My journey to Ironman Copenhagen started not long after Ironman Bolton and it wasn’t even my idea – Bryony suggested building on the pain I’d went through there to become even stronger but she wanted a family trip to a destination venue and this fitted the bill nicely. After Nottingham and Bolton, I couldn’t convince her that Tenby would quite cut it (despite the inspirational swim start !). Fortunately given the strange weather we’ve had in Europe I made a last minute change of race from Hamburg. I certainly had someone looking over me throughout this journey.
8 months of training ensued under the guidance of a coach, Karl Zeiner, concentrating on building bike strength but not losing the pride I’ve taken in banging in a couple of sub 4 hr marathons at the end of each of my previous 2 Ironman events. Training with power was key and I knocked of the sessions week after week and tried my hardest to do my daily metrics and feedback on each session. Karl’s encouragement was always a good boost. I also learnt to handle sea swimming with it being a pre-requisite for my B race at Edinburgh 70.3 where I had plenty of other useful learning for my A race ahead of me (fastest bike split but yet my slowest run tells you all you need to know !)
I also had a couple of hairy moments though, both involving ambulances whilst out on long bike rides, the first when one came right up behind me around Arthur’s Seat and accidentally put its klaxons on causing me to hit the kerb and go over the bars, thankfully only minor scrapes and the bike was ok. The second only 3 weeks out from race day had someone up above looking down on me as I careered off the A9 onto a verge smashing me helmet and ending up in Forth Valley A&E courtesy of an ambulance this time. This was in the middle of my last big training block and i was very sore but again bounced back quickly, much to mine and Karl’s relief.
So, a quick flight & off to Copenhagen on the Thursday evening, what a truly beautiful city and on Friday we managed some family time at Tivoli and in the centre before my registration duties ensued. I had organised my bike/bag transfer with a company Raceforce and they were brilliant and removed so much hassle pre and post race. No chance of EasyJet launching my bike around the place or my average mechanical skills causing me angst. They also sorted a mini-bus recce of the bike course that was great familiarisation.
On the Saturday the girls crammed an enormous amount of fun stuff in whilst I got a confidence boosting swim in at the venue, warm, not too salty but quite a few jellyfish were present, just not too big! It’s in a sea lagoon so really calm and able to practice pre-race swim assessment feedback from Karl’s of long reach and strong pull rather than the fast stroke rate I needed at Edinburgh.
Race day and something strange about walking around the streets to race start in another country, with our hotel only a short walk to T1. Stress free T1 set up and an omen of ‘Rise Up’ which my eldest daughter Callie listens to all the time playing as I do my swim warm up. It’s amazing how small things can positively trigger the neurons in your mind. Today is going to be a good day i felt. I swam relatively well (for me at least), with plenty of clear water in the main although my arms tired towards the end, my shoulder niggling slightly.
Out of the water, quickly stripped and found my bike easily (the pink Duct Tape a benefit here) onto the bike and I spotted the big Saltire, Lilybelle and Callie were holding, big shout, bigger smile and I’m off for a ride. Technical few miles through Copenhagen and then I saw a crash right in front of me – guy goes over his bars and then looks at his wrist in abject horror as it’s completely snapped and dangling off. I’m quite squeamish and that was not good. Added to my caution of following Karl’s instructions to take 1st lap easy and behave myself by not racing when I didn’t need to. Great road conditions but a WSW felt like a headwind the whole way round. No repeat of the stomach issues I encountered for 80 odd miles at Bolton with nutrition going well, keeping focussed and only one very short spell of darkness. 5 hrs in tt position and that crash coming back to bite me a little with some shoulder discomfort . Back into Copenhagen and the 100,000 supporters were out in force. Down a ramp into an underground car park for T2 and then you have to run back up the ramp. Ouch and at this point my Garmin went all funny…..
Run plan was to stay in Zone 2 but that was now out the window and reverting to run on feel. Hard to do this when you feel shit!!!! Despite following Karl’s plan of easy on the first of 4.5 laps I had fallen into the hurtlocker early on and needed to find a way of crawling out.
I ditched my running cap (thought my head was going to boil) and one of my hand held bottles early on but that was not good sensible decision making. I convinced myself I would come good as I was overtaking some people but worried my time was drifting but the first of my 4 coloured bands provided the ladder back to normal service. I was back racing but had no idea of time and laps 2 and 3 felt strong.
I then saw the girls and Bryony said I was doing amazing (she’s never quite that effusive) and thought maybe, just maybe I was still in with a chance. This had me very close to tears but remarkably I held it together and channeled it in a positive way. Heading for my last band and I needed to employ another one of Karl’s tools – the run/walk strategy – up the small inclines and then it’s about 6k to the finish but everything hurting but I’m still moving through the field, passing Nordic types who looked like Gods of Norse compared to my Scottish frame. Many of these boys walking with no obvious way back.
The last few miles had been fuelled almost entirely by Coke, salt tablets, wet sponges, water over my head and the crowds, 4 or 5 people deep as I knew the finish was close. I rounded the final corner and saw that Saltire waving for me, looked up and saw 10h 52m on the clock, took the flag and went absolutely ballistic and even heard them call out Paul You are an Ironman this time ! Lots of whooping and jumping around…..perhaps too much……
……….I struggle to eat straight away and something wasn’t feeling right after I got my hugs and congratulations from my girls. I was woozy and not in a good place. Over to the medic tent and seen by an excellent team quickly – low blood pressure followed by a sick bag meant I was wrapped in space blanket, made to lie down and covers over me to warm me up and stop the uncontrollable shaking of my legs. I was in there for the next hour force fed crisps and even more cola until my BP was well over 100 and I was free to be re-united.
So my reflections are that whilst it took me a couple of days to realise that in Bolton I was still the best I could be that day, at Copenhagen, with PBs across all 3 disciplines I had achieved all my triathlon ambitions and was possibly the best I will be. I am truly content which for someone as competitive as me is a wonderful place to be, at peace with myself whatever I do in the future.
Copenhagen truly went bonkers for Ironman as I think they do with many other sports. After the race at the airport I was even being congratulated by staff (can’t see that happening at Edinburgh eh !), strangers and even had a family wanting their picture taken with me (well probably my medal).
Can you tell that I loved this place. I’ll be back with or without my bike I’m sure.
What next in a sporting sense ? I don’t really know – perhaps that I now know that I’m not scared of Jellyfish I should give Celtman a call ;o) Immediately though, it’s my turn to support my girls more than I’ve managed recently. It will be really nice for them not to have to ask me ‘what DO i need to do this weekend or worry about me out on the roads !!!!
Til next time.