Sunday the 04th August 2013 seen the 9th addition of the Ironman event in the UK this is the 5th year that Bolton has hosted the event since being moved there in 2009. Race entry for 2013 had sold out in record time with 5000 pre-registered for the 10th year anniversary in 2014. This year’s event had seen the registration of the 1636 athletes 90% of those from the UK with other countries form around the globe filling up the remainder of the field.
The race promised to be one of toughest around with over 1600 meters of climbing on the bike course over a 3-x lap circuit and 290 meters climbed on the run course for good measure and did not disappoint.
Upon appearance the race seems a complicated prospect from a logistics point of view due the fact that T1 and T2 are in different locations and about 9 miles apart. This is not a reason to panic as a few small steps can make this a lot easier:
- Ideally if you have your own transport available
- A good Sat Nav device with UK maps
If you have neither then you are at the mercy of the shuttle bus service that pretty good also so again if you have flown over its not the end of the world.
The postcodes for the relevant locations that are vital to your race that you can enter into your Sat Nav are as follows:
- Registration Reebok BL6 SJW Stadium
- Swim and T1 Bike WN7 3PA Pennington Flash
- Bike to Run T2 BL6 7RU Rivington and Black Rod High School
- Finish Line BL1 1TN Victoria Square Bolton.
When you arrive in Bolton registration normally takes place at the Bolton Wanderers ground at the Reebok Stadium BL6 SJW and you can register at the following times.
Thursday: 3pm to 7pm
Friday: 9am to 5.30pm
Saturday: 8am to 1pm
You can gain entry to registration through Car Park C and follow the building round to the left and up the stairs to the Expo; the registration area is at the end of the Expo naturally enough so you can view all the Ironman merchandise along the way. You will need your race number and photo ID to register an if you need a one day licence you will get this in the same area. The last thing is collect your Bag containing the following items:
- Race Transfer Tattoos Left and Right Upper Arm
- Race Transfer Tattoo for rear of calf for age group
- Race number for waist
- Race Numbers for Helmet and Bike
- Race Swim Hat
- Timing chip voucher
- 3 x race bags, Red (Run), Blue (Bike) and White (swim)
- Wrist band with race number
- Pasta Party wrist band
- The timing chip for is collected when you leave your bike into transition when you hand in the voucher from the goodie bag. You can also collect a bike cover from the staff on the way out of the expo to cover your bike overnight in transition in case of rain.
Special needs bags are also available in this area and you can put items into this that you may require on the bike course that you can stop and collect before the end of the first bike loop. This is handy if you want to leave additional nutrition of your own making or any other items you need.
Shopping areas, train station direct from Manchester airport and restaurants surrounds the Reebok Stadium if you are hungry when you arrive and want to get something to eat or drink before you head away to your hotel or lodgings.
The race briefing times are normally posted in the information booklet sent out to you by email but normally take place in the downstairs of the Expo area in the Reebok stadium on the Friday evening at 4pm or 5pm an Saturday.
It is good idea to attend the race briefing even if you race the circuit before as thing change from year to year and you may miss out on some detail that could ruin you race day. The mayor mentioned this year about a proposal to change to bike course to a 2-x loop course from 2014 onwards!!!
Some of the more poignant messages that you will take from the brief is the strict no litter policy on the course and that no individual will be accompanied by family or friends when crossing the finish line. These actually when broken on race involved people being disqualified even when they had been briefed so be warned.
Transition 1 Swim to Bike (Blue bag)
When you have completed all the registration pleasantries the next step if to locate your kit and equipment in the relevant transition areas, we did this on Saturday morning in order to complete the practice swim between 9am and 10am. T1 is located near Leigh down south beside a lake called Pennington Flash WN7 3PA again Sat Nav is handy to have here as it will bring direct. Transition normally opens on Saturday 9am to 3pm were you leave your blue bag and your bike. As a minimum your bike bag must contain:
- Bike shoes
- Race Belt
- Clothing and any other them you think you will need
On route into transition you will be required to show your wristband and your helmet clipped on to be checked, the staff will also take a photo of you with your bike for security of your bike. You rack your bike in the designated number assigned to you and then cover it with a bike bag provided at the expo and then you will hang up your blue bag in the tent adjacent on the hook number designated. Before you leave transition check you bike bag has all your items as you not be allowed back to it on the morning and don’t forget to collect you race chip on the way with the voucher given to you at registration.
