RACE REPORT: Ironman UK (Bolton): Here’s a report from the weekend and thought it would be useful for those contemplating this event or (like me) were wondering how the UK Ironman event compared to the Outlaw triathlon.
Swim: My family and I arrived at Pennington Flash at about 5am in the persistent rain. Unfortunately the day before at bike check-in they’d stopped giving out the bike covers as the strong wind was blowing the covered bikes about (cover acting like a kite) and so I checked over a very wet bike and noted that my wife’s homemade flapjack was a bit mushy (left in my top-tube bag overnight) – oh well, bit of extra hydration. The swim had a new “rolling” start, so you line up next to your predicted finish time in a long line of athletes (exactly like Stafford half marathon). You pass over a timing sensor just before you enter the water and you start swimming next to people of a similar speed and there’s less of the washing machine experience as people fight for position; in truth it worked very well. Not quite the adrenaline-rush of a mass start, but I think it’s a good improvement. The other thing about this swim was that it is 2 loops with an exit and re-entry between, so you jog past cheering supporters half was through – really added to the excitement. My background is competitive swimming so my main challenge in the swim is NOT to race and to save as much energy as possible for the two things that I’m not so good at (i.e. bike & run). Given I was expecting a tough day my plan was to force myself to aim for 1:10 and I came in at 1:06 so sort of not bad.
Bike: Into T1 which resembled a sauna room with a haze of steam coming from fellow competitors. Onto my bike kit and out to collect my bike in what was a now very heavy rain. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I went out onto the bike course in a torrential downpour; I was just glad I’d put on an extra cycling jersey and a waterproof gilet. The bike course is far hillier than the Outlaw, but not stupidly hilly. There are some long and steep bits, but on the whole it’s what you’d call rolling. It took me 7:52, so about 1:30 longer than the Outlaw (which is pretty flat), and if it hadn’t been so windy, probably about an hour extra. The main thing about the bike course is that the support on the climbs is truly exceptional!!! I felt like I was riding in the Tour De France at times; other than the finish line, the support on the bike course was my stand out moment. It actually bought a tear to my eye at one point; just overcome with just how much enthusiastic support was directed at me by total strangers – some in fancy dress; the locals really get behind the event.
Run: So off my bike and feeling very tired I have to say. However, I now knew I’d finish (my one and only goal for the day) as I had enough time left to walk the marathon. I jogged out of T2 and onto the course. For the first 8 miles I was going really well and on for a 4:20 marathon, but once onto the loop part of the course the hills were back and by mile 10 I was empty – so a slow slog to the finish. The course loops (3 of these to do) take you in and out of Bolton town centre where, like the bike climbs, the support was just incredible! I mean really, outstandingly incredible!! Eventually, 14 hrs and 41 minutes after I entered the water I crossed the finish line. Over two hours slower than the Outlaw and with my body in pieces, but I couldn’t have cared less because crossing that finish line is the biggest “hit” you’ll ever have – a feeling of elation words cannot do justice to.
Overall: Ironman do an exceptionally good and professional job, yes there were some issues (shuttle transport and also not enough toilets on the course), but on the whole incredibly well organised. However, what sets this event apart for me was the support out on the course – just brilliant. If you haven’t done this event then I would highly recommend it, it’s not an easy course (Ironman rate it as Medium-to-Hard), but it’s well worth it.