Free Radicals Tri Club’s Graham Pemberton did Cairns Half Ironman (70.3) yesterday, forming part of the strong Townsville contingent that travelled north for the iconic annual event. Here he reflects on the race, examining what it takes to tackle and conquer such a monumental task.
“60km to go for the 70.3 people and it was all into wind! How hard must it have been for the IM, who had to do this loop twice!”
From first-timers and veterans, to the Prince of Bahrain and Grant ‘Scooter’ Patterson (who didn’t let his rare form of dwarfism stop him from smashing the course and inspiring every single person around him); Cairns Ironman (IM) and Half Ironman (70.3) just gets bigger and better every year.
But with every passing year we see a new breed take on the challenge and push their bodies through the pain and torture… why? Because the rewards are just as big and the emotional release is euphoric – it’s something that cannot be described in words. You have to experience it to understand why.
This year saw the biggest contingent ever from Townsville make the annual pilgrimage to the event, with individuals and teams drawn from the Free Radicals Tribe Triathlon Club, the Townsville Triathlon Club, NQ CATS squad, plus a number of individuals – 100+ competitors along with their families and support crew. All participants were there for a purpose: All had a job to do – compete or support. The day would be long, with many memories and emotions.
“No matter how fit you are, or how well you have prepared or trained; this is where the demons come to get you”
Dawn, the day of the event: Light rain with a forecast of more to come and high winds. The competitors doing the Ironman would fight through a 3.8km rough sea swim, a 180km bike, and finish with a gruelling marathon – 42km of pain and, finally, elation. The 70.3 athletes also had a tough a job with a 1.9km open water swim, a 90km bike and a 21km run.
This is a unique event in Australia as it’s the only time where a 70.3 is run alongside a full IM, which is a big benefit for the 70.3 athletes as there’s more infrastructure on the course for support.
On the beach it was still dark, but the place was buzzing as 3,000+ athletes and supporters took over the seafront of the tiny Palm Cove community. The atmosphere was charged with excitement and nervousness. There was a quick warm up, the all-important bottom check, and then the athletes started to line up. It was eerily quiet as the starter counted down. The Pro wave was off first, and then the soft sand shuffle began as the rest of the athletes moved forward in a controlled manner, crossing over the start line and diving into the grey unwelcoming sea. The next to go, the swim for the 70.3 athletes was a fast, one-way trip to where their bikes were racked, while the IM athletes had to navigate a difficult M-shaped course and return to the start point where they would begin the 180km bike.
“Anyone under those times did remarkably well. Anyone who attempted to do it also did remarkably well. Anyone who finished either is exceptional”
Out of the bike transition came the 70.3 group, and away they went with the wind in their backs for the first 30km. It was time to capitalise on that and contenders were scooting along at speeds between 40-55km. The course is undulating and, with a top climb of about 900m over Rex Lookout, it’s tough. So 30km to the first checkpoint, and the turnaround: 60km to go for the 70.3 people and it was all into wind! How hard must it have been for the IM, who had to do this loop twice! At 6km to go and there was some bunching going on – trying to avoid it was hopeless as there were many athletes now approaching the final stage.
The race never really begins until you’re off the bike: The last leg of this epic day in the office, which should be described as ‘the hurt locker’, is the run. No matter how fit you are, or how well you have prepared or trained; this is where the demons come to get you. What have you got left in the tank?
You start to see people you know, and you see they are suffering too. You start to revise your finish time in your head. You go from: ‘I will just start easy, maybe a five-minute-kilometre pace’, to a revised ‘Oh, if I can just finish this thing that’s good enough’. Then you come around the bend and the supporters are there to cheer you on, which lifts your game: For a moment, you have a spring in your step. For a moment, your grimace is a smile, for a moment…
Then reality kicks in and you still have 10km to go. Head down and shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, run, smile, high-five your mates, pass one, get passed – it’s cat and mouse as you chase and be chased. It really comes down to preparation and nutrition: Get them both right and you can have a great race. Get them wrong and it can be purgatory. The average finish time for a first-time 70.3 athlete is around the six to six-and-a-half-hour mark, which – when you think about it – is a massive day by any means. Consider then the IM athletes where the average time is 13 to 14 hours. Anyone under those times did remarkably well. Anyone who attempted to do it also did remarkably well. Anyone who finished either is exceptional.
Next year if you want to take on this momentous race then training will start March 1. Join the Free Radicals for an amazing adventure and we will support you every step of the way.
Some notable results:
Jarrod Owen – 4th IM Age Group and 11th overall – first Townsville athlete to finish
Rikki Lee Anderson – 1st IM Age Group
Alan Mostoukas – 2nd IM Age group
Allan Jefferson – 3rd IM Age Group
Dee Flynn-Pittar – 2nd IM Age Group
Monique Flores – 2nd IM Age Group
Annika Frossling – 2nd 70.3 Age Group
Ahlanna Hayes, Ben Lawes, Tony Gordon – 1st Mixed team 70.3 (RDR Ring-ins)
Michelle Andrejic, Sara Whittle and Emma McAdam Morgan – 1st Ladies team 70.3 (Lolly Teeth Ladies)
Sean Latouf – 10th in 70.3 Age Group and qualifies for 70.3 World Championships
If we have neglected to mention someone we apologise – please email us at [email protected] and we’ll add them to the list.