Snubbed at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Liz Blatchford had plenty to prove at her debut Ironman in Australia this June. So I ventured out to Chase the Race, tracking the 41-year-old Brit as she swam, rode and ran her way to proving her critics wrong.
Close to the action right from the start, we bobbed around on the first boat of the day ready to watch the 6:45am swim from Sailfish Quay ($25 / £15 per adult each way, greatadventures.com.au). The tranquility of sunrise was suddenly shattered by the first of 1,300 swimmers slicing through the waves – and we were off.
The early morning chill turned to sizzling heat by the time we moved on to watch the cycle section in Port Douglas. So we shamelessly took shelter in one of the many kerbside cafes lining the cycle route, where steak, chips and a cheeky beer or three unsurprisingly made everything even better.
It was hard not to get sucked into the drama: one cyclist was met by a mass gasp when he tumbled from his bike after rounding the corner too quickly. When he sped off again after a few heart-rending minutes spent visibly collecting his nerve, he earned a round of applause bigger even than the one which met race leader Luke McKenzie as he zoomed through.
He looked more blur than bike, so I really wasn’t surprised four hours later to watch Luke finish first, in 8:17:43. And how do you celebrate a sixth Ironman triumph? By going back over the line to give your beaming Mum a huge bear hug, of course.
As for Liz, she ended a neck-to-neck contest with New Zealand’s Gina Crawford with a late race surge at the 32K mark. This swept her across the finish line in 9:19:51 – a decisive victory and a clear indication that switching up to the Ironman distance was a very shrewd move. Definitely one to watch in future.
And now a little confession: I enjoyed the day so much that I secretly snuck back to the finish line at midnight, almost 17 hours after the race had begun. I found plenty of athletes still crossing the line and - maybe more surprisingly - also plenty of amped-up spectators still enthusiastically high-fiving everyone that passed within arm’s reach.
Harbor any secret fantasies of becoming an Ironman one day? Stick this race on your bucket list. And if you need a helping hand selling the idea to your family, tell them that the Ironman is just one part of the annual Cairns Adventure Festival, a week of activities and races so diverse that all they really have in common is the gorgeous tropical setting.
That means that even the least sporty amongst us can find something to join in with – a couple of days before the Ironman, I ran the Cairns Post Run 5K, a leisurely trot just as the sun was rising over the waters of the Esplanade Lagoon. Other possible activities include everything from high-octane jungle-surfing (junglesurfing.com.au) to the remarkably-relaxing river drift snorkeling (backcountrybliss.com.au/river-drift-snorkelling). If you’re after an unforgettable family holiday with a challenging twist…go for it.
Entries now open for the Cairns Airport Ironman on 8 June 2014. Sign up at ironman.com/cairns, or plan your next holiday at destinationqueensland.com