Blog: A tense day out in tough conditions at Ironman Copenhagen

Three athletes from Manx Tri Club take on Ironman Copenhagen, with one of their number finding herself fighting hard in the wind and rain to beat the cut-off...


By Andrew, Robert, James and Diane Parker with Martyn and Helen Edwards.

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Awake at 4.45am with just an hour’s sleep, Robert Parker, his mother Diane Parker and friend Martyn Edwards from the Manx Tri Club made their way to the start of the Copenhagen Ironman. An early morning dip in the Baltic Sea certainly wakes you up…

Andrew Parker: I am a coach of all types of people from Ironman triathletes to stroke survivors. I spend my day in awe of my friends’ and clients’ achievements and of course, my families too. The power of the mind and a courageous spirit can drive us on to achieve things that would be well out of reach if we played to the rules of limitations put on us by others and in a lot of cases, ourselves.

At Diane’s age and with her experience, she had no right to complete this race under the conditions of the day, but she did due to determination, bloodymindedness and courage. We approached this event with understandable trepidation but left it on a total high of adrenaline, endorphins and relief but above all else, pride. 

An Ironman is a ridiculous concept – 3.8km swim usually in the sea, 180km bike ride then a full 42.2km marathon.  Out of the 3,200 starters, over 700 failed along the way. The pressure of cut-off times throughout the 16hr race time (15hrs for men) put massive physical and mental pressure on the athletes. Even just watching is an exhausting ordeal, especially when you have loved ones out there.

I always worry about the swim as it is the most confrontational and aggressive leg of the race but all three Manxies had excellent swims.

Diane Parker: The swim was arranged in waves according to age.  I got hit in the eye and swum over a few times but Robert, now six-time Ironman, had warned me about this, and I happily got into my stroke with eyes on the marker buoys. By the time I reached the final buoy, the faster swimmers of the later waves had caught me up.  There was a jostle under the bridge but I soon exited the water, wobbling a few times before finding my legs! 

Transition was good and the sun was starting to warm up, helping to dry me out! My husband Andrew and son James were at the timing mat to shout me on before they returned to their beds! Sadly the weather decided to turn…

Martyn Edwards: It was a stunning sunrise over Amager beach just a few miles outside central Copenhagen. With the pros setting off at 7am and my age group starting at 7.45am there was a bit of hanging around before the big start – clearly my ambition was greater than my talent as starting at the front and centre was just asking for trouble. We were off and the washing machine effect commenced, with kicks, punches, elbows and people swimming over me! But hey that’s Ironman! After a few detours I finished the swim in 1:15:29 then on to the bike for the next 112 mile.

Robert Parker: The swim went to plan and I came out at 1:04:04. The bike started well before the weather turned cold and wet.  This meant that I needed more food to keep going, and with there only being three feed stations on the bike course it felt like an eternity to get to one.  By the end of the bike going into transition, I was wet and miserable with a time of 7:48:13 all together.

Athletes on the bike course at Ironman Copenhagen

Martyn Edwards:  Having been told of snooker table-level roads I was looking forward to a fast and furious ride. How wrong! Rolling countryside, strong winds and showers meant a hard 6:19:13 in the saddle.

Diane Parker: On the bike leg at the start I felt really comfortable and got up a good pace, even passing a few people! Looking out for landmarks to indicated where I was on this first of two loops course. Robert, who normally you don’t get a word from on these events, came up beside me and shouted “Diane Parker” which seemed to catch me off guard a little as I jumped out of my skin. 

This was supposed to be a relatively flat course I had a plan to stop at every other water station going on Robert’s experience and get some miles down, you know, with it being “flat”. They fibbed, they had big hills! Robert had said at the start that the water stations were too far apart, so at everyone I had a quick stretch and use of the facilities if required. After a while, I found myself on my own. This is not unusual to me, I am used to that and thought no more about it. Just keep moving forward, right?

There was a competitor pushing his twin brother who had cerebral palsy on an adapted bike through the course with a police escort. While in the loo I heard them all pass by. I jumped onto the bike, heading off when a race marshall came along side and said “Did anyone say anything to you at the station”. I said “No, like what?” You are very near the cut off time, you have 1:20:00 to get to the big road. “How far is that?” 10k.

I quickly picked up the pace. There is nothing quite like threatening to pull you from all the hard work and effort made both in training and to that point during the day. My thoughts turned to everyone all following the event on line; I didn’t want to let them or me down. I could have burst into tears, cold windy conditions had flared up and top off everything, the heavens opened with heavy rain! But I didn’t give in. I heard Chrissie Wellington, four time Ironman world champion saying from her coaching recordings I had used, “Never ever give up…go” – so I did.

At this point I had caught up with the two brothers and was in front. There was a police bike in front of me for a short while it was like I had the police escort!

I cracked on and eventually reached the timing mat. Moving into T2 I wondered if I was actually going to manage to get off the bike and stand up! I did, managed a quick footwear change and onto the run. I was later to learn that I missed the cut off time by just 8secs.

Martyn Edwards: Copenhagen is a stunning city and was a pleasure to run, shuffle, move forward for the next 5:02:38, crossing the finish line in 12:54:16 it was great to cheered down the line by Helen Edwards and Andrew Parker with James Parker and of course Robert Parker putting in a fantastic effort in his sixth Ironman.

Robert Parker: The run pretty much went to plan trying to keep near the 10 minute mile pace with a much needed boost at the end of the first lap as I saw the back of a Manx Triathlete coming in on her bike a little lady by the name of Diane Parker (mum to me.) With a bit more of a skip in my step (figuratively speaking of course if I really did do that my knees would of exploded!) the miles went by I found myself on the last lap with less than two miles to go and ran like a mad thing crossing the line in a time of 12:40:14.

