IRONMAN Copenhagen

IRONMAN Copenhahen is a full-distance (3.8/180/42.2) triathlon that takes place in Denmark. You swim in Amager bay, cycle through Zealand and run around the waterfront of the city centre. I registered for this race back in 2019 as a way to challenge myself to race in another country. After an additional two years of COVID delays, it was finally here.

Registration and racking

IRONMAN events are an entire weekend in themselves. On Friday, we headed down to Amager Strandpark to register. They have six waves based on swim times and you get to pick which wave you want to be in at registration. I went for wave 5 (1:18-1:24) despite planning to swim a 1:40, as I wanted to avoid weak swimmers who constantly stop, switch to breaststroke and generally get in the way. They had an incorrect date of birth for me, which also happened in Weymouth, but that was soon fixed.

We headed back down to the park on Saturday. This time, I cycled down. The cycling infrastructure is great in Copenhagen so the only challenge was navigating there. Luckily, I found a pack of other athletes heading in the same direction and followed them. Getting to the park and back so many times was a pain as it was about 6km from the finish line where we were staying. Bike check-in consisted of racking our bike and swim-to-bike bags, and dropping off our bike-to-run bags that would then be transported to the city centre.

Race day morning

It was a beautiful morning as the sun rose over Amager. I had pre-booked a taxi to get me to the start line and luckily it arrived right on time. Pre-race was pretty chilled as the only things I needed to do was set up my bike computer, place my nutrition on my bike and add a few bits to my bike bag. That allowed plenty of time to get through the 20-minute toilet queue.

The commentators proudly and repeadly told us that it is the only IRONMAN event that takes place in a capital city. I’m not familiar with all of the IRONMAN events but I’m pretty sure Tallinn is the capital of Estonia.

I did not want to carry bottles of Lucozade across borders so I took some gels and bars and decided to buy the rest in Copenhagen. I managed to find some Powerade and Lay’s crisps which did the trick. Alongside that I had bags of Haribo, Rawvelo brownies, the last OTE Duo I had been saving for this and a mixture of Torq and Moutnain Fuel gels.

There was a swim warm-up area next to the start where we could get in and do some strokes before setting off. It was shallow and warm. The official water temperature was 20.3 degrees, which is a couple of degrees warmer than usual and almost too warm for swimming in a wetsuit.

The swim

After all the waiting, finally it was show time. Pre-race, I was worried they wouldn’t get us in to the water on time and therefore we would have reduced cut-offs (roads gradually start re-opening at 14:00 regardless of what time you start). However, they were ahead of schedule and my 7:40 wave was all in the water on time.

It was a hard start to the swim. The first buoy was all about people finding their lanes. But as we came up to the first bridge marking the 600m I felt panicked. It felt like I had been swimming for ages (it was probably 15 minutes in) and that I hadn’t even made a dent in the distance. I thought about swimming to the shore and getting out. Then I got myself into self-coaching mode and decided to do some easy breaststroke to bring my heart rate down. After all that, I was the annoying athlete who switched to breaststroke! But at least I was out of the way by this point ­čśé.

From then on it got easier. As we headed up the bay towards the inlet it got weedy and shallow. At the final turn buoy most people got up and walked. At first I was determined to swim the whole thing. Then I thought self-compassion might be a better skill to develop. In the end, the practicalities of trying to swim when everyone else was walking was too much and I decided to get up and walk for a bit too.

One of the things I loved about racing in Europe was that all the signage was in metric. They had distance markers on each bridge, road signs every 10k on the bike course and kilometre markers on the run course, all without the hassle of having to convert it from imperial to standard measurements.

Transition 1

I was very pleased to be done with the swim. T1 went fine. I was in and out in under 12 minutes. That’s a long time for most athletes but over six minutes faster than I went through T1 at Outlaw. There was no messing about: change, sun cream, eat my crisps, have a wee and then the long run to get my bike and get on the road.

If you’re wondering “why not wee during the swim and save time?” I did. In fact, I spent most the final third of the swim urinating the entire time. Most of the Baltic passed through my bladder.

The bike

The first kilometre passed quickly. If only it all felt that easy. We went out through the city centre, industrial parts of the city and then onto the coastline. It was gorgcious. Riding through the city was lovely but then the coastline was beautiful beaches all of the way up. Afer that, we headed inland where the terrain was a little more rolling but took us through some lovely forests that provided shade. In total there was about 1,000 metres of elevation gain so fractionally hillier than Outlaw but still very much a flat course with no real climbs.

Towards the end of the loop you reach Geels Bakke, the course’s equivalent of Solar Hill at Challenge Roth. It is barely a hill but there were plenty of spectators cheering on the first loop, including one woman who came and ran alongside screaming, and music playing at the top. After this point there is the third aid station and then you either go on to your second lap or head back to the city.

Unfortunately, just after I had gone through this I opened my gel flask to take a second gel and then hit a pot hole. Gel went all over my hand and handlebars. It’s so sticky. I tried to wipe it off with a tissue but the tissue just stuck to it and made the problem worse. The only thing I had on my bike was two bottles of Powerade so, in the end, I resorted to washing it off with the sports drink and accepting that everything was going to be sticky until the next aid station which was a long way away.

When I finally got there, I grabbed a bottle of water and hosed down my arm, handlebars, aero bars and back pocket. The whole bike course was quiet: it’s IRONMAN so the roads are closed and there weren’t many other athletes. By lap two, the aid stations were quitening down as well. Geels Bakke only had a few spectators left. I went a bit off-script on the second lap and had a banana. I don’t like bananas but after eight hours of hard cardio your taste buds don’t care so much.

