(Written from an undisclosed location)
It wasn’t supposed to come to this. Hiding out before the flight home in a top-secret lounge tucked deep within Airport Denmark. Dodging a region-wide manhunt during a frantic escape through six countries. Finding myself, the day after the Challenge Copenhagen Ironman, on the cover of every Nordic tabloid.
Things started out ominously. To get to Copenhagen, you have to stop off mid-way across the ocean in Iceland. That’s ICEland which, even in mid-summer, can have the worst weather on Earth. Like during our Iceland-to-Denmark flight. Not saying it was turbulent, but I can pocket the $200K fee I’d been planning to put out for Virgin Galactic’s orbital flights. Our plane dove and rose so quickly we experienced zero-gravity flight, the main attraction of those outer-space jaunts. All for a $900 Icelandic Air special.
After thankfully setting down in the stunning Danish capital, I met up with my IM relay partners. Our marathoner, Saguna Hitapot, on hand with her boyfriend Dan Anderson. Dan has this triathlon thing down. At this spring’s ITU San Diego he ran the 10K of our relay team as a workout. At Copenhagen he opted just to cheer Saguna, and tour a gorgeous city. Life of Riley.
Our cyclist, Adam Weeks, takes after the Adriana Anderson (no relation to Dan) school of triathlon. Adriana did an IM just days after having her first child, and merely hours after doing the Marine Corps Marathon. Adam is planning to do IM Canada after his expectant wife delivers twins. Athletes from this school like to juggle tough stuff, and tend to be blazing fast.
Our swimmer was me, though my stroke is so unorthodox that coach Sarah Thorpe once placed me in a 30-minute “penalty box” of doggy paddling as punishment. But when I saw what happened to Tuan Nguyen after the race I remembered why I declined the bike option. Tuan, who did the full IM, had planned to tour Stockholm after Copenhagen. (If you are an American, and thus totally ignorant of foreign countries, Stockholm is in Sweden. Then again, if you are an American, you likely don’t know where Sweden is, or Copenhagen.)
While waiting for take-off to Sweden, with Tuan two rows down from me, I noticed the odd configuration of some Scandinavian planes. The bathroom was placed, not toward the rear, but between the cockpit and the passengers. This is apparently a strategy to thwart hijackers, who would pass out from the fumes in the tiny, air-tight rooms before reaching the pilots. The bathroom, like most in the Northern lands, and on most American planes, come to think of it, was unisex. (The Nordics do have all-women bathrooms though, I noticed. Some have signs for Damen, meaning Dames or ladies, and Herren, obviously meaning “her” or females…)
I also noticed, through the window, taking up position around the jet, were a handful of soldiers in couple of Jeeps: in short, the entire Danish Army. Suddenly, a SWAT team of heavily armed, and very smelly, Danish cops came bursting out of the bathroom, and stormed down the aisle brandishing Viking helmets and broadswords. The black-clad thugs accosted Tuan, and wrestled him off of the plane. I should have come to his aid but, as I will make clear, I had my own reasons to fear the local authorities, and so I climbed into the overhead compartment and shut the lid.
The proud Prince of Saigon was unceremoniously taken to a holding cell in an undisclosed location at Copenhagen’s Tivoli amusement park, and water-boarded at its Pirate’s Island. But the erstwhile Vertical Swimmer had been through far worse during various IM swim legs, and didn’t crack. Then his inquisitors realized that he had mistakenly left the CO2 cartridges in his bike container, and not put them there as a deliberate act of airline sabotage.
He more likely did this from exhaustion, from dragging the weighty bin and bike from hotel to train station to airport on cramped legs the day after an IronMan. Not saying that the bin was heavy, but burly clubber Simon Hernaez once got a hernia from lifting it. It was to avoid the peril of lugging a bike around, including sudden arrest without a warrant, that I opted to swim.
The packet pickup and race expo were at the city’s centuries-old town hall. (Town halls in Scandinavia are called Rat Houses, because they are filled with politicians; Rad Houses, when filled with socialist politicians; or Rathhouses, because politicians of all stripes like to drink.) At that choice venue, it was a snap to get your race stuff, and you got to talk with athletes from all over Europe. So we were surprised that this seemingly well-run event held the pasta dinner two nights before the race. This was before we fully realized how expensive food is in the Far North. Triathletes there are expected to stuff their face 48 hours before an event, then fast the day before due to the high price of foodstuffs.
