Deirdre MacNally – Epic IM Copenhagen

In News, Race Reports by Joe Johnson10 Comments

This race report has it all. Deirdre battled through injuries, jellyfish, gobsh*tes, and much more in what can only be described as a truly inspirational display of how one woman’s shear determination enabled her to achieved her goal. Congratulations Dee on your epic achievement!  Joe

I apologize in advance, this is long…. But then it’s a long day out!

The Prologue

Firstly a little background on how I ended up at the start line of Ironman Copenhagen.

In August 2015 I completed my first 70.3 distance race in Dublin, it was my first experience of longer distance racing and I loved it. It planted the seed for my Ironman dream… not that I was going to actually admit it out loud to anyone! I signed up for Dublin City Marathon and another 70.3 in Bahrain in early December (that was an interesting experience, there is a race report somewhere!) So attempting to complete 3 long distance events in the space of 5 months obviously took its toll, I had increased my run training by a huge amount and my hamstring objected strongly. The marathon was scrapped and my trip to Bahrain ended in a painful hobble. So the year ended in a bit of anti-climax. An MRI showed ‘high hamstring tendinopathy’ and a very bruised sit bone. Most of the early part of 2016 was spent in and out of the physio with minimal running and cycling, and all my swimming being done with a pull buoy. Recovery was very slow and frustrating. In the summer I was back to light running and starting to make race plans, but still felt I wasn’t 100% and wanted to do everything I could to ensure I was going to be able to run again without pain.

In August I made an appointment with the Sports Clinic in Santry to see if there was further treatment that they could offer, the consultant was very positive, had a few suggestions and didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t recover fully. Woohoo, first time I’ve heard something positive in a while! I mentioned Ironman and he didn’t seem to think it was out of the question– other than it was a mad thing to want to put my body through…..!

I spoke to coach Tanja Slater about my Ironman ambitions and she very politely tried to talk me out of it, suggesting maybe 2018 would be a more realistic option but I had made up my mind at that stage. I was sick of sitting around and wanted to get back training, with a big scary goal to keep me focused and motivated to go through treatment and rehab with the Sports Clinic, and to start again with a proper focus on my running. So in late August I entered the race, along with my work mate Patrick O’Driscoll – we may have been egging each other on….! I told Tanja and she got on board straight away, wanting to find out everything she could about my injury and starting to plan for the year ahead.

So in September 2016 I had treatment in Santry, followed by 2 weeks of rest and in October I started back at the beginning with a big focus on S&C, a 20min walk/run and a slow and steady build to Copenhagen. At this stage I had also convinced Andrew Boyle to sign up so between Patrick at work and Andrew on whatsapp pretty much every second conversation I had for the next 10 months was IM related in some way. We discussed training, injuries, races, nutrition, Wiggle orders, race gear and many MANY other random topics in detail. They definitely kept me sane along the way, as well as taking the p*ss at every opportunity!

The Race

Anyway, back to the race itself. We arrived in Copenhagen on the Thursday before the race, myself & Mark, and Patrick & his wife Dee, had a Airbnb apartment right on the metro line. Perfect spot, except for the fact that the apartment was on the 4th floor….. and there was no lift, resting our legs wasn’t going to happen! We got registered on the Thursday evening and the mandatory trip to the expo to spend all our money on IM gear – obviously anything with your name on it has to be purchased! On Friday we met up with fellow Belparkers, Claire and Liam for a practice swim to see what was ahead of us. Saturday morning was all about packing our bike, run and special needs bags and in the afternoon we collected our bikes from Shipmytribike, took them for a little tester spin and over to drop everything into transition – wow, it was all getting very real! We settled in to the apartment on Saturday evening for a home cooked spag bol and attempted to have an early night. Unfortunately that didn’t quite go to plan… The Copenhagen Pride parade was on during the day on Saturday and there was a big party in the neighbourhood, music & fireworks until 2:30am – apparently I wouldn’t have slept much anyway…!

It was an early start race morning, after very little sleep. Breakfast and coffee and off we went to the Metro. We ended up squeezing onto a packed tram, which had a strange combination of nervous IM athletes mixed with more of the Saturday night party goers – with one of the party folk making a swift exit and running for the nearest bin, as I spotted her hunched over I was just hoping that wouldn’t be me later in the day! We had a beautiful sunrise walk from the metro, across the lagoon to the swim start. I felt strangely calm – no much point in panic at this stage I suppose!




