Ironman Copenhagen: Race Report, Planning for Success
As a coach part of my job is to provide the athlete with a complete picture of how to prepare for events to includes long-term planning, short term objectives and measurable goals. Each workout is designed to get to the finish line strong. Mike just completed his first Ironman in Copenhagen and his patience with the process during his 3 year plan culminated in a successful event. Here is his full report:
IM Copenhagen 2019 Race Report:
By Mike Roybal
First, I want to thank my wife and son for putting up with all the gear I have bought (and mostly used), the absences from home, and most of all for supporting and loving me throughout the process. Next, I want to thank all my Fortius Teammates. I have learned so much from each and everyone of you. Whether you know if or not I’ve been listening to everything you have said or told me and used your experience, knowledge, kindness and grace as my inspiration to do be able to complete my Ironman. Last, but never least, I want thank Coach G—your coaching and support have made it possible for me to accomplish my first Ironman and I could have never done this without you and the Fortius family you have assembled around me. It is a testament to you that my teammates are the most supportive people I know. A special shout out to Enrique Marquez Paris who was my Copenhagen training partner (I especially appreciate his patients in putting up with an old man 20 years his senior) and Adrian Vasquez who planned on racing with us and I know will join us as an Ironman in the near future.
Let’s start at the beginning...
I started doing Triathlon the summer of 2016 when my gym offered a training opportunity for the Malibu Classic and Olympic Triathlons. Adrian Vasquez and and other friend from spin class had signed up—I was looking for a challenge. I had only cycled in spin class, which I enjoyed, but I hadn’t ever swum or run for exercise. I completed the Malibu Classic Distance, but the thought of a full Ironman distance never crossed my mind. Adrian and I did the Olympic distance next and heck, since the Half IM was double the Olympic, why not do it? Right? That led to several Half IM’s and since a full was only double the half and I could do a half, the IM seemed the logical next step. Copenhagen, with cool weather, a flat fast course, and atmosphere seemed the best destination IM especially since I would be doing it with a teammate.
My family and I arrived in Europe 8 days before the race, starting in Rome. My son wanted to go to Italy to eat pasta, so we figured it would be a great way to carb load. It was hot and humid in Rome for the 4 days we were there. I ran once, got lost, but mostly focused on nutrition, hydration, getting used to the time change and resting. There is a 9 hour time difference between LA and Rome/Copenhagen, so I would definitely plan on arriving at least 4-5 days before the race to acclimate for anything more than 6 hours difference. There were several mornings where I woke up at 0200-0300 with 3-4 hours of sleep and could not fall asleep again. I don’t know what they call siesta in Italy, but I did that really well to make up the difference. We did some walking and sight seeing as well in the morning and early evening due to the heat.
We arrived in Copenhagen 5 days before the race. The weather was forecasted to be cloudy with showers all week until and after race day. Enrique and I did one shake out ride the day after we arrived. During the ride a new chain I had installed before leaving, but did not test, broke less than a mile into the ride. I should have taken the bike out for a spin to make sure everything was ok before leaving. Fortunately, I was in one of the bicycling capitals of the world where there’s a bicycle shop every 20 meters. The chain had lodged between my wheel and the street and the busted link was damaged. The very nice shop owner fixed the chain, but had to shorten it such that I could not use the big wheel and the low gear. He ordered a new chain which would arrive the next day. We finished the ride and then did a run through a cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen and Kierkegaard are buried across the street from our AirBnB. I went by picked up the next day and he installed it. It rained riding to and back from the bike shop, it was then I decided that if it were to rain on the ride, I would need to wear breathable gear to keep me warm and dry. When it rained, it was always windy as well. Although that didn’t phase the Copenhagians(?). They ate on their bikes, texted, smoked, talked on the phone, held hands, and kissed rain or shine, wind or not. It was awesome.
We picked up our race packages in Copenhagen at the BLOX building three days before the race. (BLOX is an architecture, design, construction and tech institute working to develop new sustainable urban solutions—and they have an awesome Lego room.) The Expo was located here as well. The T1 was at the swim located about 3 miles away at the Amagerstrand and the T2 was located at the Bank of Denmark, a few blocks from the BLOX building. The finish line was in front of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle a few blocks from T2. All of these separate sites were a little confusing and a change from the events I had done before.
