Ironman Copenhagen: Andrew Boyle
20th August 2017
It started with a WhatsApp message: ‘Hey, I’ve entered an Ironman! Copenhagen next August. You in? (Remember we discussed this??)’
That was August 2016. I should have known that given I didn’t reject the idea straight away it was probably inevitable and having mulled it over for a few months, by November I was ready to sign up.
I was clear on one thing from the start: this was going to be my best (and last) effort at an Ironman so I decided that I needed a coach and approached Tanja Slater. We started working together at the end of January: 7 months to the race. Seemed a long way away but it turned out to be a game changing decision.
On the whole training went pretty well. I managed to get through my entire plan with very little sickness or injury and only a single visit to the physio. In my efforts of stave off downtime I treated people with the slightest cough or sniffle as if they had Ebola, ate a whole load of vegetables and spent a suspicious amount of time with my foam roller. It seemed to work.
By the time I got to the taper period I simply felt ready.
My alarm went off at 4:10am and I headed down for breakfast (I thought the extra 10 mins in bed would give me the edge over the entire field). I was not that hungry but forced down some food and off to the race.
After a quick check on my bike, myself and my wife Sarah found a quiet spot to sit down and absorb the atmosphere (a little zen moment). Start time approached and I headed down to the beach area.
Swim wave start times were self-selected at registration based on your estimated swim time. A different cap colour for each group. Within that you could line up in roughly two minute corrals with six people entering the water every four seconds….it was an impressively slick operation.
My swim had really improved over the year and I had thought I could swim 1:10 or a little faster, so I decided to line up towards the back of the sub 1:06 group (red caps). My thinking was that I’d know people catching me from the next wave were moving faster and so I could draft off them.
As I lined up on the beach with the music booming I felt hugely positive about the day ahead. I got to the front of the queue with Tanja’s words ringing in my ears: ‘you didn’t do all this swimming in training to take it easy: attack!’
From the get go I was passing people with red swim caps and that’s how it continued. My plan to pick up drafts from people coming from the next wave didn’t really materialise as an option as I hardly saw any. I felt like I was swimming well but always find it hard to judge my speed. As I rounded the last buoy of the single loop course I started to think about what I was going to do in T1 and kicked the legs a bit to wake them up. Out of the water, hit the watch: 1h05m. Wow! Fantastic! Didn’t expect that!
Nothing to see in T1….onto the bike, over the mount line and go.
Boom! Straight into a spectator who had stepped out into the road. I managed to stay upright (unlike her) although my helmet visor went flying. I started apologising not really knowing what had happened until a stern Danish man very firmly told me it was her fault and not to apologise. Another lady fetched my visor and off I went.
The bike course went north along the coast and then west through lovely rolling countryside returning to the city via a dual carriage way. Two loops. Pretty blustery with a few heavy downpours. It was the kind of wind that I knew was always there but I never really knew if it was helping me or not. Not ideal but I had deliberated sought out windy days in my training as I knew wind rather than high temperatures were the big risk in Copenhagen. It was ok.
My plan was to hold back for the first 120km and keep my heart rate respectable. Having been out of the water early meant I got to see a lot of strong bikers horse past me….I was ok with that and I wondered how many of them I would see again later.
By the 50km mark I had nearly emptied my two water bottles so decided to pull into the next aid station. I grabbed a bottle and clumsily tried to mix a sachet of carbohydrate power into it. At the same time I had a volunteer empty a second bottle into my torpedo on the aero bars. All told I would say the stop took less than two minutes. Not much in a race that takes all day but it felt like an age and so I resolved that all future refuelling and ‘other business’ would be undertaken on the move.
The rest of the bike really flew: each 10km was signposted and they clicked by steadily. HR was under control, pace was constant. Fuelling plan was exactly as I had practiced for months. Every time I passed over a timing mat I had a bit of a chat (to myself) with all the people back home following online. I was really enjoying it.
