Ironman Loop

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.

ironman loop3

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.

ironman route

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.

ironman route2

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.

ironman loop4

Wherever you’re racing this year, have a great one.

Ironman distance open water swim

Once a year COLT organise a timed ironman open water swim at the lake that we use. Two years ago I recorded 59 minutes. I wasn’t super fast, so the course was definitely a few laps short. Last year it took me 1 hour and 15 minutes, maybe a little long. This year the buoys have moved slightly, so a GPS watch was given to one of the canoeists. He canoed two laps, in a straight line between each buoy. I can’t remember the exact distance that was recorded, but the distance was set at 10 laps for the full ironman swim. The Captain announced before the start that if we swam in a perfect line between each buoy we would probably be a couple of hundred metres short. No one swims in a straight line.

Listening to the Captain giving us our instructions on a nice sunny evening.


There was an extra canoeist who would record our numbers each time we swam past, although it was our responsibility to shout out our number each time. About 25 swimmers lined up for the full distance, all resplendent in yellow swimming caps with numbers on the side.

Hobbit is at the front with the small stylish beard, Andy Ley without the beard, and at the back, me with the proper beard.


And we’re off. Some swimmers took it seriously by running into the water, others had a more relaxed approach.


Usually the open water swim starts at 7 pm, but all of us doing the timed swim were set off 15 minutes early. When the gun went off I walked into the water, no running in for me. This was my longest swim since Enduroman (race reportĀ here) and I had only swam a couple of times in the last few weeks, so I wasn’t sure how I would cope. I was wearing a nose clip as loads of people had been suffering from hay-fever like symptoms due to the pollen on the top of the water. I was also using my trusty Blu-tac ear plugs.

I set off at a nice relaxed pace, but didn’t feel too great. My wetsuit was rubbing at the back a little. I still hadn’t bought more vaseline after losing mine at Enduroman. At the start of my second lap there was all of the regular swimmers to negotiate, although it made it easy to sight each buoy.

When there aren’t too many swimmers I don’t like to try and draft, but someone else did and every few strokes my feet would get a tap. I tried to ignore it, but after a while it gets annoying. Do me a favour, once or twice is OK, 20-30 times and you are a d*ck.

About halfway through I was lapped by a couple of people and then I lapped a couple of others. By the start of lap six I started to feel not too bad, and a couple of laps later I definitely started to speed up. The last lap was great and I rounded the canoe for the last time and turned for shore.

The stopwatch wouldn’t stop until you had passed the Captain sitting in his chair up the beach, so for once I did run out of the water. I recorded a time of 1 hour 13 minutes. Slower than any of my official ironman swims, but quicker than what I would do in a pool. This probably means that the distance was fairly accurate, and that most of the triathlons that I have done have had slightly short swims. Swimming is my weakest discipline, so I don’t really mind.

It was a good evening with a Q & A afterwards on Outlaw and IM Bolton, which I didn’t stay for as I was cycling home. One thing that did make me think was would I be able to complete another 40 laps on top of the 10 that I did. That’s the challenge if I do decide to have a go next year at a continuous Quin. We’ll see.