My pre-race plan was the following: I would hydrate, carbohydrate load and limit walking, milk products and fiber rich foods for the three days before the race as much as possible. That necessitated taking cabs to many places which gets expensive. The trip to the Amagerstrand to drop off the bikes was in the $60 range each way. Luckily, Enrique and I could split the costs of the cab rides. Renting a car was not practical as parking is only on the street and metered.
The day before the race we needed to drop off our bikes and Bike and Run Transition bags. For the Bike Bag I decided to wear my Fortius vest, arm warmers and Balega ultra run socks with mohair. The clothes chosen would keep me dry, warm, breath and, except for the socks, could be removed if it did get warm. I choose to use the technical pink photo-chromatic lenses in my Rudy glasses for the ride/run and packed them as well in my Bike Bag. I included a spare tire which I could put in my back pocket. The Run Bag contained my new Hoka One One Clifton road shoes (I know, I had only used them a couple of times, but they seemed to work well with no knee issues after running), my race belt with number, extra Balega socks, a running shell I bought in case it was cold and rainy, my Fortius Technical Trucker run hat, and my Nathan collapsable run bottle with 16 oz of Carbopro + Fluid (200 Calories), two tubes of Base Salt, and 6 gels with extra sodium 90 calories each. I made sure to close the bags well as it had been raining off and on. We had tried the sponsor electrolyte drink which was promoted as isotonic (same salinity as blood plasma, less likely to cause stomach upset), which tasted like Tang for those of you who grew up in the 1970s, not bad really, so I knew I could use it on the bike if needed and definitely on the run.
I only used the bike special needs bag. I placed 48 oz of Carbopro + Fluid in a used 2 liter water bottle (400 cal per 24 oz) which I could refill my bottles with. In addition, I also placed an extra CO2 and tire as well as 800 mg of ibuprofen that I could take either during the bike or save for the run if I needed it.
I would take three 24 oz bottles each with Carbopro + Fluid (400 calories/24 oz) as well as my full Torpedo hydration bottle with the same mixture on the bike. I would refill my Torpedo with the three bottles I had on the bike and then on the second loop refill the torpedo and another bottle with my special needs bag fluids.
We awoke at 0400 and ate a breakfast of 3 eggs, a cup of white rice, half a banana and 1 cup of Picky Bites maple apple oatmeal. I had an 8oz cup of coffee (Danish coffee, its ok) as well and started drinking 24oz of Fluid without Carbopro. I was able to drop the kids off at the pool without any problem (thank you coffee). I took another banana with me and a Cliff Bar with nut butter for 1 hour before my wave start time of 0730. I checked my urine and it was nice and clear and colorless meaning I was adequately hydrated. We jumped in a cab at 0500 and arrived at 0520. We checked in the Special Needs bag, I ate my banana and cliff bar and finished off the rest of the Fluid I had brought. The weather report that morning was for no rain until the early afternoon. The sun rose and broke through the clouds. Our fear of a rainy, windy bike ride did not seem to be materializing and rain later in the day during the run would be most welcome! We changed into our wet suits dropped off our street clothes bag and headed over to do a warm up swim at 0650. The water was just right, about 64 degrees. I lost Enrique after that as he was going in the first wave of red cap swimmers.
I would seed myself in the 1:11:00 to 1:17:00 wave of pink capped racers. This equated to a swim pace of 1:47/100yds. The swim course started with a right turn at the first buoy and all left turns until the last buoy, passing under two bridges with green balloons tied to the railings and the red Ironman logo as well as large white numbers marking the distance swum in 600 m increments going out and back. There was a power plant with smokestacks in the distance on the first half headed north which also assisted with sighting after the second bridge. On the return headed south the bridges were useful landmarks with a third bridge just before a turn buoy headed back to the swim exit, but nothing prominent like the power plant smoke stacks. I would try to be in the middle of the pack so that I could try to find someone to draft off of if possible. While waiting for my wave to start I noticed there was a light current going from south to north and I noticed swimmers were consistently finding themselves to the right of the first buoy, having to course correct to make the right turn around the buoy. I was talking to a Danish woman who had done the course in 2014 and asked her if the current always moved like that. She thought so and we discussed what to sight on going out. We decided there was a white A-Frame home just to the left of the turn buoy that would be easy to see and we would use that one. She also told me that the water was shallow in the return from the third bridge and to be aware that the area between the buoys and beach was narrow and got crowded. I was fortunate to find someone who had done the course before.
