Chasing Ironman Copenhagen!
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
I could have become an Ironman on my own, but what made this journey valuable was getting to know people who share the drive with me...
Why Ironman; why Copenhagen?
It was fall 2018 when I almost died from an allergic reaction to something I do not know to this date in Beijing. While trying to navigate the emergency room where no one spoke English, I also started thinking about things I wanted to do before dying. I didn’t want to die before being an ironman. My triathlete friends in the Netherlands were already signed up for Ironman Copenhagen, so I also registered as a birthday present to myself.
After graduating law school in Vancouver, I decided to take the summer off to train full time, thinking life would get extremely busy once I start working. The destination for my summer of training had to be the Netherlands: I had worked there the previous summer and knew an amazing triathlon club called ATAC: Amsterdam Triathlon and Cycling Club. I set off for Amsterdam right after graduation.
I followed a 24-week training plan by Coach Phil Mosley on Training Peaks. I loved how manageable the plan was, even with school and part-time work during spring. In the summer, I added a couple of swim lessons and group rides to my training.
Coming to the Netherlands where literally everyone is a cyclist, my cycling game felt very weak to the point that I, for the first time, started questioning whether I would be able to make the bike cut-off. Some group rides, tempo workouts and iron supplements later, I was feeling fit and confident. There are countless bike roads in this country and so many pretty routes to discover. I, however, mostly stuck to the main local loops Ronde Hoep and Ringvaart where traffic lights were scarce and I didn’t need to look at the map while training.
I could have become an ironman on my own, but what made this journey valuable was getting to know people who share the drive with me. My best memories are not from the race- they are from track sessions with LIT Vancouver, 6 am swims with my best friend Özüm, and seemingly endless rides with ATAC friends.
The Race: Swim
Ironman Copenhagen starts at Amager Strandpark: a small island by the sea between the airport and the city centre. We had checked in the bikes and done a small swim the day before at the venue with fellow ATAC-ers Sarah, Andrea, and Mehdi.
On race morning, I woke up at 4:30 AM and devoured a big bowl of oats while blasting my race day playlist at the airbnb I was staying at. I rented a bike via Copenhagen’s bike sharing app Donkey Republic, and rode 15 minutes to the race venue.
The swim is a rolling start based on self-seeded waves. Female-only pro athletes started at 7 AM, and from 7:10 AM on, 6 age groupers started running to the calm ocean waters every 3 seconds. With the recommendation of my friends, I seeded myself a bit faster than I thought I would be, and it was a good decision because although I was definitely slower than what I put down, so many people on my wave were behind me as I exited the swim.
I really liked the rolling start: there was plenty of space for everyone and I didn’t get hit much. However, around 2K in, the water got really shallow, and there was a huge amount of seaweed in the water. They got tangled in my goggles, watch and made it hard to sight. I slowed down considerably on that part. My overall swim time was about 3 minutes longer than expected, but I felt great so didn’t mind it much.
T1 was looong! Yes, I did a full change of clothes but there was also a lot of running to get from the beach to the bikes, and there were no wetsuit strippers.
The course starts from the beach, passes by the city centre with too many turns, and finally makes its way to the northern coast and then inlands to wheat fields. 2 loops. We were lucky because there was virtually no wind, and the rain held back until late afternoon. People say IM Copenhagen has a flat course, but that’s not accurate. I would definitely say it has rolling hills, especially since I know very well what flat means, having trained in the Netherlands.
I had prepared some comfort food (i.e. Tony’s Chocolonely bars; thanks Sarah for the tip) in the bike special needs bag, but I hadn’t checked beforehand where I would pick up the bag, and the special needs pick up point was not clearly marked, so I missed it on the first loop. On the second loop, I was feeling fast and badass, and the rain was starting, so I wanted to keep rolling.
There were quite a lot of people cheering on random points in the course, especially by uphill portions. The amount of people declined on the second loop, as faster athletes (and their supporters) were already done.
By the time I completed the first loop, I was well ahead of my expected time goal, and I knew that I will finish this race.
The last few kilometres felt like forever. We made our way back into the city, slowing down with many turns and less even surface. About a kilometre from T2, I spotted my cheering brother for the first time. Everyone in the changing tent were in good spirits- we had around 7 hours to complete a marathon- that meant we would be fine even if we walked all of it.
It was pouring rain at the beginning. The music and the crowds were a welcome change after the never-ending quiet roads of the last 30 kilometers.
The run course is 4 loops, and goes through the Copenhagen city centre, passing by many tourist sights. Sightseeing and marathon running together.
I got excited, as I always do, when I started running, and I went quite fast for the first few kilometers. It would have been wiser to pace myself more conservatively, but I couldn’t contain my excitement about feeling fresh off the bike. I slowed down to my target pace around 5 kilometers, and around 10 kilometers the legs started to hurt. I promised myself I would run non-stop until the halfway point. It was hard. After that, I first started with 2 minutes walking, 5 kilometers running. That wasn’t sustainable until the end. I switched to 3 minutes walking, 3 kilometers running. At certain points I walked the uphills and the aid stations.
At the aid stations I drank Redbull in quantities I’ve never before consumed in my life. About 30 kilometers in, I couldn’t eat anything sweet anymore, and salty crackers were lifesavers.
Also around 30 kilometers, I was about to start crying. There was so much pain. I was looking at my watch every 100 meters until I can stop running and do a bit of walking. Just then, I saw my brother on the sidelines filming and running alongside me for a bit, so I forced myself to smile. Just the exchange of a few words was invaluable. I knew I was going to finish, but I wanted to give it all I had, and so almost the entire run became pure pain management.
On the last 10 kilometers I saw my friends Sarah and Andrea at different points on the course. On the last kilometer I caught up with Sarah and we ran about 500 meters together- very meaningful because we trained together all through our peak weeks.
I took a deep breath before following the “Finish Line” arrow this time instead of “Loops 2,3,4”. In the middle of that breath, I heard my mom calling my name. My parents had surprised me by showing up in Copenhagen even though I told them not to come.
I slowly ran through the red carpet as spectators banged the panels on the sidelines and cheered. I was proud of my victory, and equally happy that the pain was over.
To be honest, I enjoyed the training more than the race itself. Can’t wait to start training for Challenge Roth 2020!
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