Where: Bolton, Manchester
It’s the original UK long-distance race, with colourful crowds and a famous finish line experience. But how do you conquer the logistics, lumpy bike and lapped run of Bolton? Janine Dogget, 2015 Ironman UK finisher (14:34:27) and 3:46hr Paris Marathon athlete, has this advice.
Lanzarote it isn’t, yet modest Bolton provides an incredible Ironman race. The locality and calm lake swim make it an ideal first-time choice, while the bike course will challenge the toughest of riders.
It’s a good idea to recce the course before, and Pennington Flash offers swimming every Saturday morning before the big day. On race day, getting to the start is easy, but leave time to find the nutrition and post-race bag drop area as this isn’t immediately obvious.
The race kicks off at 6am with a two-lap swim and, despite the quiet nervousness of over 2,000 people in neoprene, the well-organised start pens help to calm you before setting off.
The Flash is a decent temp (19°C in 2015) and there’s plenty of space to find your rhythm, but the water can be choppy. The buoys are easy to spot and the Aussie exit between laps is great for mentally breaking down the swim.
After a short run to T1, a two-lap course through beautiful Lancashire countryside awaits. With 1,641m of ascent, Sheep House Lane is a tough 3km star of the show. There’s a technical bit at the foot of the descent that can catch people out – it’s marked but stay on guard (and ideally on your bike!).
Some sections are spookily quiet, but there’s sensational sporadic support en route, with locals sporting some outrageous outfits! At the Macron Stadium and T2 (it’s a split transition) there’s no assistance in racking your bike so be ready to find your number. The T2 tent offers a slightly larger privacy screen than T1, so if you want fresh kit for the run you can strip off.
There’s a 10km point-to-point route before the lapped 8km course, which makes it up to 42.2km. It’s mostly flat but the laps are mentally challenging and, as it’s in a built-up area, there aren’t many nice views. The aid stations every 4km offer bananas, sugary drinks and a bucket-load of cheers!
Having visited it three times already, the finisher funnel will feel like an old inflatable friend by the time you reach it. Ironman UK finishes at 11pm before it’s packed up fast, as if it were all just a beautiful dream of lactic acid, Lycra and ecstatic tears!
We named the Ironman UK the 7th best Iron-distance tri for beginners in Europe
Where: Hever Castle, Edenbridge
This Kent-based 226km is the beauty and the beast of the UK Iron-distance circuit, with both luscious
rural scenery and lung-busting climbs. Anthony Gerundini, who finished ninth in 2015 with a time of 11:57:28 and finisher of more than 107 irons, explains how to battle the Bastion.
On arrival there’s a big signposted event car park. There’s a grassy path to walk on to get to registration and transition, which is fairly short but awkward to carry all your stuff over if you’ve no support with you.
The swim starts under the backdrop of an Italian-style loggia, a fantastically unique feature. It’s quite a long walk from transition so leave yourself more than enough time to get there if you want a warm-up. The start is relaxed, no aggro at all.
The lake is a bit murky but the sights en route (including a Japanese teahouse) and footbridges where crowds can gather to shout encouragement more than make up for this. There’s also a floating table with drinks at halfway, another unique and thoughtful touch from the organisers.
The bike is three 60km laps on a scenic but rewarding course. There are some short and steep climbs to get your teeth into, and also some long steady inclines, so don’t overcook these. Beware of the descent out of Fordcombe – it’s shaded and quite damp and caused an accident in 2014, but they’ve now put a marshal there with a huge red flag to remind you to slow down.
The course isn’t closed to traffic but it might as well be as there’s very little traffic anyway, and the comprehensive Stop/Go traffic management from the marshals is M-Dot standard. I’ve completed The Bastion numerous times and have never had to stop for traffic. The final stretch along the Chiddingstone Causeway is relatively flat to spin the legs out before the run. Just beware going under the narrow and twisty rail bridge, which is quite potholed.
The run is quite an adventure, comprising of four wide laps out into the countryside on a non-technical trail. On exiting the castle grounds, there’s a really short and steep hill, which is an ideal place to take a power-walking break and get some fuel in. You don’t see your rivals often as there aren’t many switchbacks, so you’re always on your toes knowing you could be caught at anytime.
You can lose so much time later on if you don’t pace it properly, so do the first couple of laps ‘feeling easy’, with the challenge being to replicate those times on the last two laps. It’s 6.5km between the first two feed stations so you might want to carry an extra gel. There are loads of marshals to keep you going in the right direction along the twists and turns, so you shouldn’t have any navigational issues.
Continue reading our guide to the best UK's Iron-distance triathlons (2/4)