Wow what a race! This was the first running of the Challenge Copenhagen Full Ironman distance triathlon and there was a feeling amongst everyone that we were part of something special. It was Vanessa and my first “Challenge Family” race and the organisation and feeling was the best of any race I've done. “Challenge” is a fast growing race organising brand in triathlon – a competitor to the “Ironman” brand (WTC or World Triathlon Corporation) that is now owned by a private equity group and very much focussed on the dollar. Challenge is growing all the time and they have races in Roth, Germany (the most famous and biggest), Austria, Wanaka in NZ, Barcelona, somewhere else in Germany (Krachau?), and I believe two more half IM distance races in 2012 in Cairns and Gold Coast. The CEO Felix seems to know everyone in triathlon, has an unbelievable passion for the sport, boundless positive energy and greets every finisher at the finish line personally. They are famous for being about the sport and the athlete more than the dollar.
This was the first ever Iron distance race held in a capital city and Copenhagen has got to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world with a real cycling culture and nice flat roads. We were lucky to ignore the official race hotel and book at the Axel Hotel Guldmeldsden where instead of being one of "those blood triathletes" we were treated like royalty by the manager as he was into sports and we were the onl ones doing the race in the hotel. He shouted us a dinner and breakfast and kept handing us food and drinks for free every time we came in. Sweet. The day before the race from 3pm until about 2am there was the biggest rainfall they had in Copenhagen for 50 years. We didn't know it, but the bike transition area got a bit flooded, with pointy helmets floating around and the racks used to hold up transition bags destroyed. Big chunks of the bike course were under water and the organisers were being told to postpone the event. They ended up getting it almost completely sorted by morning and the athletes were none the wiser. As we had to check in the bikes the day before we were lucky Challenge supply bags to cover your bikes and we took some extra care to secure them well on the bikes, so when we arrived in the morning our bikes and helmets were dry and just how we left them. Our transition area was concrete too so no flooding there either, about half of the bikes were on racked grass that was almost completely under water. I realised when I got there I'd left my water bottle with a concentrated mixture of calories in the fridge at the hotel. I'd planned on using this for most of my calories on the bike and only had about 6 gels on the frame, so was a bit screwed. Luckily this was the first race I'd done where they supply gels at aid stations on the bike. High 5 gels too, my favourite as they which are the easiest to get down, I just needed to slow down and made sure I got what I needed, which I did the volunteers were great and well trained. The bike was even more aero now without the bottle so there was some upside too.
Vanessa was nervous about getting back on the horse and the water was cold here too (19 degrees) and it was still raining in the morning. On the advice of our coach Woody we took an insulated water bottle with hot water to the start to pour down her wetsuit. Unfortunately it was only lukewarm by the time she was ready to start. The swim was one lap course in a lagoon (Amager Strand) about 5kms south of the city, and they had a wave start with pros, then women, then 6 other waves on predicted swim times. Ness went in and looked strong as far as I could see, was hopin like hell she got through it. Our wave was next and my swim didn't go so well, or more specifically my navigation didn't go well. They could not put most of the buoys in the water because of the storm so there were only the turning ones which were often a long way away. For some reason I kept getting disorientated and went way off course, I'd try to correct but in a minute or two, when I thought I was orientated in the right direction I'd be way off again. My swimming was actually better, with a good “spearing the fish” catch phase and a pretty high cadence, I just felt almost dizzy and the shore was never where I thought it was. I forgot Woody's third swim tip (anchor) which means keep the arms wide away from the body too keep you going straight. I had to back track quit a bit to make it around the final buoy and was bloody glad to get on land. I wasn't sure if I'd passed Ness as we passed quite a few of the pink swim caps (and got frog kicked by several of them too). I forgot to look to see if her bike was there exiting transition so didn't know if she got through it or not.
