a bit guilty being latched on to these trains but I had no where else to go. Once we got back to the hills, the group dispersed again. The slight southerly winds brought my pace down but not by much. Li-Ann made me pack extra food in addition to my Clif bars (glad I listened!). I chose to bring some pizza bread rolls from the Woolworths bakery. Even the volunteers had a bit of food envy as I rode past! It was a nice change in taste from the Clif bars but I would choose something other than spicy pepperoni next time!


At the final turnaround at Port Douglas (thanks MC Joel for calling me out as a new dad!) and it was the home stretch. Might as well, as my energy reserves were starting to wane. More and more were passing me, including an amazing Japanese athlete with a prosthetic leg! I had my second wind as we got to Yorky's Knob at the 160km mark the speed got up again but as soon as we passed the airport, the wind was howling and I could only muster a roll back into Cairns. It was nice to see Li-Ann and Sebastian cheering as I rode towards transition and I gave them a wave. Got off the bike with a split of 5:34:52 (an average speed of 32kph), just over a minute slower than last year, which isn't too bad really. My Garmin measured the distance to be about 178kms, just like last year so a pretty fair comparison.


Transition 2

Helmet off, old socks off, new socks on. Put on running visor, sunglasses and race belt on the way out. Time taken 1:16.


Run 42.2km

Last year it was raining as I started the run. This year it was dry but we had cloud cover throughout with relatively cool temperatures. The run course is 3 laps starting in transition and then heading south along the jetty and then north towards the airport with a slight detour into the park. My legs felt surprisingly fresh and I had good turnover. My first km I posted 4:37! But I settled into 4:45 to just under 5 minutes for pretty much the next hour or so. I was pleasantly surprised at how well I could maintain this pace. I did not stop to walk at the aid stations, just grabbed the Coke as I go. Having Li-Ann and Sebastian cheer me on both directions of the lap certainly gave me a boost.


But as I got close to the half marathon mark, I was starting to feel some gag reflex coming up my throat. Not sure was is causing this. I still held under 5 minutes but I had to break my no walk momentum when I got to the aid station at the 24km mark. I walked through every aid station from there onwards. The pace dropped to above 5:30 per km then.


Final lap and it was getting dark. The volunteers were handing out glowsticks and my ego got the better of me so I refused. The floodlights kept it pretty bright anyway. Another thing that boosted my ego was overtaking the same Japanese athlete with a prosthetic leg and not getting beaten by star 55-59 female athlete Jenny Alcorn! I know, I should be ashamed of myself haha. The pace slowed down nearing 6 minutes per km. But I knew if I kept it that way, I would still finish under 10.5 hours. I did a wager with 90 minute handicap with my friend David Zi Xiang in Malaysia who's aiming for 12 hours in Challenge Roth in a few weeks. So that spurred me to keep on pushing for this time. Coming close to the finish, getting cheers from Shane and Kirsty, Trent from the Reddog tent and finally getting a hug from Li-Ann and Sebastian just before entering the chute. My tears welled up as the MC Pete Murray called out - Kevin Siah from Malaysia, you are an Ironman! I crossed the line in 10:28:56 with a run split of 3:38:33, overtaking 122 athletes on the run itself.



Finish

I went to the food tent and soup was the only thing I could stomach. I slowly sipped it down as Li-Ann talked to me over the fence, as she wasn't allowed in. She went to get dinner and then I started feeling a bit faint. Mike kindly took me to the medic tent (thanks Mike!) and I rested there a while. Li-Ann came to get me and after feeling a bit better, I went to collect my bike. Shane (you are a champ mate!) was in town for dinner after finishing his 70.3 race earlier and offered to collect my bike then so I didn't need to push it back to the hotel.

Not-so-glamorous shot in the medic tent with a tiny finishers medal
So that wraps up Ironman Cairns once again. My 11th Ironman finish and 3rd one on this course. It has been a while since I've felt this great in an Ironman race and am truly happy with my time. No doubt the race conditions were favourable this year with both overall men and women winners crushing course records. I couldn't have done this without the support of my wonderful wife Li-Ann and my son Sebastian. Not just on the course but off the course is where the big sacrifices are made, just so I could have a play of my hobby, which let's be honest is more of an obsession really. I made a promise last year that I would only do one Ironman this year and that has already been broken, having signed up earlier for Ironman Western Australia later this year. And Li-Ann did not make a big fuss over it and just went for the ride. I love you both!

And thanks everyone - family and friends, for following my race and the cheers, whether on the course or through social media. You don't realise it but this definitely makes a difference. Thank you.

Will I be back again next year? Let's not make any promises just yet, shall we?

