How Ipswich man caught the bug for a gruelling event

DAVID Copland has a big claim to fame.

Only two triathletes, in the whole of Great Britain, possess a coveted green T-shirt from the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, and Copland is one of them.

To date, there have only been nine Norseman Triathlons – next year is the 10th anniversary – and to get your hands on a green T-shirt, you have to have completed this gruelling event five times.

Copland, a member of Ipswich Triathlon Club, has conquered the 226km distance, spread over a 3.8K open-water swim, 180K bike ride, and 42.2K mountain run, for each of the last five years since 2007.

Hence his award of the green T-shirt at this year’s event. Furthermore, he has already entered next summer’s race!

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“I first heard about this event in 2005. It immediately appealed to me, because it was a bit different to a normal triathlon,” explained Copland.

“The swim starts by jumping off a ferry into a fjord, so I put the event down on my ‘things to do’ list.

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“A friend of mine, Craig Maude from Yorkshire, then entered the 2007 event, and suggested that I should join him. I accepted the challenge, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Remarkably, Copland has never competed in a ‘normal’ Ironman triathlon. His only experience of this famous distance is in and around the fjords of Norway.

The initial swim, in Hardangerfjord, is especially tough with usual temperatures of around 15 to 17 degrees Celsius. A wetsuit is mandatory.

Yet for Copland, the swim is the weakest of the three disciplines.

“My first triathlon was in 1994, at the police training college at Shotley. That included an 800-yard swim,” recalled Copland.

“A friend then asked me to attempt the Yorkshire Dales Triathlon, with a swim in a lake, but at the time I didn’t consider myself a strong enough swimmer to cover the one-mile distance.

“But a few years later I did do the Yorkshire Dales event. I had just bought a wetsuit, in preparation for the Cambridge Triathlon (standard Olympic distance), but that race was over-subscribed, so instinctively I went up to the Yorkshire Dales, even though it was effectively double the distance!

“Swimming remains my weakest discipline,” added Copland, who trains in a lake on private land in Essex.

But Copland’s triathlon career is centred around the Norseman. The bug has bitten deep.

“We all get on the ferry at 3am, when it’s still dark. It takes an hour to get to the start, even though it’s only a couple of miles away,” explained Copland.

“At 4.50am we are called onto the deck, and we then jump into the fjord from the car ferry. The water is 400 metres deep at this point, so there is no chance of you hitting the bottom!

“This year, the water temperature was 18 degrees Celsius, two days before the event, only for a very large cruise ship to come into the fjord and churn up all the water.

“The temperature dropped to eight degrees Celsius overnight, which was too cold for competition, so the start was moved to 20 kilometres nearer the sea, where the water was warmer.

“That meant we had an extra 20km on our bike ride, to added to the 180K!

“The first 35K on the bike section are all uphill, and there are three more mountain passes to struggle over. In all, there is about 3,500 metres of climbing.

“Like the cycle ride, the marathon run is also a point-to-point course. The first 25K is gently undulating, beside the fjord, and then it’s up a mountain.

“I usually finish in about 15 hours, though my times have differed due to the strength of the wind and also the occasional changes to the course.

“The winner usually does about 11 to 12 hours.”

Copland, who has been based in Ipswich since 1984, shows no signs of slowing down. The 48-year-old is already looking forward to next year’s event.

“I love it. For me, it is a shared journey rather than just a race,” said Copland.

“People help each other out, especially if someone runs out of water or food.

“And the organisers always welcome you every year. You feel more like family members than competitors.”

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