They had warned us that the course was technical and a couple of cobblestoned sections but I expected it to be my kind of course, flat and cool with good road surfaces. The ride was great with lots of Danes in the surrounding areas of Copenhagen having picnics on their front lawn and cheering you on and many small shopping areas that we rode through had big groups of people out cheering. They were so into cheering these weird looking people with funny shaped bikes, pointy helmets and disc wheels it was great. I was wondering why the weren't thinking 'why should we cheer these freaks' – and that we all looked like a bunch of wankers, as I kind of think that and I'm one of them, but not these guys. I heard there were over 130,000 watching the run and bike on the day – just awesome support.
The first 15km to get out of the city was pretty hair-raising. It was still raining pretty steadily and there were lots of potholes because of the heavy rain and plenty of tight corners that you didn't know how much road there was to turn into so you had to take them slow. I had a visor on my aero helmet that I'd stuck in but you couldn't raise it so was trying to see through this wet visor which made visibility really poor too. I ended up extracting the visor and throwing it – it was only $25 and was scratched too. After an hour the sun came out and I spent the rest of the ride squinting and clearing bugs out of my eyes, but was worth it to get of the city without crashing. I must have seen 5 punctures in the first 15kms, considering there were probably only 70 ahead of me that was a pretty high rate. Punctures and drafting calls (more on that later) were the theme of this bike leg. Some of the pros punctured three times and I lost count of how many people I saw on the side of road fixing them. Despite thinking I had punctured a few times, and using latex tubes which are said to be more prone to punctures than butyl I got luckily got through without one. Ness avoided one too. The 115 psi pressure we run helped I reckon - many people go to 140-150 thinking it's faster (it's not). My puncture kit was just a CO2 bottle, two levers and a tube taped together and stuffed in my jersey pocket and another tube and CO2 taped and jammed under the seat – very aero.
Once we got out of the city the course became really fast. I wasn't sure if there was a tail wind or if it was my super aero set up or fresh legs, but I had to concentrate to keep it below 40km/h. I got in a good group of 4, Tim the German, Henrik the Dane, and a Spanish guy whose name I can't remember (race numbers had the country's flag and first name printed on them – pretty cool). We rode through about 60kms together I took the lead a few times but Tim and Henrik were keen to lead so I let them. Tim the German ended up losing his rear bottle cages (the whole thing came off the seat post, as the bolts came undone). This was my/our Contader/Schleck TdF moment, should we wait for him as he went back? He had been doing most of the work....hmmm. Henrik sat up and I did too to have a think – I thought Tim could have just kept going....in the end I/we decide to get back in the aero bars and say Auf Wiedersehen. I promised him in my mind that if he got back up to us I'd do more of the work for him......and I was always in the Contador camp anyway – Tim should have tightened his bolts and Schleck shouldn't have been using that Sram shit.
About 55kms in and I ended up getting dropped off the back of that group by a hundred metres or so. I wanted to stay with the group so I worked really hard up a hill to get back on. At the top of the hill I was pretty knackered and had a rest going down the long straight hill, got into a really aero position with my head down looking at the road and coasted. The guy ahead must have sat up as when I looked up I was close to his wheel, I usually go faster downhill, because of my weight. I not only saw I was on his wheel the Marshall (draft buster) appeared out of nowhere and gave me a yellow card! Damn – that meant 4 minute penalty at the next aid station. It was funny that the next aid station came just after a key spectator spot at the top of a big hill where there were a thousand or so spectators doing a Challenge Roth/TdF style spill onto the road leaving only a narrow gap to ride through, I even saw Felix's face there leading the “hop hop hop” German cheer, just when I got through that, I stepped off into the sin bin, hoping they didn't turn around.
