Ironman UK, Bolton 2018


July 26th, 2018 by



9th overall – 8:36:24*                *bike shortened to 153km 

Having completed (I hesitate to write ‘race’) Challenge Roth two weeks previously, I was in unchartered territory at Bolton this year. I had entered the event as a backup in case of something going ‘wrong’ at Roth which might stop me from from finishing in Germany. As it turned out, something (illness) did go wrong but I still got to the finish, albeit with limited ‘racing effort’ required. All in, this left me in a little bit of a quandary about Ironman UK and tackling another full distance event so soon. Ultimately, I recovered faster than I’d have expected and there just seemed no real reason not to race in Bolton given that I was healthy and had the training tucked away to race the distance… perhaps just not two weeks after having already raced 140 swim, bike and run miles. Time would tell!

Run finish

Finishing Ironman UK for the 6th time and the relief of reaching the finish carpet. 

Weather conditions into the race were testing at best, and hats off to the organisers for managing to get an event off and running at all. The huge moorland fires that had been blazing around the Lancashire hills for some weeks beforehand were almost extinguished but the rural roads the Bolton bike course usually uses had to stay closed for emergency vehicle access. This meant the renowned climb at Sheep House Lane had to be replaced, but with an equally steep and certainly more technical climb over Anglezarke Resevoir. There were plenty poor folks zigzagging and walking up their way up whilst I tackled my second lap, and I’m glad I made sure Blair and I drove over this section on the Friday, just to have a quick look.

As for the swim in Pennington Flash, this appeared to be even more of an issue. Algae blooms had taken over the water due to the unseasonably warm weather, and it really wasn’t certain if we would actually get a triathlon at all until race morning, as water sampling and testing was taking place on a daily basis. To be frank, Pennington Flash is not the nicest body of water at the best of times and the thought of extra gunk to navigate didn’t fill me with joy, but it is what it is and you just push it to the back of you mind on race morning. As it turned out, the water temp hit a boggling 23C which meant non wetsuit rules were enforced for the Pro wave, which to be honest is something I never thought I’d encounter whilst racing in the UK.

transiton

Given that the lake is too small to complete a full 3.8k loop, the Ironman UK swim has always meant a two lap affair which results in us having to re enter the water hot on the heels of the age groupers who have only just started themselves. It’s far from ideal for anyone, as we have to negotiate our way through the scatter gun effect of two thousand swimmers, many of whom are starting their first long distance event, and they in turn have folks like us barreling over the top of them with no notice, which doesn’t sit very easily with me at all. Added on top of all this, the threshold for age group wetsuit use is higher than that of the Pro race, so we had the faster (wetsuit clad) amateur athletes catching us very quickly, as they effectively started right behind us at 6am. It’s all a bit of a visual mess if you ask me, and the sooner you can get out of the swim, the better. Unfortunately I failed to take my own advice and had what I hope will be the worst swim I will ever have racing. Just woeful, and after exiting lap one around the lead guys, I reached my bike a lap later some 4 to 5 minutes behind. It’s amazing how slow you go when you have to breastroke and lay on your back to quell the nauseous feelings in your tummy. It happened last year at the same venue, and a part of me wondered if I’d almost brought it upon myself this second time.

However, it’s an Ironman and you just have to park all that somewhere, snap out of the ‘poor-me itis’ and get on with things. Thankfully, whilst mid sulk during the run to the transition tent I was passed by a flying German, Marc Duelsen who clearly wasn’t feeling sorry for himself after the swim!

bike capture

Holding 2nd place through the start of the second lap and towards the 100k marker… 

Having had such a dreadful swim, coupled with the general chaos of exiting, I had no idea where we (myself and the flying German) actually were in our own race. Extra confusion was created by the fact that faster swimming age groupers were up the road and on their bikes in front of us, which was giving me a headache as we rode back past them as I couldn’t work out (in the heat of the race) why different coloured bib numbers were somehow riding in front of us. I actually started to wonder if people had cut the swim course! I know, it’s no rocket science, but it’t never been something I’ve had to think about before, and my mind was still trying to work out how I’d swum so badly at Bolton, again.

