I’m not doing Ironman UK this year (or any year), but when the legendary Chris Wild organises a gentle recce of the loop, it’s rude not to go. I’ve done the loop a few years ago when it was three laps, but I’ve never done the newer two lap version, plus, I’ve never done the final section into Bolton. As an added bonus, my beautiful wife Helen wanted to come along, even though she also has no plans to enter IMUK either, or any ironman race.
Nine of us set off from Queen’s Park, which is the new location for T2 instead of the Reebok Stadium, and gently headed out of Bolton along the main road, all the way to Adlington and Babylon Lane. This section of road has the noisiest fans you’ll find anywhere on the course, mostly from COLT (The City of Lancaster Triathlon Club). The photo below makes it look like a large hill, but I guarantee on race day you’ll fly up it.
Yesterday, it didn’t look like this. After Babylon Lane the first tester of the day arrives in the form of Sheephouse Lane. Again you’ll find noisy supporters near the top, many dressed at masked Mexican wrestlers (?). It’s a long climb, but the steep sections are fairly short. The descent is safe-ish as well. Into Belmont and it’s a fast main road for the next few miles, followed by another main road, which isn’t really conducive for a group of nine triathletes having a chat as we cycled round the route. Some of the driving we saw was unbelievably bad.
I should also point out that in places the road surface is absolutely terrible, especially near Wheelton where you cross over the top lock section of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal. It’s also quite technical here, so take it a little easier. During the loop I was asked if I would use a Tri-bike or regular road bike if I was racing. My answer is whatever your most comfortable with. If you use a Tri-bike make sure you can descend safely and that you can climb. Also make sure that you don’t have a silly cassette without low enough gears for the two big climbs. As for tyres, I would go with 25mm if they will fit, and I would sacrifice a little speed for durability. My choice of tyre is a Specialized Armadillo, but Conti 4 seasons or Schwalbe Marathon Plus would also work well, instead of puncture prone Vittoria or similar.
We didn’t have a cafe stop on our loop, but we did stop a few times for nutrition, or ‘biscuits’ in my case. Proper race nutrition isn’t really my strong point. I was seen eating a bag of Hula-Hoops on the run during my Triple Ironman.
On the route everyone is wary of Sheephouse Lane, but the other climb, Hunters Hill is just as bad. It’s not as long but the steep section is steeper. I was riding with a compact chainset and a 12-27 cassette. I had one gear left up Sheephouse, but used the bottom one on Hunters Hill. At the bottom of the hill you can see a white house. This is the end of the steep section and you’re nearly there once you reach it. Again on race day there will be hundreds of people to cheer you on, many of them drunk as there is a pub at the top. The pub are also happy to fill up water bottles when you’re out training, or lend you a pair of pliers is you can’t remove the funny washer thing from your inner tube if you get a flat.
At the top, while waiting for the puncture repair, another group of cyclists appeared, one of them wearing a Hells 500 top. Always good to meet a fellow Everester!
From the top of Hunters Hill it’s only a few miles back to Babylon Lane, where you’ll begin your second lap. We were tempted by the brilliant Phil Walton for a brew, but time was getting on so we headed straight back to Bolton. Once again the traffic was awful, something you won’t need to worry about on race day, but be careful out there on a recce.
We did 60 miles, which included one full lap and the out and back section from Bolton, although the ‘out’ section on race day will be from Pennington Flash, but is about the same distance. The route does look a little like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of Bolton.
One of our little group, Tammy, was ecstatic with completing her first full lap of the course, and given how much she’s improved over the winter, she’ll have a great race day in July.
As for me, I’ll be stood on Babylon Lane with a burger or chocolate, cheering you on, doing my best Seasick Steve impression.
Wherever you’re racing this year, have a great one.
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