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Part 1: By Dave Sherman
The Challenge Denmark Middle Distance Triathlon took place on 12thÂ June 2016 involving a 1.2 mile swim in Furslang Lake in Herning, followed by a 56 mile cycle from Herning to Billund, and finally a 13.1 mile (Half Marathon) run around the Lalandia resort and downtown Billund. This event was to be my third Middle Distance triathlon event but my first Challenge event and my first visit to Denmark, and itâ€™s fair to say I was equal parts nervous and excited! Before I get into my review hereâ€™s a video I created of the race experience from landing in Denmark to the finish-line…
As a resident in Greater London itâ€™s embarrassing how few countries Iâ€™ve visited â€“ especially considering Iâ€™m less than an hour drive away from 6 major airports (Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Heathrow, Southend and London City) â€“ and if thereâ€™s one thing I love about running and triathlon, itâ€™s how my new-found love of endurance sport has encouraged me to look beyond my own shores at some of the awesome events which take place within a couple of hours travel. In the last few years Iâ€™ve ran marathons in Athens, Paris and Rome and completed an adventure race and triathlon in Ireland, and when I heard about Challenge Denmark and saw some of the event photos, I loved the thought of completing this event â€“ especially considering the course involved a calm lake, flat cycle and – as Billund is the home of Lego – a run around the original Legoland!
While we werenâ€™t flooded with emails and information leading up to race day, essential information such as timings and locations were gradually provided on the website and via. email, and 10 days before race day a full athletes guide was provided detailing race day information such as how the split transition would work, and with full detailed guides to the swim, bike and run courses. Although the race would start in a lake in Herning, the athletesâ€™ village, expo and run route were based around the resort of â€˜Lalandiaâ€™ â€“ the Danish equivalent of Butlins or Centre Parcs – and the airport was located almost next door, so to make our journey and race day as simple as possible we chose to stay in Lalandia in one of their lodges. This also meant my partner and daughter could enjoy the resort facilities (which included a bowling alley, ice rink and water park!) while Nikki and I were attending the expo, race briefing, and racking our bikes.
Our journey to Billund began on the evening of Friday 10th June as we boarded a plane at Stansted Airport, and after a short 75 minute flight we touched down in Denmark and headed to the resort (which was literally a 10 minute taxi ride away!). While waiting for the security guard to arrive to give us the key to our lodge we admired the finish area which was still under construction, but included a finish arch lit up with bright red lights. In just a couple of days weâ€™d be running under that arch!!
The following morning Nikki and I walked from our lodge to the race briefing held in Lalandiaâ€™s main square, and I have to say my video really doesnâ€™t do the venue justice… The entire ceiling is painted blue with clouds and with the decorations and shop-fronts it felt like I was back in Athens!
Although the expo was smaller than others Iâ€™ve visited, it gave us a chance to try the gels weâ€™d be using on the route (they utilised a â€˜snap-to-openâ€™ design and the gel had the consistency of thick honey!) and after a simple registration process we were handed our transition bags and an awesome â€˜Challenge Denmarkâ€˜ race hoodie!
Weâ€™d organised coach tickets to rack our bikes later that afternoon giving us a few hours to enjoy the resort, so we headed straight for the water-park and I have to say, Lalandiaâ€™s waterpark is AWESOME!! The park features pools, slides and features for all ages including a pool with a wave machine, lazy river, outside Jacuzzi and swimming pool, and 4 waterslides with varying levels of insanity ranging from the single rider â€˜Octopusâ€™ to the 4 person monster â€˜Tornadoâ€™!
After a couple of hours splashing about we dropped our run bags at T2, and joined the coach for the 45 minute journey to Herning so we could rack our bikes…
…spend some time understanding where weâ€™d need to go after leaving the lake the following day, and to admire just how peaceful and calm Furslang lake is! There was a buzz in the air and calm dance music was playing over the speakers, and after arriving back to Lalandia we had a final carb-load pasta-bake in our lodge then headed to the resortâ€™s bar to watch England attempt to play football with a beer to calm those pre-race jitters…
RACE DAY!!! We left our lodge at 4:30am, joined the sleepy coach to Herning, and by 5:30am we were onsite and preparing for the race… After checking our bikes and watching the Pros leave the lake and set off on their bikes, we made our way to the race start. Nikkiâ€™s wave set of 10 minutes before mine, but before long Iâ€™d entered the lake, made the short swim to the race start, and then GO â€“ an air-horn signalled it was time to swim!! Iâ€™ll admit my swim didnâ€™t go quite as planned as bright sunlight meant I struggled to sight at times and my draft at one point going totally off-course, but the lake was absolutely beautiful with plenty of space for all swimmer, and I exited the water after 40m11s and headed into T1…
As weâ€™d laid our race-bags in numerical order (making it easy to find) and a tent with benches was available to use, apart from a quick telling off for heading along the wrong aisle and ducking under the bike racks, my first transition went smoothly and before long I was heading out through the Danish country lanes. As youâ€™ll see in my video, Denmark is absolutely gorgeous!!
The route travelled South from Herning to Billund, and although the roads were open to traffic we saw very few cars along the route with marshals controlling traffic at all major junctions. Rest stops were located at miles 20 and 40 offering gels, water and sports drinks, and although a headwind throughout most of the final 30 miles meant I wasnâ€™t able to beat my personal target of sub-3 hours, before long I headed into T2 with a cycle time of 3h11m53s and off onto the run…
The run route started just outside Lalandiaâ€™s resort centre (and torturously close to the finish area!) and travelled around the Lalandia resort, the outside of Legoland, and through downtown Billund. Iâ€™ll admit I was slightly gutted the route didnâ€™t actually enter Legoland itself, but the course consisted of a mix of pathways, grass, trails and mud and although there wasnâ€™t a huge amount of local support throughout most of the route, certain sections had attracted heavy crowds and the support in these areas was great.
