In just under 6 months Bolton will play host to Ironman UK for the 8th time. 1500 athletes will compete in one of the toughest single day endurance events in the UK race calendar.
With the male professional athletes just dipping under 9 hours and only one female under 10 hours in 2015 the course deserves respect, with a little bit of insider knowledge there is potential to shave off time and work on weaknesses before the big day.
In this piece we will focus on the bike section where a little focus in areas not so obvious might save minutes. We can’t however forget the swim and run disciplines completely.
The 3.8km swim again features a rolling start, a safety feature launched across the ironman race calendar in 2015 and widely accepted as a successful alternative to the mass start. The swim in Pennington Flash also features an Australian exit where you can check your time, wave to friends and prepare to plunge back in for your second lap.
The run starts at the Macron stadium with a point to point 8 mile section followed by 3 loops of 6 miles. The loop takes in the town centre and out to the turnaround at Chorley New Road. The 26.2 mile course provides fantastic opportunity for supporting athletes at multiple locations as they work their way through to the finish line in Victoria Square outside the town hall.
The key section is the bike leg, predominantly staged on quiet country roads there is a mix of industrial and suburban areas offering plenty of variety in the 2 loop course. With a total elevation of 1640m/5387ft the bike section has always had a reputation for being a challenge even without the swim and run to contend with. Breaking the course up into sections helps but each one demands a certain level of concentration to gain the best out of your ride.
The road surface for the most part isn’t great, the chip covering and use of country roads means tyre pressures are extremely important. Ensuring they are not over inflated is key to a smooth ride as rough tarmac can lead to road jitter and bouncing around which further increases effort. Each rider will have an optimum pressure according to weight but generally a drop of around 10psi for rougher roads can make the ride feel a lot easier.
The first 14 miles is a point to point ride from Pennington to the main loop, although a net gain in elevation this gives athletes a chance to get comfortable on their bike, bring heart rates under control and settle into the aero position before the first big climb of the day.
Sheep House Lane is synonymous with the IMUK course, at 2.3 miles long it gains 175m and peaks at 10%. The start of the climb is one of the busiest supporter areas on the course. You’ll feel fantastic hearing hundreds of voices cheering you on and ironically it’s here you really need to reign it in. Stomping up Sheep House Lane this early in the day isn’t advisable, keep calm and rely on your training. Remember, you have to climb this twice. The reward for sensible pacing is the 6 mile stretch from Sheep House Lane to the M65. It’s historically wind behind and a chance to recover on the quick section picking up your average speed.
The rolling section from Brindle to Croston while predominantly downhill doesn’t have much respite either, the twists and turns on this section break up the rhythm and being able to transition out of 90 degree turns is important without tiring the legs unnecessarily. Increasing power gradually instead of aggressive spurts will aid your ability to maintain a higher average speed over the second half of the course.
The climbing starts again just before the Robin Hood pub in Mawdesley and continues all the way to Hunters Hill. This climb might be shorter than Sheep House Lane but no less energy sapping and don’t be fooled by the false flat halfway up, be prepared, it’s not over until you pass the supporters at the Rigbye Arms.
Depending on which loop you are on, the final section again twists and turns back to either Sheep House Lane or T2, with a net drop in elevation again the course still doesn’t let up and the Macron will be a welcome sight after 112 miles.
Finishing any ironman is an awesome achievement and the goal of everyone on the start line, conquering a challenging bike course like IMUK will enable you to get to the run stronger and bring that proud finish line photo closer.