Zoe Clark Race Report
Cairns 70.3 June 2014
Cairns 70.3 was about 11 weeks after Melbourne Ironman. I seemed to recover quite well and after 1 week of rest with a few easy sessions, I was ready to get back into it. I wasn’t familiar with the course; some people told me it was really hilly, some said it was undulating like Kew Boulevard and some even said there was just one hill. There were times in my training since Melbourne I wasn’t feeling overly strong on the bike, which concerned me a little, but I had faith and I was probably in as good a running shape as I’ve ever been. In my previous 3 x 70.3 races, I’ve done a 4.49, a 4.48 and a 4.54. I like to see myself as a ‘consistent’ athlete and I had no excuse not to have another consistent race. From experience I expect this of myself, Xavier my coach expects it, and others that know me probably expect it too. I’m nothing flash by any means, but I do seem to be consistent.
The night before the race it rained all bloody night. I know this because I felt like I only slept about half an hour. The race was ticking over and over in my mind. I felt pressure, but I didn’t feel like it was bothering me as such, I was just thinking. I really wanted to prove that I could pull off a decent time on a hillier course and in a larger field. It was still raining when the alarm went off at 4.15am, and still raining as we drove to Palm Cove and walked down to T1.T1 was a mud fest. There were a few things I needed to do at my bike which included pumping up my tyres, stocking it with electrolyte, water, a chopped bar, a gel bottle and I had to put my salt tablets in the salt dispenser, which was a bit touch and go in the rain. My shoes were in my transition bag. Given the amount of mud on the ground I think I was glad for that.
I put on my wetsuit, grabbed my cap, goggles, gel and drink, wrote a few key words on my hand like ‘strong’, ‘believe’, ‘cadence’, ‘prove’ and a smiley face and headed to the swim start. It was still raining when Rhys said to me “I love these conditions. They are perfect because they will slow people down. When it starts to rain a little so many people just jump on the wind trainer rather than gain more experience handling their bike in the wet.” I’m glad he said that; maybe I could use these conditions to my own advantage.
I was feeling good at the swim start, still felt some pressure but excited, relaxed and ready to race. I’ve never really done too much in terms of warming up pre-race but I always make sure I put my head under and turn the arms over for a few minutes, mainly to get used to the water temperature. The gun went BANG! and I ran into the water and duck-dived under a small wave that was coming off. It probably didn’t look anywhere near as slick as what I am making it sound like! I got myself into a rhythm, breathing to my right every second stroke with Craig in my ear reminding me of finger and elbow position, digging deep and making sure my stroke was long with a strong exit. About half way around I jumped onto a girls feet and pretty much stayed with her the rest of the swim. I felt good, I felt like my stroke was fairly efficient and I felt like I was going to get the 32-something minute swim I was hoping for. The water was a little rolling, but I didn’t think it was bad at all and definitely felt the push back into shore. As I stood up and hit the sand I checked my watch, 34.05mins. A bit disappointed but could have been worse I guess.
People always run so slowly up to T1. I continuously called out ‘on your right!’ trying to pass all the slow coaches in my way while taking off my cap, goggles and top half of my wetsuit. I called my number out to the wonderful volunteers who handed me my bike bag and ran into the tent. And it was bloody packed! I was in the last female wave and I had a moment of panic and almost tipped the contents of my bag our right in the middle of the floor. I spotted an empty seat that had someone’s crap on it, and yelled politely for some help. I had brought some SLIK spray from Craig the day before at the Aqua Shop tent and sprayed it where he suggested on the bottom of my wetsuit and the top of my ankle. I think it definitely helped as it when the volunteer tugged my wetsuit it slid off pretty easily. I had a little towel but can’t even remember if I used it; maybe a quick pat dry of my feet, socks on, shoes on, helmet on, sunglasses on, and we’re off! My bike was close to the tent so ran to it, put my garmin on my wrist and off I went. T1 was now worse than earlier in the morning and as I ran through the mud I thought about all the people in bare feet that were getting mud stuck between their toes. I think I was still happy I had my shoes on but hoped I wouldn’t have a problem clipping in. No problem. T1: 3:54
The first part of the ride was shit. There were about 10-15 very bumpy speed humps and I don’t know how many bottles/cages/nutrition items I passed on the road out of there. It was after about the third bumpy speed hump I had a bad feeling and looked down and my own gel bottle was missing!! Oh shit. I need that. I stopped on the right next to the fence and I remember a man saying to me “don’t worry, it only 30 seconds!” He held onto my bike and I ran back about 20-30 metres and yelled out to somebody that was just picking up my fuel. I shoved it down my cleavage and ran back to my bike while noting never to start a race with my gel bottle in my bento box again, especially when there are bumps involved. I got to my bike where the same man reassured me “it was only 30 seconds” and came across the second dumb thing I’d done; I’d obviously not tightened the screws on my stem enough and my bloody handle bars were pointing at the ground! Oh great. I pulled them up, at least they were still a bit stiff but as I rode off I was thinking this could be a very interesting ride. I had ridden the day before and had no issues. I guess the rain had something to do with it. I made a mental note that I need to buy a torque wrench and learn how to use it. I felt annoyed how I was going so far and needed to make up for it by riding as well as I could. I was feeling strong, and I had Rhys’s words in my head about people being a bit scared in the conditions. I wasn’t really phased at all. Although not really in the last 12 months, I have ridden a lot in the Dandenong Ranges on wet roads and I was feeling comfortable and was finding myself consistently passing a lot people both up and down the winding road. I just had to remember not to push down on my bars too much! As long as in was in TT position that issue was ok.
