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By Simon O'Connor.
The big day…It all starts the with a 4am alarm and wishing you had more sleep throughout the night, my mind was constantly visualizing the day ahead in the hours before I actually hopped out of bed. Then shower and breakfast (coffee, bananas, Cliffbars) done, then before you know it onto the shuttle bus with athletes heading up to Palm Cove. Once at the destination it’s into the bike compound to set up nutrition, bottles and check tyre pressure is correct. I generally take my time to ensure every little detail is completed. Once out of compound it’s a short walk to waterfront / swim-start with wetsuit to meet my wife and father-in-law. Nerves really starting to kick in as I eat and keep hydrated best I can for the 7.45 wave start. Time goes by relatively quickly as 70.3 have now left and on swim course…last goodbye kiss and group hug to support crew with the typical pre-race photo.
SWIM LEG – Athletes line up in wave starts its time to go and race notes & plan from Coach Em is now in play (Zone 3 front pack). Ironman Cairns is underway. Swim was tough going with SE winds and strong current pushing against us all for first 1.9km. Luckily for me I grew up in the ocean and can handle a decent swell (no sea sickness). Once at turnaround point I was feeling calm and relaxed… checked my watch (37mins) happy as. Homebound with some excitement as I was on pace and feeling strong sitting with a small pack (currents and wind assisted) Exited the water in 1hr 14min. Perfect start to race plan by Coach Em…now into T1 with minimal fuss.
BIKE LEG – T1 now completed then onto the biggest and most daunting part, the bike. For me patience is the key and “sticking to the race plan” as it’s very easy to be caught up in the hype as the stronger bike groups come out at super speed, or going harder than you should (fresh legs)…I remind myself 180km is a long way and will be 6hrs plus (for me). Coach Em’s bike plan was very detailed and strategic broken into 60km increments. Basically, I would ride at 70% to max 75% (last 60kms) for the entire 180kms. There were times I had to pull back to plan as my mind was drifting off to enjoy the spectacular coastal views (sitting above average km pace). Key elements of the IM bike…eat & hydrate accordingly and repeat the process as I have done in training countless times. Golden rule in racing – never deviate away from what you have done in training with nutrition. For me it’s simply Cliff Bars cut up into pieces, small bananas (on course) and sugar (I prefer snakes) also liquid carbs / caffeine for hydration - I also carry salt tablets for last 30kms. Bike course is broken into 2 laps from Palm Cove to Port Douglas x 2 then from Port Douglas heading south to Cairns…everyone has told me for at least 12 months (when I signed up for IM) Cairns has a SE headwind on last 60km – pretty much from Palm Cove as you are riding exposed in the cane fields. I was ready as 1st lap back into town I had a taste of what was yet to come. But, there is always a “but”, the wind was really howling at around 25km / 30km with strong gusts. So, I was trying to channel Coach Em’s advise “there will be headwinds as we know, please be patient and don’t over-bike and push too hard” (bless her) my average km’s up to this point was around 30kms and now reduced to 25kms…I’m not going to lie, I was mentally struggling (physically feeling great) as my times were blowing out and trust me inappropriate language spilling from my mouth. I read a quote to myself “the race starts in my head and will finish in my head”. With that said, my 150km turned into 180km in no time as the last hour flew by…heading into town with crowds cheering me on. Dismounted gracefully and bike was over in 6hr 30mins (average 27.5 in the end & no flats) bloody happy as. Thankfully my support crew were on-hand to say hello at finish line…now into T2 feeling fresh as Coach Em planned.
In her own words – “I want you get off the bike knowing you could have pushed harder, rather than feeling you’re cooked” I would endorse this plan to anyone.
RUN LEG – Okay this is where things become interesting as on the bike I was calculating my swim / bike and if I wanted break sub 13hrs (goal time) I was needing to have the marathon of my life. To be honest I knew this as we planned around 4.50 run split. However I had lost time on the bike, knowing it was only minor (around 15mins)…once again patience was going to be the key, along with the all important “nutrition & hydration” (never forget this). Thankfully I left T2 feeling fresh and was mindful this could work in my favour – boy was I right. I’ll step back slightly to my “long run Sundays” with the we run 14mins at a certain pace / heartrate then walk 1min strategy…again I would endorse this training to anyone! So, I ran then I walked the first 30kms into the marathon with 14min & 1min. It surprisingly goes very quickly because it’s broken up into segments. In the meantime I was receiving huge support from the Cairns spectators and the mighty fabulous T:Zero tent strategically set-up on run course – honestly amazing running past each time. First lap from nowhere this young lady starts running besides me (never met until now) with T:Zero shirt on and IM race number on forearm (raced 70.3 earlier in the day) passing on a personal message from Coach Em (heavily pregnant in Brisbane & tracking my split times) telling me to “stick to 14 & 1 cycle). I asked for her name and advised it was Sharon – we had a bond within 100 meters running together WTF – little fist pump I was off and going…5kms down, 10kms down, 20kms down then running to pick up 30km 4th band is very exciting also scary as I have 12kms to run. Need to be focused as up to this point my “team” were providing me with times (had my Garmin as well) and I was under pace time – holding 6.40km pace. Not to forget my “other team” (wife and now slightly intoxicated father-in-law sitting around marina precinct) advising I was on track to a sub 13hr IM and the old school “just keep running son”…with only 7kms to run. My sprits lifted as the drizzly rain fell on my body. I need to be patient not get too excited as anything can happen especially from 35km to 42km…I remained calm as I held pace, high-fived literally anyone with their hands out (kids get me all the time) as I head for home. One highlight was I spoke to my new T:Zero friend Sharon (also friends on IG) one last time…she told me how proud Emma was and I was doing great. I ran next 2kms crying my eyes out (who wouldn’t). The last turnaround point seemed to go on forever and I was now headed past T:Zero tent with less than 1km to run. Never felt so good as I slowed to hit some more high-fives. I was very emotional by now.
IM RED CARPET – by now you have received 4 IM coloured wrist bands on right hand, it’s dark and rainy, crowds going mental and you now enter the “IM red carpet” zone…this is a very special and personal part of the race regardless of times & PB’s. The moment has arrived you have now completed 226km in one day 3.8km swim – 180km ride – 42.2kn run. Insanity comes to mind and you embrace last 200mtrs…Hug your families, hug your support teams, hug anyone as you hear the famous IRONMAN words “Simon O'Connor you are an Ironman” from the legendary Peter Murray. Looked at my time before last 3 steps and my name is on the big screen with my time 12hrs 50mins. I somehow reached the finish line with PB and goal time and 4hr 48mins marathon.
I had conquered Cairns 2019 with finisher towels, T-shirt and beautiful medal. I cannot thank my coach Emma enough, so much respect and admiration for her. A truly amazing person. T:Zero Multisport crew and to all coaching staff and athletes – thank you so much for allowing me to be part of this amazing team. Trust the process, stick to your race plan #liveyourpotential. My wife and family are so important in the pursuit of training and racing Ironman, backbone to any athlete…so much love for these people. Until next time Cairns…thank you and god bless.
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!