Ironman Cairns 2013 will still always remain one of my most memorable wins in my career. To win on home soil in front of family and friends was definitely a very special day. I was always looking forward to returning to Cairns to race one of my favorite events on the Ironman triathlon circuit.
In 2015, Beth and I were the ambassadors for the event which also added excitement to returning to tropical North Queensland. Beth’s parents were also making their first trip to Australia so it was with great pride and pleasure that we got to play tour guide for the week and show them my country.
Back on the big bird and back over the pacific Beth, Wynne and I were happy to be back in beautiful Port Douglas. Unfortunately, when we arrived, I wasn’t feeling well and spent a lot of time in bed. By the next morning it was evident I had picked up some kind of stomach bug during our travels and I spent most of the day laying in bed. However, I was optimistic that I would be OK to race the Coral Coast 5150 event when I woke the next morning. Setting up for the race I think I spent more time in the bathroom than getting my gear ready and when the event was changed to a duathlon due to the rough ocean conditions I knew deep down I was doomed. Starting the race with a 2.5km run (sprint) wasn’t kind to my already protesting body and by the time I had made the turn at the 1km mark of the run, I knew it would be a wise decision to cut my losses and call it a day. I ended up spending the rest of the day in bed and much of the next wasn’t much better but finally on Monday afternoon I felt well enough to get outside and finally enjoy beautiful Port Douglas. I tried not to think about the fact I had an Ironman to race in less than six days and I had hardly taken a step outside my hotel since I had landed in Australia. It was now about refocusing mentally for the big event I had been preparing for the last several months.
The days prior to the Ironman were filled with lots of the usual pre-race commitments and final training sessions. One of the days we took the family out to the stunning Green Island courtesy of Big Cat Green Island cruises. We were greeted by sunny skies and warm turquoise water out on the reef which was a welcomed change from the drizzle in Cairns. Beth, Wynne and I took a little family walk along the beach and although it didn’t all go to script on my part, I asked my beautiful girlfriend Beth to marry me. It seemed so right being back in North QLD where Beth and I had first started dating. Now we were back here two years on with our one year old daughter Wynne and both of our families. It was very special to walk back down the beach to announce the news to them. Later that night, we went to dinner as one big family and toasted to a bright future ahead. We were definitely riding a high as we approached the race.
To add a little drama to our race morning, Beth and I decided to leave our wetsuits drying on our hotel balcony back in Cairns. The 30-45 minute one way trip meant there was no chance of getting all the way there and back before we were due to start. Luckily there was the 70.3 event going off one hour before the Ironman so we were able to get two wetsuits to swim in and went about our usual pre race preparations without any further worries. It had been raining almost every day in the week prior to the race and race morning was a picture perfect scene looking out over the Coral Sea. I noticed watching the 70.3 event that there was a little right to left current heading out to the first turning bouy and once the gun fired I took off 80 meters up the beach and dove in hoping that it would give me an advantage over the rest of the field. The move paid off and I arrived at the first turn at the same time as Dylan McNiece and slotted in nicely on his feet. That lasted about 30 seconds and I realized the pace he was setting was going to be a tad above my capabilities. The good thing was I had gained a good gap on the next bunch and I was able to extend that advantage throughout the swim to exit the water in second place 2.5 minutes down on Dylan and about 2.5 minutes ahead of Cam Brown and James Cunnama.
Onto the bike and I set out to further extend my lead on the chasers and pursue Dylan. I figured with a 2.5 minute lead it would take me 50-60 kilometers to reel him in. To my surprise I was able to make it across to Dylan in the first 25km and was soon leading the race just after Rex’s Lookout heading north to Port Douglas. Once I rounded the turn, I saw my advantage was increasing on the chasers and I now had over five minutes lead. Much like 2013, I wanted to really push at the front to put the race out of reach for any of the noted runners to make a charge. Then at around 120km my race started to take a turn. I went from riding strong and in control to starting to feeling weak and then ultimately vomiting. The nutrition I was putting into my body was coming straight back out and I was restricted to simply sucking on my Clif shot blocks to get me through. Somehow I got myself to the end of the bike but I was on dead empty. The last 10km felt like an eternity and I had started to go into a bonk. Simple things like navigating the corners through town and riding over the speed bumps were now getting dangerous. I arrived in Cairns and fell into a chair in T2 trying not to think of the daunting prospect of having to run a marathon.
I arrived at the first aid station and walked my way through it downing as much Coke as I could get. That theme continued every time I had the chance in the first few miles and after I made the first turn and had clocked my lead at around 12 minutes it gave me the confidence to regroup and focus on running a steady pace. I knew in 2013 Tim Berkel was able to run over 15 minutes out of my lead and having Cameron Brown hovering at a similar deficit, I wasn’t going to be able to slip up at all. As the marathon progressed, I felt better and with each turn-a-round I got to see where the competition was and if I needed to push. Having a lot of family and friends out on the course definitely got me through some of the tougher sections. Unfortunately Beth had recorded her first DNF in 14 Ironman events after she couldn’t repair her second flat tire, so to have her standing on the run course with our daughter Wynne really picked me up each time I saw them.
The last few kilometers I was able to back off a little and enjoy the atmosphere as I came into the finish. Rounding that final corner with the crowd going absolutely crazy it finally hit me I had done it. As I ran down the chute high fiving people, it was hard not to think back to the start of the marathon when I was absolutely empty not knowing if I would even make it another mile. Now I was about to raise the winners tape and claim my second Ironman Cairns title. I crossed the line in 8.18.00 to be greeted by my two gorgeous girls Beth and Wynne which was a bittersweet moment knowing her day wasn’t all she had hoped. You don’t come back from giving birth and compete in four Ironmans in a year without some fight and determination and I know she will be back on the line for that redemption very soon!
Congratulations to Cam Brown and Dylan McNiece for their podium efforts. They both definitely pushed me throughout the day and I am stoked to see them again on the Kona start line in October. Cam is an athlete I have long admired for not just his amazing results but how genuine and down to earth he is as a person. Liz Blatchford was yet again amazing on the day and proved why she is one of the best in the world with her third straight win in Cairns. Also a big shout out to my long time mates,Brett,Izzy and Chris, who made the journey up from Brisbane and the Gold Coast just to support. That definitely meant a lot. Of course I can’t forget to thank my family for being there yet again and for all the help with Wynne through the week.
A big thank you to Ironman Asia-Pacific for endorsing Beth and I as the ambassadors of the event. We loved every minute of the experience and we can’t wait to return in 2016. Toyota Australia thanks for looking after us with a Rav4 to drive for the week around beautiful tropical North QLD!
A big thanks to my personal sponsors – Endura, Scott, The Island House Nassau, Built with Chocolate Milk, Spinlister, Hoka One One, Enve, SRAM, Quarq, Aquasphere, Smith, Fi’zi:k, Speedplay, Scion, Continental, Hypoxico, Endless Pools & FuelBelt
Cairns, Australia June 14, 2015
1. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 8:18:01
2. Cameron Brown (NZL) 8:26:22
3. Dylan McNeice (NZL) 8:36:55
4. Levi Maxwell (AUS) 8:36:57 * M25-29
5. Simon Billeau (AUS) 8:42:05