Scandinavia, it is often a place where people bypass when they think of traveling to Europe and I have been one of them. But when told it has one of the best triathlons in Europe, I couldn’t get on the bus or should I say plane fast enough. Copenhagen, Denmark here I come!
It is a city like in a fairy tale, it is where the happiest people on the planet live, and as you walk the streets you find the influence in art left by stories of sea creatures that have lived in our imaginations for centuries. A statue is placed by City Hall not of a military great or founding father, but of the author great, Hans Christian Andersen as he overlooks the opposite side of the street at Tivoli; a whimsical amusement park that reminds us all of the kid within and played influence to the great and late Walt Disney. Biking is not only a means of transportation, but way of life. It is part of the Danish culture that has influenced cities around the world to make way for safer bike lanes. Wind turbines line themselves out at sea to capture green power on a windy day as the city leads the world in clean technology. Easy to get around by train, a coast lined with white sandy beaches, an evident past of strong military presence with barracks and bases all around, cobblestone streets to take you back in time next and edgy modern arts are all of what makes this city – Copenhagen.
To make my stay easiest, I booked my stay next to a Usterport Station so I had all the transportation I needed at my fingertips. There was the S-tog, Metro, Bus and Free Bikes all within 5 minutes away from me. A well planned transportation system makes it easy to get around the city and as inexpensive as $32 USD for 72 hours of unlimited regional transportation and is well worth it. And for museum and history buffs, it is well worth buying in advance the Copenhagen Card, which you can find for as little as $65 USD (72 hours), which will get you free entry into over 60 attractions. This is a city where there is something for everyone; from boat rides through the canals, to museums, opera and dance, tours through beer factories, to visiting the self-proclaimed independent territory Christiana where there are few laws – and one being NO PHOTOS in the Green Light District.
German’s know how to put on great races and the KMD Challenge Series is no exception to the rule. It is no secret my obsession with racing in Europe and I am sure it won’t be too long before the number of races there outnumber the amount I will have completed in the US. But they are so much fun and the atmosphere is a different type of contagious energy I cannot get enough. 1 lap swim, 2 lap bike, 4 lap run – you think that could get boring, but with 125.000 people lined on the streets in a matter of 10.5km, the headphone-legal run makes it impossible to hear music in your ears. The bike is constantly engaging with twists and turns that take you to stunning countryside of fields filled with wheat ready for harvest and one of the most beautiful sea sides I have ever laid eyes as it overlooks the coast of Sweden. Before today, I always find it hard to talk about a swim course because what can you say? It was choppy….it seemed too long…the sun was in my eyes the whole way. But no – this course was perfection. Small waves of 200 swimmers every 5 minutes apart with markers of the distance hanging over every bridge you swam toward. Before you could think it couldn’t get any better, it was a well protected cold salty water inlet that was protected by the waves and wind. And on race day, the tide and current was perfect making it difficult to get off course.
With a perfect course and an almost perfect 5 months of training, I had never felt so ready for a race of this distance. Consistent with all events, including my strength training so doing an 11 hour race would have been just making it through the race like any other training day, until the Monday before when I hopped into Lake Michigan for my final open water before I left and sprained my shoulder. I seriously thought I had tore something and was out, but with some laser therapy, rest and KT Tape (a now new believer in it), I was convinced if I could make it through in under 1:20 I could still make the 11 hour time even if I had to push harder than expected – because I was ready.
I was lucky enough to get to meet up with someone who was new to the sport, but had been there training for the past couple weeks and knew the course well. He and his family was a key ingredient to why I enjoyed this city and race so much. On the day we first met we had made plans to go for a swim then possibly do the back half of the course, but this turned into a day long adventure filled with training, shopping, food, fun and a train ride where we got kicked off (due to ticket purchasing issues). Who could ask for anything more on a trip like this? When his brother and sister surprised him with their appearance to come and support him on the race, I inherited them too! At least there would be someone there to yell my name, cheer me on and take pictures!