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Kingscliff Triathlon 2017

Affectionately known as Kingy Tri, a triathlon festival with a wide range of event ranging from the kids race to the Olympic distance. All held on one day, twice a year with the second event usually around late November. It was a last minute decision for me to do this race, signing up only a week before the event. My last Olympic distance was in Guelph, Canada nearly 3 years ago where I had my PB of 2:18:31. Not that I'm an endurance snob or anything but having to prepare for two Ironman races each year for the previous two years, quite often I can't justify the costs and logistics of doing any event shorter than a half Iron distance or it simply just doesn't fit within the plan.

With only one Ironman signed up for the end of the year, I thought why not do a race, just for fun. After all, isn't it why we do this sport anyway? Kingscliff is about 75 minutes drive from home so I didn't even need to stay the night. I left home at 4am so that I could get my bike racked before the start of the kids triathlon at 7am, taking into account daylight savings for crossing the border. Getting a parking spot was quite a challenge as most spots were full but I managed to find a quiet residential street, which a few cars later followed. And made it just in time with 10 minutes to spare in transition!
The officials kept on yelling, only 10 minutes left!
I had about 2 hours before the start of my race but as it was a point to point swim, we had to walk about 15 minutes to the swim start. After 45 minutes of scrolling through social media on a park bench, it was time to get ready. Surprisingly there wasn't a queue for the toilets but I guess it was partly because I was in the 2nd last wave and most have made their way to the swim start. Handed in my bags to the bag drop off area, conveniently located near the toilets and took the easy stroll to the swim start.

Although the 1500m swim was in a single direction, it wasn't a straight course. It snaked in a somewhat S shape along Cudgen Creek, going underneath bridge just after the first few hundred meters. There usually is a tide pushing us forward, giving fast swim times. This time it was no different although a bit weaker compared to previous events. I definitely felt the push the moment I passed the bridge. Visibility was good too and I could see schools of fish every now and then. I overtook quite a few of green capped swimmers in the earlier wave, which gave me a bit of a boost. The swim went by quite quickly and soon we were reaching the boat ramp for the exit. I got out in 21:15 in 15th position in my age group.

Into transition and consciously reminded myself to strip my swimskin off, to avoid a repeat of Tweed Enduro. My bike was located near the bike exit so I didn't have to push it too far. Mounting got a bit hairy as there were plenty of other cyclists at the mount line, but fortunately no dramas. Transition time was about 2 minutes according to the Garmin.

The 40km bike course is 4 laps with short right hand detour at the end of each lap as we get back into town and then rejoining the main lap. Mostly flat with one small climb about a couple of kms before the end of each lap. Road surface is fair with the occasional port holes. It was relatively calm with some light gusts of wind when we were near the coast. It seemed to be more of a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. I started off a bit nervous on the aerobars with the deep carbon wheels catching the wind, I really should ride in them more often. But it didn't take me long before I got the hang of it. The course was pretty crowded as you would expect with a short distance lap and plenty of waves, so you would have to pay attention to those around you. It wasn't until my last lap that it got a bit more quiet as I was in the second last wave. I was pretty comfortable with my cycling efforts and was able to push the pace a bit, though it got undone almost at the end of each laps with my timid cornering and U-turns. I averaged 34.3kph with a split time of 1:09:28 with the official result showing 1:12:05 including transition time.

I took the legs off the pedal probably a bit too early, at the 100m to dismount sign, and had to freewheel a bit before I got to the dismount line. Lost a few seconds there but no dramas. Just slipped into my shoes and put on the sunnies and cap on the go to make up for it. I was in 20th position in my age group into transition.

Run course was two laps of 5km with a steep hill within the first km, long enough to break your spirit if you are not strong, but you get a nice downhill roll after. Towards the 2.5km turnaround it is pretty shaded and there's a small section where we run on some sand towards the coast breakout point, also known as the wall. There were plenty of aid stations but I remembered only getting water and not any electrolytes. I started off with a pretty fast pace of 4:15 per km but hovered around the 4:30 pace for the next few kms. I started to struggle a bit towards the end of the first lap and started seeing 4:40-4:50 on my watch. But the great thing about short course racing is at the halfway of the run, you only have 5kms more to go. After the second turnaround at the wall, I felt my second wind as it was the home stretch. Looking at my watch, beating my PB seemed virtually impossible. But it was never the target given my current level of fitness.

Nearing the finisher chute, with a bit of hurt I picked up the pace to get to the arch. My run split was 45:34 and surprisingly, I finished in 2:18:54, with the fast swim, I was only 23 seconds slower from my PB. I finished 15th in my age group, so I'm glad I was still able to overtake a few after the bike.

Kudos to the organizers for providing instant finisher photos
The organizers QSM Sports put up a great event as they did with Tweed Enduro. This is my first time racing Kingy Tri and I'll definitely be back as Kingscliff is a pretty place.  On the way back, I picked up a French work and holiday traveler who was hitchhiking back to Brisbane. She also volunteered at the event so it's only fair to repay the favour. Maybe this counts towards brownie points for future races!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Tweed Coast Enduro 2017

It seems like the only times I'll be posting on this blog are for race reports. And seeing how often I race nowadays, it'll be pretty infrequent. I was one of the first few ones to sign up for this race, at a heavily discounted early bird price - almost a third cheaper than the regular entry. Being only 80 minutes drive from home and the organizers put on a slick event, it was an easy decision. With a tide assisted swim, many do this event in pursuit of a half Iron PB. How wrong we were!