Into transition to put my nutrition on my bike, pump the tyres, and stand in the big queue for the portaloo! Then there was just time to squeeze into my wetsuit, grab a quick good luck kiss from Mark and head off to take a practice dip before joining the 3,000 others…. We were all starting at different times so I didn’t see any of the other Belpark crew again until much later in the day.

It was a rolling start, with each group lining up based on their expected swim time. 6 athletes were let in to the water at a time and we all shuffled up the queue. At the top of the queue we were faced with a countdown clock… 3,2,1, GO and we’re off…..! It worked great for me, I didn’t spot the clock until I was near the top of the queue so there was no time to panic, just go! There was no major pushing or shoving and I got into a steady rhythm. We had to pass under 2 bridges on the outward part and you could hear the cheers and shouts as we went along. Just before I got to the turnaround buoy I could feel something on my face, there were lots of reeds and seagrass in the water so I didn’t think anything of it, just brushed it away with my hand. Then I felt the stings………. Bloody jellyfish! I’d managed to avoid getting stung all summer at home and now I get stung for the first time in the middle of my IM swim……… typical. Shortly after I got a box in the head which made me pop my head up to some guy shouting abuse that I was going the wrong way…. Oh no……. has my dodgy sighting thrown me off course? Then I looked around and everyone else was going the same way as I was, except for the gobsh*te who had punched me in the head and 1 other guy who were on the return leg. They must have turned around just 1 buoy instead of the 2 and were now trying to swim through the middle of the oncoming group – good luck to them! Thankfully the rest of my swim passed without incident and I was moving steadily along. As I turned around the furthest point on the return leg there was a huge mass of bodies as it was a narrow section. I tried to stay to the outside and away from the smash. I made it back to the final turn and in towards the finish arch exiting the water in 1:15 – delighted! My swimming had not been going well for the last few months so I was expecting to be in the water a lot longer than that!

Up the carpet and in to transition to grab my blue bag. All the benches were full so I perched myself on a rock nearby. Off with the wetsuit, on with my arm warmers – not an easy task with wet arms… Filled my pockets with my lunch, grabbed my helmet, shoved a bread roll into my gob and off I went. Dropped my bike bag in the numbered bin, quick toilet stop, grabbed my bike and I headed out of transition. It sounds quick, but it wasn’t really, it took me over 8 minutes!

At the bike mount line it was carnage, why doesn’t anybody know how to mount a bike….? Lots of weaving and dodging to avoid getting knocked over and then off on my way.

First person I saw when I looked up was Mark, all cheers and smiles! I turned right out on to the main road. Here we go…. I’d been looking forward to this part! There was a steady stream of people on the road, we had to weave around the streets for about 10km before getting out to the main 80k loop. I looked down at my watch – SHIT my heart rate wasn’t showing….. lots of messing with buttons and hitting the heart rate monitor trying to get it to kick in…. no luck. This could be a problem, my bike plan was pretty much all HR based.

I had been warned by so many people about taking it handy on the bike – easy to push too hard when you’re feeling fresh and then suffer on the run. I need to go on feel….. and err on the side of caution, go easy easy easy! So I settled into what I hoped was a steady effort. I was saying hello to people and trying to chat and I was buzzing along with a smile on my face – however nobody was talking back to me! The view was fantastic, stunning coastline with blue skies and seas, although the wind was definitely a challenge.

A few of the Fingal lads passed me with a shout ‘Go Belpark’ and anytime I saw a tricolour I gave a cheer, this is fun! Next time I looked down I could see 35kph on clock….. Hmmm this probably isn’t as steady as I thought! Ok, I obviously need to control my effort…. If I can sing I’m not pushing too hard……. Why can’t I think of any songs….?? So I started with my abc’s…. A b c d e f g…… sang out loud at regular intervals. May have got a few strange looks…… All was going great, until the rain started…. Hopping off the ground and off me, just like home! Found it hard to keep to an easy cadence with the wind and rain, time for more singing…. A b c d e f g….. at least no one can hear me with the weather like this!

It was a relief when the rain finally eased off, thankfully the weather was warm so I dried off soon enough. Random thought – that bike bag I dropped was very light, was my wetsuit in it…….? (Turns out it wasn’t as I discovered when I collected my bags after the race. Thankfully it turned up in Lost and Found the next day….. alongside a LOT of other expensive gear…. Who forgets to collect their bike??)

Up Gaels Bakk – out of the saddle, music, cow bells and cheers!

The wind had been causing problems with refilling my carb bottles, I had my tailwind packets but the powder was blowing everywhere – the white powder all over my bike made it look like I was up to something dodgy! The Special needs area was at the top of the climb so I took the chance to refill the carb bottle properly, grab a pre made carb bottle that I had stashed in the special needs bag and a quick toilet stop. Total stop time was 5/6 minutes. Back on my bike and on to the end of lap 1 and on to lap 2.

