This is my first full distance Ironman event having only previously taken part in a GoTri, one sprint distance and last months IRONMAN 70.3 STAFFORDSHIRE. I am still new to triathlon and certainly still learning about the longer distance. My goal for Ironman UK is to simply get around and finish the event, if possible come in under 13 hours and improve on my swim to bike transition after a few issues with the wetsuit in Stafford.
Ironman UK this year is going to be a shorter distance, we were notified on the Wednesday before the race that the bike leg was going to be re-routed due to moorland fires affecting part of the original route. The new route will be 95 miles. Initially I was pretty upset and disappointed by this. Thoughts like: “I signed up for a full Ironman” or “its not a full Ironman” entered my head but then when I thought more about it, what is it that makes you an Ironman? is it specifically the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run? or is it taking part of finishing an Ironman event? Ironman is a brand not a distance, so in my mind, anyone who completes an Ironman race is an Ironman. Some courses are flat, some have perfect weather conditions. Bolton was not an easy course and did not have perfect weather, it may have been 17 miles short but it makes up for that in other areas.
So my plan for this weekend was to pack all my gear on Friday and then drive up to Bolton Saturday morning for registration, race brief and racking and then stay overnight at the Holiday Inn Express Leigh Sports Village. I chose this hotel as it is located literally over the road from the swim start and they put on a special early morning breakfast just for Ironman race day.
Saturday – Registration & Racking.
I drove up to Bolton Saturday morning and arrived at registration / finish area just as the IronKids event was going on. It was great to watch the kids running down the red carpet and through the finish chute, in years to come one of those kids could be running down the chute at a full Ironman event.
Registration was really quick, even at lunch time on the Saturday. I didn’t realise that it closed at 13:00 so I only just made it with 90 minutes to spare. I picked up my transition bags, bib number, number stickers and wrist band. I sorted all these out in the 20 minutes before the race brief so that I could head straight to T2 to drop off my red run bag. The race brief was good, we got some good tips from the guys and an overview of some of the major rules and penalties. Nothing that isn’t in the race pack but having the opportunity to ask questions covers off any grey areas you may have so its always worth going along.
Once that was done I went over to T2, which was a 5 minute walk from the finish. Dropped off my red bag which had in my Adidas Ultraboost ST shoes, Adidas cap to keep the sun off my head, sunscreen and a towel. Not much needed for this part of the race. Most people had already dropped off their bags so it was pretty quiet. I took 10 minutes to walk through transition to familiarise myself with the ride in, dismount point and the run to my racking point. I found this worked well in Stafford and takes some of the unknown out of the day.
After that I met up with my friend Chris who I roomed with when we rode around Death Valley in 2016. He is also doing Ironman UK tomorrow so it was great to have a catch up and discuss tactics, or how we are going to survive Ironman.
After coffee I drove down to Pennington Flash, this took just over 30 minutes to get from Bolton to Leigh. I arrived at 15:40, just 20 minutes before they closed T1. As you can tell, I was in no rush today. I racked my bike and dropped off my blue bike bag. This contained my Kask Mojito helmet, Fizik R3B cycle shoes, socks, Oakley Jawbreaker sunnies, Towel, Sunscreen and a SiS Go Energy Gel. Again, I spent some time having a walk around transition to learn the run in from the swim and out to the bike mount line.
Whilst there I had a quick look around the swim start but not much to learn here other than look at the buoys and which direction we will be swimming.
I then went to the hotel, I am staying at the Holiday Inn Express Leigh Sports Village. This is located just over the road from Pennington Flash so it will be ideal for tomorrow. The room had everything you would need. A bed, bathroom and space to put the bike tomorrow night. They do offer an early breakfast for Ironman race day which starts at 2:30am as well as a late dinner race day evening for those who may still be racing late into the night. I had some dinner at the hotel before driving back into Bolton. I was going to leave my car there overnight so that its ready and waiting for when I finish tomorrow. This also saves me having to drive into Bolton tomorrow morning and catching the bus back to the start. Allowing more sleep time.
Alarm was set for 3:45am, with the race starting at 6am. It is going to be a looooong day.
Sunday – Race Day.
So the alarm went off at 3:45am and it felt as early as it sounds. I didn’t sleep well, the room was hot and the air con was noisy. That coupled with a different bed all resulted in me tossing and turning and waking three or four times.