The very cool bag given out at registration, one of the incentives of doing this race!
The 3 of us got to Pottsville about 5pm NSW time (I still get amused at how we lose the hour by just crossing the border) and while wife and son get settled in the airbnb, I went to get my race pack. With no one with me to tell me otherwise, I dropped $29 on an Orca cycle bib knicks on clearance. The wind was howling later that evening as I set my bike up with the race stickers, which pretty much set up the conditions for the weekend. We ate Thai takeaway by the pool and settled in to an early night. Our son was quite unsettled that night but Li-Ann was very good with him, keeping his disruption to a minimum so I could get rested.

The large number sticker could barely fit on the Logan Tri Club number tag
I rode to transition which was only about 2kms away. It was a bit tight on the bike racks but just enough for us to lay out our gear. After setting up and a last minute visit to the toilet, it was time for the 20 minute stroll to the swim start. We were told that the tide is just about to turn but what we experienced throughout the swim was totally different. My wave started right after the Elites, which is good as it was a pretty late start (8.15am) to begin with and but bad, because we swam right into the tide. I kept looking at my watch and could see the minutes ticking away but no end in sight! Shallow waters with the occasional schools of fish in sight helped passed the time. Relatively, I felt I swam pretty well. I swam past quite a few in my wave and was only caught by the faster swimmers from the later wave towards the end of the swim. Swimming under the bridge was a little bit eerie, I forgotten how low the bridge was. Came out of the water in 8th in age group in 42:36 for the 2km swim, more than 15 minutes slower than last year!

I need to tie a string to the zipper for easier removal!
Into transition with a couple other guys in my age group. Went a couple of steps in the wrong direction and had to u turn but didn't lose too much time. But I started losing time once we got onto the course. The winds were blowing hard with the occasional gusts. I train on my alloy wheels all the time and just swapped the deep carbon wheels over before the race. It took me a while before I got used to them again. After a few kms of cycling, I wondered why my waist felt so tight - I've pulled down my swimskin to my waist but forgotten to take it off! Oh well, just have to bear with it until the end of the ride then, luckily it wasn't causing too much of a drag.

My lack of effort training rides showed. Whilst I was consistent in my pace, I couldn't quite bring up the speed. The course was L shaped and 4 laps. While it seemed we had headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back, the cross winds made it somewhat challenging in both directions. I hovered around an average speed of 31kph and average power of 150 watts, very much like an aerobic training ride. On the 2nd lap, I actually dropped my water bottle over one of the pot holes. Had to stop to pick it up and lost about a minute or so there. Lots of cyclists were overtaking me and by the end of the 4th lap, I was just glad to get back into transition! Bike split for 90km was 2;54:59, almost 25 minutes slower than last year! I've also lost 6 places to 14th in age group.

Clutching onto the side bars so I don't get blown off the bridge!
Was hoping for a speedy transition, slipped on run shoes on and then I realised I still have my swimskin on. Took off the shoes and pulled off the swimskin, put the shoes back on again. Okay, onto the run - where I normally try to gain a few more places. But my long runs have been somewhat inconsistent, so I had to be conservative. First km was too fast - under 4:30 but I settled into 4:50 for the next few kms. The run course was 3 laps with some sections were pretty shaded which was much to my relief because the sun was blazing by then. My pace started creeping past the 5 minute mark as I got towards the end of the first lap. Li-Ann and Sebastian was there cheering me on and that kept my spirits up for a bit. The winds were still strong and it was like running into a wall on the way out. The pace slowly began to move towards 5:15 - 5:20 and I knew I still had a bit of buffer to finish under 5.5 hours. 

The volunteers were great handing out the drinks and local residents were all out to support by spraying us with their garden hose. The pace slowed down again towards 5:30 in the final few kms but the end was in sight. I finally crossed the line with run split of 1:47:28 for the 21km, about 5 minutes slower than last year (but last year's run was about 500m longer) and gained 3 more places to 11th in my age group. Overall finish time was 5:25:04, over 40 minutes slower than last year and my 2nd slowest half iron distance time by about 8 minutes.

Just.Want.To.Get.To.The.Finish
A bottle of beer was handed out at the finish which was very much welcomed. A finishing photo and a print out of the provisional result were given to us, which I thought was very nice. And a personalized finisher medal with our name as well. Didn't I already mention this was a great event? We spent another night in Pottsville and had a nice dinner at Byron Bay. I don't mind doing this event again next year, it's a nice weekend getaway. Now to get back to training so I can do a better race in my next event, likely Sunny Coast 70.3, which seems such a long way from now!

See you again in 2018!