The city of fairytales: Ironman-Stu @ IM Copenhagen

Some fairytales do come true-My first full Ironman in the bag

Well if I’m going to make a lot of noise about completing my first IM (Ironman) I have no choice but to provide a full inescapable Race Report. 

Training/ preparation 

At the airport over to Copenhagen (I’ll leave the saga that was the challenge of flight cancellations and bike boxes for another day), you continuously overhear fellow competitors say “getting to the start line is the biggest challenge”. This could not be more true. If anyone ever asks how do I prepare for a triathlon or even dabbles with the idea I instinctively say join a Tri club and of course if you’re local to the Banbury area get yourself down to Team Cherwell. Why?, because the support, passion and knowledge of the coaches and members is immense. I mean is there really any bike mechanical question that could possibly befuddle Ben/ Andy or an issue with leaky goggles that Mark/ Helen or Ozzie couldn’t remedy? Nonetheless as you may or may not know on the lead up to the Ironman I had trialed a variety of long distance swims, marathons, Swimrun and Olympic Triathlons so decided to get a little extra guidance from a coach. Fortunately the TC club houses some incredibly knowledgeable/ experienced coaches to include Rich and Alex. I went with Alex from Triforia which on top of the awesome frequent TC training sessions provided the structure and guidance I needed to get to the start line. The key points I’ve picked up on regarding training/ preparation are…..

1) Put the hours in- life can take over but if you have a scheduled session try and commit to it. If you do miss sessions don’t have a hero’s period of cramming things in. Your body doesn’t work that way. 

2) The whole is greater than the sum of its parts – Apologies for the cheesy quote but it is so true. Make sure to complete lots of brick sessions and get used to getting on those pins after a good session on the turbo or bike. 

3) Nutrition is the 4th discipline- if you scan down to my run you’ll see that this is something I’m yet to perfect and nutrition is so personal to you. Unfortunately no forum or fellow club member has the secret ingredient so make sure to trial out what works for you. Alex’s suggestion of a quarter of a potato every hour (alongside an assortment of fluids and other foods) got me through long bike sessions. 

4) Sharing the journey- (oh these quotes are getting worse). I was fortunate enough to be joined by Nick D and Chris E for the Copenhagen IM. This encouraged us to share suggestions, discuss logistics and meet for longer rides. I found this peer support network super useful right until the travel over where Chris reassured me through flight cancellations to ‘breathe’. 

Registration/ check-in

I really am going to town by including this section but it really was an important part. Giving the bike a once over/ test ride we headed for registration. Being my first IM it is mandatory to purchase lots of merch and it’s an extra motivator on the day because you don’t want to take it back. Of course I’ll always find an opportunity to get my crayons out:) When you enter an IM you get separate bags for each transition. After a quick swim at the swim start to get a feel of the course I headed back to fill the bags with all I needed before checking in the bike the night before D-Day. Unfortunately what would follow was a night of yellow warning signs and heavy thunder, resulting in a wet bike, wet bike bag, towel and fresh socks. A glorious way to start a long ride 🙂

The swim start (finally)

Thanks for being patient. Well this is my favourite discipline, the weather was perfect and the atmosphere was buzzing. I gave my bike a once over and headed to the swim start area. After a quick dip I queued up with the orange hats (colours were based on proposed completion times for the 3.9k swim). This was one-loop in a spectator friendly lagoon and incredibly well marked out. When it was time for me to go off I went. I planned to stick at the pace of those around me and occasionally draft. It was tough to get into the slip stream so I found myself on the edge of the pack keeping pace. I had planned to be out within 1:05 and was making my way to T1 within 1:03. Having studied where my bike was positioned in all the haze/ excitement I lost sight of it for a while but still managed a relatively quick transition of 5:12 considering the T1 stretch is quite a distance. 

On to the bike

This was by far my most feared discipline but with all the prep work everything went rather smoothly. Ben recently shared his Celtman race report where he recommended the benefits of a bike power meter/ metrics and I couldn’t agree more. Part of my race plan was to focus on power and turn the legs at a constant rate of 140-150 W. I also kept an eye on my average speed which I wanted to consistently keep above 30.5 km/hr (so that I finished the bike leg within 6hrs). Obviously these fluctuated but it was a great benchmark. Along the route I have never seen so many cyclists cursed with mechanical issues and just kept my fingers crossed that I would have a mechanical issue free ride and that I did. The nutrition plan worked perfectly too. I planned to stop at the 100k milestone to exchange my bottles and opportunistically pick up 2 IM branded bottles. Shamefully this was a planned for Brucie Bonus:). Keeping the legs moving and tucking myself into the TT position on the straights I arrived into T2 with a total time on the bike of 5:53. I’ll take that. Kissing the ground (metaphorically as there’s no time for that), I happily handed the bike over, grabbed my bag, sat on the bench, grabbed my shades, my trainers, a gel and my newly purchased IM visor and I was off with a turnaround of 2:20. 

The last leg

I remember fellow TC member Manu say to me how delighted I’ll feel when I hand the bike over knowing that I am free of mechanical mishaps. Of that he was right but maybe the euphoria was a tad premature. As I hit the streets on lap 1 of 4 for the final 42.2 km, I saw family and friends. At one stage jokingly flexing the guns (or lack of ) for a picture with a smug look and a pace that at times peaked below 4:45 min/km (with a planned average speed of 5:20 min/km increasing to 5:15 min/km if sustainable). The smug look was soon to disappear. The first 2 10.5 km laps felt good, the streets were buzzing and with around 9 hours in the bag the end was in sight. On lap 3 I grabbed another Maurten gel. I had practiced using these and was in favour of their rather neutral/ non sickly flavour with a hint of honey…..until now. Squeezing the gel into my mouth and attempting to swallow resulted in me doubling over and well (I’m not sure there’s a less vulgar way to describe) retching. From this point on only water was palatable. So I was facing just under 20k with a lack of energy and had hit ‘the wall’. They say you need to dig deep. I think I went to places I’ve never been to before. Hearing my daughter at the end of lap 3 shout ‘you could still do this in under 11 hours’ was a small motivator but with a desire to just stop was an added pressure. I think I managed to move a salty biscuit around my mouth and continued to sip water. The pace improved towards the end. Nick now standing at the sidelines just under a kilometre from the finish gave me a final positive cheer. The pace picked up and in I came ringing the ‘first timer’ bell with a time of 11:03. 

I was finally an Ironman. 

Final thoughts

So there you have it, feeling like death but with a smile I stumbled around the IM village clutching my medal.

The next day fully showered, with a spring in our step (or slight limp) the 3 Ironmen shared a drink or 2 as the sunset overlooking the torturous run leg from across the water. 

With the IM in the bag I’m left feeling on cloud 9 and knowing that the average finish time for my age category is around 12:41, I’m very happy with my result……BUT 11:03 is painfully close to a sub 11 hours…to be continued.