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Michelle Cooper Race Report: Ironman Cairns 2017

Posted on 19th Jun 2017

“The truth is, I found it hard to get excited about this race until right up to a few days beforehand. I’ve been to Cairns a number of times before and each race had its own challenges. That did not then fill me with inspiration to tackle the course again. But, in the back of my mind I knew there was serious unfinished business to be taken care of.”

“After the typical race morning start we arrived in Palm Cove ready to roll, literally. I have to admit that I am not a fan of the rolling start. The mass start is such an iconic and incredible experience to be part and I miss that in the new format of Cairns. Dave and I seeded in group 2 together with our athletes and slowly crept our way towards the start. We crossed the timing mat almost together and hit the water. Palm Cove has yet to deliver on the postcard images we have all seen and was once again dirty brown, choppy and tough.  Swim times were much slower across the board and within 50m Dave knew I was not going to have a happy time. I find choppy conditions very difficult and this hit me early. Given he wasn’t feeling particularly confident in his own preparation for the race, he made a quick decision to just swim next to me and make sure I was ok. It certainly made me calmer knowing he was on my right the whole time. Sighting was tough and the chop disrupted my stroke constantly. It was a very long haul into the swell on the way south but when I turned for home, things got a little easier. On the plus side, my Dare2Tri wetsuit was fantastic in the cooler, choppier water and I felt comfortable the entire time. No chaffing in sight! Overall my swim was about 10 minutes off my estimate – turns out nearly everyone’s was slow so I felt a lot better about that despite being disappointed in my own time.”

“I am normally really quick in transition but as Dave had waited in the swim for me, I waited in transition for him to get changed. As we left transition on our bikes we agreed that I would take the lead to set the pace and Dave would sit the legal 12m back and we’d meet at special needs around the 90km mark. I was riding my 81 Metron front wheel and Metron disc wheel set up and all week had been worried about the predicted winds that can be pretty fierce along the coastline. I needn’t have worried as despite a few gusty moments, I felt in control the entire time. I had a number of goals after a disastrous ride leg in 2015 – check my bike thoroughly in transition to ensure the gears and derailleur were working; calmly approach the hills; recovery quickly after the hills; push hard on the flats where I am stronger. As we headed north I felt fantastic, pushing along nicely and passing dozens of other cyclists on my approach to Rex’s Lookout. This was the point of no return and as I picked a lower gear, took a deep breath and began the ascent, Dave rode up beside me to check in. He passed me and stayed just ahead as the athletes began to bunch up on the slow climb. As I reached the top I was stunned to realize it was about 1/3 as hard as I remembered it. Clearly all the hill riding on my new Boardman had developed the strength, skills and confidence I needed to tackle this demon. It was literally over before I knew it.”

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“As I hit the lead again into Port Douglas, the body felt pretty good as did the bike. I had forgotten how rough the road surface was and on the harder tubular tyres, I noticed the difference on the body. Maintaining a still position on the bike to avoid chaffing became even more important. It is pretty narrow coming in and out of Port Douglas so Dave was now on my wheel and we could chat a little, although it’s more of a yell when you have an aero helmet on! We were both comfortable albeit getting hungry and agreed to still stop at special needs for some refuelling. As we pulled in and grabbed our new bottles, can of coke and some salt and vinegar chips, we quickly discussed the back half of the ride. The plan was for me to stay in the lead as long as possible while Dave kept a legal distance whilst keeping me in sight. Pretty easy given he is a faster rider than me and had he been in front I may have quickly lost sight of him. As usual on this course, the return loop to T2 was much tougher with the winds picking up. This was the best weather we had ever had for this race but it was still challenging. A headwind the whole way home and many gusty sections along the coast dropped the speed considerably but I worked on effort rather than speed to manage my energy levels before the run. By the time we reached Palm Cove, things were getting tough and the road narrowed making it impossible not to draft. There was no passing space and the athletes bunched up quite a lot. I had moved up to 14th on the bike and was pretty happy with that position heading out to the run.”

“Given we’d spent this long within eyesight of each other, we made the decision to complete the race together too. I felt amazing heading out on the run and we maintained a good pace for the first 18km before it started to fall apart. The run has been such a challenge in the last few years as I battled stress fractures but my long-term return plan of building strength, correcting form and coming off the bike stronger has paid huge dividends. Stomach cramps, fatigue and general discomfort set in for both of us and we slowed the pace whilst maintaining the strategy to run between aide stations, walk through and get going again. My form held together really well and I am confident that my goal time is in sight next time around.”

“It was fabulous being able to see all my crew out on course and to have such incredible support from the crowds. Running into the chute is a buzz like no other, no matter how many times you do it. I threw my arms around Dave and thanked him for a fabulous day. Peter Murray gave us a huge wrap and an even bigger group hug. What a way to finish the day.”

“Some things didn’t go according to plan starting with the choppier swim and tougher road surface. The latter meant it was challenging to get my fuel in but I managed to cover most of what my sports dietician had set me. My stomach didn’t enjoy the run but it wasn’t enough to stop me.”

“Some things went really well. I took an hour (yep an hour) off my previous bike time here and came in 10 minutes under my guestimate. My run form was strong and confident and felt great. Despite it not being my fastest Ironman, it was still a new personal best for that course.”

“But the thing I enjoyed most was hanging with Dave all day. We raced legally but were around each other the entire time. It was just a relaxing, fun day talking to each other, helping each other and encouraging each other. Ironman is such a tough day and although we have raced at the same time as each other many times before, this was a day where we truly got to do it together. Running down that finish chute, filled with emotion was the culmination of many hours spent dedicated to our sport. We may have had many friends around us, but in that moment, there was just us. Magic.”

-Michelle Cooper

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Vision supplies Michelle Cooper with Wheels, Aerobars and Drink Systems.