After successfully finishing IM Edinburgh 70.3 I decided I could tackle something bigger, a full Ironman perhaps? After some thought I decided IM Bolton will be the race for me. It’s a long established IM event in its eleventh year. It’s in the UK which meant I could easily recce it beforehand. What attracted me to IM Bolton was the hilly bike course which is the type of cycling I prefer as I enjoy climbing and equally comfortable in descending. I discussed this with Karl Zeiner, my coach and we agreed this was achievable with a lot of hard work and training over the next 12 months. So, when entries opened in October I promptly signed up. My training plan included going on Karl’s Pyrenees training camp. This was an excellent camp with fantastic cycling. I cannot recommend this highly enough to anyone who wants to make the most of their season. The camp has a mix of swim, bike and run sessions throughout the week covering some of the most scenic routes in the Pyrenees. Pyrenees Multisport is run by Ian and Julie Wright and they helped to make it a great training camp.
In February there was an announcement that the bike course was going to be completely changed and it was now even hillier. This was because last year the bike route was cut short to 95 miles due to wildfires on the Lancashire moors as a result of the very hot dry summer. A massive increase in climbing from 2,030m to 2,670m. Did I say I enjoyed climbing?
IM Bolton 140.6 – 14 JULY 2019
2.30am – Alarm goes off! Get up, have breakfast. Nervous. The hotels in and around Bolton had an arrangement of providing a Continental breakfast for the athletes from 3.00am.
4.15am – From the hotel Dave drove me to Bolton City Centre. Nervous. We noticed a lot of happily intoxicated night clubbers wandering about looking for taxis, completely unaware of the nervous bunch of triathletes waiting to get on to a bus! An interesting contrast. Got on the bus headed towards the start line at Pennington Flash. We were all nervously chatting, and I found myself talking to a lovely couple. They were well into their 70s and had both completed many IM events over the decades and are well known in the IM circuit. Still in darkness we all got off the bus and gravitated towards Pennington Flash and T1.
5.00am – Checked over bike, pumped up tyres, bike fully equipped with water and my nutrition (gels and energy bars). Nervous. Waited and took in the atmosphere as the morning light started to emerge.
6.00am – And the swim starts with a rolling start…
The spectators were amazing! They were giving everyone a huge cheer which was a wonderful boost. The swim was 2 laps of Pennington Flash with an Australian exit. The weather was overcast, and Pennington Flash was calm, and the water temperature was 20.2 degrees centigrade. Perfect. As I waited and gradually shuffled towards to the start, I couldn’t believe that here I am, it is Sunday 14th July 2019 and I am about to start IM Bolton. Nervous. I fiddled with my Garmin. Panic! Where is the start button? (I just purchased a new Garmin.) Quickly asked the last marshal before I had to jump into the water. He confirmed the big button on the right had side. Click. And then I was in the water. Phew! Talk about leaving it to the last second! It took around 10 minutes before I could settle into my stroke as the adrenaline was whooshing round my body and realising that I was doing it – IM Bolton! I had started my Ironman journey, with over 2,000 other triathletes. Once I got into my stroke it was a battle to keep an eye on the big yellow buoys as there were swimmers coming from everywhere which I found challenging but not intimidating. I was in control and was comfortably enjoying the first loop of the swim despite swimming so close to hundreds of other swimmers. I have done one Aussie exit which I recall was horrible, the Grafman Middle Distance Triathlon. I remember the ground being stony and sore underfoot, but maybe my feet are just sensitive! I was swimming towards the exit and put my hand out for a marshal to grab it when I felt another triathlete push me from behind thereby being elevated out the water. Running on a nice blue mat was perfect, no jaggy stones and this break gave me time to recover and prepare for my second lap. Back in the water I pushed a steady pace and continued to sight as I didn’t want to swim more than the required distance. Towards the final stretch I swam head on right into a big yellow buoy. Stopped in my tracks and suddenly I felt a cramp like pain in my left calf. Oh no. I slowed my pace and wiggled/massaged my calf for a few minutes and the cramp sensation receded. I then restarted swimming and reached to marshals and the exit, hand out and only pulled out this time (not elevated) and continued to T1. Total swim distance 4,070m (2.52 miles).
Swim time 1:34:58.
My transition times for middle distance triathlons are generally not fast and today is not going to be any different. Changed out of my wetsuit without too much faffing about. Helmet on, number on, shoes on, get bike and head to the loo. Mount my bike and off I go…
Transition 1 time: 10:52.
The bike is an anticlockwise 2 lap course which is new for 2019. The last 8 years IM Bolton has had Mexican Wrestlers to cheer on the athletes. I’m not sure if this is their USP! They are pretty mental with full face masks and capes running and jumping about shouting encouragement to all the athletes with loud music playing in the background! They did make me laugh.
Now, this was always going to be a long day in the saddle. Karl advised me not to go off too hard on the first lap. Cycling is my strength, so I tend to go off hard on the bike. Weather conditions were perfect for me. Overcast and not too hot, no rain predicted, and wind was negligible. I kept it within HR Zone 2 as much as possible. Nutrition was to eat bars during the first half and towards the end of the second lap swap to gels and keep well hydrated. I had 2 bottles, one with carbs and the other had electrolytes. Again, the Lancashire crowds were amazing!
