After twenty-eight iron distance races, over 40 marathons and ultra marathons, countless other 70.3s, half-marathons, 10ks, 5ks, and even beer miles, I am always surprised that there is still a new lesson to be learned after each race. This year especially has been a year of them….on conquering fears (Wanaka), racing when your gear doesn’t arrive (Taiwan), racing when the body just won’t cooperate (Raleigh), and realizing that it’s time to step up the racing goals once again (Canada). It had begun to feel quite rare when looking back, the lesson of the day was actually just that I raced, because I wanted to, for the sake of racing.
I don’t think people were too surprised that I had IM Copenhagen on the plans 3 weeks after IM Canada. Copenhagen is one of my favorite cities to visit. I visited there in 2015 to race — that year was my first attempt at doing two Ironman races 7 days apart….IM Vichy was just a week later. When the women’s pro race was returning for 2017, it was one of the first races to add to my list. Copenhagen is a large city but is also quite laid back. The bicycles on the streets outnumber the cars. And with my blonde hair and fair skin most people initiate conversation with me in Danish which I have to admit I quite like to be mistaken for someone who belongs. It is most definitely a city I feel at home in. This year they were experiencing a “typical nordic” summer - in the 60s with windy days blowing through frequent rain storms. I knew race day would probably be quite different from the hot and sunny day of 2015.
It was going to be a quick trip for me so I landed in Copenhagen mid-day Thursday. I was able to go for a swim, bike, and a run to shakeout before meeting my homestay mom from 2015 for dinner. Helle is one of my favorite people I have met through my travels in racing, and it was so nice to have a night to relax and catch up with her, as well as have her help with some of the logistical questions I had.
Friday and Saturday is always a bit of a blur before the race as I pack the race bags, then empty the race bags to check I packed what I need, think about adding things “just in case,” take those things out knowing I’ve never used them before in a race, and finally repack and drop off the bags. But finally, everything is settled in and I’m at what I call The Last Supper — my finally pre-race dinner. This time I picked a local Thai restaurant, with my good friend Julie who decided after helping me in Lanzarote that she had a skill for this IM spectating thing, and came over from London to help and watch me again.
Before I knew it, it was time to get up, eat my pre-race breakfast (honey stinger waffle, Justin's PB, a gluten-free poptart, a banana and coffee) and head to the race start. It was a bit chilly, but I decided that rather than face the metro that would surely be crowded with other racers and their nerves, I’d check out one of the electric city bikes and spin down to the race start, allowing myself a super peaceful pre-race spin as the city continued to sleep and I rode down to the water. Of course, transition was alive and as I walked in I felt all the good feels of the pre-race anticipation. Some rain clouds were already moving in, so I was pretty grateful that time went by quickly and I was lined up to go soon enough.
There were 8 pro-women racing that day. Typically with 8 people, and a separate start from the age groupers, the women end up having a very civilized start. Of course….first time for everything! We had a bit of a discussion before the start to sort out the exact course and what buoys were turn buoys, which were just for sighting, etc etc. We thought it was all sorted, the gun went off, and I tucked my chin and started to zero in on the group I was hoping to stay with. After a bit of that first rush, I looked up - HUH? My head went back in the water but my brain wasn’t thinking about staying on feet, it was now saying “wait, are we heading out on the course BACKWARDS?” I looked up again. YEP. We were heading to the wrong buoy. Just as I started to redirect myself, and start to swim to the correct buoy, I caught sight of the kayaker who paddled out to shoo us in the right direction. I don’t think it cost more than 60-90 seconds, and I was able to see that everyone except one was off course, so while it wasn't a tragic mistake, it is a bit embarrassing! This video caught it all too.
After the chaos was sorted, we ended up reconvening at the first turn anyway, and from there it was a pretty standard swim of me getting yo-yoed off the back of a pack, finally catching up, then losing it again until about halfway when I lose them for good. One of these days people I’ll be giving a different story!
