RACE REPORT IRONMAN COPENHAGEN – MYJOURNEY TO BECOMING AN IRONMAN
My IRONMAN journey started in April 2018 at a triathlon training camp in Mallorca. As a newbie swimmer and someone who enjoyed running and cycling, the concept of triathlon kind of appealed to me – although at this stage having no idea what it was really all about. My only intent was to spend quality training time with good people. As expected the outcome of the week highlighted that I was a terrible swimmer, okay at running and better than average on the bike. The idea that I may be able to complete a triathlon became a reality – albeit still a distant thought at this stage.
Living in Germany at the time and with my husband (Eddie)constantly deployed with the Army, I needed a new challenge to occupy my time, rather than aimlessly hitting the gym, going for the odd run or jumping on Zwift. I made a deal with myself that if I could eventually swim a mile I would sign up for an IRONMAN 70.3. Before long I had swam my first mile and had signed up for IRONMAN 70.3 Zell am See, Austria. With no real concept of specific training requirements, I found myself driving down to Austria in the camper van, ready to take on my new challenge. Even with a cancelled bike leg due to extreme weather conditions, I was hooked and now considered myself as a triathlete and was soon looking for the next challenge.
So the decision had been made and after some research and a bit of Eddie forcing my hand, I had signed up for IRONMAN Copenhagen… ‘Okay’ I thought, ‘shit just got real’. I quickly realised that I should perhaps be a little more structured with my training and approached Steve Clark of ‘Offthatcouchfitness’ in a bid to coaching me through my IRONMAN journey.
I was deployed to Canada from Jan – May 2019 with the Army repairing Main Battle Tank Power Pack groups. Working 12 hour shifts, limited access to training resources (1 Wattbike between 300 soldiers), extreme cold temperatures (-50°C) and an Achilles tendon strain… this was not the best start to my training plan. The reality was that most of my training would be done indoors, with the occasional run outside leading up to the Hypothermic half marathon in Calgary at a cool -35°C. The saving grace being the use of a swimming pool on the Canadian Forces Base.
We returned to Germany at the end of April and proceeded to buy my first triathlon bike. Visiting the canyon factory was amazingand after a few weeks of deliberating and 2 bike fits, the Canyon WMN CF was my weapon of choice. With the bike sorted I switched my focus to OW swimming. A combination of YouTube clips and practice in the local lake, my OW swimming had improved beyond all comprehension.
We moved to the UK in July, so the added pressure of moving house/country/finding new bike and run routes in short time was a struggle. With Eddie being on constant readiness to deploy, we were unsure at this stage whether I would be traveling to Denmark alone or with the support of Eddie. Fortunately a couple of weeks before the event, he was stood down and could join me.
We had decided to drive to Copenhagen so packed the car up and set off for the mammoth journey, arriving in CPH 20 hours later. We stayed in an apartment near the University, away from the city which was stunning. We had a lot of help with logistics from a couple of people on the IM CPH site so this made things easier. I went for a quick swim in the lagoon after unpacking and it was great to see where the start was so early in the week. A group of us arranged another swim for the Friday with a plan to swim part of the course, which I felt really helped.
Registration and handing bikes and kit in was easy and very straightforward on Saturday, the day before the race, albeit in the rain.
I attended the “women for tri” brunch in the morning and it was great to meet some inspiring women talk about their journey and to meet other competitors.
0415 hrs Sunday morning soon came around. Luckily I had slept well as I didn’t sleep very well the previous night. I ate porridge, drank tea had all my kit laid out so I didn’t forget anything and soon we were on our way to the start. The weather looked better than predicted but it gave rain from 1100 hrs and then again from 1400 hrs until the end of the day.
I lined up with the pink caps (1.11-1.17). I felt surprisingly calm but having swam the distance twice in training I knew I could complete it, I just had to take it at my own pace and stay calm. My early strategy to help stay out of trouble was to start on the left side of the pack as the first buoy was on the right – rationale being that the right side of the pack would be faster. I had a couple of collisions but nothing that phased me and managed to stay close to the next turn buoy. With my confidence growing, I decided to take a direct line to the next buoy and mix it within the group… rather than swim extra distance.
