A group of Sligo Tri athletes travelled to Denmark recently to take part in the Copenhagen Triathlon.
A total of13 members travelled from Sligo to take on the challenge of Ironman Copenhagen.
For those not familiar with the Ironman Distance Triathlon it consists of a 3.9k Swim, 180k Bike followed by a Marathon (Run 42K).
Many of the group in question started out on the Ironman trail in Majorca 2014 under the guidance of Club Coaches Colm Casey and Ross McLynn.
The following year the group grew further in numbers with Ironman Barcelona being the targeted race.
In Barcelona the group began to show their appetite for Ironman with 2 qualifying for the World Triathlon Championships in 2016 and the rest of the group posting sub 10 hour times.
This propelled the group onwards and after a year off from Ironman for some Copenhagen was targeted as the event for 2017.
After many months of dedicated training, the Sligo Triathletes descended on Copenhagen just in time for race registration.
The weather on arrival in Copenhagen resembled an average Irish Summer with wind and rain in equal amounts.
On further enquiries with the locals, they were experiencing one of the worst summers in 20 years, not what the group wanted to hear .
On Saturday morning the group had the opportunity to analyse the swim course and gain some familiarity of the run route. Later in the afternoon all race equipment had to be strategically placed in transition ready for a 7am start on the Sunday morning.
Alarm clocks rang throughout Airbnb houses and hotels at 5am on Sunday morning for the pre-race rituals to begin.
By 6am everyone had arrived in transition for final race adjustments to bikes and bags and they were all huddled together at the start line. The swim operated on a rolling start basis which saw 6 swimmers enter the water at staggered intervals.
The first taste of the day's windy conditions were experienced with a fast down wind swim to start but the return leg was a tough slog to the finish.
With varied swimming abilities in the group the 3.9k was covered from 56 to 72minutes.
The 180k bike course brought many challenges for the group. From the outset the winds were unpredictable and they swept through many thundery showers.
After exiting the city centre through 15k of technical cycling they embarked on a 75km loop along the coast before being swept inland through small picturesque Danish villages and a tour through their agricultural heartland. This loop had to be completed twice and the hazards that greeted the athletes became more frequent. Two of the group punctured before the end of the second loop (one having to wait an hour for a course mechanic), another came off the bike in a technical section during a thundershower, Others suffered with stomach problems and the skinniest perished with the cold. Miraculously everyone managed to get home to T2 which unusually was a different site to T1 and even more unusually was based in a multi-storey car park.
Down one ramp to the dismount line where volunteers were on hand to take bikes and point you towards your run bag hanging on huge numbered racks.
The heat in the car park was welcoming but with the marathon calling there was no time for dressing gown and slippers.
The car park ramp tested the heavy quads as the athletes exited to begin the marathon however the crowds from start to finish helped to ease the pain. The home support was spread in mini groups around the 10k circuit and everyone really got a huge lift from the cheers, high 5's and massive encouragement each time they passed. The long hard day was starting to take its toll, the stomach issues which manifested on the bike did not dissipate and casualties began to emerge.
Despite having frequent aid stations to refuel for some the fuel would not stay down and with others the excess consumption of energy gels and bars throughout the day became too much for the system.
The extra exertions required earlier on the bike course came home to roost and for many heavy quads over the last 15k really tested the resolve and pain thresholds alike. While there were disappointments within the group there was no doubt everyone left everything they had on the course and some of the individual results achieved were simply outstanding.
For a group of 13 from a small club in the west of Ireland, they captured 4 of the 40 qualifying slots on offer for the World Ironman Championships in Kona Hawaii and with a bit more luck on the day could have collected 2 more.
In terms of the overall Irish contingent racing in Copenhagen Sligo Triathlon Club occupied 6 of the top 10 and the question was asked more that once "was there anyone left at home in Sligo".
Once the dust has settled and the memories of suffering have being erased no doubt you will hear about further Ironman exploits from this group in the future.
For now we wish our colleagues Gary Higgins and Paul Rutherford the very best of luck in Kona 2017.
The club also take this opportunity to thank Club Coaches Colm Casey and Ross McLynn for their expertise and guidance throughout and most importantly their families for tolerating hours of training and preparation over the last 6 months.