This was it. This was the big one. Ironman Copenhagen was my A race; what I had been training for over the last year. I had chosen Copenhagen as my main race as I have a love of Denmark, and the capital is my favourite city in the world, so I wanted this to be the backdrop to my first branded Ironman. I had gone long last year at the Big Woody and was immediately hooked to long course racing. All my training and racing had been working towards this and Coach Brian had done a fantastic job – his work put me on the beach at Amager Strand on a bright Danish morning in the best condition I could possibly have been in, and it was now up to me to put the race day strategy into practice.
The race was on Sunday, so Annie (in her capacity as support team / manager / wife) and I went out to Copenhagen the Friday before, so that I had a chance to settle in and prepare in an unhurried manner. My Dad took us to Gatwick at a particularly horrid time of the morning to get the bike box (kindly on loan from David Shepherd) checked in, and us through security. The carts taking luggage to the plane were stacked high with bike boxes. (I was glad to see the baggage handlers took a lot of care putting the bikes into the hold.) At least half the flight seemed to have some sort of triathlon marking on them, and after a pleasant time airborne we joined a stream of bike boxes being wheeled out towards the metros and trains distributing the thousands of athletes to hotels across Copenhagen.
It seems that the whole city of Copenhagen gets involved when Ironman comes to town. The hotel (although not the official race one) could not have been more accommodating, with most of its guests assembling bikes in their rooms, and letting them know the best way to get to the various points of the course. They put on an excellent carb-heavy buffet the night before and ran race morning breakfast from 4:00am. The journey was so hassle free we had plenty of time for sightseeing on Friday, and we went and had a look at the swim venue – the Amager Strand beach park before climbing the spiral tower of All Saints Church before heading to register at the Town Hall, via the imposing Christiansborg Slot Palace, the backdrop to the finish chute and near to T2. Fellow Team Cherwell member John Sexton was racing as well and was at registration with his family, easy to spot in the crowds on race day in the red and yellow of Team Cherwell.
Saturday was warm and after attending the compulsory race briefing I headed off to the swim course, which was already laid out, and did a short lap of it. Conditions could not have been more perfect and this calmed some of my nerves a little. If I could get into clear water at the start I might even enjoy the wet bits of the triathlon! It is possible to walk almost the full length of the swim course and I was confident that I could not do any more to prepare for the swim. A short run after lunch to make sure the legs were moving and then it was time to rack up. Ironman operates a pretty tight ship, getting around 3000 athletes all racked up is no mean feat and racking time was allocated by start wave. A short ride to T1 (the hotel had been chosen based largely on proximity to the swim) confirmed that I had assembled the bike correctly and my nutrition was secured to the top bar, the bottles in the rear racks and between the tri bars. On some Ironman races (such as Tenby, which my friend Tim is taking on in a couple of weeks time) there is some debate due to the nature of the course over tri vs road bikes. At Copenhagen there is no such dilemma. The flat landscape favours all things aero so I was riding my Felt B12, decked out with Zipp 404s. With the bike all checked in there was little left to do except attempt to relax and make sure I ate properly and got a good night’s rest.
Race morning. Slightly chilly but the rising sun soon got rid of any nip in the air. My start wave was at 7:30, a positively luxurious time by many triathlon standards. After filling my bottles, pumping my tyres and checking my starting gear I got into my wetsuit as the gun for the pros went off at 7 o’clock. There was an opportunity to warm up in the sea proper (rather than in the sheltered lagoon of the racecourse itself) and I took a dip, further encouraged by the warm water temperature. I picked out the combined Heaney/Sexton support crew by the white and blue Natural Ability Performance Coaching jersey Annie had commandeered from me and the Team Cherwell red and yellow colours of the Sextons on the gentle rise above the swim start. They gave me a last few words of encouragement and then I was in the starting enclosure.