Second time around the coastline wasn’t so stunning, grey and gloomy and then the hailstones! Soaked to the skin again. The 2nd lap passed without much incident, some singing, some gels, random rain showers and a constant wind…. I remember seeing the 130k marker and thinking only 50k to go….. that seems like a long way – I was ready to get off the bike at that stage. Need to keep focus and turn the legs over. Up Gaels Bakk again, the atmosphere gave me a boost and I also knew I was near the end of lap 2. At the end of the 2nd lap I was into the last 10k of the bike. Back winding back through the streets of Copenhagen….. I knew T2 was to be in an underground carpark – where is it……? I was watching the distance on my watch, as it hit 181k I was wondering if I’d gone the wrong way. Around the corner and I’m cycling alongside the run course…. Finally I see T2 up ahead.

Out of my shoes and ready to dismount at the bottom of the ramp, total bike time 6:15. There were bike grabbers to take my bike – phew…… I was delighted to hand it over at that stage, and I was glad to be in my socks!  There were people skating around in bike shoes on the slippy carpark surface. Grabbed my red run bag, sat down on bench, change of socks, runners on, visor on, load up the back pockets with gels and off I go. Time spent underground, just over 6 minutes. Up the ramp out of the carpark and on to the final stage….. my 1st ever marathon.

Decided I needed to get my HR working for the run…. I had to stop the watch, save activity…. Find gps……. Find HR…… success! Run started…. And off I go….. and the atmosphere was unreal – people everywhere lining the route. I spotted Mark and the Irish supporters around the corner, high fives all round. By the time I looked at my watch again I was through 3k and moving way too fast……. I had been warned to start slow…. slower than I thought I should to get in to a rhythm….. but I was already way ahead on pace and my heart rate was creeping up… need to pull back, there’s a lot of running ahead. The course was a slight out and back which was great as I got to see Mark and the gang twice per lap. The roars would deafen you! So I passed the Irish corner again before heading around on the wooden slats by the Royal Danish Theatre and then I could see the finish line to the right – wow, the atmosphere was electric.

The run course was 4 laps, each one passing by the finishers chute – cruel, but good motivation as the music was pumping and you could hear the ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’ cries to keep you going….

After about 6km of the run I was running along by the harbour I could see people up ahead that looked like they were on a different level – eh…. What’s that about, how did they get up there?? This is supposed to be a flat course…..! As I got closer I could hear music and see people walking up an admittedly very short, but steep incline with singing and cheers to encourage everyone along. So up on my toes and up the ramp I go…. Not too bad the 1st time, but that’s gonna hurt on later laps…. Slight downhill, then another ramp up and then the 1st of the lap bands – Green! Back around by transition and out pops Claire Reynolds starting her run, all smiles and looking strong. We ran together for a short bit around by the cheering supporter’s corner, more high fives! Claire was moving slightly faster than me so I pulled back and let her go. Far too early for me to be chasing someone else’s pace! I also passed Patrick coming the opposite way, he let out a roar and I burst out laughing – glad he was enjoying himself!

I kept a steady pace for lap 2 and collected my yellow band. I hit the 21k mark pretty much still on target pace but was feeling the effects and my dodgy knee was starting to ache a bit. My knee had been giving me trouble for the last few weeks, I’d had to skip my last long run and avoided running completely for the 2 weeks leading up to the race so I knew it was going to give me trouble at some stage, it was just a matter of when. Just have to keep moving. I decided that I needed to get more water onboard so walked a few steps through each aid station to drink a cup of water – I had been carrying my own water bottle but it had some carb powder in it and all I wanted at that stage was plain water. This worked well, the water was the first offering at the aid station and the bin was at the end so binned the cup and off I went again. This was slowing my pace slightly but I figured it was definitely worth it. One of the aid stations was just after the short sharp “climb” which was a welcome sight and also a good chance to bring my HR down after the incline.

(I know Keith Bell is waiting for some gory portaloo related story but thankfully I escaped all that – sorry Keith!)