Race morning began about 4K from our hotel in downtown Copenhagen: an easy metro ride for some, while I rode over, nervously consulting a map of the unfamiliar town, on a 40-pound clunker that everyone there uses to bounce around town. The swim was along a scenic stretch of artificial lagoon and beach the city had built years ago in a vain effort to stop all its citizens from spending their summers in Spain. The DC Tri crew was worried how cold the water might seem after Washington’s hothouse summer, but the day dawned with a warm sun, and the water was cool but refreshing, and as placid as an IM lake in upstate New York.
Remarkably, unlike the Potomac or Lake Anna, the water was clear: you could actually see the swimmers next to and in front of you. This cut down on the amount of collisions and elbow bashing, a plus considering most of the strokers were 6-foot, five-inch Nordic guys who would have otherwise swum over or through you.
So it was a fast swim course. Except for someone who was starving from fasting, and somehow had forgotten to get race-day breakfast (maybe it was the $5 locals charge for a small orange juice), and whose goggles filled up five times in the first 400 meters. Then I remembered how disappointed Saguna would be if I missed the cut-off. And how Adam would kick my ass. And especially the utter ignominy of having the Vertical Swimmer beat my swim time. So I motored the second half, my starvation abated considerably by the goos tucked in the sleeves of my wetsuit. The nutrition aided much by the remarkable shallowness of the course, which let me stand and suck down Hammer gells whenever I wished.
During one goo break I spotted Tuan, who shattered his swim-leg IM, sprinting along a lengthy, one-foot-deep section of the swim. Not saying the course was shallow, but the Copenhagen 10K is also held in the lagoon. If swim-slow but bike-and-runner-speedy clubbers like Kevin D’Amanda or Adam Stolzberg did Challenge Copenhagen, they’d likely set the world IM record.
After handing over the chip to Adam Weeks and peeling off the wetsuit, I clunkered back to downtown, took in some royal palaces and top-notch museums, then headed to the bike transition to cheer. In trying to find my way, I asked the locals for directions, worried they wouldn’t understand my halting Danish. I needn’t have worried, as American is the official language of Scandinavia. Everyone speaks it, so much so that a major growth industry is teaching Danish and Swedish as a second language to native Danes and Swedes. (And no one, not even the natives, knows how to speak Finnish or Icelandic.) So everyone I asked gave me directions in English, and in a very friendly way. It was if five million Mr. Rogers had taken up residence in one country.
Dan was following the online race splits, and very accurately predicting when folks came by. The bike leg was apparently when the high cost of local food again became a factor. Speedy Adam actually had a positive split on the bike leg’s second half, while Tuan came by exhausted, his face whiter than a local platinum blonde, pouring water over his royal crown, desperate for a Royal Crown or a Coke. The bike course turned out to be hillier than expected, and EagleMan-like windy. Worse, the energy drinks were diluted to nearly H2O levels: likely from the sky-high cost of Scandinavian-grown sugar. There was so little sucrose and salt in the liquids that Mayor Bloomberg may have run the water stops.
Then Saguna and Tuan took off on the marathon, and I clunkered over to some cathedrals and castles before heading to the finish line. Talk about classy: the end was right outside Denmark’s venerable Royal Palace. Dan gave me the predicted finish for Tuan, and I rode out to meet him. He was hoping for a sub-12-hour race, and Dan had him coming a few seconds over that. So when I saw His Highness, I told him to draft behind my clunker. Not sure if that was legal, but I was about to start breaking every rule in Challenge Copenhagen, so what the heck!
Tuan is not the biggest fellow, and had lost a lot of weight during the bike and run--by then he likely weighed less than my 40-pounder, which pulled him along faster than Ryan Lochte making the moves at an Olympic Village bash. When I steered off the course with meters to go, the finish-line clock read 11:56—Tuan’s gutsy rebound on the marathon had attained his goal with minutes to spare.
Dan gave me the predicted finish for Saguna, and I rode out to meet her. I cycled alongside the resolute harrier, and with a hundred meters to go a Danish cop shouted something like, “Ne bikecykles!” I kept going, he did nothing, so I kept going. At 50 meters a race official yelled at me to get off the course: I kept going. At 20 meters some tall blonde man in a military uniform screamed at me, but then Dan jumped over a race barrier and began running alongside us. A concerned race official shouted, “Are you a team?”, and Dan, pretending to be our biker, shouted “Yes!”