By the second lap the tailwind on the way out had gone, but I still made good time and was able to prepare for the feed stations, as I knew where they were. The Felt was behaving perfectly and despite having acquired a solid coating of hardened sugar from splashes from the front bottle kept on running smoothly as I made the turn onto the winding country roads. I kept my power output as regular and smooth as I could going by my heart rate, and despite a couple of spikes caused by some unexpected pothole dodging I was still feeling like I had something in the tank as I crested the Geels Bakke climb to the second time and put just a little bit more power down for the final few miles back to the city centre. I passed Annie just before T2 and this gave me a nice boost as I slipped my feet out of my shoes and coasted up to the dismount line with a pretty reasonable time of 5:18:44. Throughout the ride I had worked on the general principle that if I just needed to pee a little bit then I was probably taking on enough liquid. The thought of a marathon with a distressingly full bladder did not hold a great deal of appeal for me though, so I paused in transition to take care of this and I was in quite high spirits as I embarked on the marathon.
The run was a four lap out and back course. My legs were turning over well and I made steady progress through the field over the course of the first lap. The run started within sight of the spectacular palace of Christiansborg and the lap went past the turnoff for the finish chute. That was a long way off however, as I would still have to pass it three more times. The athletes ran south for a short way, passing the first feed station, before taking a 180 degree turn out onto the harbour side of the river, the run course actually curving out onto a quayside over the water itself, before rejoining the land in time to meet up with the other side of the feed station. Back past the palace and near to T2 and we were running north, out of the historic centre and through an area where a bit of redevelopment was taking place. This was perhaps to become the most gruelling part of the course – long straight sections with nothing except wooden building boards to look at, with dull concrete underfoot. After the crowds around the centre, and the cheerful canal side atmosphere of the second feed station, the course wiggling to take in the picturesque bridge that was the crossing point of the canal, this section was somewhat bleak. On the way out, however, it was not too long before we turned off to run alongside the river, towards the famous statue of the Little Mermaid, an icon of Copenhagen. There was little time for sightseeing though, despite the scenery having picked up somewhat as we ran through parks and past a magnificent fountain. The turn, the most northerly point on the course, was another 180 degree spin, just after a long bridge, where a good group of spectators had gathered. It was here that you collected your lap band. Red, yellow, blue and a final green band to allow you to make the final turn into the finish chute. Back round the fountain, but on the way back we did not turn off to the cooling breezes of the waterfront, but pressed on in a seemingly never ending straight line through the heart of the area where the building works were happening. After this long drag the sounds of the people thronging around the canal side drew the runners in and gave a bit of a boost to the legs after a long stretch away from the heart of the action.
As I finished my first lap I could hear the finish line going berserk as the Elite Female Winner finished her race. I still had a few laps to go! As I began the second lap, still feeling strong a quarter of the way in, the temperature soared. It had been sitting around 20-21 degrees, not too hot on the bike and quite a pleasant start to the run, and leapt up to around 25-26 degrees in a matter of minutes. All the competitors slowed the pace down, I put sponges under my trisuit, soaked my cap in water – anything to keep my body temperature down. I walked through the feed stations as the water was supplied in cups, and I wanted to drink properly, as I was keenly aware of how quickly it is possible to dehydrate. The second lap seemed interminable. There was no shade, and I had to force myself to keep the pace slow, so as not to join the numerous people I saw being attended to by medics, clearly suffering from heatstroke and dehydration. The long straight back from collecting my yellow lap 2 band was interminable, and this marked my lowest point in the race. The feed stations were spraying hosepipes of water, and 30 seconds after a head to foot soaking I was bone dry again, it was a constant struggle to maintain any sort of moisture. The third lap I was determined to pick up the pace and a breeze sprang up to help counter the scorching sun, which was beginning to just move round enough to not be beating down from directly above. This meant that I seemed to be onto the fourth lap very quickly, although I cannot have been much faster than on the previous one. The long drag of the second lap had taken a lot out of me, so on the fourth I just tried to hang on, keep the legs turning and not allow myself to plod. The huge crowd gave me an enormous lift as I made my way through the last streets, and from somewhere I found the energy for a final effort, as instead of heading out on another lap I got to turn right, onto the carpet of the finish chute. I could hear Annie shouting encouragement over the final few metres and as the gantry above me flashed up my time, and the speakers announced my name, I crossed the line to become an ‘official’ Ironman in 10:33:30, having run a 3 hour 58 minute marathon.