The good news is though, I did exit the water around people, which means: I am biking with people! I immediately passed one woman as we exited T1, but based on the media scooters and how they were leapfrogging, I knew I was close to the other women. Copenhagen was doing a live broadcast of the event, and so a couple times I was able to get actual time gaps to 3rd and 4th which is super helpful. At one point I was riding in 4th, then back to 6th, then managed to ride solidly in 5th for the remainder of the ride. While Copenhagen isn’t a super hilly course, there are plenty of ups and downs and a bit of technical stuff too. I was able to keep a steady effort over the course of the 112 miles and, despite a few major downpours blowing through on us, I was really enjoying the ride. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t ready to get off my bike after 5 hours though :)
One of the highlights from 2015 was the run. The entire city was out that year, and because the course is 4 laps, you’re very much contained within all the excitement. The energy is second to nothing I’ve felt during the entire ironman marathon. This year, because of the weather, I knew I might not be quite so lucky, but exiting T2 (you run up out of a parking garage, into a massive crowd of people) you can’t help but get excited — there were still plenty of people out. In fact, there was no span on that run course without spectators. Literally, people cheering the entire way.
It turned out I had the 6th and 7th place women closer to me I thought, and we all were within a few minutes of each other starting the run. I saw Pia at the first turnaround, and when I didn’t see her at the second I knew that was because she was literally on my heels. She passed, and I tucked in behind her to see if maybe I could ride it out that way. I took a look at my watch though and quickly realized that running her pace for the entire marathon wasn’t going to turn out well for me. I was not trained for 7 minute miles! Quite honestly, I also knew that this was her first pro race, and as a Danish athlete she had a lot of hometown support. I had to hedge my bets on the fact that she was caught up in the excitement, run my race for now, and see what I can do in the last 10k.
From the start of the run my legs felt pretty heavy. The course is flat with the exception of a few small rises up and over bridges, etc. But there are also a lot of turns, cobblestones, and uneven ground to contend with. But I knew that what I was feeling was probably the feeling of having run an ironman just three weeks ago. I had to trust in the magic of muscle memory that I would be able to tough this out. Mind over matter! And…that’s just what happened. I dialed in my pace and just started clicking off the miles. I never felt better, but I really never felt any worse either. And then around halfway I got an update from Julie: Pia was 2 minutes ahead, but she didn’t look great. Hmmmm. This was perfect timing. You know that part in the race where everything hurts and you’re tired? Yeah, I was there. I was *just* starting to battle those mental demons that are telling you it’s ok to compromise - I had a bit of a cushion behind me. Why not just dial it back a little to make sure there’s no massive implosion?
But….two minutes. That was closer than I thought. I circled back to Julie after 2.5 miles and got another update: 2:15. UGH. That’s annoying, I thought. She must not have been struggling so much after all! But, now I was in it. I was coming out of a lull and my mindset was back to racing. I began to get excited as I continued to talk myself back into the race. This is what I came here for. This is my job today. This is racing.
Mile 18ish: 1:45! I was doing it. Finally my mind and my legs started to work together. I started to do the math. Then I stopped doing the math because I realized 1:45 can still be a lot of time to make up in just 8 miles.
Mile 20: 45 seconds! BOOM! That was all I needed to hear. I didn’t need to do any math to know that it was only a matter of time, and sure enough I was able to spot her in the distance at the next long straightaway. I made the pass, sang along to “Call me Maybe” from the crowd nearby, and reminded myself to just stay relaxed and not do anything stupid for the next 5 miles. I was so excited to pass Julie one more time around mile 24 because I knew she was waiting to see who would come by first!
At the finish line: 9:33:20 — 5th place, a PR, and a very solid day at the races. I’m always amazed that no matter how many times I do it, the race never unfolds the same. And perhaps the most exciting part is that now as I continue inching myself closer to the podium, it’s feeling more and more within reach. It was a day where I got to race because that’s what I came to do, it’s my job, and I love it. There were no other lessons to be learned, no deep thoughts to be had, just the love of the race, and the feeling of how much I can’t wait to do it again!