AN IRONMAN JOURNEY TO COPENHAGEN
I guess this all started four years ago in 2019 when my wife Lin, entered Banbury Triathlon and I thought why not give this triathlon malarkey a go.
I had knee surgery a few years before and at the time my consultant suggested that I shouldn’t run any more than 5km and definitely no marathons, so I thought a Super Sprint might be achievable. My swimming was abysmal, I couldn’t swim more than 25 metres without having to stop, I’d be so out of breath, I soon learnt to slow down and stop kicking like a man possessed.
After a few months of working on my swimming stroke in the slow lane at Spiceball, reading books, magazines and watching YouTube, I decided to enter Cotswold Super Sprint in September 2019, 400 metre swim, 20km cycle and a 2.5 km run. I absolutely loved it and was going to book several more similar events in 2020… And then Covid struck.
I the meantime, I hesitantly joined Team Cherwell and started to train with these titans of triathlon with their superhuman feats, after all they were Ironmen & women, ridiculous, how scary and intimidating…
With each session the imposter syndrome gradually lessened ever so slightly and I began to understand that these once feared gladiators are the most friendly and charitable people. Always generous with their time and willing to share their vast pool of knowledge and experience.
Once the pandemic allowed, I made the usual progression from Super Sprint, Sprint, Olympic, including lake and sea swims, time to step up to the unthinkable and do a half distance, which I completed in the September of 2022 and absolutely adored it, apart from the cramps with 10km to go.
Last year, I lost a dear friend of the same age as me and this was the trigger to push me on, as so many people aren’t able to do what we do, and I should consider it as a privilege. We’re only here once so keep pushing, or as Woody from Toy Story said, reach for the sky or something like that.
After a few rounds of tapping up Stu at track, we finally decided on IM Copenhagen, here we go…
Time to get a coach and a training plan, can’t wing it anymore, step in Rich Hughes of Peak Performance, I just wanted the hoodie to be honest.
We had a chat about goals, training time, etc and for the next 8 months Rich sent me weekly training plans through Training Peaks, which to be fair I stuck to. It didn’t start off too well though, as my back went a few weeks into the plan and wasn’t able to train for several weeks. I suffer with lower back pain and do a pretty good job of managing it day to day, though don’t always get it right, two rounds of steroid injections are testament to that.
After this little setback, the training pattern was set, work, exercise, work, exercise, sleep, repeat… Monday became my favourite day of the week, recovery day.
Rich suggested completing in a half distance several weeks out but didn’t let me taper, he’s very mean. This was a much-needed learning curve and put me in good stead for the proper test of IM Copenhagen.
We headed to Birmingham airport on the Thursday before the big day, planning on being at the apartment in Copenhagen by around 2pm. Just before boarding there was an announcement that smoke had been detected in the flight deck, flight cancelled, panic.
The next few hours saw us being put on seven different flights, including Paris & Munich, we were eventually coached to Heathrow where we missed yet another flight but ultimately arrived safely that evening 9 hours later than planned, fair to say that Stu had aged considerably during this time. His antics had kept many fellow passengers and competitors amused, with quite a few chipping in with the banter. We would see many of these around the course on Race Day, the camaraderie was easy.
We registered on the Friday and got the required amount of merchandise, although Stu was like a little boy in a sweet shop. Nick was about as laid back as you could get.
Sue was flying my bike over, as I was let down with my Plan A which was going to be with Nirvana the IM logistics partner, and by the time they’d changed their mind regarding supporting IM Copenhagen all the bike slots on my flight were full. The same day as our flight chaos, Sue was informed her flight had been cancelled too, Stu was straight onto social media trying to source a bike if all else fails. Fortunately, she was able to get on the next one and got to us about 10pm on the Friday and of course I had to get it built before I could sleep.
The next morning, Stu and I went out for a quick 30 minute ride to make sure nothing fell off, it turns out I didn’t quite tighten the seat post enough, first bump, seat dropped, I’d already removed the tape that marked the height, was that the right height? Everything seemed OK so we took our bikes on the Metro and racked them in T1. T1 was about 7km from T2.
Next day, Race Day
Didn’t sleep, which is standard. Normal breakfast, coffee, peanut butter and toast, banana whilst supping on Tailwind & Precision Hydration.
Prior to the sun start, my support crew, Lin, T, Rob and Sue unravelled a good luck banner with Fozzie bear as a mascot, what a great start to the day.