I’ve never experienced a flat in a race, but after only 18km I felt my back bike tyre suddenly feel very bumpy. And I was in a section where there was only a very narrow shoulder so everyone was passing me pretty closely. I put my chain on the smallest ring, turned my bike upside down, took out the skewer and removed the back wheel. The rain had brought so much crap out onto the road, getting a flat wasn’t really that surprising. I don’t think I’ve ever actually changed the tube on my race wheels myself, I haven’t ever needed to. I really struggled to get the tyre of the wheel rim, finally got it off as some English guy walked his bike past me and was asking me something. I was pretty flustered and wasn’t registering what he was saying. In my mind I was responding “can’t you see I’m busy?! Fuck off!”. Turns out I met this guy at the awards night and he was only asking me how far till the next aid station. He’d flown over for from the UK and his race was over. Poor guy. Anyway, I tried to check the outside and inside of the tyre, there was so much wet debris sticking to it that it was almost impossible. In the end, I chucked in the new tube, put the gas in and hoped for the best. I was off and now had to ride over 70km with no spare. Xavier’s voice was in my head from the night before saying “do you know how many people carry extra shit on their bike, just in case?” Well at the time I bloody wished I was carrying a second spare ‘just in case’. Made a mental note to do that the next time I raced in conditions like that. I heard of lots of people that actually did get two flats. Well things come in threes right? Dropped nutrition, loose handle bars and then a flat! Hopefully the rest of my race was going to go smoothly!
I didn’t know how much time I’d lost, but it felt like about 10 minutes. My top 5 and sub 5 hour goals were less achievable now, but I reassessed to maintain a strong bike and still have my fastest run off the bike yet. I’d stopped my Garmin so I could still get a moving bike time for my own sake. I loved the course! I was feeling strong and continued to catch and pass a lot of people. I had wiped the flat from my mind and focused on moving forward. I didn’t drink as much as I usually would but it wasn’t as hot and I wasn’t feeling like I needed as much. I think I had 2/3 of my concentrated electrolyte bottle and sipped on about 1 and a half aero bottles of water. I couldn’t get my salt tablets out the dispenser. I turned the bloody thing but nothing would come out. Made a mental note to check that or sort something else out before the next race. May have had something to do with the rain? I heard after some other people had problems too. The rest of the bike leg went pretty smoothly. There was a section between about 75-80km where we were riding in a narrow shoulder next to a fair bit of traffic and was difficult to get around people without going onto the car lane but I did the best I could. Official Bike Time: 2:49:46. Garmin Bike Time: 2:39:34.
Coming into T2 I was expecting a bike catcher! I guess I just expected that along with the 5-star treatment that came with the Ironman transition tents. Clearly I should have read something about this. Luckily the volunteers were great and were communicating well so I knew which lane to rack my bike. I had taken my feet out of my shoes and as I ran back into the tent through the mud pit I was grateful I had clean dry socks waiting for me. Pulled them off, socks on, shoes on, race belt on, picked up my visor and new gel bottle and ran out the tent. T2: 2:36
I was feeling good. The flat seemed insignificant and I had to run 4.30s or better. There was absolutely no reason for me not to be able to do this. The motivational words on my hand play a key role in this leg and I may also have written the name of a certain somebody on my gel bottle that I also wanted to impress, so that was extra motivation. The first 12kms, my splits were pretty consistent; they are all between 4.25 and 4.29. I was aware I was making a bit of a ‘grunting’ noise, but I was moving along ok so whatever. I seemed to be continuously catching people and passing them. I do remember one girl that passed me and she was in my category. I had noticed her behind me at one of the turn around points and she was moving strong. Obviously one of those ‘proper’ athletes without an inch of body fat. I remember Xavier mentioning about ‘racing the race’ in front of you. And if I hadn’t got that flat and lost 10 minutes maybe I could have taken myself to a level of hurt I’d never been before. But I was still running strong, focusing on keeping up my cadence. Although she looked super strong, looking at the times after I think she only ran a 1:33. Next time she won’t get away! The next 9km were all between 4.31s and 4.36s. My Garmin must have flicked from an overall average of 4.29s to 4.30s with only 2km to go and my focus was to not let that drop another second and finish strong. I passed a girl in the 25-29 AG at the start of the finish shute and I think I scared her because she came sprinting passed about 1m before the finish line. I was wearing calf compressions so she didn’t know she had a 16 minute head start. And I had a flat. Run Time: 1:35:07
Total Race Time 5:05:28
10th Position 30-34 AG
Despite not breaking 5 hours on this course and coming in the top 5, I’m still satisfied and feel like it was still a consistent race for me. The best thing about this experience is that I have learned more than I ever had and I can see where I can shave time off.