Cyclone Yasi earlier this year may have wrecked a few people’s ideas about sunny tropical Far North Queensland, but when MF’s Tim Spicer flew in to explore – and to meet competitors in the upcoming Challenge Cairns triathlon – he found an adventure-filled playground that blew him away.
Sprinting down Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, with a punctual sun winking on the horizon, five journalists race to keep up with triathlete Matt Herrmann, our personal trainer for this morning’s boot camp. Hurdling the ropes of stinger nets along the way, and alternately skipping sideways, he increases the pace until we near the end of the beach.
“If every person did this three times a week, there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic,” he says wisely. “People say they haven’t got time to exercise, but if you haven’t got a spare half-hour in your day, then you haven’t got time to eat.”
In preparation for the triathlon on June 5, he’s training 20 hours a week, spending five hours swimming and running, and 10 hours on his bike. Turning on the spot, we jog back along the shore, as small waves crash and hiss like this morning’s Alka-Seltzer. The run is just a warm-up and, off the beach, Matt gets us doing star jumps, burpees and skipping (a minute of each) on damp, recently cut grass – which covers us from head to toe.
The gardener and his wife look on, laughing as we struggle through an arresting combination of push-ups and sit-ups. This is all a walk in the park for Matt, 25, currently in training for Challenge Cairns, the second-biggest multisport event in the world, after the Ironman World Championship.
In preparation for the triathlon on June 5, he’s training 20 hours a week, spending five hours swimming and running, and 10 hours on his bike. After training us, Matt tells me he’ll be going for a 20km run and that he’s already been for a ride this morning. But how does he handle such extensive training?
“There are times when training is so painful, you just want to give up, but knowing that so many other people have gone through the same – and worse – you keep going and pushing harder. Over the past four months, I’ve realised I can push myself a lot further than I ever thought possible.”
Wish I could say the same. Sucking in big breaths and drenched in sweat, I drop to the ground to do 10 on-the-spot “sprinters” (on-the-spot sprinting in push-up position) in a head-to-head contest with David from Australian Doctor magazine. “Come on – faster!” shouts Matt, as we race down an agility ladder on hands and toes, then go straight into 20 sprinters, with feet slipping madly on the wet grass.
My core is in agony, but I sprint to a cone and back, race back down the agility ladder and cap it all off with 30 more painful sprinters.
“Well done, guys,” says Matt. “You did great.” And we did, but I know this is going to hurt tomorrow. What I don’t know, is that every time I sneeze for
the next week, I’ll cry out in pain. Racking up that many push-ups and crunches (115 of each) in such a short time was an absolute killer. But right now, I feel fantastic and, catching my breath, I glug back some water and sit down in a haze of endorphins.
A BUMPY RIDE
After demolishing a steak for lunch, it’s time to stoke my burning muscles with an afternoon of mountain biking. We’re tackling the Bump Track, a mostly downhill trail once used by miners for transporting gold by horse and carriage between Port Douglas and Cairns.
The old road is 6km long, heavily eroded and very steep in places – making it perfect for mountain biking – and earning it a reputation as one of the 10 best rides in Australia. It also hosts the annual Triple R endurance mountain bike race (40km or 70km), coming up on May 29, the longest-running point-to-point race in the country.
The trail is shrouded in forest and the place is teeming with mosquitoes. Barney, our guide from Back Country Bliss adventure company (backcountry blissadventures.com.au), warns they aren’t the only thing to worry about: venomous snakes, bad-tempered cassowaries and “Stinging Trees”
(the world’s most painful plant, whose heart-shaped leaves are covered in tiny silicon hairs that carry a neurotoxin and deliver a sting that feels like a cross between being electrocuted and giving birth and can last for up to six months) are all very real dangers here.
Pedalling on, I splash through a puddle and narrowly avoid hanging “Wait-A-While” vines, which are barbed and have a tendency to slice open unsleeved arms.
Blitzing downhill with a rooster tail of mud caking my back, I keep pace with Susan Crow, another athlete competing in Challenge Cairns. She’s explosive on the pedals and makes some gutsy calls, bunny-hopping branches and flying over fast, technical sections. Her experience as an adventure racer is evident. Mine however, is not, and if I lose focus at this speed, I’ll be picking my teeth out of puddles.
At the bottom of a steep decline, there’s a river to cross, so, jacking the bikes onto our shoulders, we wade to the other side and set the bikes down before attempting the next section. It makes me want to do an adventure race. Really badly. But speaking to Susan about the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge – a punishing 400km desert race combining trail running, sea kayaking, rope work, mountain biking, desert orienteering and adventure running that saw her feet blister into a raw, bloody mess – dims my enthusiasm rather.
Pedalling on, I splash through a puddle and narrowly avoid hanging “Wait-A-While” vines, which are barbed and have a tendency to slice open unsleeved arms. We stop to suck on our CamelBaks, as the Mowbray Falls dump heavily across the valley from us. Fantastic. Now, it’s time for the final descent … taking a corner at pace, we fly into a steep section, where I squeeze smoothly on the brakes to prevent skidding. This is fast, technical – blink and you’ll hit it – terrain. And I love it.
Waking up late the following morning at 8.32, bleary-eyed, exhausted and dustier than Miss Springfield, I gulp a coffee and run to hotel reception, where the van that’s taking me to the airport is waiting. It’s the end of a long and exciting weekend, which has included tubing on the Mulgrave River, zip-lining (flying fox) in Cape Tribulation (Daintree National Park), sea-kayaking off Port Douglas and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. Proving that, post-cyclone, this beautiful region is, once again, well and truly open for business.