Lessons Learned | Ironman Cairns — Race Recap

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Please note — this is a slightly detailed review of what happened on race day of my first Ironman Triathlon. I feel this is of value to other triathletes, people interested in triathlons, and myself as there are some important details on the nitty gritty of the day. Technical triathlon jargon may be used.

Some thoughts:

  1. Having people support you during a 10-hour race is amazing. I undervalued this
  2. Suffering during said 10-hour race is so much better with other “super fit looking fast type” folks suffering with you
  3. Getting “chicked” is humbling and I’m finally over caring when it happens (esp. when an older 50-year-old grandma passed me on the run with all of her family/friend cheering). It’s also sexist (I think?!) so I’m going to stop saying it. Someone faster/stronger/better than me passed me
  4. Ironman will humble the shit out of you and break you down to pieces. that run is NO joke 
  5. Cramps suck (no matter what the cause)
  6. The 80/20 Experience is proving to be beneficial
  7. Starting and finishing the swim with one of my main training partners/swimming advisors was amazing #AtTheSameDamnTime
  8. Going through the finish tunnel shoulder to shoulder with some random guy that was about to pass you but said “Naw… let’s do this together” was pretty damn cool

I didn’t get my ridiculously ambitious time but I did do 10:51 officially overall. Let me state for the record that I AM VERY PROUD OF THAT TIME.

Swim aka “Follow The Girl” (3.8k | 2.4ish miles) {strava link}

Started nice and easy and then built up the speed (remembering it was a 10 hour race!). The water was a bit choppy and sighting the turn point floaty things was a bit difficult (pink and orange = not the greatest, again thanks NADIA for the help) but nothing I haven’t swam in before. Was swam over (yes literally had people swim OVER me like I was seaweed. I sometimes dislike ppl in this world). I was able to draft/swim on Nadia’s feet the whole swim and we got out of the water at the same time. Was pretty damn awesome to keep up with her as she is def a much better swimmer than me. Swam 1:09 (1:52min per 100m | I refuse to do the imperial/american conversion for this because it’s dumb. Please just convert over to metric, USA… you are killing me.). Felt strong going into Transition 1 (T1)

Transition 1 (T1)

Woah… Ironman def puts it on! Had a person literally take off my wetsuit. I know with all Ironmans this is normal but… woah, very nice! They also packed my bag for me. Looks like I got my money’s worth (FYI — Ironman races are not cheap). Still the longest transition (distance and time wise) of my entire life — about 8 minutes or so. #cray

Bike aka “ #CrampCity” (180km | 112 miles) {strava link}

Exited transition with Nadia… again pretty awesome. Amazing views with green lush rolling hills through the rainforest to the windy turns, flats, and bug-in-teeth descents down the mountains that went along the beach. I felt great most of the ride and had gave myself a few matches to burn just for the hell of it (YOLO right?!) on some of the flats with tail wind to make up for the head wind coming back. At one point I was averaging 38km/h (almost 24mph) for a good solid 45 minutes but the head wind was a bit too visious towards the last 40–60km (25–40 miles) and I didn’t want to fry my legs for the run (too late… read on to the run section). I ended up averaging close to 34km/h (21 mph) which is still a strong showing. Nutrition/fueling/water was spot on and exactly as I did in training with no hunger, bonking, or stomach issues. Unfortunately the last 10 km (6 mi) on the bike reminded me that I hadn’t spent enough time in the aero/time trial position and the muscle cramps came in to haunt me (see run).

Transition (T2)

Much shorter transition area run this time and more service with a smile! Had a guy empty my whole transition bag and take everything out. Even opened my powder, vaseline AND wiped my glasses off with his shirt! Yeah… Ironman I love you. (fyi — all of the other shorter triathlons I’ve done you have to do this yourself). I also decided to stretch out to avoid cramps and take a pee (was holding it most of the bike ride).

Run aka “The Ironman Shuffle” (Marathon | 42.2 km | 26.2 miles) {strava link}

Started off strong and right on target. 48mins for the first 10k (6 mi) then at the 15k (9 mi) mark cramps everywhere. Muscle spasms from a combination of most likely too much unexpected load and lack of riding 180km/112 miles in the TT/aero position and then running. While I did a few 2–2.5 hour runs (25–30k/14–18mi) off the bike at this pace I just think I didn’t have enough time/experience (YEARS?!) to put it all together like I thought I would. There is a possibility that I drank too much water on the bike and early in the run and I peed out all my electrolytes but I think it was mostly muscle spasms/overload from my body never having done it.

