“That’s it never again” .. After Barcelona 2015 I had enough of long distance racing and the relentless training that is required to prepare for the distance. It was time for a new challenge, a challenge that didn’t involve any cycling to Castlebellingham. The plan was to focus on Marathons with a goal to complete the six majors in Boston, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin & Tokyo. It was and still is on my bucket list to complete these.
So how did I end up on the start line for IM Copenhagen 2017? Well it started back in September 2016 the day before the Berlin Marathon, it was a glorious sunny day and my support crew for the race Club Chariman Mick Purtill & my wife Jackie were enjoying the hospitality of a beer garden in the centre of Berlin. I decided to leave them at it and I went for a leg stretcher to pick up some sun cream as the weather for the marathon was forecasted to be hot & sunny which isn’t great for a pasty ginger lad.
There was already a good contingent booked in for Copenhagen 2017 including my race buddies from Barcelona & Roth and some friends who would be popping their cherries at the Ironman distance in Copenhagen. Even though it had all the ingredients for being a great event with great company, I wasn’t succumbing to the relentless peer pressure to join the party. However In the space of twenty minutes while I was gone, Mick had managed to convince my rather merry wife what a good idea and great weekend (for her!) it would be for me to do IM Copenhagen 2017. Never one to go against the wishes of my better half or maybe just a chronic case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) I was in.
The great thing about doing a race with a group from the club is that you don’t have to bother with working out the logistics for the trip. With both Mick & Nigel Roy(Nidge) in the travelling party you can be sure that everything has been researched to the “Nth degree” and whatever they decide, is not only the best value but also the least stressful, ensuring you are in the best shape for race day. All I needed to do was shut up, nod in agreement and book it, which is what I duly did.
As this was to be my third time out at the distance I was a lot more relaxed about it, and decided from the off, just to enjoy it, enjoy the training, enjoy the banter on the WhatsApp group but more importantly enjoy the training and ultimately the event . I find that there is a lot of conflicting information out there around triathlon and everyone nowadays is terminally consumed about heart rates, splits, turnarounds, power output etc. I’m not saying that it’s not important I’m sure it is, but I constantly see training partners beating themselves up if they don’t hit a split or a power output, checking splits every 50m in the pool, fair enough if you are going for Kona but I’m not so I throw my heart rate monitor away and decided to enjoy it and keep it simple.
Keeping it simple involved Swimming, Cycling, Running & some S&C in the early season (see not rocket science). I know I can swim the distance but also realised a number of years ago that I would need to invest a lot of time in swimming if I was to see any real improvement. Time I don’t have so I decided that my time would be better spent on the bike & running. Basically my training plan involved two swim sessions, three runs, & three bikes per week which included a long run and long bike at weekends. It didn’t really deviate from this apart from the fact that the swims, runs and bikes got longer. I am very lucky in that I have a great group that I train with. My swimming group known jokingly in Westwood as the Emerging Talent Lane includes myself, Paul Flynn, John Robinson, John Freeman, Graham Ward & Dave Drury all of which were going long in 2017 with Paul doing the Hardman in Kerry and Dave competing in Austria, the rest were all on board for Copenhagen. Our lane also straddles the proper swimmers which, includes Rachael Beck (previous Kona qualifier) and also joining the party in Copenhagen as part of the Fingal travelling contingent.
The bike is where the majority of training hours are spent and if you are going to get up at 5am every Sunday to go on a 4-6 hour spin, then it should be in good company and again I was lucky to be joined by fellow Copenhageners and Fingal members Nigel Roy, Guy Chilton & Daire Geraghty for most Sunday spins. Although we were out for a good couple of hours the banter, craic, random racing to roundabouts , high vis jackets, traffic lights or any so called landmark made these spins fly by and very enjoyable. That just left the runs which were usually solo events.
Where’s Mick Purtill I hear you ask, after all it was all his idea. Unfortunately Mick had a terrible year with various health issues and reluctantly had to pull the plug. Not an easy decision for him as there is no one that I know that is more passionate or knowledgeable about triathlon. A big loss to the Sunday spins but I’m sure he will be back stronger than ever before. It just makes you realise how lucky we all are to have our health and to be able to participate in these events.
The eight months of training flew by and intertwined with the training was a Half IM in St Polten Austria (May) in monsoon conditions, the Orwell Randonee (May) which is a tough sportif of 140KM & 2000m of climbing around Wicklow, and a training weekend cycling around Connemara in the West of Ireland. All in all I was happy with the shift I had put in and barring some issues with a long standing Achilles injury which curtailed my running somewhat I felt I had done all I could with the time that I had.