Drafting is a pretty massive issue in triathlon, almost like drugs in cycling. Everyone does it a bit, but everyone's against it. Well OK in cycling everyone does it a lot....As most non triathletes/cyclist don't know about this and friends often ask me, I'll explain the way it works – Drafting means to ride really close to the back wheel of the cyclist in front which makes it much easier to ride because of the wind break – 30% is the number most say, even more if it's in the middle of a pack (peleton). Most cycle races are draft legal (hence how it becomes a team sport with guys sheilding their top guy from the wind), in stage races like the Tour De France they often have one day that is not a draft race and everyone does the same course against the clock (time trial – known also as the race of truth). This is why triathletes are obsessed with aerodynamics and cyclists with weight. In all longer distance triathlons and almost all amateur Olympic distance/shorter races drafting is not allowed meaning you have to stay a certain distance away from the wheel in front, usually 7 or 10 metres from front wheel to front wheel. However at this distance there is still an advantage (maybe 15-20% easier). So when you have a big group of guys come out of the water in the top 10-20% they are usually all pretty strong/similar level cyclists, so you get a long line of riders in a line (a pace-line). Most guys including me, want to do the right thing but also want an advantage so you try and stay right on the required distance, there are some who really try and wheel suck for long periods and this is the behaviour everyone wants stopped. There are other rules about how to pass in a pace-line that I won't go into and also 'sling shotting' which is a big advantage for slow swimmers/strong cyclists or on tight looped courses when you start lapping people it's riding up into the persons wheel you are passing before moving out at the last second – it's illegal but they never bust people people for this.
In a pace line, when the guy ahead slows or you push a tiny bit more it's pretty easy to go into the “draft zone”, there are draft busters on motorbikes whose job is to police this. Drafting usually a bigger issue on flat courses (like this one) and there had been a lot written about how to stop it on the race web site and they are passionate about cycling in Europe so were determined to have a 'clean' bike leg here. The Marshalls handed out a lot of cards on this day. I heard a quarter of the pro pace line of 20 got done at one stage. So although I didn't think my one was a legit call (they usually won't call on a downhill and not when your head is down and the guy ahead has slowed), but I thought about other times I'd drifted into the draft zones in the past and not gotten busted. I did my 4 minutes in the sin bin (guy let me go and pee so that was a bonus), and German Tim/Schleck passed me while I was there – I thought I saw him smirk - I'm sure he enjoyed that and fair play to him too, I just had to cop it sweet.
Back on to the bike and I thought I'd have renewed power after the rest but it took the wind out my sails a bit and was getting passed by a few Jespers, Kims and Nielses. I was terrified of getting another yellow (which meant red/DQ) so was staying way away from other riders. There was a massive pace line of about 20 that came alone and I was sitting a long way from the 2nd last one (Draft buster was riding with these guys constantly) but they ended up dropping me too. I limped along for the last 70kms without much in the legs, or maybe there was a headwind or my wheel was rubbing or my bike wasn't as aero as I thought or something but was feeling slow and it was tough to go 35. Was very glad to get into T2 and onto the run. Still had yet to see Ness and wasn't sure if she'd made it onto the bike at all, and was worried about her riding the first 15kms as she had the visor set up too and doubted she waste the $25...very frugal our Ness.
The run course was something special. A 3 x 14km course up and down the waterfront through the centre of Copenhagen. The police said there were 120,000 people out watching and they lined every part of the course. They weren't as vocal as the spectators on the run at Busselton but I don't think a lot of them knew much about the sport and weren't on the sauce having picnic parties like they all are at at Busso. Amazing sights and atmosphere throughout the whole run, a really special experience.
After I'd been told by many people that I'd biked too quick in previous races, I'd never really believed this totally. There are a large group of bike-pace Nazis in long course triathlons who think there is an inverse relationship between your bike and run times – usually they are 55kg runners, but I never really bought into it totally; some of the things that make people good cyclists also make them slower runners, and I reckon what's the use of having a strength if you don't use it. I loved that the women's winner Aussie Rebekah Keat said that she had been instructed by her coach (Brett Sutton who is a bit of a hero of mine and whose philosophies mirror Woody's) to “ride the bike course as fast as you bloody can and you'll win”. She smoked it in 4.48 after crashing in that first 10kms and won the race by about 20 minutes for her first win in 3 years.