All of this asides, we were actually riding pretty well. I didn’t think it was especially rapid, but around the 15k marker Blair was on course telling us the front was 3.5 minutes away. Although this sounded substantial, I knew I’d finished the swim in a different timezone to the leaders, and I could tell from his body language and voice that we seemed to be doing well. Indeed, another 10k later we passed a Hungarian who I last saw at the start of the race swimming off into the distance, plus the Kiwi Simon Cochrane who I might’ve expected to swim with. As we hit the steep section of replacement road some apparently trustworthy spectators (you get a feel for those you can trust in a race and those who you pay no attention to!) shouted 90secs to the leader, which implied that myself and Marc were sitting 2nd and 3rd. I found all of this rather bizarre as 45minutes previously I genuinely wanted the ground to open up and give me a good old swallow! A further 10 minutes of riding left us in sight of the leader and his shadowing motorbike. That being said, after a while I realised we couldn’t see him anymore which confused me (equally as much as the age groupers riding in front of us earlier on) as I couldn’t believe that he’d suddenly pulled away from us. It turned out he hadn’t, the poor bloke had ridden himself off the course, crashed, and ended up at hospital… So, long story short, by the 50k mark we were the lead pair on the road. Racing really is a funny thing at times.

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All of this excitement slowly started to wear off as the realisation that I was getting tired at this pace hit home. I backed off, allowed Marc to ride away and I hoped I could hold my position through the next 90ks or so of this shortened Ironman course. Blair gave me splits to Joe Skipper and Henry Irvine who were riding 2 and 3 minutes behind me respectively around the 85k marker, and he reminded me that there was no good reason for them to catch me. He was right, given I’d put time into them both up till that point, but unfortunately they were gaining momentum and I was beginning to leak it like a sieve. They passed me around the 100k point and somehow I limped into T2 nearly 10 and 7 minutes back from them both. I was eating and drinking and generally doing everything right, other than actually ride fast! It’s strange, as I usually have a good grasp of relative speeds, but I didn’t understand quite how slowly I had ended up pedalling. In hindsight I appreciate it simply being a function of two Ironmans in 14 days and me not really being capable of coping with it, unlike Joe of course, who also raced Roth!

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Running a marathon after 5+ hours of hard exercise isn’t really something I’ve ever wrapped my head around. Perhaps nobody truly does, there are just those who deal with it in a better manner than others (me). The run course in Bolton had been altered this year, with a new T2 location in Queens Park close to the city centre and a 4 lap course using most of the old course, plus a new section through this large park that I’d never even noticed on any previous trip to the event. It was a good loop and for the most part had sizeable crowds all around the course. This always helps, especially on a day when your focus moves more from racing, to completion. I’d held my 4th place position till the start of the 2nd loop, but I didn’t have the required fight to dig deep enough. It’s a skill to be able to reset your mind to the concept of a foot race with nearly 30k still to go, and I regretfully wasn’t up for that task. The next two loops were a succession of simply getting from one aid station to the next, and as I started my final loop in down in 8th place Blair told me that my good buddy Andy Brodziak was a couple of minutes in front (but on his 3rd lap) so I should at least aim to catch him by the far turn point of the lap. This was a great carrot, and we chatted together which helped pass the 5k home towards the finish area… until I turned right for the finishing chute and Andy had to keep going! He did playfully suggest I keep trucking for a 5th lap, but that didn’t need much thought!

I had re-passed a struggling and walking Italian athlete, Dominico, but 7th Pro and some 40minutes behind Joe Skipper’s finish time was a result that perhaps summed up this attempt at a second Ironman in as many weeks. I tried and I finished, but that ultimately was about it.