I did not start until about 0740. The swim started off well, feeling like I had seated myself well. I sighted off the White House and made the first turn without a problem. The bridges and the smokestacks were great for sighting. A couple of people passed me and I tried to draft, but needed to speed up more than I thought to be able to catch them before they disappeared. I figured I would draft off of someone with a pink cap going the pace I was aiming for to save energy if I needed to. Starting at about 1500m my calves started to feel like they were going to cramp up on me. I attempted to just pull and use the wetsuit’s buoyancy like a pull buoy and stretch out my calve, but it slowed me down. I do not think I was kicking too much or too hard for the first half, but the near cramping sensation started to occur in the hamstrings as well. I decided to just pull, use my core to keep my butt and legs high in the water and give my legs a chance to recover for about 500m and then slowly start to kick again. There were section in the swim where the water was shallow, where you could almost stand and the vegetation growing from below would reach the surface—especially on the edges. I found myself in some of those patches on the return half of the swim because I was sighting a straight line to the third bridge. My legs calves had started cramping and my hamstrings threatened to so I was going between pulling and kicking. The next wave of swimmers in green caps were starting to pass so I tried to draft off them, but had the same problem of acceleration to match their speed before I could draft. I made it to the turn buoy before the third bridge and notice the water was especially cold here as the current pulling in new cold water, confirming my observation about the current. I realized/remembered I was swimming against the current at that time as well. I made the turn and made my way to the next turn buoy. Which many swimmers, including myself, thought was the final right turn before headed back to the beach. Fortunately, there was an official in a kayak guiding us to make the left turn to the next buoy. The swim from that last left turn buoy to the right turn buoy was crowded as the woman had told me as was the final sprint to the swim exit. My legs were on the verge of seizing up, so pulling was all I could do at this time.
I made it out of the water on very shaky legs at 1:27:01 (12 minutes off my goal of 1:15) happy to be out of the water. I saw my wife, son, and Enrique’s wife Gabby there and headed to T1.
I grabbed my Bike Bag and sat on one of the concrete weights for the changing tent and started to change. My legs were feeling better after walking. There was a man directly across from me in his 40s vomiting uncontrollably into a trash can. All around me were the walking wounded trying to get themselves changed and moving onto the bike. I stripped off my wetsuit and put on my helmet first, then glasses, and socks and bike shoes and vest. I placed the extra tire in my back pocket as well as the arm warmers I brought and headed out of transition after placing my wetsuit, cap and goggles in the bike bad and dropping it off in the bin for my number. I stopped at the outdoor urinal (by the way, best invention ever—circular, about 5 feet tall with 6 stations in the open allowing the women and men who have to have a BM to use the port-a-potties, totally eliminates the need for all those port-a-potties) to check my urine color. As I suspected my urine was dark yellow indicating dehydration. I must not have drunk enough fluids before the race or sweated more than I thought in the wetsuit. I decided that I needed to aggressively rehydrate during the bike if I was going to make it to the run and finish. I jogged to my bike gingerly and when I got there immediately drank one of my 24 oz bottles. I would need to accelerate my hydration schedule and supplement what I had brought with the electrolyte + carb solution being provided. I knew I could be aggressive on hydration and nutrition on the bike as per the article on hydration/nutrition coach sent me, so I got on my bike and headed out after starting my Best Bike Splits course.