The practice swim is normally 2-3pm on Friday and 9-10m on Saturday beside T1 at Pennington naturally enough; we completed the practice swim before we racked our bikes. The swim is triangular circuit from the lake-shore where a member of staff will give you a full brief.
The staff will let you swim for about 10 minutes around to first 2 markers to practice entry and exit. It is an idea to practice you spotting out and in on this swim because on race morning if the sun is up it will be in your eyes on route back to the shore on each lap.
On route in pick some of the trees on the skyline that you can spot off on the morning, as the marker will be hard to identify in sunshine. I used 4 trees in row that looked like needles on the horizon but obviously enough they may not always be there but you get the picture.
Transition 2 Bike to Run (Red Bag)
This is located at Rivington High School BL6 7RU and is another time to use the Sat Nav as the drive takes about 20 minutes depending on traffic. The parking at the high is scarce when everyone arrives at the same time. The staff will meet you when you enter the hall and give you a quick transition brief on what happens when you arrive of your bike on race day. They will help you locate your bags in rows and then answer any other questions you may have and when exist the hall another staff member will brief you on the run course and exit towards the same. Again make sure you have everything you need in your red bag, as you will not see again till race day.
On race morning there are shuttle buses from the Reebok Stadium from 3.40am to 5.20am and takes about 20mins to the drop off point at the park inn near Pennington flash. You will have to walk a short distance from here to the transition area. In transition you are allowed access to your bike in order to pump the tyres and place water bottles on nutrition on your bike as required. There is normally pumps in location so need to bring you own.
After this is the waiting game until the race commences at 6am so this is a time to take on any nutrition and water required and then to get changed into your swim attire, make sure you chip is secured to your left ankle and that you have you swim hat and goggle before placing your swim bag in the Bag Bins. The swim bags plus the bike bags are available for collection late that day at the finish line and it is an idea to have some warm clothing for the finish.
Swim Course 2.4miles or 3.8km
The swim course consist of 2 laps of an anti clockwise swim were you have an entry point on the right and an exit point 30 meters to the left were you will have to exit after the first lap. The exit and entry areas are ramps into the water so there is no big issue here. Athletes normally start entering the water at 05.45am and make their way over the starting line about 100 meters out into the open water allowing the pros to go the front of the pack.
The swim starts at 6am on the button and is pretty busy so naturally enough the weaker swimmers should stay nearer the back based on ability otherwise stronger athletes will swim around or over you.
When the first 1900 meter laps is complete you exit the water on the ramp on the right and enter back into the water about 30 meter to the right down the ramp and off for your second 1900 meter lap.
The Bike Course 180 KM
After you exit the water on the right you head towards the left down a fenced off lane towards transition and all the to the bottom to the changing tent, you are permitted to take off your swim hat and remove your wetsuit to waist level on the run.
In the tent you locate you bike back and move towards the exit to get changed in either a standing or sitting position the choice is yours. It’s important to check the contents bike bag to make sure you take all your kit that you need, some people opt to leave their shoes clipped on the bike peddles and this is permitted.
Make sure your helmet is clipped before you leave the tent and then hand your bike bag over to the staff and they will place them in the bins provided.
You exit transition on the left and head towards the road out of Pennington having mounted the bike at the mount line. The road out had some speed ramps so be warned not to do any unnecessary to your bike before you even start.The first 22 km of the bike course is pretty much all up hill along country roads and villages towards Bolton until you reach the bike loop at this stage you will have climbed 120mtrs. I used my TT bike for the race and no issues with it along the route provided you use the correct gear ratio on your cassette, I used a compact and 11-28 on the rear. The TT also paid dividends on the down hills as I appeared to move at a better speed than those on road bikes.
To download a GPS file of the bike course click on the following ling:
The bike profile can be see below and contains 1600meters combined across the 180km course and ungulates pretty much along the whole course so take solace in the fact that when climb there will be a downhill rest to follow.
After the 22Kms the climbing begins with infamous sheep house lane that is actually not bad if you choose the correct cassette on the rear. I used an 11-28 on the back and climbed this easily enough although it does get a little tougher towards the top at the 30km the road dip and then rises again until you reach to top.
All along the way to the top of sheep house lane the support is great with the locals giving you loads of support along the way. After the top it’s a very fast technical downhill towards Belmont Village 31km but at the bottom be warned it is very sharp left turn and very narrow.
