In conditions that came from left field after a week of rain, Cairns turned on a scorcher of a day for the Cairns Airport Ironman Cairns. After being absent from the top step of the podium since her win at Ironman Australia, 2010, it was Carrie Lester’s turn to shine again, taking the lead with only three kilometres to go in the marathon.

Usually weather is used as a talking point when there isn’t much to say, or to cover that awkward moment in the break of conversation. In this context though, the weather was a concern for athletes in the lead up to the Cairns Ironman. It had been non-stop rain in the week leading up to the event, and it was almost a certainty that athletes wouldn’t just be getting wet in the swim. However, race morning, the skies were blue, the sun came out, and the wind was nothing but a gentle sea breeze. The heat ended up being underrated by a lot of athletes on course.

Race favourite, and last year’s winner (previously Challenge Cairns), Rebekah Keat was in great condition leading into the race. “My prep has been perfect. I’ve done everything I could possibly do since Ironman Melbourne to be prepared the best I can be,” she said. Spending a considerable amount of time on her swimming, Keat came out of the water first (52:23), with New Zealand’s Belinda Harper chasing, 37secs behind and the two were off with a clear lead on the chasers, Michelle Mitchell, Carrie Lester and Belinda Granger.

Keat set off at a cracking pace, averaging 37.55kph for the first 47kms of the bike and pulled away from Harper, with a gap of 5mins. Mitchell, who won at Ironman Australia only four weeks prior, was considerably slower than the leaders, and it wasn’t long until both Lester and Granger passed her. Mitchell eventually pulled out of the race, citing that she was just too fatigued from her previous Ironman race in Port Macquarie. She will now be tackling the US season in the coming months.

Harper, who is a consistently strong biker, started to claw her way back into Keat’s lead, bringing it back to 3:30 at the half way mark, but, Keat finished strong, and flew into T2 almost 5mins ahead of the Kiwi, and the only bike split under 5hrs, 4:56:27. Lester and Granger remained steady over the 180kms, with Granger slowly catching Lester in the last 50kms of the ride. Granger came into transition approximately 20secs ahead of the eventual race winner, Lester. They were both chasing Keat by 13mins. Candice Hammond from New Zealand, followed a further 6:30 back, and Rebecca Hoschke, who won at the Challenge Half last year, was a further 4:20 trailing.

Keat was the clear leader out of transition, but it was only kilometres into the marathon, when her run started to labour. At the 6km mark, Keat’s concern was that she had torn her calf muscle, and was unable to decipher the difference between a strain and a tear. She started to walk, then run again, but her efforts were short lived. Calling for a first aid officer to help strap the injury, the realisation crept across her face. Her day was done. Running, or in fact, even walking the rest of the marathon could cause serious injury. Flopping into a chair a friendly spectator offered, Keat, regrettably and heartbreakingly, Keat had to call it a day. As the commotion occurred curbside, Harper took the lead for the first time that day. Lester, who had been informed of Keat’s undoing, ran past with encouraging words, “you outclassed us all out there!” to which Keat shouted back, half chuckling, “not really, I’m sitting down!” Keat was picked up by her family, and taken to the doctor, where it was confirmed that she had torn her soleus, one of the calf muscles, and will now reassess her racing calendar so that she can get to the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships.

So the race for first place was now on, and Harper was running scared. Running amongst the sugar cane fields, and out onto the main road, the half of the run was a lonely place to be. With next to no support from spectators, apart from the occasional horn from a passing motorist, the women were alone. At the point where Harper hit the lead, she had a gap of approximately 7:40 over Lester. However, Lester, who just this year signed up with Team TBB, and Brett Sutton, was closing the gap, and closing it fast. By the 23rd kilometre, Lester had closed the gap to 3:30, and the women were heading into town. Both women increased their speed through the bustling part of Cairns, and Lester continued to close the gap. Harper was wavering, and was struggling to hold form, but regained composure, and at one stage was holding the same pace as Lester. However, eventually, at approximately the 30km marker, Lester made her move on the New Zealander, and pinched the lead. Continuing to run strong, she pulled away from Harper, who was having the run of her life. Lester finished the race strong with an average pace of 4:35min/km, and a total marathon time of, 3:13:52, and a finishing time of 9:21. After the race she claimed, “it was a tough course. I did it last year, and I don’t remember thinking that the roads were that rough. I really had to push hard the whole way on that bike… I’ve done some good run training over the last five weeks with Brett (Brett Sutton, Coach), and I trusted that was run was there. But you never know what’s going to happen on the day. It was still tough right at the end.”

Harper held strong for second place and was ecstatic with her result. Out on the course she knew that Lester was moving in on her. “I was getting splits. I knew she was gaining on me, but I thought, it’s not the fastest runner who wins an Ironman. It’s the person who slows down the least,” she said. However, in the end she did slow down more than Lester, but was happy with her highest placing as a professional triathlete to date.

Further back, Granger had held onto third for as along as she could. Hammond had made up an amazing time from the bike, and was closing in on the veteran. With a springy run, the Kiwi overtook Belinda and claimed the fastest marathon split of the day with a 3:10:26, and a total time of 9:24:45. “I was hoping for a 3:20 marathon, so I was stoked with a 3:10, and my best result in an Ironman so far.” Granger, who was racing her 44th Ironman race, was absolutely happy with her fourth. After the race she said, “I’m realistic. You know, I used to race for the number one spot, and after years, it changed to racing for the podium, and now I go into races with a different view. This race I was aiming for a top 5. I was fifth last year, and fourth this year. I’m extremely happy with that!” Rebecca Hoschke followed Granger home, and claimed the fifth position, with an impressive 3:21:17 marathon. Smiling the entire run course, Hoschke was ecstatic that she had finally dialed in her Ironman race. After a terrific start to the year with several podiums, Hoschke is looking forward to heading to Challenge Roth in July.

 

 

 

Total Swim Bike Run
Carrie LESTER 9:21:00 0:56:31 5:05:20 3:13:52
Belinda HARPER 9:22:42 0:53:00 5:00:36 3:23:02
Candice HAMMOND 9:24:45 1:00:53 5:07:21 3:10:26
Belinda GRANGER 9:32:16 0:56:51 5:04:40 3:25:19
Rebecca HOSCHKE 9:39:53 1:02:05 5:10:29 3:21:17
Fiona EAGLES 10:23:54 1:04:11 5:26:16 3:46:17
Ange CASTLE 10:36:16 1:13:46 5:41:47 3:33:04
Emi SAKAI 10:43:04 1:06:43 5:11:58 4:17:53
Amanda MCKENZIE 11:24:12 1:07:03 5:42:04 4:26:47


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