Ironman UK, Bolton 2017

July 20th, 2017 by

7th place (9th overall) – 9:33:49

After two promising races over the previous month at both Staffordshire and Edinburgh 70.3s I was in a buoyant and fairly confident mood leading into my sixth appearance in Bolton at Ironman UK this past weekend. I was excited to race again, especially against the strong field but also because it had been a full year since I last raced over the full distance. However, with the ups, inevitably you must accept the lows, and unfortunately Sunday proved to be one of those that ends up being filed under a ‘bad days at the office’.

Bolton finish

With the good days come the not so good days, but at the end of the day – reaching the finish is a small victory 


Funnily enough, I had a poor swim at Bolton last year, and I was a little bit anxious not to repeat the same mistakes once again, because as I know oh so well – a good swim can really set you up for the day ahead.

pre swim

Somewhere around 5:45am as we prepare for the day ahead of us…

I started well, found nice and calm water almost right away and settled into the front of the race. Mid way round the first lap Harry Wiltshire assumed his usual position at the head of affairs in the water, and I happily sat in 3rd place. We exited the water to run back in and I didn’t exactly feel myself, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but very quickly into the second lap I realised the issue was a nauseous one, and I started to slow down, hoping to settle myself. Things only spiralled the wrong way from there on in! Sparing the details, I soon found myself having to be sick in the water. Something that in all my time racing I have never – ever! – experienced, or indeed heard others talk about either. For a short period I tried to get close to a support/safety kayak to cling onto… perhaps fortunately there wasn’t one quite close enough, and I realised I had to get back to dry land one way or the other anyway under my own steam, so on I swam.

It was unquestionably the worst swim experience I have ever had – and indeed, hopefully one never to be repeated. However, as I hoped, once I reached the transition area I seemed to feel more like my normal self. So on to my bike I climbed, instinctively I suppose!


Bolton bike

It was the longest I have ever taken to complete an Ironman bike ride, but I got it done

For everyone who has raced in Bolton and ridden the bike course, you know how demanding the course is. For the others, let me throw a blanket over the whole route and describe it is “as tough as you would want to experience”. On the whole, the rolling and twisty terrain coupled with at least two steep climbs during each loop is what wears you down. I am ordinarily pretty good at committing a bike course to memory, however I challenge anyone to manage that in Bolton! On the one hand, the constant cornering and changes in directions can seem never ending, but it can also keep your mind off the fact that you are also riding significantly more than 100 miles, which is no bad thing.

Having been passed by the few other male pro athletes who were in the water longer than me, I was mentally struggling with the concept of suddenly being completely out of the race that I had hoped to be in the thick of. And yet, I had already decided that since I didn’t seem to be getting any worse (more sick) I would be knuckling down for the whole day and “getting it (finishing) done” one way or the other. This realisation that I shouldn’t (couldn’t) feel sorry for myself was hammered home as I started my second bike loop and began to pass athletes beginning their bike ride. One of those was a double leg amputee tackling the extremely steep and infamous Sheep House Lane. I suppose that was as much of a leveller as I needed at that time, and I thought of that athlete on a few more occasions till I reached the finish line, and I hope he got there too.


bolton run

A marathon is a very long way, there is no disguising the fact!

Through various issues with penalties, crashes and wrong turns relating to the guys in front, I bizarrely started the 42K effort in 5th place, albeit it more than half an hour behind the leader! Having ridden the bike ride much less intensely than usual I hoped it would mean I’d have a bit more spring in my step. I started well, and got through the first 10 kilometres in a reasonable pace. Disappointingly, that nagging feeling of everything slowing down and my run form collapsing towards a shuffle reared it’s ugly head not too far after that point. I appreciated that I hadn’t eaten enough during the bike ride, so I took on some more food (banana) and coke than I’d usually want to through run aid stations, and thankfully perked up. I actually got to two hours in decent enough fettle, on pace for just over a 3hr total time for the marathon. However, that last hour has a nasty habit of dragging (!) and it was nearly 75 minutes later that I reached the finish, having been passed by a couple of other guys on the way.

One thing is for certain, having support makes a huge difference – to me anyway – during an Ironman. Sure, when you are having a good day, its fun to see familiar faces, but it helps tenfold more when the day has turned south, like it did for me at the weekend. Blair had his bike during the day, so he was able to move around the marathon course regularly, which meant I luckily got encouragement often. Thanks!

To everyone who completed Ironman Bolton at the weekend, hats off to you, and very well done. Having watched or raced quite a few full distance events over the years, I’m confident in saying that without doubt Bolton is right up there on the difficulty levels. One thing for sure, the crowd support out there was fantastic, and as ever – I really appreciate all the shouts on course. I wish I could thank everyone at the time, but … I’m usually struggling to breathe!

Thanks for the pics: David Pearce & Huw Fairclough.