Ironman UK – Bolton. Annie Heaney

When people enter Ironmans or long course triathlons, it is quite usual to pick races based on locations with warm weather, smooth roads, fast, flat courses etc. So, with all those factors in mind,  we chose Bolton! Billed among the toughest of courses (apparently) and akin to Lanzarote with regards to total elevation on the bike course! Admittedly not our first choice of race venue but due to various reasons, we had ended up with Bolton as an alternative race for Ironman Cork.

It should be noted here that my previous Ironman experience was Ironman Cork in 2019. The run up to the race and the days either side boosted beautiful weather with wall-to-wall sunshine and a gentle breeze. Race day itself was the polar opposite and came with weather warnings, strong winds and driving rain to such an extent that the swim was cancelled. This was the reason I had signed up to all this madness again in order to settle unfinished business and to be able to call myself an Ironman without any caveats!

Like most people, this race was a deferral from 2020 so had been a long time coming. With Bolton all over the news as the national hotspot for the Delta variant of Covid, it was with slight amazement we found ourselves on Thursday evening heading up the M6 to Bolton.

However, a depressing feeling of déjà vu crept in when I checked the forecast and saw, yet again, the familiar warning triangle of yellow weather warnings for rain directly over the area we were going to be racing in!

Race day dawned and having double and triple checked the kit we needed to take with us, we headed to the shuttle buses that would get us to the swim start.

Although the field size was somewhat reduced this year (around 1200 starters), there was no shortage of spectators and supporters at the start line and just like that, it suddenly became very real. After almost 24 months, we were actually racing again! Although we hadn’t planned to swim together, Ben and I placed ourselves in the 1:15 swim pen together given our paces were fairly evenly matched.

Due to Covid restrictions, they had a very civilized rolling start with competitors being spaced out and allowed through the start line in pairs which gave a nice clear swim with plenty of space around you. The water was the perfect temperature and only very small patches of weeds once you were out from the banks. On exiting the water for the Australian exit, I felt a tap on my back and a familiar voice cheering me on-Ben has come out the water just behind me which inevitably sparked my competitive edge, and I was determined not to let him get out of the second lap ahead of me. It was a close call, but I managed it and got out the swim about 1 minute ahead and headed into transition with him hot on my heels.

Out onto the bike course which was a 3-lap course taking in some good climbs and lots of technical descents. We had travelled up to Bolton a few weeks before in order to check out the bike route which was invaluable as knowing course meant you knew where to push and where to take it steady. The support on the course was fantastic with the local tri clubs out in force, the infamous Sheephouse Lane Wrestlers with their full swing BBQ at to top of the climb and Oompa Loompas on the feed stations! Despite the hills and somewhat questionable road surface there was no doubt that the scenery was stunning and made for a very scenic ride…until the rain came! Lap 2 saw the heavens open and what can only be described as monsoon conditions ensured. The roads very quickly turned to streams and then to rivers. Unfortunately, this meant that it was very difficult to spot the potholes littering the road and on a steep descent, my back wheel succumbed to a rather catastrophic blowout. Luckily, I held the bike upright (although it was quite a close thing) and 10 minutes later, with puncture repaired and a small snack into the bargain, it was back on the bike and on my way.

By the third lap the fatigue was starting to kick in and I am 90% sure that the locals were adding extra height to the climbs each lap, but the well hydrated crowds outside the various pubs enroute were incredibly supportive. Taking it slightly more cautiously on the descents having had a puncture and having passed a lot of nasty accidents, I was very relived to arrive in to T2 in one piece with “just” the run to go! Thankfully the rain had stopped by this point, but the resulting humidity was less than ideal!

The run involved a 4-lap course with a spur around the center of Bolton and then a small climb up through Queen’s park before a long out and back along the main road. Having also recced the run route previously I had remembered it as a flat out and back but realized very quickly that I got that wrong! After a good first lap I set myself a target time of 1hour 15 per lap but quickly realized that I would need to revaluate it. Again, the support along the run course was superb and seeing Ben on the out and back legs was a good boost.

As I started the last lap of the town hall before turning down the finish chute, it finally dawned that I was about to finish a journey that I had been training for since 2018. I was about to finish my first FULL Ironman! Crossing the finish was a great feeling. A combination of elation, relief and a massive craving for a cup of tea!! A final time of 14 hours 31 minutes left me in 12th for my age group. I may not be the fastest out there, but I am an IRONMAN!!

A huge thank you must go to all the support crew that have had a hand in getting me to the finish line. The list is a long one from Rich Hughes for his coaching, Denise as my main partner in crime on the bike, the ladies running crew, the TC coaches for their cracking club sessions, Ben for putting up with me and the dog for being a reluctant participant in the long training runs! Also, to all the people supporting on the tracking app. Knowing you were keeping an eye on our progress was a great motivator.

Due to Covid travel restrictions we have decided to postpone Ironman Copenhagen until 2022 so just a SwimRun in Wales this weekend. Ironically, the curse of the weather warning tried to strike again but it arrived a day early!

Once that’s ticked off the list it’ll be time to relax…maybe!