Suddenly, cheered by thousands, we were at the finish line, the battery of cameras for the finishers flashing for all of us.
I’d become the first person to ever finish an Ironman on a bike.
And suddenly the most famous, and notorious, man in Denmark. The evening newscasts led off their coverage with stories about some clown cyclist crashing the Ironman finish. The front pages of the next-morning’s tabloids had photos of a DC Trier hitting the finish line on a commuter bike. And immediately the Copenhagen police and Danish military put out an all-points bulletin to arrest the Stupid American who’d just made a mockery of their cherished annual classic.
Now Europe’s Most Wanted Man, I had to hightail it out of Copenhagen, and pronto, as they say in American. While on the lam, I was nearly caught when the Danish Police busted Tuan on the jet. After slipping through to Stockholm, I decided to put more distance behind me, going to the neutral nation of Finland in a failed attempt to gain political asylum. Then to Estonia, figuring no one, even in Denmark, or Estonia, had ever heard of the place. Later hiding out in Norway’s deserted fjords, and Iceland’s barren wastes, before Bjork’s Yoko-Ono-like screeches forced me in desperation to flee.
During this forced exile, I noticed that every woman in Scandinavia is blonde, actually platinum-blonde. In fact, in Scandinavia it’s the men who wash their hair with Clairol Nice ‘N Easy, just to keep up. People there are so fair that light-toned clubbers like Courtney Fulton or Hillary Peabody in comparison look like Brazilians in a tanning salon.
To reach the safety of the United States, which has no extradition treaty with Denmark, I had to take a connecting flight—through Copenhagen! At its airport I had a layover hours long, during which the hordes of the three or four soldiers in the Danish military, all eyeing a printout of my face, not mention the banks of security cameras, were certain to finger me. I was resigned to life in the country-club prison of a Copenhagen clink, sipping Tuborg pilsners while chatting with platinum blondes in the unisex bathrooms. Then salvation suddenly loomed, in the form of a “Silent Lounge,” which the friendly Danes have placed in their airports for weary or distressed travelers.
The sign outside the Lounge sanctuary read, “No Sleeping Allowed”, but I’d already busted every rule in the North Land and, exhausted from the life of a fugitive, and the dearth of affordable Scandinavian food, took a long snooze. Occasionally I’d awaken, to glimpse one traveler meditating, another tiptoeing across burning coals, another hovering legs-crossed above the carpet.
When my flight was announced, I sprinted to the gate quicker than a Vietnamese royal drafting behind a city-bike clunker, or a British royal making the moves at a Las Vegas swimming pool party. Escape was tantalizingly at hand, but the stewardesses at the entry check was holding printouts of my mug shot, and scrutinizing every passenger’s face! The proverbial jig was up.
Perhaps it was the stimulating effect of a Silent Lounge meditation, but I had a brainstorm. Taking out a spare CO2 cartridge, I slipped it into the backpack of the 6-foot, five-inch Danish dude in front of me. Then, for the first time in 17 days overseas, turned off the Airplane Mode of my smart phone, and texted a photo to airport security of a tall blonde Nordic guy planning to blow up the plane. Then skipped to the plane while a SWAT team of ax-wielding Vikings wrestled the unfortunate fellow off to Tivoli for enhanced interrogation.
Given the pricey rates of data transmission abroad, that one communique cost me a cool thousand. But it was worth it to get back safely to the USA, where everyone speaks American, except construction and restaurant workers, and gorge myself on cheap food, the terrors of Challenge Copenhagen well behind.
(Totally Factual Travelogue of Scandinavia May Follow If Author Is Still At Large)
Best race report EVER!
For the record, they stripped searched my ass after they pulled me off of the plane. Apparently the phrase, "don't you know who I am?" gets you in even deeper water. It also didn't help that Ed yelled out, "he's wearing a cup!" as they were dragging me off of the plane.
Tuan may look more suspicious, but I don't know how Ed didn't end up in a Scandinavian jail. He broke A LOT of rules on that rusty steed of his. My finishing line pics would have been more entertaining if Ed-on-rental-bike and Dan weren't courteous enough to actually pause so that I could run through first on my own.