I quickly got into my trisuit and heart rate monitor, threw on a pair of shorts and tee, then headed down to breakfast. I had two pots of porridge, a few muffins and two coffees to wake me up. The hotel had put out some packets of haribo and wine gums. I took a pack of wine gums to take on the bike with me.
Once breakfast was done, I headed back to the room mixed out my two bike water bottles, post race protein ready to be mixed with water and a pre race SiS Electrolyte drink which I would have whilst waiting for the swim start. I double checked that I had my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles, put on my timing chip and headed off at 4:45am.
It was a five minute walk over to the start, I made a quick check of the tyre pressures. Still the same as last night so all good there, put all my nutrition on the bike. I had four protein flapjack bars and three SiS Go Energy gels for an instant hit if (when) required. Loaded the water bottles and my Garmin Edge 1000 GPS, got the route ready and that was it, all good to go now.
I was waiting around a little just checking out what everyone else was doing at this stage. I decided to put on my wetsuit waist high and drop off my white bag. I bumped into my mate Chris again so he got me zipped up and we had a quick chat, wished each other luck and went to line up in our “expected” swim times.
Swim – 01:26.35
The swim is my weakest discipline but has improved massively over the last 11 months. I hadn’t actually swam the full 2.4 mile distance before but I had a good idea of my pace so I was in two minds whether to line up at 1:25 or 1:30. It doesn’t really make much difference but I went for 1:30 so I am not getting in the way if I end up swimming slower.
Right up until the start I hadn’t been nervous at all. Even when AC/DC Thunder started pumping out I was more excited to get this show on the road and see how I do against such a massive challenge.
The water wasn’t the cleanest but with all the warnings we had received I did expect far worse. The temperature was 23.4c so it was wetsuits for the age groupers and a non-wetsuit swim for the pros. I was glad it was a wetsuit swim for us, I can swim a lot faster with the aid of the wetsuit. As soon as I got into the water, I quickly found my pace and wasn’t getting as knocked about as I did at Staffs, there was more room to get in here. The first half of lap one (it is a 2 lap loop with an Australian exit) we had the sun behind us and sighting was quite easy, on the way back in however, the sun was low and right in the line of sight, making sighting next to impossible. Thankfully, one benefit of being a slow swimmer is, there are a few hundred swimmers in front showing you the way.
In previous long swims, my legs have been like jelly when I got out the water, making standing difficult never mind a short run to the start. In Staffs I was given a tip of kicking hard in the minutes before reaching land, this gets the blood flowing to your legs once again. I tried this again and low and behold, the legs were fine on exit. I even ran around to the start of lap 2, I was even told to slow down, this is the guy who has a nightmare getting out of the water. I checked my watch and it looked like I had completed lap 1 in just over 41 minutes which is about bang on my 1.9k pace.
Lap 2 was much of the same as the first lap, I felt good and confident in the water and even enjoying it on the way out. Coming back in was tricky with the sun again but not really an issue. I did start to get a little bored and the mind was starting to wander at this point, probably an hour and 15 into the swim. I just had to keep thinking, 10 more minutes then its bike time, my favourite part of today. In the last 3 mins I was running through transition in my head and kicking hard again.
I got out of the water, but couldn’t check my watch, someone had kicked it and it looked like it was in transition mode. Gutting!!
So the legs worked fine again, my next worry was whether the wetsuit would unzip and thankfully it came open straight away. I tucked my cap and goggles in the sleeve and set off sprinting down to T1 again being told I was running too fast.
In T1 the wetsuit came off quickly, I towelled dry and put on the sunscreen, helmet and shoes. I wasn’t overly rushing here, I didn’t want to get sunburnt to save a few seconds. I went out and collected the bike and went on my way to the mount line.
Bike – 05:43.18
The bike mount line always makes me laugh. Here you have people running with their bikes and then they just suddenly stop right in the middle of the road to slowly climb on and nervously clip in before riding off. Surely these people must train to run and get into the saddle without stopping? I ran full tilt jumped on the saddle and clip in and rode off passing 11 people in that one motion. I then realised that my Garmin wasn’t in transition mode it was in a different panel. I stopped my swim, ended transition and started the bike.
The bike route was a 14 mile ride from Pennington Flash to the entry to the loop section, we would ride this twice before heading into Bolton town centre for the run.