The event was to take place on Sunday 20th and the plan was to fly out on the Thursday, returning on the Tuesday. All in all including competitors, children and supporters there was a party of twenty travelling under the Fingal Tri Club banner. We also decided to stay in the race hotel Bella Sky which is a fabulous hotel and also the race hotel for the event. Race hotels tend to come at a cost premium but I have done a couple now and it is always worth the extra few bob as it tends to be in close proximity to the registration or the start line / finish line. On this occasion Bella Sky was right next door to registration and the Ship my Tri Bike lads were also camped in the car park making it a pretty simple process to get registered and to collect the bike. I have to say the Ship My Tri Bike crew are absolutely fantastic and with their professionalism & flexibility they make these events pretty much “stress free”. It always amazes me that they may not be able to put a name to a face but you can be sure that they can match a bike to a face.
The bikes were racked on Saturday afternoon after which it was time to get the feet up and rest in preparation for the race on Sunday.
We were due in the water at 7:15am on the Sunday so we all met for breakfast at 4am in the hotel restaurant. Trying to eat at 4am is really difficult for me and as one of the lads remarked the only thing you should be eating at 4am is a kebab after a good night out. Once breakfast was eaten the table we were sitting at was then turned into a small deli counter to get our nutrition sorted for the bike. I for one hate those energy gels and I usually stay away from them until the run. On the bike I like to have real food as do most of the group I train with, so wraps, mayonnaise, lots of bacon and cheese was the order of the day. I can only imagine what the other competitors were thinking, seeing all these Irish lads making sambo’s & wraps with their pockets stuffed with tinfoil packages.
Transport to the race start was provided by the hotel (another perk of staying at the race hotel) and you can really start to feel the nervous tension in the air on the bus. There isn’t much conversation as people are focused on what lies ahead. Outside the wind is howling and not only are the flags on the flag poles shaking violently but the ropes holding the flags are making a racket as the bang against the poles. Not a great sign but hey we are Irish and all year we have been training in the wind so it will just be a typical Sunday spin, well that’s what I told myself.
My favourite part to every event whether that’s an Ironman or a marathon is the last hour leading up to start, I love the atmosphere, the eerie feeling as 3,500 likeminded individuals descend to the start position, checking your bike, air pressure, checking your transition bags, food. There is no turning back it’s just a matter now of getting started.
Apart from Rachel who is a 60min swimmer we all jumped into the 1:10-1:15 start group which meant we were all starting at the same time. Once I hit the water I was the most relaxed I have ever felt in an open water swim. I just put the head down and swam, the swim course is beautiful in that it is in this sheltered sea water lagoon where you swim down and back, swimming under a couple of bridges providing plenty of landmarks which allows you to break up the swim in smaller intervals. One bridge down, four to go etc.. As usual my spotting and sense of direction is piss poor and as I was heading upstream I somehow managed to crossover the rope and swim in the same path as the downstream swimmers. It is the equivalent of driving up the M50 on the wrong side of the road. I got battered in the oncoming traffic but it was entirely my fault.. I made some embarrassed apologies and quickly move to the right side of the rope. I got back into the my rhythm and in no time I was at the end of the swim. I don’t have a swim watch so I had no idea of time or how it went. I would expect to see the others in transition as usually I am one of the last out of the water but there was no sign of anyone from Fingal so I either had a really good swim or all the others were flying and already gone on the bikes.
Out on to the bike and the first 10KM of the bike is quiet technical as you navigate through the streets of Copenhagen before you hit the cost road for the start of the two loops that make up the 180KM of the bike. On the coast road there is cross wind that is slightly in your favour but that advantage comes to an abrupt end once you take the left off the coast road and hit the countryside. The wind is a full on head wind and it is a real grind to make any progress. It is at this point that you also hit the hills. Now the Copenhagen bike course is not renowned for its climbs, but in this part of the course you always feel that you are on some sort of an incline, which added to the wind makes this a tough section. On my two previous IM attempts I didn’t get my nutrition right on the bike and I suffered as a result so today I was conscious of sticking to the food plan, which consisted of two bottles of water, one ISO bottle, two bacon & cheese wraps (from breakfast buffet), two snickers & Graham’s special date bar over the 180KM spin. A bit unorthodox I know but it works for me. It is at this point I am starting to wonder why I haven’t seen any of the other lads out on the bike course as I would typically have caught up with the stronger swimmers at this point. Then at the 45KM mark I get the tap on the shoulder from Nigel who would be by his own admission like me a poor swimmer, but an excellent cyclist and runner. Nigel always catches me on the bike and after a bit of chat he says his goodbye’s and leaves me for dust.
Once out of the countryside you are heading back in to Copenhagen on a motorway stretch. The road surface is great but again it feels like you are fighting a head wind and there is also a couple of sneaky climbs. At about the 80KM point they have the spectator zone on the bike course where all the supporters congregate to cheer you on an uphill section. It is a buzz but some way to go before it can match the atmosphere of the supporter section at Solarberg Hill in Roth. The Fingal support crew are obvious absentees from the spectator zone as they have decided to base themselves on the run course and keep themselves well hydrated for their own different type of endurance session.
