With 2017 having just been surprisingly announced as the final showing of the classic Ironman 70.3 UK in Exmoor, here we present our ultimate tips for tackling the Exmoor beast for a final time. But first a little history…
The first Half Ironman branded race in the world was Half Ironman UK, which took place in 2001 in Llanberis, Wales. Two waves of 700 athletes entered the bracing waters at 6:45am on Sunday 9th September to make history on a windy and chilly North Wales day.
Top Brit athlete Richard Allen and Switzerland’s Sybille Matter were the inaugural winners of the event, which offered Ironman World Championships slots for Hawaii, yet it’d be another three years of negotiations and rumours before the full 226km Ironman made its UK debut at Sherborne in Dorset in August 2005.
The official 70.3 series would launch in 2005 and Wimbleball would become the home of Ironman 70.3 UK from 2006 until its final outing in 2017, establishing itself as one of the toughest Ironman 70.3 races in the world over its 12-year residence.
IM UK 70.3 sets off with a mass start at 7am, so aim to have a pre-race breakfast at 4:30-5am. Parking is available in the designated onsite car park at Wimbleball Lake, and there are two overflow car parks each side of the Wimbleball access road. Both overflow car parks are a good 15min walk to the race venue. A pre-race warm-up can be undertaken around the race site, on trails or grass. Bike racking and registration is on Saturday before the race. Portaloos can be found in transition and in the expo area
Wetsuits are essential due to the cold water temperature of the lake, it’s advisable to use a neoprene hat or two thick swim caps to insulate your head where much heat loss occurs. Aim to complete a good warm up before the start to help elevate your core temperature. The swim course is a deep water start consisting of one anticlockwise lap, starting 20m from the shore.
The transition area is located in an elevated position above the lake, with a 400m run uphill from the swim exit on grass. Some of the run into transition is carpeted, and generally the surface underfoot is wet and slippery
The two-lap bike course takes in nearly 6,000ft of climbing, and rear cassette gear ratios of 12-25 or 12-27 are recommended or consider a bike with a compact chainset. Having a range of gears on the many climbs will facilitate your ability to run well off the bike. Immediately out of transition is a steady incline, after crossing the lake the first sharp climb awaits. Many of the fast descents are followed by sharp 90 or 180 degree turns, so competent braking and confident bike handling skills are required particularly if you opt for a time trial bike.
The steep 14% climb demands versatility in climbing technique, using a range of muscle groups with seated and standing climbing. Having a range of smaller gear ratios to spin is of great benefit on the short sharp hills on the last third of the bike course. Plan a pre-race recon trip to familiarise yourself with the bike course with a drive or training ride, so you can train accordingly in the lead up to the race with specific hill sessions.
There are two feed stations on the bike course, approximately 12-15 miles apart consisting of energy drink, water and bars.
Transition is approached from an uphill climb, via the same entry as the bike exit
The course profile extends the challenge of the bike course and is notoriously hilly with1,323 ft of climbing over the three laps. One long downhill section per lap really tests the legs after all the strength required on the climbs, and the surface varies from grass to gravel to tarmac. Narrow sections make it difficult to overtake slower runners, so being smart and strategic at this stage of the race to time your efforts can necessitate short opportunities for slight respite! There are three aid stations on each run lap, approximately 1.5 miles apart and these are well stocked with energy drink, gels, water, bananas and flat Pepsi. You can effectively travel light on the run, rather than carry provisions
The run into the finish provides a welcome sight, culminating one of the most gruelling 70.3 events on the M-dot circuit. A carpeted run in next to spectator stands leads to an impressive finishing gantry, as is standard for M-dot events. The post-race provision extends from the finish line to the competitor village for post-race massage, food and hydration.
IM 70.3 UK
Average air temp 13°C – 20°C
Average water temp 15°C
Average splits: Swim: 00:39:38, Bike 03:34:40, Run 02:03:08
Average race finish time: 06:29:25
How to get there
Lake Wimbleball is tucked away in the South East corner of Exmoor National park, accessed via the A38 off the M5 near Taunton. Competitors are advised to avoid passing through the small village of Brompton Regis and approach the lake via Wiveliscombe. You’ll need a decent map or GPS satnav, as mobile reception is poor in the area.
Where to eat
The race expo provides a range of food outlets, or the indoor café adjacent to the campsite for light lunches, beverages and snacks.
Where to stay
Booking is essential at Wimbleball Lake campsite, metres from the start. Tel: 01398 371460
The Yarn Market Hotel in Dunster offers an early morning breakfast and transport on race day for athletes, purpose built bike store. Tel: 01643 821425
Explore the Exmoor National Park or its many activities.