Around the 25k mark I collected band number 3, Blue! As I rounded the corner I spotted Patrick and gave him a shout, he looked like he was under a bit of pressure and had slowed a bit so just a few words of encouragement and I kept moving on.   After I passed Mark again I looked at my watch and I was nearly at 30k – wow, this is officially my longest ever run! Who knows what’s going to happen from here. This made me laugh out loud which got me a very strange look from a fellow competitor who obviously thought I was losing my marbles! Sure I might as well keep going at this stage…. As I passed the finish line again, I gave a cheer – I’ll be back soon! Only 10k to go – sure I can run 10k, no bother. I continued to grab water and walk a few paces through each aid station, it was keeping me going and although my legs were definitely suffering at this stage I told myself I was NOT allowed to walk other than the aid stations. Around by the little ramp again, ooh didn’t feel so little this time but I don’t have to do it again…. Collected my final band – the red one. We’re onto the home stretch, only 6k to go… around by transition and spotted a few cyclists still trickling in – oh dear, how glad am I not to be only starting this run!

Around by Mark – I knew he needed to head to the finish line or he’d miss my grand finale… So I shouted in a panic “I’m on my last lap!” He knew obviously, he probably knew more than I did all day about where I was on the course and what I’d left to do.

Back around the final turnaround and with 2.5k left to run I was looking at my watch, I figured a 4 hour marathon might be still a possibility but would involve a serious push and the risk of me collapsing over the line (I may well have been kidding myself here, there’s a high chance that any attempt to increase my pace at that stage would not have gone well at all but I’m sticking to the positive thoughts!) …. I also reckoned that I was definitely under the 12 hours so I decided to stay with my pace, enjoy the last stretch and soak up the atmosphere. At the 2nd last aid station I pushed the boat out and grabbed a coke (I know!) and jogged my way along the last 2 kilometres, around by the theatre one last time saying goodbye to Danish guy I had passed on every lap who cheered me on and tried to pronounce Deirdre – it sounded different every time…. As I turned on to the carpet I spotted Mark, roaring like a lunatic!

There was a bit of traffic on the carpet so I slowed a bit so that I could get my own proper finisher line picture, very important! (someone else wasn’t quite so patient and pushed past me!) Then I crossed the line with a big stupid grin on my face and a finish time of 11:49, thrilled! Someone put a medal around my neck, a second person wrapped me in a tinfoil blanket and directed me towards a photographer who captured my delirious grin!

The aftermath

Shortly after I finished the skies opened again with another torrential shower – I think the supporters probably suffered as much as we did, if not more! We had plans to go for a few beers nearby but with everyone soaked to the skin again we ended up heading back to the apartment for some cans of the finest local brew………… Carlsberg! If Carlsberg did races………..

The 4 flights stairs I mentioned earlier to our lovely Airbnb apartment were not so much fun that evening, not to mention Monday morning, or Monday evening…… they were a struggle to say the least, my dodgy knee wouldn’t really bend and as you can imagine my leg muscles were just not happy in general! Going up the stairs was a slow process and down was even worse, thankfully we weren’t in a rush….

The Thank Yous

If you’re still reading well done and thank you! Here comes the acknowledgements section….

This has been a pretty amazing experience, from the support and advice I received in the lead up to the event, to the messages of good luck and congratulations around the event itself, it’s been unreal. The fact that I made it through it all in one piece just shows what determination, and a bit of stubbornness can achieve (despite my parents best efforts to talk me out of it) and I genuinely enjoyed it all, even the slightly painful parts!

Thanks to Patrick and Andrew who kept me sane all year, and who both had brilliant races of their own!

A huge thank you has to go to my enthusiastic coach Tanja Slater, who I worked closely with on my training plan. She has such a balanced approach to life/training/racing and definitely stopped me from going overboard, while keeping things fun and interesting all year. She made me think through every detail and was 100% the reason I had such a calm approach to the whole day.

Belpark is a pretty amazing club and I’ve met some incredible people since I joined, including the very patient, supportive and general all round good guy Mark McDonnell. He’s put up with a LOT this year so deserves a special mention, from driving across the country behind me which I went for a long cycle to the many omelettes he’s cooked for me after my long bike and run sessions, not to mention being my number 1 supporter in Copenhagen. Gold star!

Would I do it all over again? Time will tell…. but there are definitely more mad adventures to come


  1. Laura T. Flynn

    Just read that now Dee so sorry it’s taken so long. What an inspiring report. Well done to you and to Andrew . I’m so tempted to try it some time but am put off by my recurring calf and Achilles issues. Now that I’ve read your report though….maybe just maybe some day. Thanks for sharing the amazing experience with us.

  2. Andrew Fenton

    Great report Deidre – really inspiring. Congrats on your Ironman and a phenomenal result and likewise to the other Belparkers who competed at Copenhagen.

  3. Thanks Deirdre, great read. some great tips and explanations of the inner workings of the race for other IM newbies. Amazing time to get under the 12hrs could only dream of that!

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