The thought of doing an Ironman doesn’t enter the world of most sane people. For me, it’s a test of endurance that has me gripped and challenges every inch of me every time I attempt it.
So just to challenge myself once more, in fact for the 15th time, I settled on Ironman Copenhagen. Billed as a fast course, the race had been taken over by WTC the previous year in the ongoing cat and mouse dick waving contest between the IRONMAN and Challenge brands. (For those that aren’t aware, these guys are the 2 biggest organisers in ironman racing and keep taking over each other’s races – it can get a little confusing to enter and find it rebranded before you take part the next yea.r)
All this did for the majority of entrants was squeeze the entry window to around 6 hours instead of 6 weeks. So for this event I had to be ready to enter on the day with no time for hesitating so I wouldn’t miss out.
Fast forward 12 months or thereabouts and I am sipping a cold one and eating chocolate trying to remember the haze of race day. I posted previously here about my expectations and I will talk about that a little later.
My build up to the race had been slammed a little in June due to me damaging my ribs which prevented a few weeks of decent training, but the last 8 weeks or so were fine with no major issues. My main concern was the run; I had only managed a few long runs and overall it was going to be the weakest discipline. Not really what you need to bring home the bacon but I concentrated on getting the bike stronger and was going to go with it anyway.
Copenhagen is expensive, we knew this, so our choice of hotel was limited to the Crown Plaza around 6 miles south of the city. This did lead to a few issues with the kids just because of late night logistics etc but for the race, this was a well-located hotel. There is no race breakfast so you need to sort your own but access to the race venues are easy.
The race has a split transition. The swim over at Amager Strand is a purpose built protective sand bank on the east coast of the city, T2 is in the middle of town. All bags are dropped at T1 for the race and you don’t have to worry about them from that point. All is taken care of for you and is pretty slick.
My aims for the race were pretty straight forward, I am in a race team of speedy individuals and over the last year everyone has posted race results to be proud of. On my radar though were both Gary’s and Adam’s 9.28 and 9.31 respectively at fast courses and, simply put, I wanted to beat them. Just because I fell short of this goal doesn’t change my initial targets and I won’t hide behind it. I also had a PB of 9:42 to fall back to from 2008 at Roth. I know I am 6 years older and maybe a little slower, but certainly wiser.
So target splits, 1:00 swim, 5:00 bike, 3:20 run. Add transitions and I should get under 9:30
The weather in Copenhagen hadn’t been great since we arrived – in fact sub optimal so I was resigned to a cold, wet and windy day. Bit like being at home really but there was a reprieve at least when I got up on race day. Clear skies (for now) and only a slight breeze. With the wind picking up later in the previous days I was glad to just have calm water for the swim and take it as it comes on the bike.
A key difference to this race from most IRONMAN’s is that the swim is a wave start. The bridges are too narrow to let 3000 people loose at the same time. My wave was about 520 strong and I thought would be pretty plain sailing. It’s also a beach start so all sorts can go wrong in the first 30 seconds.
The swim is a one lapper with multiple bridges to swim under, which have the swim distances hanging from them on big banners. This was nice to start with but got increasingly annoying as they weren’t going up fast enough! The usual bish-bash at the start wasn’t helped by a buoy turn after 200m so I decided to go wide, but unfortunately everyone out wide decided to cut in; why, oh why, don’t people learn?! Carnage ensued and a few people got a little lairy with hard swimming strokes being deployed. I got clear and swam out wide again. The down side to swimming on your own and having only one speed is it makes it very unlikely you can get on someone’s feet when they come past, or catch someone up if you see a swimmer in front, so out in no man’s land isn’t good for me if I want a draft. I had to get back into the melee. Once I got positioned I just settled in for the ride. It got a little messy later on in the swim as we caught the back markers from the previous wave. I tried not to upset anyone by swimming over them. Eventually the exit was in sight and I started to kick a little to freshen the legs.
Time 1:00:40 – job done
Bloody hell, this was huge. I came out and grabbed my bag, then tried to find somewhere to sit. Nightmare. I almost got to the end of the tent before I found a spot. Pulled off wetsuit and packed into my bag, then put on arm warmers on my wrists and helmet and glasses and off.