My advice is to take care on this portion for the first loop at least to become familiar.
The road then travels in NNW direction and has an uphill section towards the 31km mark but is gradual enough and again nice and steady here. The road continues towards the M65 and has a lot of fast downhill sections along the way but may also have some strong cross winds again depending on the weather.
The road surface is not bad but there are some lumps and bumps to watch out for along the way and is a fast section down towards the M65 with a sharp left at 41.5km toward a sharp drag.
The next part of the course is pretty much rolling hills a country road with some technical portions towards to 74km mark where you reach the bottom of sheep house lane and have your first loop is complete.
The support along the route is great and you will pass 3 aid stations and one special needs station on each loop. The loops are roughly 52km each loop with two remaining that exactly the same as you have just completed from the 22km to 74 km mark with exception that on the last loop you exit the bike course thankfully at the bottom sheep house lane.
So it’s 3 times up and over sheep house lane and the edge of winter hill.
I used Tubs on the bike course and although the surface is rough enough in some areas I had no major issue but there were some people along the route who had bike difficulties from puncture and a good few broken chains. So I recommend that you get a full bike service to include changing a cassette if you are in any doubts. There were mobile bike vans on the route but I have to l say I did not see any along the way but that’s not to say those people did not get sorted out with their technical difficulties.
When you exit the bike course its off the down a side road at sheep house lane as directed by staff towards Rivington High School that seems to take forever even it’s a short distance.
T2 Bike to Run
Upon arrival at T2 the bikes are taken off you at the entry point by staff and racked for you awaiting collection post race. It is your choice if you want unclip and run in shoes or leave your shoes clipped to the peddles and move towards the main hall but again depending on weather your shoes if left on the bike could exposed to the elements overnight.
Across the tennis courts and up into the hall to collect your red bike bag and follow the one-way system to the changing area. You have the option to have a full change in the dressing room but these can be quit full so be prepared to wait.
After you have changed it off to the left and onto to the run course and for those with plenty of time to prepare for this race be warned there is 290 meters of elevation to be gained on the run. This is not your average marathon course and this is one of the reasons it claims to be one of the toughest courses around and this is not solely due to a tough bike.
There are a couple of twists and turns at the beginning of the run and some up and downhill portions towards the 10km mark that has a nice sharp incline before reaching the 3 loops circuit. There are two aid stations before the 10km mark giving athletes an opportunity to take some well needed nutrition.
Once you have reached the main route you basically have 3 10km loops to look forward picking up designated coloured arm bands after each loop from the staff. You will pick these up just before you reach the point you entered the loop circuit after the first loop.
The loop circuit is basically a turns left after the point of entry towards the next aid station and timing mat that is the first turning point. Athletes run in a lane system on the left at all times and the staff to keep you safe marshals this.
After the turning points you are now heading towards the centre of Bolton again this part of the circuit is gradual up and down hill to the 14km mark were there is a sharp downhill into the city centre and again you are greeted with an aid station at 15km, the goes through some twist and turns here passed the finish point back out to the main loop. The good news the sharp hill you came down on the way you have to go back up until the 17km mark.
You heading back towards the original point of entry were you collecting your first armband. Athletes will running up and down both side of the route so you will be able to greet you comrades and observe the people who have more or less arm bands than you.
There are toilet stops along the route beside the aid stations also and the smell of BBQ’s, Beer and the support of the people along the route will keep you moving the down pour of rain at this stage helped also to cool the jets.
At this stage you have to complete the route 2 more times exiting in the city centre towards the finish line to the ring of the words “you are an Ironman”. The wait, blood sweat and tears have all been worth it. Make sure you display you number on front so can be recognised crossing the line and don’t forget to have a look behind to see if you have the finish to yourself and smile for the photo.
Overall thoughts, yes this is a tough race to do and especially if it is your first full distance but I think upon reflection of it’s a great location to race especially if you can reach it by a combination of road or ferry.
The people are great and the event is very well organised, the facilities and the hotels offer a great service including and early morning breakfast on race. If high temperatures of some the European races is issue for you on race day then Bolton has a higher probability of being no higher than the early 20’s but there are no set guarantees.
There is large array of restaurants that are great for meals pre and post race and are not overly expensive which is great, the service is good also.
There are a good number of grocery stores that are available in the area for those who like to do some of their own shopping and again are not overly expensive either. So all in all a thumbs up for Ironman UK