Ironman #66: Ironman Cairns

by hillarybiscay


Better late than never—finally here on the plane to the next event (Ironman Coeur d’Alene for TeamHPB coaching duties!) I have a chance to write up the final leg of my spring 2014 race-fest. I realized at some point on my way home from Australia that the race-fest was actually comprised of 5 long races in 8 weeks: a half ironman, three iron-distance races, and a 100K trail run. You see, in my mind I take them one at a time, so I sort of intentionally don’t do the math on the whole deal while I am in the midst of a stretch of events like this. I did know that my Australia trip included 3 races in 5 weeks (Ironman Australia-North Face 100K-Ironman Cairns), but that was as far as my addition went. And while I was there, I focused on whatever was the next thing in front of me.

I think that my body held up as well as I could have hoped, all things considered. With the 100K thrown in between the two ironmans, this kind of combo was something I had never attempted. Disclaimer: I thought this was obvious, but as a coach I should probably clarify that, yes, I am well aware that this particular combo of races is not what one does to set oneself up for one’s best ironman performance. This is not something I am saying just with 20/20 hindsight; it is something that I knew going in, even before the NorthFace 100K jacked up my legs like none other!

I have done a lot of ironmans now—dozens, actually—with what I think is optimal preparation to nail those specific races. And while I will still approach some races –Ironman Wisconsin this year, for example—in that way, for me now it’s not just about that. What keeps me motivated is finding new challenges—Ultraman, and new combinations of races—to test myself in different ways. That’s what my Australian racing combo was about.

I truly had no idea what my legs would give me in Cairns and I had no expectations beyond that it would be a test of my mental and physical fortitude—perhaps one more than the other, but I wasn’t sure which . . . and that was the fun of it for me. I didn’t know what hand I would be dealt on the day and my challenge was to make the best of whatever my body gave me.

team pis

Repping TeamPIS was a highlight!!

What my body gave me was really a surprise and a great learning experience for my coach and I. Typically after a massive run like North Face (not that I had even done one that big but with ones like this—like when I ran up Mt. Lemmon or did Rim to Rim to Rim in training) the last thing to come back is my bike legs. If anything, I thought their re-appearance in time for Cairns would be touch-and-go. So it took me nearly a third of the ride in Cairns to believe that I had bike legs that I hadn’t had in ages—years, really. Bike legs that didn’t just have to sit back and watch girls fly past—that could actually respond going up hills and had the strength in the latter half of the ride to re-pass some of the women who had come by earlier.

The run, on the other hand, came with as much difficulty as the bike did ease. Struggle bus from mile one. I think I literally had all of 3 total miles under 8 minutes: the first two miles the garmin clocked after it got a signal at the start of the marathon, and the last one into the finish when I had to sprint to hold onto 6th place because one of my fave newbie pros Larisa Marsh was right behind me. In between, there were many, many miles where I felt like I was running as hard as I could and I wasn’t even running Ultraman pace! Not pretty. But I am grateful to Larisa for chasing so hard and to bestie Belinda Granger who was on the side of the run course yelling at me to hang on and checking splits for me—there’s no wimping out with that kind of inspiration. Dying animal noises simply to run 7:5x the last mile while praying for the finish line to appear brought me to that line knowing I had left everything I had out there. And with that I was happy.


I always tell my kids that every race we do is worth the effort because we learn something we can use moving forward in our training and racing. For me, this particular combination of races and all those miles of suffering during the marathon in Cairns brought a surprising discovery. After North Face my legs were so messed up that I ended up only being able to run on land a handful of times in the 3 weeks before Cairns. I have never run that little before a race and I’m certain this had everything to do with the bike legs working much better than normal in Cairns. Granted the run was ugly, but my theory is that minus having ultra-legs and running on fumes of fitness on the long end of an 8-week racing binge, I think I might be able to run and bike well off of scaling the run miles back like that pre-race. So that is something we are going to try and through this Australian “craziness” we may have just stumbled upon something that could really work for me—time will tell!

For now I am stoked to have three months to re-load the bank and get ready for my all-time fave, Ironman Wisconsin in September. Thanks so much to my sponsors for making these adventures possible: PowerBar, SMASH, ISM, RecoveryPump, Zipp, Vega, and Brooks Airbrush Studio.

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