The run to the bike and then out of T1 went on forever, I looked at my watch as I left and it said 1:09, I almost had a cardiac right there, 9 f__king minutes !!! It turns out my watch had messed up and I was a lot less in transition but this played on my mind for pretty much the rest of my race. Wasting 9 minutes in transition pretty much destroys a sub 9.30 when you don’t have that time to play with. Lesson probably not learned.
The bike leg was expected to be fast. I had set a time of 5 hours but I was cycling to power, my Garmin Vectors had been successfully reattached with no issues this time after the flight (I had already snapped one set the day I got them) and I was hoping to fly like the wind. As it happened the wind was there; it started to build from pre-swim and was at our backs for the start of the bike leg.
The initial 5-8 miles getting through the city is a pain in the rear, lots of turns, no real chance to get into a rhythm and the roads were too narrow in places to pass safely. I used this time to settle the HR and make sure I had everything I needed. Not sure what I would have done if I had left anything behind, but at least I was calm.
My power wasn’t bad, I was aiming at 220w and as we had the wind behind I was finding it easier to maintain a steady pace in the first section. The course is a lollipop shape, up the stick and then twice round the loop. Each loop means you have wind with you for around half and wind against for the other half, however the second half is slightly more protected. I had put arm warmers on for the ride as it was a tad chilly on the way out of T1 and I think this is one of the reasons I ended up peeing so much – not the arm warmers, the cold. I was taking in too much liquid and not sweating as much as normal, hence at least 3 pees off the bike… or as it turned out, all over the bike and the bottles I was carrying. I know, too much info. Made for interesting refuelling (and you guys think we do this for fun!!)
The first 90k was negotiated in around 2.29 which I wasn’t overly happy with as I knew I would potentially slow up but if I kept the constant power going and ignored the HR for anything outside of significant I should be close.
Nutrition-wise I was getting through a gel every 30 mins and alternating the drinking between energy drink and water (and pee probably). I was using a bottle filled with gels and had marked them to make sure I didn’t get through too many too fast.
The course definitely isn’t flat – one downside of not driving it is taking others opinions and yes, it’s fast, but that doesn’t make it flat. There are a number of rises, nothing too sharp or long but enough to slow the pace. There is a great section on the return leg I think called Geels Bakke was well supported and was a little reminiscent of Heartbreak Hill support at other races. Well worth the trip as a supporter if you can get out there.
The second lap passed without too much incident other than having to stop this time for a pee as I obviously wasn’t very good at doing it on the bike. In the last 60k it also started to rain. Not hard, but the cobbles on the second lap were definitely more interesting and the sharp left turn under the flyover saw a competitor hit the deck in front of me as he wasn’t quite the bike handler he thought he was and bunny hopping off a 4 inch kerb onto slippery roads doesn’t work on a TT bike. Ouch.
The return into town was also uneventful and it felt good to be finishing. I was a little down on power at around 214-215w for the ride but was going to be very close to the 5 hours mark. Taking into account the pee stop and the slowing down to pee off the bike, I would take that.
Dick of the day moment for me was not knowing the course – I undid my shoes on the bike expecting the transition to appear and ended up cycling around 2.5 miles with my feet on top of my shoes!
Time 5:03:45 – OK in the grand scheme of things
By the time I got into T2 I had sunk a full 750mL bottle of gels and all I wanted was a decent plate of food and a beer. I was however 8 gels and 26.2 miles short of that goal so I had to get on with it. On with the trainers, hat and glasses and grabbing the 4 gels I had to start with. Easier transition but I feel the sit down was enjoyed just a little too much as I really didn’t want to get back up. Could have been faster.
I didn’t feel good off the bat. I can normally start at a pretty good pace just keeping the cadence from the bike going but the weather was still a little chilly, I was smarting from the 9 mins in T1, I needed another pee and just to keep the moaning going, my back was aching now as well.
