The Competitive Energy Heats Up as Race Day Approaches in Cairns

Despite it being well and truly wintertime here in Cairns, Australia, you’d never know it thanks to the glistening sunshine and temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit.

I was fortunate to shake off any jet lag quickly, meaning I’ve been able to maximize my time scoping out the swim, bike, and run courses as well as hearing from the professionals about their hopes for race day.

Let’s dive in - just don’t forget to check for crocodiles first, as is the Cairns way:


The swim of IM Cairns begins about 30 minutes north of downtown Cairns in Palm Cove, a beachy enclave where athletes and spectators are bussed on race morning. Rest assured, the waters at Palm Cove are monitored for crocs, snakes, sharks, and jellyfish, so athletes are all but guaranteed a wildlife-free swim.

The two-lap swim is in the shape of a rectangle and does not require athletes to complete an “Aussie exit” in between laps, a real bummer considering what continent this race takes place on.

When asked by an audience member at the IRONMAN Pro Panel today what the pros’ tips are for first timers, three of the eight pros suggested that age groupers should pace themselves appropriately on the swim as the water, which is wetsuit legal at about 73 degrees Fahrenheit, can feel quite warm when wearing a wetsuit and it’s easy to tire yourself out in the temperate saltwater. Heed their warnings, amateurs!


Athletes make their way from T1 at Palm Cove north towards the quaint coastal town of Port Douglas via the Captain Cook Highway. This section of the bike has stunning views such as the Rex Lookout - but athletes will need to stay focused on the numerous rollers and sloping turns of this relatively narrow road.

Athletes will turn around near Port Douglas and rocket south to Cairns before repeating the entire stretch for a second time to total 112 miles.

The temperature noticeably heats up mid-morning in Cairns, and the dappled shade along the Captain Cook Highway will be a welcome treat as the day stretches on.


After contending with the deceptively tricky rollers of the Captain Cook Highway, the flat run on the famous Cairns Esplanade will be a welcome change as athletes embark on the 26.2-mile run to cap off their day.

The four-lap run takes place entirely on the Esplanade which ensures that there will be tons of spectators and supporters to cheer on the pros and amateurs alike. For those who travel with family members and little kids, it would be hard to find a more family-friendly run course anywhere in the world; the Cairns run course is one block from dozens of eateries, shops and most hotels.

If athletes are lucky, they’ll feel a slight cooling coastal breeze as they run along the Esplanade, and some sparse shade will be a welcome respite from the height of the heat and humidity in the afternoon.

Those who brave the entire 140.6-mile race will be called an IRONMAN at the finish line located at the south end of the Esplanade before midnight.

Pro Panel

Eight of the top male and female pros appeared on the IRONMAN Pro Panel today to discuss their motivation to race IM Cairns and what they hope to see shake out on race day (which, hint - they all want to win).

On the women’s side, returning IM Cairns champion and course-record holder Kylie Simpson (AUS), Dr. Hannah Berry (NZL), Lauren Brandon (USA), and Lotte Wilms (NLD) were present on on the men’s side, returning IM Cairns champion and course-record holder Braden Currie (NZL), Joe Skipper (GBR), Nick Thompson (AUS), and Ben Hamilton (NZL) made an appearance.

Notably, Sam Long (USA) has withdrawn from IM Cairns.

“It’s a pleasure to be back in Cairns - everybody knows it’s my favorite race on the IRONMAN Pro Series circuit,” Simpson said in the press conference. “This is my fifth year in a row racing IM Cairns and I’ve come away with two wins so far - this year, I’m looking for a third.”

Three-time IM Cairns champ and Kiwi Braden Currie noted he feels primed for a stellar day on Sunday.

“I feel pretty good, I’m injury free and training has been going exactly as I would like it to go, maybe even better,” Currie said. “So long as I am able to have a smooth day, I should be good.”

And by “should be good,” Currie was hinting at “take the win.”

On the women’s side, Berry, Brandon and Wilms will likely take the lead in the swim and early on in the bike, which Simpson responded to by saying she plans to get out of the swim and then be “heads down” to make up any deficit as quickly as possible.
All four men featured are notably strong cyclists, with Hamilton coming from a cycling background. Especially for the men, the win - and the podium - will come down to who can hack it on the run.

Both Hamilton and Thompson have already secured their Kona slots, while Skipper and Currie are still on the hunt. As Skipper noted in the press conference, athletes looking to stay at the top of the IRONMAN Pro Series rankings are running out of key races to do so, as the body can only perform so well at a handful of Iron-distance races each year. The pressure is certainly on for these pros.

“For quite a few of us pros racing IM Cairns, this race is make or break [for the IRONMAN Pro Series,” Skipper said. “You’ll need to be within about five or six minutes of the race winner on Sunday to get enough points to keep the dream alive.”

The top male and female finisher are each awarded 5,000 Pro Series points and each following pro finisher loses one point per second that they finish behind the winner - so as IRONMAN says, every second really does count.

Although Cairns veterans Currie and Simpson may be the favorites based on their past success, the door is wide open for a new champion to be crowned this year.

Berry and Wilms are in top form having recently raced IM Texas and according to them, learned a lot from their frustrating days in the Woodlands. Wilms was in contention for the win in the Lone Star State before falling back on the run - can she figure out how to nail the marathon Down Under?

Currie, Skipper, and Thompson all raced IM Texas as well and Currie joked that they all “contemplated retirement” that day as none came away with the placements they were hoping for. The hunger to come away victorious this weekend was palpable by all three during the panel. Will one of them cross the tape and avenge their rough day this past April?

The race kicks off at 7:30 a.m. AEST on Sunday, June 16 - which is 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 15 and will be livestreamed by IRONMAN.

Photos 1,2 credit: Korupt Vision, photos 3, 4, 5 credit: Kristin Jenny