Guess I need to run more marathons after riding 180km (112mi) right?! 😃 Unfortunately I did get slower every few kms after the 15k (9mi) mark and my heart rate dropped (meaning my engine was strong enough but my muscles/body were just not adapted and ready for this volume). I do know deep down if I did want to do this again (not likely at this point) I could make a few major changes in my training for the bigger sessions. I was humbled to a few complete full stops and walking sessions as I had an all out hamstring and calf muscle cramps that locked my legs up.

Note — I’ve never suffered as much as I have and felt as uncomfortable for so long during any fitness event. Not gonna lie though, that was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done — Pain cave style for 2 hours. I thought I was in hell and it would never end. I broke the last 2 hours down to 3 min intervals and at the end of each 3 minutes I rewarded myself with a 10–15 second stretch out. I chose to do that than walk it as it would give me an overall faster time. I felt actually running got my body/brain in a trance and numbed me to everything. Walking just made things last too long (I WANTED IT TO END DAMMIT). If Nadia and her triathlon club, Bondi Fit weren’t there cheering me on I may have walked or just quit at the run. Much respect for that!

Overall Thoughts

Was def a great experience and I’m glad I did it. From the training for the last 12 months (technically I’ve been building up to this race over the last 4 years), to learning that I’m actually a decent swimmer (when i started almost 4 years ago, i couldn’t go longer than 50 meters/1 lap in a big pool without being out of breath and panicking. Not to mention swimming in the wide open ocean freaked me out). Again I learned a shit load about myself, what my body is capable of and what distances I’m better suited for. I’m most likely not going to race another full Ironman for a while as I do feel diminishing returns are fully applicable with the training and racing for the distance of this event. This is my personal opinion and to the people that do multiple Ironmans a year and have racked up many… I tip my hat to you cuz that shit is not easy at all. Juggling life, relationships, finances, eating, stress, training, resting, sleep and travel is not the least bit fun. There are some talks with helping Nadia get faster times for possible Kona, Hawaii World Championship qualifications which would mean me being on the course with her to help pace her and give her support. We will see though as we both are pretty drained and beat up from Sunday’s race.

Things I would have done different

If I were to do the race again I’d most likely have a 2 year Ironman plan broken into 1 year segments and then from there broken into 4 month sections (thirds). I would do most of the training I did the way I did it the first time around. I do feel my training plan was mostly effective but for me to full execute sub 10 hours (or faster) I just need more time to build up the aerobic base. If I can get comfortable with 36–37k average on the bike and keeping my heart rate below 150 while also having more running volume in my legs (to run the marathon in 3:20–3:30 off the bike) that would easily shave off the 50–60 minutes that I need. Not to mention a mostly flat course and a not windy day (something I have no control over). But that all takes time and for me personally I would rather put that time in other places right now (see Future Objectives + Goals).

Future Objectives + Goals

Training, fitness, and health are part of my lifestyle so I don’t think I’ll ever “lose” what I’ve worked at. It will be more of a “ focus it into different areas” kind of deal. My strongest event is running (obviously) and I love me some cyclocross bike racing so I’d like to accomplish a few shorter and slightly less ambitious goals that make more sense time wise and have larger returns on my investment.

A self coached Sub 3 Hour Marathon in October in Melbourne, Australia is my next “A race” goal. It’s been on my to do list for 2 years now so I’m looking forward to having a more run focused training plan. Going into 2017 I would like to focus on Olympic and Half Ironman (70.3) triathlon distances and then a 5k/10k and Half Marathon Run focus towards May-June of next year. Again with the possibility of helping Nadia with another Ironman…. but yeah, I’m still scarred by Sunday so I’m taking my time with that one. The base I’m getting from all of this long endurance racing is creating a perfect foundation to help with speed work moving forward.

“Being More with Less” should prove to be an interesting test moving forward. Using, tweaking, and adapting The 80/20 Experience into my training and overall balanced life will be the first of these experiments . Stay tuned for more from all of this and thanks for coming along this journey with me.



(c) Kary Youman