Turns out Fozzie saw more of Copenhagen than I did.
I was starting in a separate wave from Nick & Stu because I’m not a fish. My planned swim time was somewhere around 1:20 so I decided to self seed in the 1:13 – 1:17 group. This would hopefully allow me to take advantage of some drafting. I used the few minutes prior to being placed in the pre swing pen to take in the atmosphere and understand that the hard work had been completed and now to enjoy my day. I’ve never been so calm.
The plan for the day was to go steady and see what happens, 65% effort throughout was the aim. First target was to finish, under 14 hours I’d be happy with and anything close to 13 a bonus.
The swim was a delight, mill pond still, atmosphere buzzing. It is one loop in a shallow secluded harbour, where you swim under two low bridges twice, and are full of excited spectators. I managed to draft a little here and there, and thought I was around the 1:25 mark as I exited the water, my swim was 1:14, this gave me a real buzz… Off into T1 to find my bag.
Transition one was a very chilled affair, what’s the rush I have all day. Grab the bike and off we go. I quickly saw my team shouting encouragement and clanging their cow bells; I was loving it. I would see them next about 40km into the bike leg, where they caught a train to the famous cheer spot of Geels Bakke, a long straight piece of road with a gentle incline, cheered on from both sides of the road.
The first 10km or so takes you through Copenhagen and is quite technical, especially as the roads were a little damp. I had to reign it in a little bit as I carried too much speed into several corners, forcing me to undertake, who knew you should pass on the left, my bad. Once out of the big C, we hit rolling hills and stunning countryside, I made sure I gave encouragement where I could, giving me good karma for the rest of the day.
Everyone has their name & country on their bib, so it is easy to make it personal, makes such a difference. I stuck to the plan and stopped to refuel and have a comfort break at around 66km & 135km. There were aid stations roughly every 35km on the bike leg and the route was continuously well supported, with shouts of c’mon Chris from so many quarters and accents.
It was obvious from the outset that this was going to be a day of attrition, there were an unbelievable amount of punctures and technical failures throughout the 180km, it was like a bicycle apocalypse, you start to worry about the what ifs, but ultimately all I could do was control the controllables, deal with it if it happens.
It was easy to be distracted from the carnage because the bike course was truly stunning and made the time fly by. I did manage to get warned a couple of times that I may have got a little too close to a fellow competitor, I wasn’t drafting just being friendly Mr Race Official, honest.
With about 40km to go both knees became quite sore and those dark thoughts started to rise, did I set the seat to the correct height, is it going to get worse, will I be able to run, will I finish the bike leg, no matter what I’m finishing this, pull your big boy pants up and get on with it. Keep smiling and enjoy your day, something will always be hurting at some point.
Coming into T2 a helper takes your bike and disappears with it, grab my bag, get changed and off I go. Four laps round the beautiful city of Copenhagen, cheering and supportive crowds lined the streets, the atmosphere was all Ironman. My family and friends (and new ones) gave it their all each time I saw them, including Fozzie.
The first two laps were steady and fuelled by adrenaline, the last two were out of sheer determination and stubbornness. Keep smiling and pushing, walk the aid stations, tell your quads that it doesn’t really hurt.
Also, double check that it is actually water and not cola before pouring it over your head.
I’d pictured myself crossing that finish line so many times over the last few months and this time I was actually doing it, I grabbed the first timer bell before running down the famous red carpet and hearing those sacred words, you are an Ironman, I had completed my first Ironman. I only went and done it and absolutely smashed my targets, finishing in 12:09.
Trust the process and the time will take care of itself, I seriously thought they’d made a timing error for the next few days. Even after a couple of weeks my accomplishment still seems a little surreal.
That was also my first marathon, the most I’d run up to that point was 30km in training this year, it was my longest ever cycle, so a few firsts for me.
I must add that we were so fortunate with the weather, not windy, cool and overcast with the right amount of sunshine for the run.
My nutrition for the whole event was water, Tailwind, Veloforte bars (bike only) and Precision Hydration tablets and capsules, no gels were used in this production of making of an Ironman.
We all had such a fabulous time in Denmark with the Youngs and the Donkins, we were so lucky to share such a wonderful experience with such a lovely bunch of people, even Stu!
An Ironman was forged in Denmark and I left Copenhagen a more contented human being. I don’t need a tattoo, I’ve got the T shirt, two actually.