At the end of the first lap the sun has decided to make an appearance so I need to stop to remove one of my layers, five minutes after taking the jacket off the heavens open and there is a deluge of rain for about 10 minutes.. “FFS Typical!”. Ah well I’m back on the coast road where at last there is some relief from the wind but the unfortunate thing about a two lap course is that you know what’s ahead, so pretty much the same for lap two but apart from Nigel I don’t see anyone from Fingal. The bike course finishes, with a spin back into the City Centre where T2 is in an underground car park, which is pretty cool and a great idea. All in all it is a fantastic bike course with good road surfaces and plenty of variation in terrain and scenery, it was just unfortunate that the wind was so strong on the day. Happy out with a bike split of 5:49:45.
Onto the run and I feel good, the run consists of 4 x 10.5KM loops around the heart of Copenhagen and the run course is most definitely the highlight of the day. The atmosphere on the course is fantastic and the Fingal support had managed to get themselves out of the boozers and are in good voice. There is Irish support on every corner and one of the benefits of wearing the Fingal green is that it is instantly recognisable and always good for a shout out. The first one I see on the run course is my good friend Mick Purtill, the main instigator on my participation. I jokingly called him a b$xx%ck for roping me in while he is sitting in a beer garden but all is forgiven when he tells me my swim split, 1:09, chuffed with that a PB by over three minutes on the back of the least amount of swimming I ever done. The less I do the better I get, I wonder will that work for the bike and running J.
The plan for the run was to keep it steady and try maintain a steady pace for the first 20KM at least. The plan was to run even splits and no faster than 4:45 per KM. As the course was a 10KM loop I finally got to see the other Fingal athletes out on the course. So far I could see that Nigel and Rachel were out on the run and ahead of me and in hot pursuit on my tail was Guy, Daire & Dave. It was great to see them and I’m sure like me on them, they are sizing me up to see how I’m running and the likelihood of catching me. It gives you a lift and a kick up the arse and everytime I see a Fingal athlete I put on my poker face and try to look as if I’m breezing through it.. Once I reached the 20KM nature calls and I need to stop for a toilet break . This is when the demons got hold and between the 20-30KM mark I am struggling except of course when I meet a Fingal athlete.. I was eating drinking everything at the aid stations at this stage, red bull, coke, water, tuc biscuits, iso.. It was some cocktail but my stomach managed to consume it all and once I got into the last lap I got a second wind and got some rhythm back.
At last, the finishing shoot where I’m met by my wife Jackie. A bit of an embrace and I cross the line in 10:55:08 with a 3:43 run.. Chuffed with that.
Once I’m fed and watered it’s time to get back to the finishing shoot to cheer on the rest of the Fingal athletes as they cross the line.
Copenhagen is a great city albeit a little on the expensive side and the city really done a great job in hosting the event. Would I recommend it, yes most definitely but then again the people you are with make the event and the Fingal Athletes and supporters are a great group and great craic which made the event. All in all a brilliant couple of days.
Just before I wrap up I thought it would be worth mentioning the others and how they done.
Nigel (Nidge) Roy – First home out of the Fingal crew in a time of 10:37:14 a super performance considering he got no sleep the night before as his young son was up all night sick.
Guy Chilton – His first time out at the distance and how he was running I really thought he had me. A true gritty Yorkshireman getting home in 11:01:45. I’m happy I’m retired now as next time out Guy would surely kicked my arse. Best run split of the day goes to Guy.
Rachael Beck – Unfortunately not Rachel’s day as she had to pull out of the run due to illness. I’m sure she will be back in those Kona places at her next event.
Daire Geraghty – The baby of the group and usually if someone improves their PB by three hours there would be questions to be asked and usually by WADA, but not in Daire’s case it was all down to hard work. He put in a real shift in preparation for this event and he deserved the PB. He got home in 11:18:54.
Dave Freeman – Mr Ironman.. I think he bought everything at the expo but he also managed the best second bike split of the day and another who smashed his PB by 45 minutes.Home in 11:35:29
John Freeman (no relation to Dave) – What a trooper, John was struggling with fitness and injuries right up the start and only two weeks previous to the event he was getting MRI scans on his hip.. The medical opinion was that he shouldn’t and wouldn’t make the start line but John if he is anything is stubborn and if he had to crawl to finish line he would. It didn’t come to that and he got home in 14:32:51.
John Robinson – We call him Dallas just down to the fact that his initials are JR but John is all show business and if there is anyone that knows how to milk the finish line and really work the crowd it’s our John. Rumour has it that he could easily get in under 10 hours but he prefers the atmospheric night time finish to work the crowd. Home in 14:44:34
Graham Ward – Another first timer out over the distance and played the role of JF’s carer for the run. A real unselfish act which just about sums up Graham..He is also makes the best homemade energy food and his date bar is legendary. Surprise, Surprise home in the same time as John Freeman 14:32:51.
Darren Brennan – Another competitor that was touch and go whether he would make the start line due to health issues. He had a horrible year but he was still willing to give it a go and got home in 14:40:55.
Congratulations to you all and you are all Ironmen. Thanks for the memories.
© Fingal Triathlon Club