I haven’t even done what I came here to do yet, but Copenhagen has already stolen my heart.
Whatever happens in the race—foot pain, bonking, flat tires, even good old Gus—nothing can spoil the four perfect days I just spent in my new favorite city.
I know that’s a bold statement, and that I have many cities yet to discover, but this bastion of Danish civility, European charm, and architectural marvel has pretty much everything I’d want in a city: unbelievable food, an infrastructure that puts every other “bike friendly” city to shame, a keen sense of design, and smart, friendly, funny, and respectful people.
OK OK, enough of the superlatives. Be warned: what follows is a long one! Feel free to skim—this is functioning as my own personal travel journal. I arrived on Tuesday at 10 a.m. after an uneventful trek from San Diego to LA to Toronto, other than getting charged a million dollars for data usage—Mark to the tech rescue again! (Last time I visited Europe I left my iPhone in a taxi, this time I forgot Canada was another country. Call me tech-travel-challenged.)
Angus greeted me at the airport on his cargo bike, with a single-speed in tow for me to use while I’m here. Welcome to Denmark! Where thou shalt not burn fossil fuels. He loaded up my luggage and off we went to his place, 15 minutes by bike from the airport.
Back at his apartment, I was treated to a fully built Cervelo, safely arrived thanks to Bikeflights (check them out!) hanging from his ceiling. My appreciation for my host was already through the roof and I’d only just arrived. I slept for four glorious hours and then took to the city on foot. (AKA: walking). I’d normally have gone for an easy jog, but I still wanted to be conservative with my
foot/ankle/arch/Achilles FREAKING WHOLE LOWER LEG issues. When Angus got home from work, we had the first of what would be many shared beers (turns out we also share a certain athlete complex) and made a delicious dinner.
On Wednesday, Angus let me tag along on his easy spin and took me out on the Ironman course. The first thing that hit me? This place takes bike commuting to new levels. There are not only designated bike lanes and lights on almost every street, but every possible curb-to-street entry has also been smoothed over with an asphalt ramp to accommodate cyclists. Plus, you see every stripe of rider imaginable—well-dressed young executives, parents, hipsters and hippies, thin people, fat people, women in dresses, you name it. It’s adorable and sensible at the same time.
I dropped Angus off at the bike shop where he works and made my way home, changed, and then rode to a pool not far away. My “triathleticism” was a put on display for a pool full of older folks all leisurely breast-stroking their way back and forth, back and forth, while I freestyled around like an overcaffeinated fish. I was so obvious that the lifeguard struck up a conversation with me in English before I had even uttered a word. “Are you competing on Sunday?” No, cute Danish lifeguard, why would you think that?
Then it was home to cook breakfast, do a few hours of work (unfortunately I couldn’t escape it completely this trip), and then rode back downtown to meet Angus and his 8-year-old son, Lokke, at the Coffee Collective. That night we cooked on the roof, taking in one of many magical sunsets over the city.
Thursday, after coffee, breakfast, and some more work, I rode down to the beach where the Ironman swim is held (10 minutes away by bike) and swam 45 minutes with some German athletes I met on the sand. Any anxiety I had about the swim quickly vanished. Not only is it a rolling start within age-group wave starts (which basically means I’ll be entering the water with one other person), the water temperature is perfect, and there’s no chop or swell or any such thing (it’s a saltwater lagoon separated from the open ocean by a strip of beach.) The only thing that might be a slight issue will be sighting—it’s not exactly your classic “out, turn, turn, in” Ironman course.
That afternoon, I rode to Radhuspladsen, or the City Hall Square, to pick up my athlete packet. I perused the expo, got my race paraphernalia, and then headed over to see the so-called “Athlete’s Lounge” mentioned in the athlete guide. It turns out that it was a nice place to hang out, do your race briefing, and get a free “picnic bag lunch.” And this was no ham sandwich, it was an Asian cabbage-quinoa salad with chicken or tofu, and it was delicious.
Since it was relatively late in the afternoon and I’d just eaten a big meal, I decided to stay out until it was time to head home for bed. I’d heard mixed things about Tivoli, the “pleasure garden” (aka: historic amusement park downtown), but bit the $16 and gave it a shot. Unless you have little kids and/or love rides (and want to pay an extra $100 for them), it’s not worth it. A fine way to whittle away an hour or so, but I would’ve been fine skipping it.