Transition 2

The final 10k was hard. I kept switching from “I’m nearly there, I can hold the aero position for 20 minutes” to “I can’t be on a bike for a second longer” and constantly riding out-ot-the-saddle to stretch my bag. At T2, volunteers were there to collect and rack our bikes at the dismount line.

This made for a pretty short transition but I wasn’t in the mood to go flying through, so I changed, put some more sun cream on, ate my crisps and carefully re-racked my transition bag before talking a leasuirly walk to the run exit.

The run

The run consisted of 4 x 10.5k loops that went south past the finish line, then turned up north and went along the docks before heading back to the T2/finish line area. You collected a different colour wristband on each lap so that by the end you had a rainbow to prove you had done the required distance.

The aid stations were poorly organised. On lap one, one of them temporarily ran out of cups. As the laps went on, this became terminal. Each aid station was a pot luck of what they had left. Some had Gatorade, some had Red Bull, some had water. The lack of cups meant they started using the hosepipes that had been cooling sprays to spray water directly into people’s mouths. With no cups left, they just started pulling 330ml cans on Red Bull on the table and I ended up running the second half the marathon with a can in my hand.

It’s not uncommon for this to happen at races. But also makes me sad because if you want to be as inclusive as possible, you want your final athlete to get the same experience as your fastest. I think, if there was ever a next time. I would take a run special needs bag and place some caffeinated energy bidons in there just in case. I did this at Dalesman and it worked well.

The first lap felt good and Elina and Venla came to cheer me on. The second lap I felt empty. I had to start walking bits because I was so tired. I try to make it to the half way point before I start caffeinating and almost made it: I was at the last of the six aid stations when I switched to Red Bull. This perked me up for laps three and four. I was surprised at how much of a difference it made. Unfortunately, as discussed, they were out of coke and low on Red Bull by this point, so can-in-hand it was.

The support on the run course was good. People were cheering and some were reading everyone’s athlete bibs and calling us out by name. There was music along the course and I had a singalong to Never Going To Give You Up and Blinding Lights. There was even a Rammstein corner out by the docks.

The finish

I stopped at a porta potty with one kilometre to go so that I could freshen up and do my hair for the finish photo. Whenever I thought about finishing earlier in the day, I had to hold back tears because of what this race meant to me. I had been waiting 1,049 days to see if I could fly to a place I had never been before, manage all of the logistics of long-format triathlon and complete the race. But when I got to the finish line, it all happened so fast.

I heard the commentator talk about how excited I looked, but it was all such a blur that I didn’t even here him saying “you are an Ironman!” I should have walked it in like I did at Outlaw X. But no matter how slowly you try to take it, the end is always overwhelming and you cannot take it all in.

On the flip side, I did make it under the 13-hour mark. By 27 seconds. I barely looked at my watch all day as I was here to “enjoy it” so I had no idea what time I was on. So, it was a nice surprise when I found that out. Not quite as fast as Outlaw but faster than everything else.

12:59:33

Foolishly, many athletes went faster than I did and finished in broad daylight, which is horrible for photos. On the other hand, I and my fellow athletes who waited until 9pm to finish received the beautiful light of the magic hour.

The splits were:

Disipline Copenhagen Outlaw Dalesman
Swim 1:35:14 1:37:20 1:33:40
T1 11:45 18:05 18:51
Bike 6:38:29 6:31:33 7:24:42
T2 11:18 17:00 9:42
Run 4:22:48 4:06:07 4:31:26

I am pleased with all of that. My swim time was comparative with last year. My transition times were to plan. My run was never going to match Outlaw, which was an all-out PB attempt, and even taking it easy (whatever that means twelve hours into a race) I was able to run faster than Dalesman.

After the race, we received a finishers t-shirt, massage and plant-based burger that was all included in the entry fee. When toy finish a full distance you’re exhausted and night is on the way, so I pulled on my leggings, base layer, HPH hoodie and the bobble hat I won at Llanberis to stay warm. In the changing tent I heard someone say “I wasn’t expecting the bike course to be so hilly.” God help that guy if he ever visits Yorkshire. My night’s sleep wasn’t too bad given the caffeine and soreness but my aging body was limping around Copenhagen for the next two days.

Conclusion

This race was not just a race to me. When I first started triathlon in 2018, I did so more to grow as a person than for any sporting reasons. I wanted to prove to myself that I was stronger than I thought I was. Now I am sitting writing in an apartment in Copenhagen, itself a miracle on the background of how much I hate travelling, as a six-times IRONMAN triathlete.

It’s easy to start telling ourselves, “I’ve done it before, it’s no so hard”. But it is that hard. We’re just stronger than our self-doubt tells us. I like full distance racing because it is so hard and so long. You can’t just grit your teeth and push through for a little bit: you have to sit with the pain for hour after hour after hour. You have to make friends with it and get comfortable with it. And that is a skill that often neglect in life.

I don’t know if this is the end of the journey. But it probably is the end of a chapter. I’ve now done 52 triathlons, six of which were full distance, and achieved everything I set out to achieve. And I’m excited about the next chapter of my life which is going to have more of a dessert cookbook theme.

Timeline

Newsletter

Don't have time to check my blog? Get a weekly email with all the new posts. This is my personal blog, so obviously it is 100% spam free.

Metadata

Tags: , ,

This entry was posted on Friday, August 26th, 2022 at 11:00 am and is filed under Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.