Diane Parker: It takes a little while for my legs to get going so I took more food and fluids on board. Quick toilet break and off I went. I did part of the first lap before hearing the bellowing tones of Andrew. I stopped, he said “don’t stop, get cracking you have 4.30 hours left; you’ll have to run the whole way!”  I don’t have a watch but one of the buildings on the course did. I would like to point out at this time I have never run a marathon, just 14.5 miles in training.

After the third lap of four, I collected the band and thought, great just one more lap, collect the last band and get finished, bathed and bed. But then the race marshals arrived and said: “Your splits are showing at this pace you may not make it”, the second one said my time was showing I’d arrive be 10 minutes after the cut-off time. I replied: “Well I am going to try.” I picked up the pace, remembering the interval sessions I had done with Chrissie. Breathe deep, relax your shoulders, and use your arms for leverage; then my friends at home who said that they would be tracking me popped into my head.

I was wondering if they were still watching the splits. I saw Andrew and shouted to him: “They say I am going to miss the finish by 10 minutes”.  Poor Andrew though I was shouting at him. I dug deep and kept going.  Collecting my final band, I carried on with the marshal saying: “I know that you are tired, but you will have to keep running all the way.”   Finally, I got to the final turn towards the finish line.

Over the loud speaker the commentator announced that there were still runners on the course. The bike marshal who had stayed with me said: “Well done you’ve got 4 minutes.” I took off towards the snaked entrance to the final runway.  I have no idea where the extra energy came from. I could hear the announcer saying, “This could be our final Ironman, let’s cheer her on!”

Robert Parker: As they said this would be the final Ironman, I looked down toward the final road and could make out the green on Mum’s cycling shorts. I ran down towards where the entrance starts for the snaked route toward the finish line and shouted as I ran along, “Run mum run”. The chip identified her name “Come on, Alison Diane Parker!” the commentator said.

Andrew Parker:  I had taken Robert’s bike and gone out on the course to look for Diane. I was thinking of what I could say to console her, knowing how devastated she would feel for not completing this event. I hadn’t realised that the course went in a different direction after the band collections, so managed to get lost. Sitting at traffic lights, I suddenly heard the commentator shouting over the mike, “Come on Alison Diane Parker.” I didn’t wait for the red to turn green; I took off across the roads heading towards the noise of the crowds. I managed to just get there and nearly launch myself over the barriers!

Diane Parker:  As I turned I could see Rob’s face shouting at me “Come on Mum”, then James as I turned into the run way and the bright lights of the finish line, the crowds were cheering me on. I could see Helen Edwards’s face shouting, my boys then Andrew hanging over the banister: “Come on Diane!”

I did it. I managed to become an Ironman, by the skin of my teeth. Apparently the commentator said I had one minute to get to where he was. I didn’t hear that with sound of the crowds going mad. I did hear him say “Alison Diane Parker, you are an Ironman” I made it by 12 seconds! I knew this was going to be close for me, but not that close! 15:42:48.

Diane Parker post-race

Placing the medal around my neck, the commentator said “You’re a fighter.” “Thank you,” I replied. “Do you need anything?” he asked.  “A sit down” was my reply.  Next my son James is beside me having leapt over the barriers to get hold of me and guided me out to Robert, shouting “That was not an easy bike course” and Andrew in tears of most likely relief.  Our friends Helen and Martyn were there, extremely emotional. Martyn called it a “day to remember”, and Helen said: “We are waiting for the movie to come out!”  I am not playing that role for sure!

Andrew Parker:  Diane’s eight-second dive under the bike cut off was heart-stoppingly tense and to think that it meant she was allowed to start her ‘first’ ever marathon was a bit of a double-edged sword. The drama of the marathon was almost unbearable and again for Diane to slide in at 10.59pm when the last time to record a finishing time was 11pm seemed to be taking tension to a new level.  But the pride as she passed over the finish line was only made higher by the huge cheer from the thousands of people in the grandstand and lining the finishing straight.

As for Robert, a massive effort and for a 25 year old to have successfully completed six Ironman races, plus one long-distance event is awesome. Copenhagen was a personal best for Robert and Martyn, fantastic achievement.

James Parker: How proud am I of my mother and older brother. What started as a smooth running swim into an equally smooth start to a cycle for Diane and Rob, took a turn then with the weather. As a spectator, I was getting soaked to the skin, blown all over the place and given just enough occasional warm sun to inspire hope just to have it taken away with another shower.

To think of having to do the bike leg in the worst conditions I’ve ever seen, and follow it up with a marathon. Consider my mind blown when my brother Rob, now six-time ironman, and my mother first-time Ironman only go and do it.

Both of them are living testimony to what a strong will can give you if you have the guts to try. They have done the Parker family proud. Thank you all for sending your support. And see you in the next exciting adventure.

Andrew Parker:  Will Diane do another? Personally I hope not because this race was perfection and an amazing story against all the odds, how could it be improved? Rob, well he is already eyeing up the next one as is Martyn I expect.

But James, Helen and I need a lie down in a dark room for a while before the next adventure.  We have been all around the world with Robert taking on his Ironman challenges and I can only encourage you to create your own story as it is a life changing trip.  Someone once said an Ironman race is a long training day with a few thousand friends and a rolling buffet…. I think he was ran out of town!

Diane Parker: For the athletes out there competing is only part of their journey. The bigger picture is all the support from family, friends, coaches, trainers and fellow triathletes who know what you are going through, especially to achieve something like an Ironman. All of these athletes started here in our local Manx Tri Club.   Everyone is extremely friendly and supportive; all you have to do is just tri! Our next event is in May, fancy having a go?

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Were you racing Ironman Copenhagen? Let us know in the comments below!