The ride to loop was fast, I was going at a good pace and felt comfortable. I was struggling to keep up with a lot of the TT bikes purely from the aero advantage they had. Once on the loop we quickly went around a hairpin right and were met with a steep hill called Anglezarke, I had heard some guys talking at the swim start about this hairpin and hill so I knew to drop right down gears, this meant I could hit the hill running and flew up it whilst lots of others were struggling to find the gear and lost all cadence. It was only a 250ft climb but it had a kick to it, I really enjoyed it and felt like I was getting into the ride now. The next 5 miles were a bunch of ups and downs, most of these climbs were in the bottom gear but comfortable. I do enjoy climbing though so I loved this section and was picking up lots of places.
After that the next 10 miles were mainly flat and down hill where I was holding an average speed just over 22mph but again, the TT bikes were coasting by. Mostly the guys who had come past me at the start only for me to take them on the climbs.
The next big hill was Hunters Hill, this was just before the 40 mile mark, this one again was just a 250ft climb but was around 11% in places. It was a tough climb but great fun again as I was going past people again. The best part of this section was the crowds, so many people lined both sides of the road making a narrow funnel for the riders, I felt like I was riding in Le Tour going up there, the support was fantastic and gave me such a boost. Once up the hill it was another 11 miles of mostly flat roads before starting the second loop.
Just as I was about to start lap 2, so 51 miles in I thought to myself its only another 44 miles now, over half way, but my ass was starting to ache from sitting in the saddle for just under 3hours. The trisuit I had picked for this one was definitely built for speed not comfort, it had very little pad which will make running simple but spending 5 or 6 hours in the saddle was going to hurt. In hindsight I could have packed some cycle shorts to throw on over the top for comfort but I hadn’t so I knew it was going to be a grind for the next 2.5 hours.
Lap two was in general, slower than the first. Not due to lacking energy levels but just moving around in the seat, trying different places to sit. I stuck to my nutrition plan throughout the ride. Having a mouth full of flapjack every 20 minutes, supplemented with the hydration and electrolytes. I felt great and strong but just couldn’t get comfortable enough to put the power down. All of the climbs went well again, I used these as out of saddle time, it did mean I was putting out more power on the climbs than I needed to but I thought the relief from saddle ass outweighed the extra power usage.
At 75 miles, I had ran out of water but luckily just around the corner was the feedstation so I grabbed one bottle of water and dropped in two of my High5 Zero electrolyte tablets. I was looking forward to this getting me through those last 20 miles, then next thing I know I had hit a pot hole and I heard a water bottle hit the floor. It was 50/50 whether it would be the empty or full bottle. I am sure you know which one went…. the full bottle, I now faced the prospect of riding the final 20 miles with no water at all and already a little thirsty.
The last 9 miles into Bolton seemed to take an age, I think it was because I was so thirsty I just wanted it to be over. I kept running through transition 2 in my head getting myself ready for that.
Once we turned onto the road into T2 I undid my shoes, unclipped and went for a flying dismount and went straight into a run to the racks. Again there were countless people rolling to a stop and climbing off their bikes. All those countless hours off running and jumping onto my bike as a kid had final paid off, I was actually good at one thing today!!
I dropped the bike off and quickly changed shoes and hats and was ready for the run. I then opted for spending the next 3:35 standing at the water stop necking 6 cups of water and went to the toilet. The colour of this wee told me exactly what I already knew. I was starting a marathon pretty dehydrated.
Run – 04:47.35
Well the run, the final leg of Ironman, a marathon, something I have done 7 times previously and in all 7 races I had hydrated correctly and rested before starting the run. Today was going to be tough. It was a hot, 28c in fact. I was fatigued a little from the swim and bike, I was dehydrated and it was a hilly course. My plan before today was to try and run this at 8:30 pace which would bring me home around 3:43, I knew this wasn’t going to happen today but thought I would try and hold it for as long as I could.
Mile one felt good, this mile took us through the town centre and around the finish area where the atmosphere was already buzzing. I ran mile 1 in 8:04, then we went into Queens Park and I saw the hill for the first time and thought damn that is going to be tough to run, I ran half way up and made the decision that it is probably not worth using the extra energy to run up the hill, I would walk it. So not even 2 miles in I was walking. Just out of the park onto Chorley New Road I started to run again and saw my mate Danny, that gave me a boost. I had felt a bit low just then having walked so soon. About 500m up the road was the next feed station. The run feed stations were set out with cups of water up first, then Evervit electrolyte drinks and gels, then cola, salted crisps and finally water. I quickly changed my plan again to also walk through these feed stops to ensure I was taking on water at the first and last table and a cup of cola to give me a sugar boost.