I set off on my bike from Pennington Flash, adrenaline pumping through my body. The start is a point to point route passing through the streets of Wigan to Horwich, I was thinking, undulating but not too hilly. This felt like proper racing, negotiating through the streets of Lancashire overtaking other competitors, it was truly invigorating. After the point to point section we left the towns and went north into the moorlands heading towards Helmshore and Ramsbottom. It was here I met another triathlete, number 892 Sam Keen and we often had motivating chats on the way. I remember Sam asking me what I thought of the course (so far), half way round the first lap I replied, “it’s actually OK, I thought it was going to be a lot hillier” to which he agreed. However, on reflection that was the easier part of the course and my legs were still fresh. I can confirm that our conversations changed somewhat throughout the day!
The famous Sheep House Lane hits late on in the course, cycling through Belmont village taking a sharp right and then the pain begins! The crowds are about 10 deep on each side of the road shouting, waving banners and the noise of cow bells is just overwhelming! I felt an extra boost of energy from this and it certainly helped with the climb which kicked in at around 14% just off the right-hand bend heading out of the village. The climb was long and relentless but then as out of nowhere on the final summit there were the Mexican Wrestlers! Cheering, shouting and dancing giving massive support. I must admit it is rather odd too. As I cycled down towards Anglezarke Reservoir I remember from the recce I did back in June it’s all downhill towards Bolton City Centre. Now I had to cycle the second loop on fatigued legs but I knew exactly what lay ahead, which is not always a good thing!
I cycled a good solid first lap, I was thinking bloody hell, this is one brute of a course. I recall the first lap was tough and was completed in just under 4 hours. The constant climbing was brutal, and the descents often ended with a sharp right or left bend at the bottom. At the brief we were all advised to take extreme care on the descents and adhere to the SLOW and CAUTION notices that were peppered throughout the course. Mistakes can often have serious consequences. As everybody knows the UK road surfaces can be dangerous with pot holes and gravel in places, and Lancashire certainly is not short of bad road surfaces!
Lap 2 of this brutal bike course I continued to tap out a steady cadence, but I can honestly say my legs were feeling it by now. One positive was that the weather did not change and that made me happy. I continued to eat and drink little and often. I remember thinking I hope I have enough power to cycle up Sheep House Lane for a second time. Imagine having to get off and push my bike up the hill with all the spectators shouting and cheering. Anyway, I powered up and managed to survive to the top and have the joy of the Mexican Wrestlers cheer me on for a second time. Now it was downhill passed Anglezarke Reservoir and settle on the drops and hammer home back to Bolton. Four miles from the end I had caught up with Sam again and we had another chat. We realised that we were going to finish this today and we had 7 hours to complete the marathon. We decided to ride in together shouting encouragement to each other and blasted all the way into T2. What an amazing feeling! Wished each other good luck in finishing this beast of an IM.
Bike time: 08:04:27
Dismounted. Entered T2 with my bike which I’m very fond off but so glad to be off it now and happy to rack it. The day before, as you do, I memorised where I was to rack my bike. Instructions; from the entrance count 5 rows then rack bike on the right, race number 561. My head just could not work this out. Fatigued and confused. I walked up and down which seemed like an eternity. To be honest the thought of discarding my bike anywhere did seem like the only option to me at the time. Eventually I found my spot and found sticker 561 and finally racked up my bike. Headed off to the tent to change into my running shoes. Still fatigued but confusion receded. Headed off through Queens Park and now on the run…
Transition 2 time: 12:23.
The run was always going to be a challenge after 8 hours on the bike, and not forgetting that I had been up since 2.30am! Distance 26.2 miles consisting of 4 loops with 380m of ascent. Starting from Queens Park round Bolton City Centre towards Chorley New Road then turn then back to the City Centre. Again, the crowds were amazing! Karl advised me to run at a steady pace and not to go off too fast, no chance of that happening today! There were 16 feed stations and the plan was to run to each feed station and walk through each one giving my body a chance to recover. All I can say, it was tough, tough, tough. As I turned into the City Centre I could hear Dave cheer me on which was so uplifting and as I ran through the streets I heard that familiar voice again. Note to self: Dave will be at 2 corners so I must not stop! The first and second loop I felt OK and I was able to keep to my plan, run in zone 2 and walk through each feed station and take on nutrition as I went. However, when it came to loops 3 and 4 the day was taking its toll and it became just grinding out each step as I went. The crowds were still there despite time ticking on and the daylight starting to fade into evening. By the final lap the spot lights were being fired up and I had to keep focus on the finish line. I heard the familiar voice of Sam who shouted across to me words of encouragement. I felt uplifted and headed to the finish line.
Instead of heading to the left for another lap I was turning right running down the finishing chute. It was an amazing feeling. I had finished. I have the medal and the T-shirt. I am an Ironman!
I remember finishing but the moments afterwards were a big blur and I just wanted to go home. I met up with Dave my biggest supporter and my support crew. As we were leaving, I heard someone shout and it was the husband of the couple I was chatting to on the bus. “Congratulations! I notice you’re wearing your medal!” Thank you so much I replied. “How did you and your wife get on?” I asked. He told me they didn’t make the cut off time on the bike. It was so heart-warming for him to run after me to congratulate me, they were a lovely couple. It was a challenging course and a long day. Dave had said to me that out of over 2,000 competitors, there were over 600 DNFs.
We both collected my bags and bike from T2 and headed back to the hotel. I was absolutely shattered and fell asleep in my cup of coffee. What an end to the day…
Finally, I would like to thank Karl Zeiner, my coach for being patient in helping me become an Ironman. By going on Karl’s training camp, I improved my climbing and descending. We stayed at Pyrenees Multisport which I highly recommend, Ian and July are just fantastic. Pentland Triathletes is a great club providing a variety of sessions/activities that helped me get race fit and build my endurance. A big thank you to Dave, my husband, he never complained or questioned by activities. I do now have to do my share of the house work now though.
Run time: 05:34:12