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Ironman UK Challenge


Well it's all done and dusted. What a weekend that was. We arrived in Bolton on the Friday afternoon and went straight to the city hall to register. After all the registration checks, they give you a bag full of equipment for the swim, bike and run. Coloured swim hat, stickers for your bike and helmet, a timing chip, race number and number tattoos to put on your arms and legs. Athlete #2106 you are ready to go!

We then drove off to look at the section of the bike course that they had to change at short notice. There were still sections of Chorley Wood moors that were affected by the recent wild fires. We had been told that the notorious hill section called 'Sheep House lane' had been removed from the course. Our delight was short lived as the replacement route included an even harder hill next to the Anglezark reservoir. More about that later.

We went to look at the finish area and the place that, hopefully, we'd be running down late on Sunday!

On Saturday morning we went to the lake, Pennington Flash, to rack our bikes and deposit our bike bags in the transition zone. The Bolton Ironman is a 'split transition' which means that the swim-to-bike transition is in a different venue to the bike-to-run transition. So next stop was a drive to Princes Park, in Bolton, to deposit the bike -to-run bag. You must put everything you need for each section of the race into these bags. It's always an anxious moment when you do these as if you forget something you cannot go back to your bag to make a change. You tend to triple check everything! The lake looked superb and the water temperature was perfect.  

After this is done the rest of your time is your own, so we went off to a nice Tapas restaurant in Bolton. You need to eat early as it was early to bed on Saturday. Breakfast was 2:30 AM! You need to eat 3 – 4 hours before the start. Swim off was at 6AM so it was up and prepare at 2! The drive to the lake was very 'quiet' but once we arrived at the lake there was lot of 'nervous energy' on display. You can return to your bike to pump up your tyres, set up your food and hydration bottles. The three of us from Tunbridge Wells Triathlon Club were finally ready! Once you have your wetsuit on and completed all your last-minute checks you muster in long queue according to your approximate swim time. This is 'self-seeded' with 2,500 swimmers lined up by markers from 45 minutes to 2 hours 20 mins (the swim cut off time). 

Traditionally the elite athletes start in the water, but the rest of use have a rolling start off the land straight into the water down a jetty. It resembles a herd of large black-suited lemmings tumbling into the water! Just before the start the organisers always play 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC, very loudly over the tannoy to get everyone 'motivated' As though we needed motivating at that point! Most people are thinking 'what have I let myself in for' at that moment!

And then we're off. As you get into the water it's pretty turbulent and resembles a shoal of piranhas in a feeding frenzy, from the bank. In the middle it's colloquially called 'the washing machine' and my plan was to swim on the far-right side to stay out of trouble. The middle of the pack of a triathlon swim can be a bit of a bun-fight with people jostling for position. Lots of bumping and barging goes on and it's pretty much a contact sport until it spreads out and you find your own 'swim space'.

But the downside of getting out of the pack is that you swim further. Over the 2 laps of the lake I actually swam 600m further than the actual course distance (4,400m rather than 3,800m). That's 2.73 miles in old money! But I was happy with that and came out of the water in 1 hour 38 minutes. As a comparison the first elite swimmer came out of the water in 52 minutes and the fastest in my age category (55-59) came out of the water in 1 hour and 6 minutes!!  

Then into transition 1 (T1) to get off your wetsuit, get some sunscreen on and change into your bike gear. The bike leg went very well for me. Some of the Bolton road conditions were quite poor though with some tricky potholes to negotiate. The hill at Anglezark had plenty of people getting off their bikes and walking up but I managed to cycle up it OK. The descent was as bad as the climb as it was euphemistically called 'technical' by the race organisers. This is a code word for 'dangerous' as it was steep with some sharp, blind bends and was quite narrow in places. This hill, along with 2 others called 'Babylon' and 'Hunters', are climbed twice on the circular route before you head into Bolton city centre to transition 2 (T2).  

I caught up with one of my team mates, Stevie, after about 60 miles and we rode the last 35 together. The change of route had cut the bike leg down slightly but the evil hill at Anglezark made up for that! The nutrition and hydration plan for the bike section had gone perfectly. I finished the bike leg in 5 hours 58 minutes and felt good and ready to run the marathon. By comparison the fastest 55-59 year-old took 4 hours 35 minutes to complete the bike leg and the fastest professional elite athlete took 4 hours 6 minutes!  

Into T2 and a full change of clothes, into running gear, and apply yet more sunscreen. It was the hottest part of the day at this point and there was little cloud cover now. The marathon was a 4-lap course around the centre of Bolton. Each lap, of just over 10K, you received a coloured wristband so you could see who had run 1, 2, 3 or all 4 laps. You couldn't head to the finish until you had 4 wristbands on.  

I competed the first half of the marathon in 2 hours 3 minutes, so I was running quite well. This continued up to 30k. But things slowed markedly in the second half of the marathon and I finished the run section in 4 hours 46 minutes. This was still ahead of my predicted time of 5 hours though. By comparison the fastest 55-59 year-old took 3 hours 46 minutes to complete the marathon and the fastest professional elite athlete, the eventual winner – Joe Skipper, took 2 hours 45 minutes!!!!  

Running down the red carpet into the finish was quite an emotional moment (for many people) as it was the culmination of several year's training. They call it 'the ironman journey' and now I can see why. Lots of highs and lows over the past 12 months. Blood, sweat …. and tears at times I'm not ashamed to admit it. Would I do it again? Without a second thought. It has changed me both physically and mentally. I have learned so much about my capabilities and limitations.

My final results/times were:

Dickinson, Chris GBRSwim: 01:38:17Cycle: 05:58:10Run: 04:46:41Finish: 12:55:55

And can be found, along with all the results, here:

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