Derby Triathlon Club

Challenge Copenhagen Race Report

Challenge Copenhagen Race Report by Mark Gardner

I blame my Scottish ancestry for taking the decision to race Challenge Copenhagen with only 6 weeks' training.

Having entered in November 2009 for the 2010 race, injury forced a withdrawal yet the sympathetic organisers (for which Challenge are gaining an erstwhile reputation) rolled it over to 2011 (they also reciprocated with Richard Hawksworth whose camping pitch fell victim to last year's flooding in the Danish capital, subsequently missing the race).

Back to the blame story. Giddy from my first outing at the excellent club Summer Series resulted in the triathlon endorphins (that had vanished after 5 months' solitary due to Marathon des Sables prep) fizzing around my brain. Despite the inability to swim or bike in a respectable manner after so long out of the mix I found myself reverting to the 'lost' £350 Danish entry fee. So much so that I began to formulate a plan to somehow get up to shape in 6 weeks to avoid losing out on the costly subscription.

Two mistakes were made here: 1) if you want sensible advice DO NOT discuss with close friends and club mates who are all heavily seduced by all things endurance. 2) weigh up your outgoings to one of Europe's most expensive capitals to review what the true cost will be once you arrive back from said race.

The net result of ignoring the above advice was a flight ticket to Denmark and a mash-up of a training programme titled 'Do as much long distance riding, open water swimming and racing as you can in the next five weeks'.

I was confident that my running muscle memory from the MDS would stand me in good stead and thus I opted to keep 'ticking over' here but not overly concern myself with any specific training. I lapped up as many Summer Series events as possible to sharpen up the transitions, attended Barton's o/w swims as often as possible and knocked out a century on the bike on a miserable Sunday morning amongst other riding with club members on Saturday afternoons.

Taking advice really helped me out. Pinning down Ian Hughes, Andy Grigg and earwigging snippets of Thursday pub night conversations adds tremendous value to the knowledge base. Andy's advice, particularly, on certain rides really helped build up my bike foundations, which as most people know and have witnessed have been erected on quicksand.

Checking into the official race hotel uncovered a whole world of benefits. Pro athletes, as humble as they are, were more than happy to offer their thoughts on the course from their recce's (do people really do that?) and past experience. This was my second Challenge event (after Barcelona in 2009) and its clear that the brand's approach to triathlon is distinctly less commercial than their Ironman counterparts. The focus seems to be on participation and giving everyone the ultimate experience, regardless of level. No stone was left unturned during the whole weekend in terms of information, provisions and general set up.

Despite aggressive rains and winds prior to race day the conditions were near as damn it perfect. Temps got up to 22 Celcius yet offset by cool winds off the Baltic Sea. The sun greeted the swim start, a superb sea course set on an inland stretch body guarding swimmers from waves. At 17.4 degrees it was cooler than what we expected but the buoyancy of the salt and calm conditions of the one-lap swim offset any opening chills in the fingers and toes. I cruised home in 1.02.50 yet didn't feel that I had pushed it at any stage. The guy in front whose toes I tickled all the way around may have an opinion on this.

T1 – 2m.29. Happy with that, aside from commencing the bike and realizing that my Cat Eye was nowhere to be seen. Great: 180km with no feedback. Donning an insanely flash Giro helmet (thanks to Hayden for the advice and my friend Darren for the loan) I averaged 34km/h through the first 50km before we left the smooth coastal roads into the countryside, where slick asphalt was replaced by rolling country lanes and headwinds (two lap course). No worse feeling than pedalling to go downhill! Target time was anything starting with a '5' yet I could only get around in 6.05. Hydration and fuel strategy seemed to be working judging by the five pee stops (keen to know what people's thoughts are on this stat - sounds a bit too frequent to me).

T2 – 2m.30.

Run - target time 3.30h. The 4 x lap course around Copenhagen city centre boasted an incredible 120,000 spectators, making it a very desirable race on these grounds alone. With feed stations every 2km you were never shy of a sponge, energy drink, water or gel. Again, a big thumbs up for the organisers for their continuity in removing decision making from athletes' minds throughout the whole race.

Through laps 1 and 2 I was bang on target. Lap 3 was a constant reminder of the lack of miles I'd ridden on the bike as my pins became heavy and jaded. However, had I replicated lap 4 in the same time as lap 3 I'd still get under 11 hours. It didn't happen. I felt like I was made of glass and pushing too hard would have been catastrophic. I laboured to the finish in a 3.50 marathon time and a total of 11.04. I certainly didn't deserve anything higher after such poor prep but, with hindsight, I could easily have found those four minutes when reviewing the day's events. Two less pees on the bike and a sprint finish would have probably done the trick!

Final thoughts:

First off, Challenge are an excellent brand offering many late season events in attractive parts of the world that allow for a full summer's training when conditions in the UK are kinder. The organisation, website, info provision and general ambiance makes this event a great first timer for those thinking of making the step up. It's a fast swim, fast bike suited to those with TT bikes (the countryside is tough going but offset by at least 80km of PB territory) and an inspirational trot around a beautiful city with vibrant crowds, arguably its USP based on this being the flagging point for most participants. I can still hear the cheering now as I write this.

If you sign up then book in at the Bella Sky Comwell Hotel (official HQ). £50pp in a twin but the newly constructed complex is uber chic, relaxed, amazing facilities, breakfast to die for and right next to the Metro. This in itself is admirable. An electric service taking you to and from the city in 10 minutes with a simple connection to the swim. Flights from Birmingham with SAS direct into Copenhagen start at £130 (including bike bag).

I highly recommend this event and I'm sure Jim Cresswell and Steve Tatem will endorse many of these points following their endeavors in 2010. Please take my advice on the travel, logistics and race summary but whatever you do, do not be tempted to ask for a copy of my training plan.

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