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Ironman Cairns — what to expect and how to survive

After a solid six months of training for 30 hours a week, Townsville’s ultimate athletes are gearing up for one of the world’s toughest one-day sports events in Cairns on Sunday — Ironman.

BrendanCochrane-ironman-2It’s Thursday and representative age group triathlete Brendan Cochrane and his wife Luan are making their way to Cairns. Unlike the previous two years, this time Brendan will not be part of the 2,200-strong field that spends the gruelling day beating their minds and pushing their bodies to breaking point for the ultimate in physical glory. This year Brendan, who is also a coach, will be supporting his Townsville athletes — one who’s an Ironman first-timer — and using his mountain bike to keep competitors going when their legs are cramping and screaming at them to stop.

“They don’t call Ironman the hardest single-day event in the world for nothing,” says Brendan, who was an Ironman in 2012, 2013 and represented Australia in 2011 at the Olympic Distance level; an event he is returning to. “It’s pretty intimidating when you are walking towards the swim start knowing you’ll have to fight your way through 8,000 limbs in the water and there’s up to 17 hours of hell in front of you.”

People are totally spent, they’re holding their shoes and their feet are raw, their bodies are finished and they’re living off salt tablets and Nurofen and they still keep going” – Brendan Cochrane

BrendanCochrane-ironmanFor us mere mortals who have never done an Ironman, Brendan says that completing the 3.8km ocean swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run is an understandably emotional experience. “People ask you why you do it, but you can’t answer that question until you cross the line — it’s a massive emotional rollercoaster,” says the father-of-one. “In my first Ironman, I had my first hit of emotion when I completed the 180km bike leg. It was then I realised that, whatever happened from this point on and what went wrong; I could walk the whole 42.2km if I needed to and still cross the finish line within the required time — it was extremely likely that I was going to become an Ironman today. Once you cross the line of an Ironman you join a special club and you’ll never forget that experience — people are totally spent, they’re holding their shoes and their feet are raw, their bodies are finished and they’re living off salt tablets and Nurofen and they still keep going; all for a towel and medal (laughs).”

But Brendan says it’s also the humanity of the spectators that’s touching, challenging anyone to watch an Ironman race without tearing-up. “Two years ago in Cairns, my first race, my legs just cramped and locked solid — they wouldn’t move. A stranger came out of the crowd, put his arm around me and said, ‘Come on mate, we’ll walk the rest of the way together’. And we did until my legs freed up, and I’ve never seen that man again.”

It’s that sentiment that Brendan will have in mind when he cheers on Townsville’s athletes when they take the plunge off Williams’ Esplanade, Palm Cove; before he patrols the picturesque Captain Cook Highway with the goal to feed their resolve. “At the end of the day, no one cares if you make it across the line or not — they won’t hold it against you — but you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”

Brendan’s top three Ironman survival tips

  1. Trust in the work you’ve done: There’s nothing more you can do now, so get in the right head space, give it all you’ve got and commit to finishing.
  2. Be flexible: Although you are prepared and you have your strategy, remember that you may need to alter things in accordance with the conditions on the day. Things may go wrong, so you will need to be prepared to make adjustments.
  3. Enjoy it: If it’s your first Ironman, savour it — you don’t get another first time again. The fear of the unknown makes you better. The second time is always harder once you know what’s around the corner!

A very big GOOD LUCK from TheGo to everyone competing in Cairns Ironman — you are absolutely amazing!!

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Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz is combining two of her great loves — writing and getting active. Previously working as a journalist, sub-editor, and editor in newspapers and magazines; she is editor and co-founder of TheGo Townsville. She stays active with the staples of road cycling and yoga, but has recently discovered triathlon. And become addicted (apart from the swimming part). She also has a Cert III in Fitness and is passionate about improving mental health through physical activity.

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