An expensive but excellently run Ironman branded event in the North West of England with more than 2600 triathletes competing across the countryside and town of Bolton. With Age Group qualifying slots for the World Championships in Kona Hawaii, IRONMAN UK always attracts big crowds and massive media interest.
Bolton, North West England.Size: 1000+ triathletes
Difficulty: Challenging | Tough | Rock Hard
Organisation: Basic | Good | Perfect
Race website here.
- Train for lots and lots of swimming. Make sure you are confident you can complete the distance
- If you can, cycle the course beforehand to get to grips with the layout
- Read the instructions carefully about which bags need to hold what and give yourself plenty of time the day before or it could be a stress
- Put your timing chip on your left ankle so that the chain doesn’t break it/make it come off.
- Put a handful of Vaseline under your saddle so whenever you need on the bike or prep for the run
- Take electrolyte tablets and don’t be afraid to masking tape too many bars or gels to your frame
- Take 3 spare inner tubes (1 was needed) and practise repairing the punctures as the bike is long and you don’t want it to end prematurely
What’s the set up like?
Being a full iron distance triathlon, it needed to be well organised and the ironman brand does have a good reputation across the world. Bolton UK was no different. In a word, organisation is perfect.
The organisation starts and finishes with the athlete with something on this scale but they help you along with regular emails in the weeks leading up to race week. They call it ‘race week’ for a reason. If you think you can turn up on the morning or even the day before to prepare you are mistaken.
On Thursday there is an Expo and registration in the Reebok stadium in Bolton. You receive your transfer tattoos, race number, race program, swim cap and stickers for bike helmet and bike. You also receive race bags for the swim, bike and run transitions. There were hundreds of people and plenty of race organisers that you could ask questions in case of any queries.
The day before you’re left to rack your bike in transition 1 from 9am. Transition 2 isn’t at the same site so it’s a bit of a faff to the 13mile away spot. Transition 2 was in a school where your run bag was left in race number order.
On race day there are shuttle busses that leave the Reebok stadium from 3.20am. This suited people who didn’t want to worry about parking. The race program had everything you needed to know from course maps to spectator’s spots, equipment needed to post race advice. After the swim there was help if needed to get dressed or anything. During the race there were regular feed stations which were well run with pleasant volunteers. At the second transition you gave your bike to a volunteer to be racked so you could concentrate on your time which was good.
The finish on the run was spectacular and everything you would expect from such a well known event such as the Ironman. There were photographers, sports massage therapists, food, drinks, hundreds of spectators, big screens and an MC who announced your name upon crossing the line.
There was also online tracking so family and friends could see instantly where you were and what your split times were. Really helped and made it a lot more fun for them.
Brilliantly organised, everything ran like clockwork.
What’s the course like?
Being in Bolton it’s easy to be skeptical as it’s not as glamorous as racing in, say, Hawaii or Switzerland! The swim was phenomenal though in an amazing reservoir just outside of Bolton in Pennington Flash. It was a very scenic place to swim, in my experience only rivaled by Lake Windermere. The bike also had some surprisingly nice views to help you around and forget the pain.
The town was just that, a town. Not unlike any other but on race day, when the occasional pavement is lined with spectators it is the best view regardless of where it is! Some of the descents, especially after Sheep House Lane are worth climbing for and are a lot of fun. The run was a point to point run from transition 2 to the start of the loop in Bolton town centre. It was unclear how far you had come so it confused me when one runner said one distance and a volunteer another. Aside from that it was a lovely run alongside a stream then through a lovely housing area.
In Bolton town centre the spectators came alive with hundreds of runners combating the course and making full use of the support in the final leg of the triathlon. It was a very flat run with one small hill and a very slight incline/decline on one stretch. You received a coloured band after each lap of the run which indicated when you could veer off and finish the Ironman.
It could have been a better run with a much more scenic route but I would rather have run the same 10m over and over if it meant you could see family and friends and other supporters very regularly.
It was a huge boost knowing you would see your loved ones as you pushed yourself to the absolute limits. By that point also, for most people, a road is a road, it didn’t matter where it was.
How difficult is Bolton Ironman? Where are the hills?
Being an iron distance triathlon it was always going to be difficult and this race is rock hard.
The swim was a 2.4 mile mass start with 1500 bodies all swimming for the same line and it proved to be mayhem. But fun nonetheless. The cycle was 112 miles with 1 noticeably large incline called Sheep House Lane. It lasts for about 3-4km and is pretty tough on the first loop never mind the third. The run was a fairly flat marathon after traveling 114 miles so it was a case of giving whatever the legs had left.
How’s the atmosphere?
Being such a spread-out course it was a case of having sporadic moments on each discipline where there would be groups of spectators. Coming out the swim was great
because you’re met with hundreds of people. The bike was tough because it’s so long there are some really quiet stretches through the countryside. When you do get support though, it’s an amazing experience which spurs you on tremendously. The run was fantastic with a nice quiet run into the town then hundreds upon hundreds of supporters waving banners and locals sitting in their gardens hosing down runners as they go by. The actual centre is packed with people and especially children wanting to high five passersby. There are people everywhere which makes the run easier and the finish all the more spectacular.
Is there much to do after the race?
Like all large UK towns there are plenty of bars/pubs/restaurants to go to afterwards, however after pushing yourself for many hours, the first thing for most people is to get home and get clean, and have a good feed!
To make the most of it it’s a good idea to stay in Bolton for the weekend and book yourself into somewhere for a big Sunday lunch/ dinner/ midnight snack depending on how long the race takes you!
For tourist information on Bolton click here.
Here’s an official (and rather scary!) promo of the race from Ironman UK
My Race Diary
Triathlon no. 1
Position: 400/ 1500
This was my first triathlon so it was all a shock. I signed up and unfortunately soon after became injured. When I registered for the Ironman I couldn’t swim more than 1 length without coughing and spluttering so when I was injured I just swam every day, often twice a day. 6 weeks leading up to the Ironman and after a few physiotherapy sessions I was well enough to train properly.
Altogether I think I went on 3 long bike rides [3.5 hours being the longest], a few 1 hour sessions on the turbo trainer and one spin session. As far as running goes I did a 10 mile run and an 18 mile run 2 weeks before the day. I wish I could have trained more but I somehow managed a time of 12:55:00! I was aiming for sub 14 hours so was very pleased with my time. You are able to see all your split times for each discipline which is great to see. Also your place and ranking in your age group and altogether. I think I came about 400th out of 1500 so in the top third. I really enjoyed the swim but the bike was tough as my legs were not used to the endurance or hills. The run was a case of trying not to be sick and just getting to the finish line without getting too burnt or passing out!
I would recommend this triathlon to everyone. It is an incredible feat and an amazing experience. I still can’t quite believe it’s done now and I finished it.
I managed to raise £1050 for the Alzheimer’s society which motivated me on the day and made a lot more people aware of what I was doing.
- Local lawyer to compete in Hawaii Ironman event (wxii12.com)
- Volunteers keep Ironman triathletes safe (journaltimes.com)
- The Ultimate Challenge: Arizona Ironman Competitions (local.answers.com)
- I am Ironman (juliarodbell.wordpress.com)