I ran on to mile 4 but started to feel dizzy and sick, I was wondering how the heck am I going to run 22 more miles when I am in such a state after just 4 miles. 4 miles, that is just from my house to the train station and back. Something I have done countless times in training. I thought about dropping out, I sold it to myself that it is best to be safe and healthy than try and push on dehydrated in this hot weather and risk making myself ill or something worse. After walking some more I thought I would just push on and get around lap 1 then I have at least got one lap band to take with me, but then how can I tell my daughter I failed? I thought back to the day I signed up for Ironman UK in July 2017. I told my mum that I was going to try and do it and finish. At that point I had never swam outside of a pool and hadn’t done a pool swim in 23 years, I had never done a triathlon, I didn’t know what a trisuit was. Now my mum isn’t with us to tell her I did it but how could I not finish after I told her I would.
Lap 2 I stuck to my plan of walking through the park and each feed station. This seemed to be working well, my heart rate was down to 117bmp and I felt less dizzy, maybe hydrating on the go was starting to work. I was running just over 10 min mile pace but the miles were ticking off at least. Miles 11 and 12 I dipped back into the 9’s, almost going under 9 in mile 12.
Almost half way!!
Mile 13, the dizziness came back. I walked where I hadn’t previously, made it to the wristband collection and picked up a lap 3 band by mistake, I just wasn’t with it and not aware what colour I was picking up. The volunteer was great and swapped it for me. This knocked my confidence a little and made me wonder whether I was running in a straight line or zig zagging down the road. I remember reading that Calumn Hawkins thought that he was running fine during the Commonwealth marathon earlier in the year until he saw the video back. This made me wonder whether I was worse than I thought.
Lap 3 I started off by walking a little through the town centre, as there were so many people lining the street here I got a massive lift from the crowd who could clearly see I was struggling and were shouting at me to keep going. So I ran to the park and again walked up for damn hill for a third time, only got to do this one more time now. I walked past Danny who came over and gave me some encouragement, get the legs turning, keep pushing, just a lap and half to go and pushed me on my way. I ran a little and walk some more but got through lap 3 somehow. I had really thought that I am going to have to DNF here or passout trying to get around. I have never walked so much during a race in my life.
Lap 4 was just about getting around, I know that each thing I ran past would be the last time I see it. There were less people out running now and the crowds were really thinning out. This got me down, I thought am I running that slow now that so many others are finished and on their way home.I hadn’t looked at my run time at all until then, just the lap splits. I saw I had four miles to go and was at 4 hours. Worst case I had hoped the marathon would take less than 5 hours, here I was with 4 miles to go. thats just 4 x 15 minute miles and I beat that worst case goal. When I reached mile 25 and was heading into the town centre for the last time I told myself that I will not stop now, I will run this last mile non-stop. It was my second quickest mile of the whole marathon.
I ran down that red carpet thinking of my mum. I had done what I said I would. I have finished an Ironman. I would not be able to tell her I have done it or get to show her my medal but I had done it. Then I heard Mark Hatton…. YOU are an Ironman.
That was tough. I knew an Ironman wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I had trained hard and improved so much over the past 12 months. I always set myself ambitious goals. Until today I had only ever done two proper triathlons so I am still learning.
I felt my swim went really really well, the bike was half well and the second half was a struggle, not due to difficulty or tiredness but down to the trisuit being so uncomfortable, this is a learning point I will take away with me. The loss of the water bottle had a huge impact on my race, this made the run almost impossible. I couldn’t run but the run/walk strategy got me through it. Another learning point is to ensure I am not left with just one full water bottle. I should have grabbed two at the final feed stop.
Things rarely go to plan, it is how you deal and react when they something goes wrong that determines how your race will go. I allowed myself to think about quitting today not just once or twice but multiple occasions. I didn’t quit though, I pushed on and I finished. It wasn’t in the time I had wanted to do it in but it was my first go. Next time I have the experience and knowledge gained today and will improve, just like I improved on things between Ironman 70.3 Staffs and today.