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IM Cairns Race Report - Juan

The original plan was to race Cairns as preparation for Malaysia where I would try to get a chance to qualify for Kona.  Little did I know Cairns would be it.

This started 3 years ago after 2014 IM Busselton.  At that point it was clear that the aerobic condition and endurance were there but still need to work on my speed and pacing.  I was “Juan” speed Juan, regardless the distance, always the same pace.

Sean said to me, “Mate, forget about IM, now you’re training with the Sprint and Olympic guys and then we’ll see about getting back to IM”.  It was 6 months of constant pain and suffering, headaches as my body wasn’t used to work at high heart rates, and when I was finally getting some speed had a bike crash and out I was for 4 months.

Had to start all over again.  The endurance and new gained speed were still there, soon I was back to speed and moved from Sprint/Olympic to 70.3 distance; and it came with some surprises.  Finally, I was able to go sub 5 in a 70.3 and went to 70.3 World Championship 2016 and 2017.  It was clear that Sean’s plan was taking effect.

My original motivation for IM wasn’t that ambitious, it was just doing an IM in each continent.  Kona wasn’t a key driver.  But, like the General Theory of Relativity, all is relative to the energy and momentum (mass*velocity) and with more speed I started dreaming about Kona…

When you aren’t a confident swimmer you must do well on the bike and run to recover some positions.  It was straightforward, get as strong as I can to run off the bike.  And the plan was building that through the year, practice at Cairns, and go to Malaysia and outrun everyone hoping that the warm conditions will play on my side.

Arriving to Cairns Tuesday before race, gave me plenty of time to settle in, get my last sessions out of the way and get ready to unleash the water loving, wind crushing hill killer! I was starting to feel the nerves, I had been training super well and was lining up to go sub 10 hours.  All week my rear tyre was agitating me as I felt I couldn’t get it to centre perfectly. So race week was spent taking my wheel on off and putting it back on, every day, several times… Saturday rolled around and it was time to check in, I wheeled my bike down to transition and decided to take my wheel off one more time for good measure, what unfolded next was a half hour of panic and near meltdown until my Knight in shining armour Foz swooped in and used his magic touch to somehow get my wheel perfectly centred. Crisis averted, and bike checked in.

Race day morning went as usual and before long I was in the water. When I got out of the water and checked my Garmin I thought: “Bugger, here we go again, another disastrous swim, Cairns isn’t going to be any different”.  But I had an encouraging voice from Sean when he said, “don’t worry Juan, it was a slow swim for everyone”.  I was back to my race plan.

I divided the bike course in 6 segments based on the topography (flat segments, hilly parts, rollers, descends), in that way I will know where I can recover lost time if I need it, or where can I hold back without losing significant time or where/when to keep my power constant.  It also helped mentally and nutrition wise.

Each segment was on average 30km long, the shortest being 20km and the longest 45km.  I never thought about having to do a 180km ride, I was always doing short rides and only worry about the segment I was on.  And for the nutrition, at the start of each segment I had a gel and every 5km, like a swiss watch, a sip of the super mix in the water bottles.  That will keep a constant inflow of carbs and hydration.  Everything went according to plan, and it was a great bike leg.

The main goal for Cairns was running sub 3:20:00.  When I got off the bike and checked my legs they were feeling good, felt like sub 3:20 was feasible.  Then I estimate my overall race time, assuming the run went according to plan, and surprisingly it was sub 10, and even if I couldn’t run at the planned pace I would have a 10 minutes buffer to be sub 10.

The week before the race I checked the results from the last 4 years and it was clear a sub 10 will get me top 20 and a sub 9:45 top 12.  At Cairns my AG had 10 to 11 Kona slots, hence a top 20 placing would provide a very slim chance to qualify for Kona, the odds weren’t high but still greater than zero.

Now with a new motivation for the run all I had to do was follow my run plan.  The plan was simple, 3 laps, the first one, take it easy at 4:50 min/km, second lap get to 4:45 min/km and third lap try to get 4:40 min/km, have a combination of gel and energy chew blocks every 35 minutes. 

First lap went according to plan, maybe a little bit quicker, but my nutrition plan had a setback; all my gels dropped from my running belt, I tried the ones at the aid stations and couldn’t digest them, so I was on coke and red bull from the second lap.

The second lap I was able to keep the same pace as the first one.  At that point I was right on track for a sub 3:20 but I started to feel the lack of gels/energy in my body.

Third lap was all downhill, pace dropped significantly and legs about to cramp, pain...  By the midpoint of the third lap I knew the 3:20 was gone but still have a sub 10 motivation to keep going.  So, I did.  At the end it was a 3:22 marathon, couldn’t achieve my goal, but crossed the finish line with a 9:52 overall time.

The roll down ceremony the next day is a bit of a blur, it took me a little time to react when my name was called, the last spot in my age group.  Unexpected as that was the aim at Malaysia, but totally welcome.  I thought it was just luck, perhaps people are right when they said it wasn’t, it was the result of all the hard training and perseverance.  Maybe it was the combination of both, hard work increases your odds…

From this 3-year experience I learnt to follow and trust the program.  Key to have a good race, follow your program and trust your coach.  This time I follow my program in detail; I was careful to do the sessions at the corresponding intensities and knowing when to take it easy and when to go hard.  Also doing the strength and conditioning sessions helped a lot.  Sean, thanks for putting together a great training program.

Foz, thanks for guiding and support me, it’s been an incredible experience.  Thanks to all my squad mates at Fluid Movements, you give meaning to all this craziness.  And thanks to Laura, my source of inspiration and motivation; your determination, discipline, will and strength is sublime.  You keep my soul burning.

We’re going to Kona baby!!!

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