A Visit to the Magical Land of Oz for IM Cairns

Pristine beaches bordering deep blue waters, lush, coastal rainforests, exotic wildlife… you might think of somewhere such as Costa Rica, Hawaii, or Thailand. In this case, you’d be wrong.

I’m talking about Cairns, Australia.

This week I have the pleasure of heading to the northeast corner of Australia, in Queensland, specifically the town of Cairns to check out all the hubbub around IM Cairns, which serves as the Asia-Pacific Championship, on June 16 (or June 15, depending on where you’ll be tuning in from).

IM Cairns Overview

This year is the 13th running of IM Cairns and is the first race in Oceania of the IRONMAN Pro Series. IM Cairns features a total $150,000 USD prize purse for professionals and four qualifying spots per gender to each respective 2024 IRONMAN World Championship for professionals.

Last year’s male and female winners are both on the start list for next weekend; three-time winner and Kiwi Braden Currie and two-time winner and born-and-raised Australian Kylie Simpson will both be hungry to add one more victory to their legacies - or best their own course records set in 2023: Currie, 7:50:11, Simpson, 8:40:53.

With powerhouse names like Sam Long (USA) and Joe Skipper (GBR) on the start list, could this be the first year in IM Cairns’ history in which a non-Kiwi or -Australian male pro finds the finish line first?

On the women’s side, Lauren Brandon (USA), Lotte Wilms (NLD), Hannah Berry (NZL) and Radka Kahlefeldt (AUS) are notable challengers to Simpson’s desire for another win, and possibly to her course record, as well.

Nearly 2,800 age groupers will compete in either IM Cairns or 70.3 Cairns (which take place on the same day) on Sunday, as well, swimming in the rolling waters at Palm Cove, navigating the hills of the Captain Cook Highway, and giving it their all on the coastal run route before getting to the finish line at the Esplanade in downtown Cairns.

Despite it now being winter in Australia, Cairns retains a warm temperature year-round and should be in the 70s to 80s (Fahrenheit) on race day.

The Race in Paradise

IM Cairns is called the “race in paradise,” (by IRONMAN, anyway) for a reason.
IM Cairns and 70.3 Cairns are the only IRONMAN races that take place at the intersection of two World Heritage sites: the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

The Daintree Rainforest covers nearly 500 square miles and is 135 million years old (yes, million), making it the oldest rainforest in the world.

The Great Barrier Reef covers more than 134,000 square miles and is home to 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish, as well as critically endangered species such as the large green sea turtle.

Imagine swimming in the waters near the Great Barrier Reef, biking alongside the Daintree Rainforest, and running along the Cairns coastline, all in one day, and becoming an IRONMAN finisher at the end of it. A few reminders to focus on the actual race and not the scenery might be necessary in your inner monologue, I would dare to guess.

Even though many of us are guilty of getting so into “race mode” that we forget to look up during race week, I imagine it’ll be hard not to in a place as stunning as Cairns.

Unless you already live in Australia, Tasmania or New Zealand, it’s likely a bit of a haul and financial investment to race in Cairns, which means if you’re making the trip, it had better be worth your while.

In an incredible feat of “investigative” journalism, I’ll be delving into all things Cairns, beyond just the race, to see what this unique town (population: ~150,000) has to offer in addition to its fantastic backdrop for swimming, biking and running.

I’ll be checking out the Daintree Rainforest’s vast canopy via a helicopter tour (slightly terrified, I’ve never been in a helicopter before), snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef (if a shark doesn’t get to me first), meeting my first crocodile and koala at a wildlife refuge, and exploring Cairns’ run routes and Olympic-sized swimming pools… oh right, and covering the race venue, pre-race pro panel and post-race results.

All of this, not just so that I can say I did it and write some articles about it convincing you to come to Australia (although I hope you’ll consider it!), but to remind the triathlon community that many decades ago, finishing an Iron-distance race was an experience, not just an athletic event where we decided if we did well based on metrics and placements.

If you’re going to truly invest in the authentic IRONMAN journey, it may as well be one you and your family will remember for a lifetime - and not solely because of the finish line, but rather because of the memories made in an extraordinary place, together, on and off the race course.

Stay tuned this week here and on Slowtwitch’s Instagram as I navigate words like “arvo” and “carpark” and see what this “flat white” coffee business is all about. See you in Cairns! (Which I’m told is pronounced “Caihns,” with no hard “r”... working on it!)

All photos credited to Korupt Vision