The route consisted of 3 loops which would normally bother me on such a short distance, yet there was so much to see throughout the course that the distance flew by and I completed the run in 1h44m13s, giving me an overall finish time (including transitions) of 5h45m57s â€“ not a personal best and a long way behind the male race winner, Germanyâ€™s Andreas Dreitz who finished in 3h49m17s and the female winner, Denmarkâ€™s Maja Stage Neilson who finished in 4h30m07s, but still a time Iâ€™m happy with.
The race finish line was an awesome yet calm affair… Despite the best efforts of the race announcer to rouse some cheers, the crowd didnâ€™t show much enthusiastic â€“ even when the full distance competitors started to come through led by Denmarkâ€™s Chris Fischer for the men in 8h14m25s and Hollandâ€™s Mirjam Weerd for the ladies in 9h08m56s â€“ but all competitors were given star treatment as they crossed the line with their name announced as they approached the line and that all important medal waiting for you as soon as you passed through the finish arch, and a huge post-race area was set up offering hot food, drinks, fruit, snacks and a great finishers T-shirt. As our flight left that evening we had to miss the finishing party and fireworks (a standard at all Challenge events) but as the airport was so close to Lalandia and out flight was delayed (good old un-reliable Ryanair!), we were still able to watch them from the airport waiting area. Challenge Denmark DONE, and what an experience!
Billund-Herning was my first taste of a Challenge event and it was a great introduction to the â€˜Challenge Familyâ€™. In fact, the amazing experience I had in Denmark has encouraged me to â€˜go longâ€™ and complete my first Full Distance triathlon in Roth, Germany next summer! With Challenge hosting the event, Iâ€™m confident Iâ€™m guaranteed to have an amazing experience.
I absolutely loved this event.
With lots of information available online and through the updated emails, I was able to keep up with everything I needed to know for what I had let myself in for! Being very lucky to be doing this with a wonderful friend, we were able to keep each other motivated and super excited with each passing day.
Getting to the venue was unbelievably easy. We flew from London Stansted to Billund in just over an hour – it takes longer to get out of London on a Friday evening on the train! Then just a 15 minute cab ride took us directly to the front door of Lalandia (It would be worth noting that pre booking a cab big enough to take a bike (well, 2 in our case) would reduce a bit of waiting time at the airport!)
This is where we would be staying for the weekend and it was an amazing place! With fantastic facilities for athletes and family alike, we were able to spend time all together and still get all our kit racked, sorted, briefing attended etc. The swimming pool was awesome! We spent about 2 hours in here between race briefing and racking the bike, and were able to leave the family playing in the aquadrome whilst we were whisked off by coach to rack our bikes in Herring. Lalandia has epic water slides and is well worth a visit!
The registration was very slick with no queues and very friendly, helpful staff and was located in with the race Expo. This had a good selection of kit, race nutrition and information, with some new bits too. I loved that independent traders could also show their products, rather than just the big boys.
The coach to Herring was a little late but the Challenge guy made sure we had drinks (water, Red Bull etc) and it was lovely to be able to chat to the other athletes too. Our lovely traffic free journey took us to Herring in about 45 mins. A good chance to catch up on some sleep at this point too! T1 was easy to follow and laid out well, with music was pumping (I love this bit, it really gets the adrenaline pumping!) and our journey back was all on time and with just 3 of us on the luxury coach we felt very special lol.
Time for food and a little beer – well the football was on too! Lalandia has a selection of places to eat too, so you donâ€™t have to go far at all. I loved the lodge we stayed in. It had everything we needed and just a short walk to the 6am coach, so no additional worries of booking transport to the start line! Perfect!
Race morning is always buzzing! We arrived in plenty of time, racked our bike bag and got ready for our swim. The long distance athletes were already in the water and we were able to watch them getting out and jumping on their bikes. Time to get in the water for my wave, Dave was in the next one behind me! The short swim was enough to get my breathing right, but my slowness got me to the start as the horn blew lol.
Great swim! Though I did get a bit caught up with the other ladies at the second buoy as the sun was so bright that it was harder to make out the next direction to swim to. Up and out of the water and straight through T1 for the bike. This is awesome. It was a bit windy but 56 miles is an ok distance to do. The views were amazing and the sky goes on forever in Denmark. So pretty!
Unfortunately 56 was 58 miles on my Garmin. Not sure what happened there? Maybe I donâ€™t cycle in a straight line! The run was all at Lalandia and I really enjoyed this bit. Iâ€™m not a fast runner. I get round, is my definition lol. But the support and the venue were wonderful. 3 laps and Iâ€™ll be done. The marshals and feed station people were awesome. Clapping and waving and calling out each time you pass. And so many choices of drinks and nutrition, I probably could have done with a table or tray to run with!
Crossing the finish line was made all the better with having Dave and Laura and Kaci clapping me in. I did it! Whoooo hooo! I love my medal!
Everything from T1 had been bought over to T2 so there was no more travelling to Herring needed, and a quick shower and dismantle of our bikes meant we were ready to travel that evening back to London. And a massive dinner too!
We arrived home at 3 in the morning, but only due to the massive thunderstorms they were having in London, delaying our plane arriving in Billund in the first place.
I have told everyone about this event. It was seamless, from entering the event initially right through to getting my medal. I loved the venue! To spend any time on an event weekend, screaming my head off on a massive water flume is truly priceless.
Thank you â€“ Iâ€™ll be back again next year!!
Next year Challenge Herning will host the Triathlon Half Distance European Championships, and I couldnâ€™t think of a better place to hold them! To find out more about both of Challenge Denmarkâ€™s events in Herning and Frederica, visit www.challengedenmark.dk