A race report for all long term injury sufferers – dreams can come true!
My journey towards Cairns IM 2017 started way back in December 2015. To be more accurate, the long journey began but the training and improvement didn’t.
Early in 2016 it became obvious that my right knee was having issues with any run loading. I would be ok for a couple of weeks and then wake up with a swollen sore knee without doing anything drastically different. This led to investigating what could be the cause directed by the specialists at Star Physio. Tests included an MRI, x-ray and ultrasound before concluding I had a 20mm tear in my medial meniscus. Surgery was put on the table as the best way to get a positive result and I went under the knife in early April. Each patient recovers differently from this procedure and I was hopeful of being back to running within 6 weeks. How wrong I was as the swelling from the meniscus repair lasted the rest of 2016.
In early December I decided to return to Sports specialist Gary Couanis for an update which led to another round of tests. I fully expected when I entered his office to be told I would never complete an IM again and had come to terms with that. Instead, he told me the operation looked to have been a success and once the final swelling subsided, I could begin running regularly again. A course of slow release anti-inflammatory finally gave some relief and my run program began on an elliptical machine, then a treadmill with 1 minute jog, 1 minute walk for a total of 15 minutes. Strength gym work was also included and I highly recommend adding this to any training program.
Soon after, another challenge, I was hit by a car while riding and my road bike came off much worse for wear - RIP. The body recovered OK though.
The first time I was able to run for longer than 5 minutes nonstop was March 4, 2017, barely 11 weeks before the race.
At that point, I decided to quietly set my goals on Cairns after having the entire 2016 season without a single race and false starting twice towards IMWA and IMNZ. I shared my goal with only few people, mainly as I wasn’t confident at all it would ever happen. The swim and bike had been lifted in volume to keep the fitness level up while the run program, designed by James Debenham (Star Physio), would trickle feed a maximum of 10min increase volume each week. That meant my longest training run leading in to Cairns was going to be only 14km!
3 weeks in the wilderness starting in May as part of my job meant training literally in the middle of nowhere in Shark bay. Being creative during this time for training sessions was the only real alternative.
This left me with 6 weeks until race day to try and build run fitness. All went well for the first half of this time but then a nerve issue of my left calf raised its head and I was left unable to run for the following 2 weeks. More treatment followed (I felt like a pin cushion with the number of dry needles probing my legs) and before I knew it, I was on the plane to Cairns completely unprepared.
The final hurdle then appeared. My TT bike was damaged during travel and the mechanic defined the open hole on my down tube as “catastrophic” if it failed. Bottom line - I needed to buy a new bike. 48 hours before the gun went off $$$$$$$$
Pump and Pedals of Cairns came to the rescue running double shifts overnight to provide me with a new frame, measured to my geometry, completed by 9am the next morning. I couldn’t thank them enough for the miracle and paid up my hard earned for a chance at riding. I had enough time to ride only 5km as a trial before racking the new Shiv that afternoon. I crossed my fingers every nut had been tightened and the new bike would hold together for the 180km.
Race day dawned with mild conditions but revealed a far from flat swim course. I started in the first wave of the rolling start and got in to the groove exiting just under the hour mark.
The bike course is undulating and certainly tested the back and legs over the journey. I was so happy to get off the bike only as it had caused me so much worry having an unknown bike.
The run was a 3 x 14km laps. By the time I finished the first lap, I had hit the front of my 50-54 age group. I couldn’t help thinking though that I had already run as far as any training run for the previous 18months – and still had 28km to go. The second lap saw me lose 3 places and with plenty of distance still remaining, I worried the explosion was just around the corner. It took all of my mental strength to concentrate on 1km at a time and the question of “why” I had attempted this kept running through my head. The final 4 kilometres were becoming a blur. I was having trouble keeping focused on the road in front of me. At 500m to go, another competitor in my age group pulled alongside me. I was gutted to think that after 9 and a half hours, I was going to slip even further. A sprint down the red carpet placed me 5th over the line in my AG. I was spent and looked for the wheelchair and medical staff. It then dawned on me that due to the rolling start, my final placing may be adjusted depending on where my competitors started. It is the one disappointing fact of this style of start in my opinion as direct comparison against your competitors isn’t possible over the finish line. It wasn’t until I had finished in recovery that I confirmed, I had in fact finished in 3rd place as I started well after some of my competitors. My dream of returning to Kona,552 days after my last triathlon, on very limited training, had actually come true - boom!
I must thank James Debenham and Michelle Duffield as my mentors who gave me weekly feedback and support. Gary Couanis, Ben Hewitt, Star Physio and Doug Robertson for their medical miracles. Blake Kappler for his help with the damaged bike, Pump and Pedals in Cairns for giving me a bike that lasted the journey at such short notice. Exceed triathlon club for their swim training support. The friends and family who supported me even when at times it seemed I was destined to never make the start line and most of all my wife Tricia for her unwavering support of my quest to go to the big Island of Hawaii.