The course starts in Copenhagen and takes your north on the east side of the island its on. The roads are great and that day the weather was overcast, no rain, no wind. BBS noted there would be a slight tail wind going north and a head wind returning south which turned out to be right. I aggressively drank my first 24 oz from my torpedo and continually did self-checks to make sure my gut was ok. I thought I had turned off the turn-by-turn direction for the course so I would only see the power BBS was informing me the power to generate on that segment, but I did not. As such the first loop I only saw my power output and BBS power goal intermittently. I stopped at the first aid station, grabbed half a banana, refilled my Torpedo and urinated. My urine was less dark yellow, but not where I wanted it yet. I got on my bike and repeated the same ritual at each aid station, supplementing my hydration with the electrolyte Tang solution. I was able to complete the first loop and did not break into my special needs bag with one episode of hamstring cramping getting off the bike. On the second loop the BBS began to work without the turn-by-turn which helped. This was perhaps the most picturesque ride I have every been on. The northern part of the route going west was on small roads winding through small towns, villages and farms. There were field of grain and well maintained country roads with orange-red poppies, primroses, and other flowers on the shoulders. Horses and cattle with their nursing foals and calves . The people of Denmark were out to cheer us on! On the return a large group spectators with loud music and lot of enthusiasm cheered us on as we climbed one of the few hills. It was awesome. The last loop I collected by Special Needs bag and refilled my Torpedo and one bottle. I collected the spare tire, CO2 cartridge, and Ibuprofen. My urine was clear and colorless and I felt good. There was a slight headwind and sprinkles as I completed the second loop getting into Copenhagen. We wound our way to the T2 which seemed to take forever, but once you got closer to T2 the spectators were out in force. I arrived at T2, the bike catcher took my bike and I jogged off to transition. My bag was misplaced on another’s number so it took a minute to find. I took off my helmet, vest and shoes and pulled out my running shoes, hat, race belt, hydration flask. I placed the gels in my pocket as well as the two salt tubes and the running shell. I put on my shoes, didn’t change socks as my bike socks were dry, put on my had, belt and stuffed the ibuprofen in my back pocket, grabbed my Nathan flask, stuffed my bike gear into the Run Transition bag, hug it back up on the rack and headed to the outdoor urinal to check my urine which had gotten a little yellow, so I knew I needed to be aggressive with the hydration and salt intake. I took 600mg of the 800mg of ibuprofen I had brought and headed out. BBS Time: 5:49:00; Actual Time: 05:59:06
On to the run. The run is a four loop course through the heart of Copenhagen and past many of the scenic sites: The Little Mermaid statue, the replica statue of Da Vinci’s David, the Star Fortress, Gelfion Fountain, Amalienborg Castle and finishing at the Christiansborg Castle which houses the Danish Parliament. The run is beautiful, but the crowd lining the run is phenomenal. There are people all along the route in the town cheering you on, music playing, it’s one big, damn big party. I have never felt so supported by spectators calling out your name, giving you encouragement and lots of love. I will never forget it. I actually got emotional on the first loop because the support was so overwhelming.
I decided to take the run loop by loop. I measured my distance completed in miles since there were fewer of them (26.2mi vs 42km) and once I got to 13mi done did a countdown to a smaller number. My goal was to keep my heart rate in my Zone 2 (140-152 bpm) irregardless of the pace. As I started to rain it began to drizzle off an on with a slight tail wind on the outbound and a refreshing headwind on the return. I drank the Carbopro + Fluid I brought half way into the first loop and also began using the Tang solution aggressively until my urine was clear and colorless again. I took 2 thumbs of salt every mile and 4 every 4 miles in addition to gels every 45 minutes. For each loop you collected a colored band to signify your stage in the race. I saw Enrique for my first two loops as he passed going the opposite direction which gave me a boost each time. Throughout the run I felt very comfortable and confident. I maintained my heart rate in the low 140s throughout until the last loop when I slowed down and my heart rate dipped into the high 130s. My legs were tired, but not in pain, so I had to focus on increasing my pace otherwise I would drift down again. I did not cramp on the run as I feared and that fear limited me from pushing harder on the last two laps. I did have some right inguinal tightness during the run (hip pain is usually referred to this area near the groin) but nothing that limited my run, but no knee or gluteal pain which I had experienced before. The Hokka One One Cliftons and Balega socks were great.
At the end of the final loop I was anxious to get it over with so I picked up my pace and to my surprise it was still comfortable. The crowd and thinned out and many people were walking. I could hear the Ironman announcer as I made my way down the street before making the left turn towards the chute. The chute area was filled with spectators and I crossed the finish line at 12:38:50 hours pleased with my performance and happy all the work had paid off. Run Time Goal: 04:15:00; Actual Time: 04:52:25.
I would definitely recommend this race to anyone either looking to do their first Ironman or someone who wants a unique experience at a destination Ironman. Copenhagen is a wonderful city with great people, food, infrastructure and culture. Right now it’s too early for me to say when I might do another Full Ironman race, but now I know it’s possible, I will do another. For those getting ready for or contemplating a Full Ironman I would like to impart some wisdom a wise Yogi once told me as I struggled to achieve a pose: “it may seem that you will never achieve a pose, but by trying somehow, suddenly, after working to achieve that pose, the impossible…becomes possible.”