I also had Christiania on my list of things to see, which was, conveniently, on my bike ride home. This is an autonomous area of Copenhagen created by hippies in the 1970’s. It currently has about 850-1000 residents and its own special property laws. I rode my bike around for about 2 hours, half incredulous, half awe-struck. I can only describe as being like a permanent Winnipeg Folk Festival. It’s a haven of art and nature in the middle of a city, with theaters, a welding workshop, bars, restaurants, and the infamous “Pusher Street”. It was like a trip to Pinocchio’s never-never land. On the way home, I stopped at Islands Brygge area (a public swimming hole off one of the canals) for some delicious coconut-ginger ice cream, and then it was home to bed.
Friday I knew I should be taking it a little easier, but I couldn’t just sit in the apartment all day. After my usual morning routine, I rode into the city to Torvehallerne market, which is basically a collection of uber-gourmet shops and cafes. I wandered around in a foodie daze until deciding that I couldn’t leave Denmark without trying the open-faced sandwiches known as smørrebrød, that the country is famous for. At $8 a (small) piece, I opted to have just one and then get dessert at another stall. As I ate my seedy rye bread topped with an artfully arranged sculpture resembling beet salad and boiled eggs, I got chatting with two people eating beside me. They were about my age, maybe slightly older, and both worked in radio. They were a fascinating pair, and we covered podcasts, European culture versus American, and maternity leave in the span of 30 minutes.
I then wandered over to the Coffee Collective to write out my race plan over a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant. It mostly resembled jotting down a rough timeline of everything I wanted to be doing Saturday and Sunday morning. I read a few chapters from a book my friend Alex had given to me on mental training in sports. I don’t have any secrets to share, as I’m terrible at this stuff, but given the fact that I read the book in the first place is something, right?
On the way home, I visited the Rundetårn, or Round Tower, the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. I hung out on top for a while, enjoying the view of city expanding over the horizon, and then took some silly selfies in the nicely lit spiral stone staircase on my way down. (Hey, when you travel alone…)
That night, Angus was competing in a mini triathlon that takes place on the Ironman course. It’s a cool idea, and I brought Lokke later to watch Angus on the run and finish (he got second!) Then we went out for burgers down the street, and back at the house, Angus and I shared a stout.
Today I feel like I could leave Copenhagen really having sunk my teeth into the place. I am ready for Sunday, though I’ve been more active than I normally am before a race (yay fixie cycle-sightseeing!) I rode my tri bike to two bakeries this morning for pastries in lieu of my usual big pre-race pancake breakfast, and then rode around a beautiful, windy, peninsula jutting out into the Baltic Sea called Kalvebod Field. It was like something out of Anne of Green Gables, with horses, a woman in a floppy hat reading on the rocks, and men swimming off a small dock.
Then it was home to tackle the usual pre-race routine that always makes me feel neurotic—especially when nobody’s around to talk to. Pack bags, stickers on bike and helmet, lube chain, ask myself what shoes I will wear to the start and whether they’ll they have sunscreen in T1. I rode to check-in, racked my bike and dropped my run bag into a big trash bin with a million others (ack! will it make it to T2 unscathed?), and hung my bike bag on a rack. I did a 15-minute no- wetsuit swim, and jogged home without shoes because I’m an idiot and wore my running shoes to check in. But other than one pair of dirty compression socks, things felt OK. We’ll see how 8 days completely off of running has left me.
Now here I am, sitting on the couch drinking mineral water with Nuun and snacking on salty things and writing—on the eve of my fifth Ironman—something I’ve never had the time to do. My host is out, and I’m enjoying the downtime after a busy few days.
And just like that there’s really nothing left to be packed or mixed or bottled or polished or lubed or remembered, nothing much left to be said. 2.4, 112, 26.2—slightly bigger versions of what I love to do every day. A physical and emotional journey I’ve been on a few times already. The last one with no pressure and just happy to be out there, the time before that with all the pressure (my own) and success always one more slow and painful step away.
I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But I’m welcoming it with strength, optimism, and a sense of adventure. Because…why not?