Richard’s Race Report – Bolton Ironman 70.3 – 26th September 2021

Bolton will always be a memorable triathlon location for me as Ironman Bolton was my first ever Ironman event… I went full distance before doing the half distance. The memories hold lows of broken gear levers, pain and fatigue, with highs of packed streets of supporters and the euphoria of completing my first ever Ironman in front of family and friends. But now, many years later, having committed myself fully to the pursuit of triathlon as an athlete and coach, the start line feeling is very much different. Instead of the goal being finishing, the goal is now to see how well I can compete against my other competitors. Now, I was under no illusion that I would be competing for the top spots. We entered this race as a panic during COVID, not knowing if we would be able to travel abroad for any races, so wanted to have this as a back up, just in case. With this being a technical and hilly course, it did not suit my strengths. But that wasn’t going to stop me giving it my all and seeing how I measured up. Coming 32nd overall at my last race in Warsaw, the aim was to try and beat this position!

We had travelled down a few days early to keep ourselves as stress free from travel as possible. We took the time to drive the bike course in the days leading to the race to remind ourselves of the technical parts of the course to have fresh in our minds… This course is renowned for having terrible road surfaces, resulting in a lot of crashes (this was a worry leading into the race). The day before was usual race admin, prepare all our equipment, drop our race bags and bike off at transition. Then it was time to go and relax for the rest of the day. Our usual pre race meal of eggs, rice and bread was cooked in our van, in the car park of our hotel (classy I know).

Race morning arrived. Over night oats devoured and we set off on our journey to the race start. We drove into Bolton town centre to then get a shuttle bus to the race start as this was the only option for athletes. We arrived at transition at 6am in the pitch black, surrounded by lots of nervous athletes. Then set to the task of setting up our bikes and putting our wetsuits on. We had 2 hours until race start, so took our time to prepare. Once we felt ready, we wandered over to the swim start to see if we could find my family who had come down to watch. A quick chat and we were ready to head to start the swim. Soph and I headed to the front of the queue, confident we could have a good swim. When ‘Thunderstruck’ start pounding down the speakers, we knew we were only moments away from the start of Ironman Bolton 70.3 2021 (for one year only edition).

Bleep, bleep, bleep. 4 second intervals between athletes and you were off. We were instructed not to dive or jump in… a lot of confused athletes… how would we get in? Fall, crumble. The athlete in front of me dived and seemed fine, I copied! I’m off. We were soon in the thick of the lake jungle. No exaggeration, we were greeted my lake weeds right in our face for the first 100m. “Just get through it” were my thoughts. My aim for the swim was to find feet to draft on and cruise round. That didn’t happen, I found myself in no mans land for the whole swim. At this point I was sure I was having a terrible swim and wouldn’t find out until after the race as I don’t wear a watch. I would later be pleased to find out I completed the 1.9km swim in 31:13 minutes which was 2 minutes faster than my last race.

Into transition and the long run up to the bike. Wetsuit off. Race number and helmet on. Sprint to my bike. Someone has knocked my shoes off my bike… so annoying! But no time to panic, deal with the situation. I still went for my flying mount and spent the first 30 seconds faffing to get my dangling shoe onto my foot. Strap in, let’s do this.

On the bike now. The first 30km of the bike was the “flattest” and I had told Soph this was the part where we would have to drill it, so that’s what I did. Head down and try and work my way up the field was the plan before hitting the hills and technical parts of the course later on. I managed to bike myself into the top 30 by this point. Then we hit the hills, which coming from the Lake District weren’t the issue. The problem was the road conditions. Pothole after pothole on steep technical descents. The majority of potholes were marked orange. As you can guess, the roads were pretty orange! Coming into this race, we knew to expect this and as a result, had decided not to take any unnecessary risks. We had Mallorca 70.3 just 3 weeks away, which is our A race for the season. To put into perspective how bad the roads were, I have a gorilla carbon bottle cage on my bike which is one of the best bottle cages on the market… they are like a vice… nothing is coming out. On a long bobbly descent my bottle (with half my nutrition in) went flying. This was not good as I had finished the rest of my nutrition, so I would have to bike the next 30km with nothing until reached the next aid station. When I finally reached the aid station I took two bottles and took my time to get one down and secure the other to my bike. I managed to navigate myself around the rest of the technical sections without any accidents… just not fast. Across the day, we saw many accidents and DNFs as a result. Hoping all athletes that did crash are on the mend including Tri2 athlete Alexander Moore who was in a crash 50km into the bike (looking forward to see what he can do at his next race). The final 20km was back onto some flatter terrain. So again, time to put my head down and drill it into transition. I managed to pass quite a few athletes who had obviously pushed hard through hilly technical sections. Final bike time 2:45:07 for the 90km with an average of 32.5 kph and a normalised power of 350 watts (according to my Garmin… I wish)… my power meter was reading faulty throughout the race. So I would guesstimate an normalised power of 250ish watts.

Into transition and I hear my name being shouted. Family members screaming, always good to hear after a tough bike. Flying dismount nailed and a quick change of shoes before setting off on my run.

The run, now I hadn’t recced this but from memory it was flat around the town centre with a killer hill through the park and a steady undulating out and back out of the town. My memory was spot on… unfortunately… I was hoping for it to be a bit flatter. Oh well, we knew coming in this wouldn’t be a PB course. With the two lap format, I knew I would be able see my competition on the first lap, then on my second the course would be filled with other athletes coming off the bike making it impossible to gauge your position. At this point my only aim was to pick off the person ahead of me and not let anyone go past me. Which I happily achieved, picking off several athletes. Final run time 1:29:48, nothing special but happy enough on that course.

So the aim was to beat my previous result of 32nd in Warsaw. I was chuffed to come 25th overall out of 916 finishers with over 1400 starters. Overall time 4:51:16, which considering the course, I was happy to go sub 5.

Next race is Ironman 70.3 Mallorca, which is a Sea swim, hilly but smooth bike course and a flat run. So should be faster and again the aim will be to beat my overall position from this race. Let’s see if I can manage a top 20!

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