Always expect the unexpected. It is a long day where anything could go wrong, and there is always something that will. What is important is how you handle the situation to keep you on track, so I wasn’t when I had to wait 25 minutes for the next train to pick me up at my station because I had given myself plenty of time for a problem like this. Nor was I stressed when I had to wait 20 minutes for a toilet when I was the 9th person in line.
On a side note with this…never in my life, at any race, under any circumstance I have ever seen where people take everything they have into the port-o-pot… really. Bags went in. Wetsuits carried in too. I even saw someone walk out with their bike pump. AMAZING and left speechless.
And when I was doing my final check before leaving transition, 15 minutes before my start I didn’t panic when I saw I had a flat front tire. I changed it. Way to start a race like this with a first; fore in 8 years of racing, I have never experienced a flat tire in a race. A good thing, but also at some point it was bound to happen. But this immediate flat left me with using my tubular, leaving me with only Pit Stop (fix-a-flat) and 2 CO2 cartridges to start my race.
I knew if I could make it through the swim without having to compromised my swim stroke too much, this was still going to be a great race and after making it through 3000 meters of the swim of protecting my shoulder I made the decision to swim the final stretch like it could be my last swim of the year. I pushed it. It hurt, but soon I was onto the bike after being in the water for 1:11. (I was on track for my 11 hour race! Now all I needed was 6 hours on the bike and a 3:45 run; it was going perfect.)
Even when I didn’t factor my final push on the swim was going to affect my shoulder and holding myself into aerobars, it didn’t phase me because I had spent most of my training on my road bike and knew I could push the power I needed to make it through in 6 or under. 2 laps – go steady on the first, then start negative splitting on the last, even start out conservatively, that was the plan and I stuck to the plan. 180km and 60 into the ride, I found myself with the 2nd flat of the day – my rear tire this time. Quickly I hopped off, pumped my Pit Stop into the wheel and pressed on with my fastest split of the day at that point. All was good and onward to the back half of the loop. The final hill was electrifying, lined with spectators from top to bottom, filled with music in the air and signs blowing in the wind. Tears fill my eyes as I am quickly reminded why I do this, the excitement from within makes me feel so happy to be alive. There is no greater feeling than what I feel right now.
It is an unfortunate feeling when that feeling can be taken away so quickly, after 100km my rear tire flats out again. Still, without panic I know something needs to be done – I need a mechanic. I use all the Pit Stop and CO2 I have to get my bike rolling for the next 5k, where the next aid station was. Even with that, I come riding on my rims. HELP is on the way…or not. Plenty of items for a clincher, not a single item to help a tubular. There wasn’t even a spare wheel I could use. Hell, I couldn’t even find someone on a road bike and give my carbon wheel for their every-day rider wheel. After 20 minutes of trying everything I could, defeated came over me, and like a 3 year old in a toy store being told no, I had my tantrum where I very dramatically fell to my knees, threw my head to the ground (helmet hitting the ground of course) and proceeded to sob uncontrollably for the next 15 minutes. It was over, just like that.
Once I was told someone would be around to pick up the stranded after the last rider went by, I decided to pull myself together and find a way back to the city on my own. The sympathetic volunteers got together and gave me money to buy a train ticket back to the city where I would find myself soon standing at T2 (the bike to run transition) waiting for my new found friend to make his way in. I had come this far – why not do the run with him? It was a good run.
I had traveled a long way to be here. I had trained the endless hours. I had done everything I could have to make the day go as perfect as I possibly could. It did not go perfect. Why? How? What went wrong?
Everything happens for a reason, and at the right time, for all the right reasons (a monk once told me). I search for that reason…still no answer. At the end of the day a DNF is a DNF, whether you had mechanical issues or you didn’t train and you physically couldn’t do it. There are no asterisks. You don’t get to explain. I feel incomplete. I feel sad. I feel angry. I have let myself down. I play over and over again in my head what I could have done differently even though the time has passed and it doesn’t make a difference. Now what? Where do I go from here?
Free bikes! And lots of other bikes!
Wind turbines off the coast between Denmark and Sweden and the canals through Copenhagen
an old barrack that now is a place for events and Christiana (a self-governed territory)
On the swim and bike course
it is so COLD here! (about to take the plunge)