However what I'm definitely convinced of now is that a much bigger problem of mine is running too quickly off the bike in the first 5-10kms (as I did at Vineman and IMUK). I was determined to take it easy and keep it at 4.35-4.40 pace for the first 10kms. I wanted to hit the fist lap at 14kms at 65minutes. I ended up stopping for a pee and did it in about 67 just about perfect – 3.15 marathon pace and thought if I faded to run a 3.20-3.25 I'd be stoked. I wasn't feeling great though and found it tougher to keep the pace up on laps 2 and 3. There were so many good runners there too, I was getting passed by guys running 3hr pace the whole first two laps. The third lap came and kept waiting for my melt down but fortunately it never came. I started to pass people and was actually feeling pretty good. I was looking out for Ness but never saw here and was sure she'd dropped out in the swim again. I think my legs were pretty heavy from the recent race in UK, but I was more used to the pain and managed to keep the pace pretty good.
The finishing chute was lined about ten deep and packed with people giving fives, must have been 5,000 there I reckon and doing the aeroplane while giving about 200 low 5s was something I'll never forget – felt the love big time. I ended up doing 9.44 my first time under 10 hours – got about 70th out of 1,600. Did not have a fast bike or swim and Woody reckons I can do a 3.15 on the run but I'm not so sure. Will need to spend the winter on the treadmill.
The post race area was the best I'd seen. Just a great spot for only athletes, free massages, a shower truck with hot clean showers with fancy shower roses, great selection of food, and as much beer and wine as you could drink. I tend not to wear finishers T-shirts (no problem with people who do – unless it's wearing a Hawaii finsher's shirt to a race registration for another race - that is just wanky), I just boast by spraying stuff on Facebook and not on my body....but this race they gave you a proper cycle jersey in the Challenge red that looked awesome. I hung out with all the Aussie pros in the finish area who'd mostly had a good day (1st and 2nd in the women's and 1st in the men's), getting on the beers with the men's winner Tim Berkel who was already on his way, having necked his winner's champagne. I'd sent him a message of good luck on twitter befroe the race and as triathletes who like to drink we hit it off immediately. He was stoked as it was a very big win for him, a really funny guy from Albury – dresses like a rock star, and likes to party – he told me “I was in the big pack of 20 and they were all going so farkin slow I just rode away from 'em”. He had been known as a run specialist and maybe a one-hit wonder after winning IMWA in 2008, so he proved a lot of people wrong. I was stoked for him and felt lucky to have his company for half an hour after the race – not many sports where that can happen. I still hadn't seen Ness and was wondering if she was watching me in the chute like she was in UK. But then I saw her in the line for the massage looking absolutely terrible. I was elated! I punched the air as I ran over to give her a hug. I was so so happy she had finished and (as I found out) had a good race. I was feeling guilty for choosing these cooler races because they suit me and it would have been horrible for her to have another DNF after everything that had happened. She was in a bit of a bad way and had to go for a IV drip, and was sick a few times when we got home. Too many gels I think, but she was fine the next day.
75 year old Kiwi Ironman legend - gotta love this sport
I went back to the finish for the last 2 hours to watch the late finishers, that was a great atmosphere, a 'tired' Tobjorn Sindballe (Danish IM legend and a bit of a hero of mine) on the mike and a 75 year old kiwi guy come in 10 minutes before cut off and everyone going crazy for him with ABBA blaring and race organiser Felix bow down to worship him after he crossed the line. The Aussie crew of pros were all going off and there were fireworks to close it out. A great finish to an unforgettable day. I feel so stoked to have fallen into this sport, I can't think of anything negative about it except that it costs a fortune – can't take it with you right....I never wanted to be a 50 year old soccer player and the petulance and boastfulness of the players (including myself in that) is just embarrassing when you are older. Love this sport! And I don't think you need to ask if I'd recommend this race. Next up Japan Half Ironman September 19.
Tobjorn interviews Felix