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7 Lucky tips to smash your Cairns Ironman or 70.3 Swim!

So you're signed up for the 2020 Cairns Ironman or 70.3 and looking for some tips on how to complete the swim without wasting too much energy and ideally feel fresh and ready for the bike and run legs? You have come to the right place my friend!

Besides being an ocean swimming enthusiast I have also completed two Cairns 70.3 races individually and one as part of a team and I have helped with the water safety for this event twice. I think it's fair to say I know a fair bit about the swim course and it's your lucky day because I am about to share my 7 top tips with you!

1. Test your wetsuit before race day

This one might sound like a basic tip to some, but the many times I've heard swimmers complain about their wetsuit dragging them down or choking them, followed by 'This is the first time I'm wearing it!'

Preferably test it in the ocean, but if this is not an option for you, at least give your suit a test swim in the pool. Swimming in a wetsuit is definitely something to get used to and not something you want to surprise yourself with on race day.

2. Check out the course map

This year the Ironman course is 2 laps and the second lap turns a little earlier than the first. In lap 1 you turn around the pink buoys and lap 2 around the yellow buoys. (please see course map below)

2020 Cairns Ironman Swim Course
2020 Cairns Ironman Swim Course

The 70.3 course is similar to previous years with only 1 lap anti-clockwise. (please see course map below)

2020 Cairns 70.3 Swim Course
2020 Cairns 70.3 Swim Course

Both swim courses start on the beach with about a 50-100m swim straight out to the first white buoy. You turn right and swim straight against the current parallel to the beach. Knowing that the current usually runs from south to north, or if you stand on the beach looking out at the ocean from right to left, is important information.

Swimming against the current at the start of the race might end up in feeling like you're not getting anywhere and in your head your race is already falling apart. Instead of letting this get to you, know that you're swimming against the current (which depending on the weather can be pretty strong). A few simple things you can do to make swimming against the current a bit easier:

  • Make yourself as streamlined as possible, this way you're giving the current less resistance.

  • You make yourself streamlined by keeping your head down and your legs ups.

  • DO NOT STOP SWIMMING! You will get pushed back as soon as you stop. It's better to keep moving with a slow breaststroke than to stop all together.

  • If there is someone swimming about the same pace as you, swim behind them. Drafting is allowed in the swim and can save you a lot of energy especially when swimming against the current.

After swimming against the current for about 700m you will arrive at your turning buoys, from here everything will get easier. Swimming back with the current should feel like riding your bike with the wind in your back.

Enjoy this free ride and keep on swimming at your comfortable pace and rhythm.

If you're doing the full Ironman you will go for lap number 2, which is slightly shorter than lap 1, happy days!

Both distances finish with a slightly angled swim back to the beach from the last turning buoy. You're still going with the current so don't over aim to the right as you will be pushed that way automatically.

3. Decide on the right wave start for you

If you are a gun swimmer place yourself in the first wave start, if you are not a gun swimmer do not place yourself in the first wave start. Again this might sound like a basic tip to some, but based on the number of swimmers I had to swim over when I raced I am assuming that some slower swimmers start with in the first wave. This might be because they're scared of not making the cut-off time, but please note the below cut-off time information from Ironman:

  • Ironman: Athletes will have 2 hours and 20 minutes hours from their individual start time to complete the swim.

  • 70.3: Athletes will have 1 hour and 10 minutes from their individual start time

This is how I advise my swimmers to decide on their wave:

  1. If you can swim your race distance in the pool in a sub 1:40 per 100m pace

  2. If you can swim your race distance in the pool between a 1:40 - 2:00 per 100m pace

  3. If you can swim your race distance in the pool between a 2:00 - 2:40 per 100m pace

  4. If you can swim your race distance in the pool between in a plus 2:40 per 100m pace

Don't decide too quickly to start in wave 4 as this is the wave with the most unconfident swimmers, meaning a lot of bumping into each other and higher chances of getting cut off by someone.

4. Try to keep your heart rate down

Your nerves or excitement about the swim will push your heart rate up, which is the last thing you want at the start of an endurance race. Everyone is going to be full of adrenaline at the start of the swim, either out of fear or excitement but it's important to stay as calm as possible.

Take some deep breaths in and out before the start, try to get in your own little zone and don't give in to the hype and excitement around the start of the race. If there is someone next to you who is super nervous and keeps asking last-minute questions about the course, just walk away and find a more quiet place to wait.

Think happy calming thoughts and don't overthink the whole race. Break the race down in little bits which means on the start line your focus should simply be on the first 5 minutes of your swim. Get your goggles on, take it easy with getting the water (there is no reason to sprint in) and make it to to first turning buoy.

Try to get in a comfortable pace as soon as possible. Take it easy on your kicking, keep your head down, only look up to make sure you're still heading in the right direction and breath every 3 or 4 strokes. By kicking hard or breathing to frantically you will be pushing your heart rate up, which is exactly what you don't want at this point in the race.

5. Make it as easy as possible for yourself

The hardest way to swim freestyle is to swim with your head up and above the water. This is the waterpolo swim drill and I can do this for about 25 meters only. There is no way anyone can comfortably swim like this for 1.9km or 3.8km!

If you feel like you need a little break to look at where you're going, or to cough up some water, remember this simple rule:

Either swim freestyle with your head down or breaststroke with your head up.

Swimming breaststroke with your head up is a lot easier than swimming freestyle with your head up. Try it next time you're swimming and you'll see what I mean.

Freestyle should always be done with your head pushed down in the water as this pushes your hips and legs up which creates a more streamlined body position.

6. You are allowed to have a rest on a rescue board

Not everyone knows that you're allowed to take a little rest or adjust your goggles while holding on to a rescue board. As long as you're not helped forward by the board, you can rest as long as you want or need while holding on to the board. Due to Covid Safety they might hand you a rescue tube to rest on, just push the tube under your arm pits and relax your pants for a second or minute.

The Lifesavers out on the course love helping you out as it gets a bit lonely and boring out there by yourself sometimes! Have a little chat, tell us where you're from and how many other races you've done before.

7. Remember how lucky you are

You have done your training, Ironman has made the event Covid Safe and you have made it to the start line of the Cairns Ironman or 70.3!

There is water safety galore and a great swim course set up for you in the beautiful Coral Sea. Take a moment to count your lucky stars and see the positives of it all, especially when it all gets a bit tough.


I hope these 7 lucky tips will help you to tackle this beautiful swim along Palm Cove!

The Swimfit Social Ocean Swim in Port Douglas is on Sunday 20 September (Usually this is on Saturdays, but this week will be a Sunday). If you're keen for a final preparation ocean swim before the Cairns Ironman or 70.3, feel free to join for a swim around the cans. Meet in front of the patrol hut at 9am and swim as many laps as you like.

If you have any questions regarding the swim leg of the Cairns Ironman/70.3 please feel free to send me a message by clicking here.

Have a great race!




1 Comment

Awesome tips, thanks Irene for taking the time to post them. 🤗 🌹


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