The last few kms of the bike course are back in the winding city centre streets and through the huge crowds cheering on the run. By now the rain was torrential and the cobbled streets really had all my attention. Somewhere in the last few turns I heard a single voice come out of the thousands: ‘come on Andrew, you’re doing great’. Sarah had somehow spotted me. Magic moment.
Over the dismount line, hit my watch: 6h04m. Fantastic.
T2 was in an underground car park which given the rain was a great relief. Within a few seconds of dismount a volunteer takes your bike and racks it – more impressive organisation. I didn’t hang around and within a short few minutes I was back up the ramp and onto the run course.
The start of the run was right in the heart of the city and the atmosphere was incredible. Throngs of cheering people and blaring music. This was going to be great.
I felt pretty good but I reckoned that there are few people at Ironman who don’t feel good at the start of the run! I knew the run was where the wheels come off for people so needed to keep my concentration and really slow down.
To make it a bit more digestible mentally I had broken the four (and a half!) lap run course roughly into four:
The tourist lap: number one goal for this lap was to get my pace under control. I had a pretty good idea of what ‘too fast’ felt like and knew that meant walking later on which was to be avoided at all costs. I was looking for Forrest Gump pace. The electric atmosphere was not helping me slowdown but about 2km in I had locked into what I felt was the right pace.
After that I spent my time sussing out the course: finding quiet or hilly parts that would be tough later on and finding the louder parts where I could absorb energy from the crowd. In a lot of places the course is very tight: only wide enough for a couple of people, with crowds pushing in from each side. Lots of music and ‘hotspots’ including wonder woman, a heavy metal band, a death metal guy and a few spots with local triathlon clubs blaring music and dishing out high fives. Apparently in Denmark if you want to join a triathlon club you need to look like a super model.
The decision lap: my plan for this lap was to make sure my pace was not sneaking up (or down!) without me realising. I reckoned that if I overcooked this lap, walking was a certainty. My double check on pace was HR and that was staying nice and low. Felt ‘comfortably uncomfortable’.
The tough lap: no question in my mind, lap 3 was going to be the most difficult – still a long way to go and it was now starting to hurt. Every little incline seemed much bigger than before. I kept thinking about the next time I’d see supporters or pass some music or get a high 5. I was still moving and my pace hadn’t dropped. Again as I passed over timing mats I thought of all the people at home following the tracker. By now there were a lot of people around me who looked like they were in the complete horrors: shuffling, walking or stopped: fantastic! A few runners, but I was moving faster than most people around me. The steady bike strategy seemed to be paying off.
The glory lap: with less than 10km to go I was experiencing a strange combination of both increasing pain and excitement. I knew I was going to hang onto my pace and that I was going to be close to a four hour marathon (in one of the first conversations I had with Tanja back in January she told me that she wanted me to run a four hour marathon. I thought there was no chance of that at the time but here I was).
It really was the most amazing few kms of running I have ever done – I felt I could have run through a wall but at the same time if you told me that the course had been extended by 1km I would have collapsed on the side of the road, a dribbling mess. By now I was 100% fuelled by adrenaline.
In the last couple of km I became laser focused on people around me who had their 4th (red) armband: those who would be turning off the course to head down the finishing chute with me. I hadn’t planned on sharing the ‘magic carpet’ with them so I needed to out run them to maximise my photo opportunity! Seemingly vanity is a great source of energy.
Foot down, bye bye!! Into the finishing chute, down the magic carpet, high fiving the crowd. I had thought about this moment a lot on my long training runs. Arms raised, over the line. Done!
4h01m marathon – excellent! 11h25m finishing time, delighted!
Race day is only a small part of a long project with IM.
Reflecting on it now I can say that I loved all of it. Lots of discipline and hard work but huge rewards and fun along the way.
Towards the end of my training on one of my long runs or long swims when my mind was wandering, I tried to count the people who had helped me along the way.
There was way too many to keep track of. I hope by now I’ve thanked people personally but for those I’ve missed thanks for the training company, advice, reality checks or just coming along on the journey. You’ve been great!