In this blog, coached athlete Simon shares his experience of Ironman 70.3 Bolton....‘For one year only’.
Now I never thought I’d return to Bolton, much like Sir Steve Redgrave saying "Shoot me if I ever do that again"!
I was there for the full in 2015 and to say it didn’t go to plan was an understatement…the moment I jumped in the lake I cut my foot on a stone on the bottom of the lake, it was 10 degrees, torrential rain (known as the year the spectators got wetter than the swimmers!), 40 mph gusts and took everything I had to get through it. I was on antibiotics for 2 months after to fix the infection in my foot!
Nonetheless when I saw that phrase ‘For one year only’ I knew I had to go back. Besides, it was ‘only’ a 70.3... it couldn’t be that hard…
I drove up on Saturday morning, slightly worried that it may be a one-way journey given the fuel panic going on. Fortunately, it seemed that the panic buying is worse in the South as I had no problems getting fuel in Bolton. Saturday’s always a busy day as registration, T1 and T2 were all in different places. I got to the Town Hall for registration to find that they were running an IronKids event with 1000 children doing running races on part of the course. There was music blaring, big crowds and a buzzing atmosphere. I realised I missed how well that the Ironman brand make their events so special. After getting my bag, stickers and nice pink swim cap I then had a trip back to the car to get my run stuff and a walk to a park where T2 was to drop off my trainers. After that, it was a 10 mile drive to Pennington Flash where the swim is to drop off my bike, helmet and shoes in T1. They’d canceled the swim practice there as they wanted to dredge some weeds out of the water!
By the time all that was done I noticed I’d hit my 12,000 step target for the day – not bad when I’d spent 4.5 hours driving!
I did finally have a relax back at the hotel (at Bolton Wanderers stadium) once that was finally done and got an early nice night for the usual restless pre-race sleep.
Race morning, 5am alarm. I was pleased for a slightly more civil 8am start to the race, 5am get up is much better than the 3-4am you have to get up for a ‘full’. Had a banana, coffee and then drove to get parked in Bolton town center and had a short walk to where the coaches were taking competitors to the swim start.
Thankfully the weather was totally different to the last time I was there, 16 degrees and slightly cloudy with not too much wind. The swim course was a one-lapper, straight out, a small turn and back. Like most events nowadays there was no mass start, you self-seed and it’s a rolling start. I put myself in the 25-30 minute pen, hoping that I could get some decent toes to swim on and that years of swimming would make up for the fact that I’ve only managed to swim once a week for the best part of a year and a half.
Before I knew it was 7:55am, the national anthem was played, and then music turned up. When AC/DC’s Thunderstruck came on I knew it was time to go! They let 4 swimmers in at a time in 3-second intervals, when my time came I ran down the ramp and jumped in straight into seemingly a huge pile of weeds! I thought they’d cleared these?!
Fortunately, after 40-50 meters you were out of the weeds and then I tried to concentrate on keeping my stroke long, staying relaxed and finding some feet. I didn’t really manage the feet bit, I felt I was swimming OK, but I kept drifting off the racing line to the left and then had to swim right to get back in line again. I don’t know how many times I did that, but I seemed to be going ok and keeping pace with a group next to me. There was a pack up front, I did think about swimming hard to get on it, but decided it’d be too much effort... it was going to be a long day!
It always seems to happen that once I find my rhythm in the swim and start enjoying it it’s time to exit the water. Once again I swam through the weeds to get to the pontoon and was pleased to see that my swim time was 30 mins exactly. That’s a few minutes off my best, but as good as could be hoped for given the amount I’ve been swimming.
I knew that the bike course was going to be tough, as I was chatting to Olly Simon at the swim start (multiple winner of Wales’ Long Course Weekend), who came 2nd yesterday, and he drove it the day before, he warned the road surface was terrible and he expected to be at least 15 minutes slower than a ‘usual’ 70.3 course. Well, make that nearly ½ hour slower for me!
I had a decent start, the roads were rolling for the first 10 miles but not as bad as initially feared, my average was 33kph and the bottle with my repair kit had only been jettisoned once from the cage behind my seat over a rough patch. However, once we got through the town and hit the West Pennine hills, the roads got worse and worse, steep on the way up, twisty and potholed on the way down and my average speed dropped and dropped. My bottle flew out another 4 times before I improvised a way to secure it. I really was a complete wuss descending, choosing safety over speed. It felt like the world and it's wife were overtaking me and I really regretted being on my tri bike with a disc wheel. I think I’d have done a whole load better on a road bike where I’m a bit more confident when the road points down. I finally finished the ride in 3hrs 11 mins. Normalised Power was 195w… roughly 20w less than I was aiming for, but there really was no chance to get in the tri-bars and get into a rhythm. I will finish on a positive, it was mostly on closed roads and signage/ marshalls were excellent.
The half-marathon course is a 2 and a bit looper that starts out in the park, goes into the town center, through big crowds, past a troop of dancing Ooompa Loompas, then back into the park, up a steep hill, then onto a long road that goes uphill for 3k followed by a 180 degree and downhill for 3k.
My plan was to aim for a sub 1:45 half marathon, to get a drink at each aid station and take 4 gels. I felt OK when I started running, the 3kg I’d recently lost was definitely helping. The first aid station was at about 800m into the run so I stopped, had a drink and took a gel. My watch beeped at 1k in a time of 4:45, not bad considering I’d had a little walk for 20 seconds. From there on I felt good. I ran to feel rather than trying to hit a pace and as each km passed I gradually gained confidence. The steep hill in the park I walked and the long gentle hill seemed to be shallow enough that I could keep a decent pace going up it without too much effort. I hit 10k in 44mins and at that point decided I’d keep pushing to at least try to finish with a good run split. I still walked for 10-15 secs at each aid station, probably 30 secs when I was having a gel. I really pushed it on the downhills. I was very pleased to finish strong with a 1:33 run split.
Total time 5:26:00
14th Place out of 107 in Age group, 146th out of 916 overall.
Swim 2nd in Age group, Bike 50th in age group, Run 1st in Age group (yes!).
All in all, it was a great event. Ironman really do know how to put on a good show! The people of Bolton came out and gave excellent support and the atmosphere was superb. Despite the toughness of the bike and the road conditions I did manage to lift my head up a few times and look around the West Pennines and the views were stunning.
I’d really recommend it, except that it’s for one year only…