I also discovered that my watch hadn’t been working since I got out of the swim and for some reason I was now 24,000 miles away from where I started. Well that’s the furthest I have travelled in 5 hours but I don’t think Norris McWhirter will be signing off on that land speed record !
I restarted the watch and moved to pace; OK, I was back on. I needed a pee, first aid station, no point in waiting. I felt immediately better and this was also where the family were, not in the toilet but just past the aid station and it was good to see them. They were right at the south end of the loop so I saw them pretty much straight away on the return.
The loop guides you through the main streets of the city of Copenhagen, the top end out near the statue of the mermaid and the southern end near the Christiansburg Castle. This is also where you finished. Spectacular, but I didn’t really get a chance to appreciate it much. 4 x 10.5km loops of the course and pass the finish a number of times before being allowed down the chute.
My plan was to take a gel every 3 miles and then alternate coke and water. I would also try to power walk through the aid stations if I needed to walk and take on a gel. This sort of worked but my pace was subject to how long I took in the aid station so I had to make sure I didn’t dawdle.
The first lap was the easiest, it was all new and I was reasonably fresh. Then it just became a slog. I still had the 9 minutes going round my head and I had resorted to checking the time of day to work out how long I had to finish before each target had expired. This is not only counterproductive but bloody pointless as I couldn’t see my watch as my eyes couldn’t focus.
Loop 2 completes the half marathon and at this point I have lost all thought of a pb and I am now focusing on sub 10 hours. I checked the time of day again, it was hard to see but I was sure I could get under 10 and wasn’t really sure about the rest. The course is also mapped out with km markers everywhere, this made the time go by trying to work out how many miles I had left, not content with working out how many I had done, just what was left, this was doing the job. Having km markers also means they are being knocked off quickly, there are just more of them.
Somewhere between 15 and 18 miles I had to stop to go to the loo again, this time in a stand up urinal in the middle of the street, standing ……… waiting …….. nothing …… camera shy obviously. Zip it up and carry on, phantom wee out of the way and welcome 45 secs stood around. I was trying to keep the pace and the 8 minute miles were creeping away, mainly due to the aid stations, they were like little oases of loveliness, calling me in like the Sirens of Greek mythology. I had to really try hard to resist.
I started to move quicker, 1 lap to go and I knew I could manage 6 miles at a better pace than I had just done the previous lap. I was passing a lot of people on various laps and my demeanour was being buoyed just looking at how many bands others had. I wanted to stop feeling like a moaning git as there were plenty of people who had no bands and I had 3. I saw Kelly and said I was finishing and see her at the end.
Reaching the turnaround and getting the last band was like a shot of adrenalin, I almost filled up there and then. I was nearly home, I still couldn’t bloody work out how many miles I had left, it was still in km but I knew it was less than 3 and this was now a race. I didn’t bother with any of the aid stations on the way back. Head down and stomping, I passed loads and was passed by no one in that last 3 miles. Turning into the last main drag was a relief; another one under my belt. I was happy, right up until I saw the time on the overhead clock, 1 minute outside my pb. Mixed emotion hit me, I was happy to stop but all I could think about was the lost minutes. I let the feeling subside as the pain came over my legs. The gels all wanted to get out at the same time and I had to work to keep them down.
Overall time 9:43:33
I think I retired a number of times during the race. The pain comes flooding back and however you deal with it shows towards the end. This one hurt a little more than previously in the run but I think because the time was important for me. I should just let the day be as it will be. As has been pointed out a few times since I finished, the time is a worthy time and one to be proud of. I have a full time job and a family to spend time with, all of which means if I want to get faster other things may suffer. This isn’t possible so I will have to focus on other ways to improve for the next one. Did I just say next one? Well retirement during an ironman isn’t real, it’s just a way to deal with the pain. I have, since we got back, got rid of my golf clubs and started looking for next year, all with the support of my wonderful family as they are key in what I do and I couldn’t have done it without them (next time a beach has to be involved though and with a little less rain). And thanks to all the support on and off the course, it was a great feeling to know people were supporting and one of the key factors in zipping up the man suit and getting it done.