The next 3 buoys went the same way and before I knew it we were at the last turn before the final push towards the finishing chute. It got a bit messy here as everyone was heading for the exit but with a bit of help from safety marshals, the group made it in without incident. As I made my way out of the water I remember thinking “OMG, I made it, I actually get to ride my bike now”. My feet were freezing and as I grabbed my bike bag I decided to go into the change tent, thinking it may be warmer. I spent longer than I perhaps should have drying myself, getting dressed and eating my jam sandwich but all I could think of was that it would be a long time on the bike and if I stayed wet, I would never get warm.
I ran to my bike and was soon on my way out of transition. I saw Eddie at the first turn which gave me a boost. We rode through thealready bustling city and soon found ourselves on the long stretch of stunning coastal road. My teeth had stopped chattering by now so all was ok. The weather was now constantly changing from cool and overcast to rainy and windy. I settled into a comfortable pace as planned, 70% kept going through my head, “don’t push it, save your legs for the run”. I stopped for the loo twice and to fill my bottles with energy drink. My bike nutrition plan was: 2 bags of food (1 for each lap) with apricots, broken up Graze bars, sport beans and some salt tablets (top tip, don’t chew the salt tablets by accident) in my bento box and 4 gels taped to my top tube. This worked well with my setup of a front torpedo bottle, a frame aero bottle and 2 rear seat bottles – tailwind being my chosen drink.
I chatted to everyone I passed as my main aim of the day (apart from to finish) was to enjoy it. It had been a long and lonely training year so today was about people. Before I knew it, we were directed back into the city for the final 10 miles, back to windy streets and staying away from wet white lines. I had seen 4 bad accidents on the course and knew that anything could happen at any moment, ’just get to the end!’ I thought.
There it was, the bike catchers took our bikes and we grabbed our run bags. I had double bagged my kit so everything was dry, I later found out that some people had not been so fortunate. I change socks, applied skin shield on my feet and other places that may chafe, had a quick toilet stop and headed out en route. I saw Eddie within the first couple of minutes and was met with an overexcited High Five – adding to the infectious atmosphere of the gathering crowd. I settled into a nice comfortable pace and took in the first lap. I had stomach cramps so thought I’d best go to the loo… waited ages and was getting frustrated, but I had made the decision to stop and felt better after, so it was the right choice.
It rained heavy for much of the run and I remember feeling sorry for all the spectators, but they were amazing! So many cheers and people shouting your name, it really gives you a boost.
My watch got knocked and turned off around halfway and took me a few minutes to suss out what to do, so I didn’t have an accurate reading of what I had done…aw well!, I was just running to feel anyway. My hip flexors started to feel tight on the last couple of laps so I slowed down a bit and kept thinking “the pain is coming”, but it never really did. The last 13 miles were mildly uncomfortable, but nothing like what I expected. I was soon running under the bridge for the last time and the cheers echoed, which chocked me up a little. A group of spectators had cheered me every lap, so I showed them my blue band (an indication that an athlete is on their last lap) and they cheered so loud… I almost cried as I realised that I was actually going to finish this and run down that red carpet.
I ran into the chute, arms out wide like an aeroplane (OTCF way to finish), high fiving everyone I could as they cheered and clapped me in. The guy with the microphone was chatting to another finisher so I politely tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to my name. I needed to hear it; “Tammy, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” YESSSSSSS!! Incredible!! I got my medal, looked for Eddie in the crowd, got a big hug and a photo, collected my t-shirt and street bag and thenheaded for a shower. That felt amazing, clean dry clothes and off to collect my bike.
Stats – What I did
Swim: 1 hr 23 min 42 sec
T1: 13 min 07 sec
Bike: 6 hrs 07 min 37 sec
T2: 8 min 38 sec
Run: 4 hrs 28 min 42 sec
Overall: 12 hrs 21 min 47 sec
Position: 20th Overall & 1st Brit – Age Gp 45-49
I feel chuffed to bits that my first triathlon was a full IRONMAN. The unescapable thought that hits every athlete after an event of “I could have easily gone so much quicker if I had tried”, but I had absolutely no idea how I would feel come the run and really only wanted to finish. Lots of lessons learnt and I am so grateful that I was able to complete it, especially after hearing how people got pulled from the swim or needed an ambulance on the run. As they say “Anything is possible”, especially on race day!!
Big shout out to Coach Steve for guiding me through my journey and a couple of lucky friends that were on the end of many texts with random questions. I’m not sure that I will ever stop smiling at the thought of being an IRONMAN. Time to start planning the next challenge…