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  • Writer's pictureEmily Red

Cycling the Ironman Route

One of the reasons I picked Bolton UK as the Ironman race for me, is because I live 20 mins from the start line. The idea of being able to recce the route before race day really appealed to me, especially considering how tough the race is, if I can make it any easier for myself, then I should take that opportunity. I think this applies most when it comes to the cycling section of the race. Bolton is known for being a hilly and tough course. In past years, a high number of people have failed to complete the bike section in time. Although I have done one off, long bike rides in the past, I was definitely not at the standard needed to complete the course before starting training.

The bike route consists of approx. 10 miles lead in from Pennington Flash, up to where the loops are, then you complete three loops which are approx. 30 miles each. The whole route is 112 miles, so those figures definitely are approximate.

So far I've completed a loop of the course four times. My first attempt was in February of this year. There was a break in the weather and I was desperate to ride outside again, after months of being inside on the turbo trainer (Zwift is fun, but it's no match for the real thing). I wrapped up warm and prepped my food and hydration, and I set off from my house in Warrington to the start line in Leigh. Then I followed the course route up to the loops and started to complete a loop by heading off towards Bolton Town Centre. I was on my own for the ride, and for the most part had a good ride. But I was definitely out of my comfort zone for a lot of it. I was still getting used to the handling on my new TT bike, and learning how to ride on the aerobars.

During the first section of the course, there were road works affecting the traffic, and it meant I had to sprint some sections to get out the way of cars that really wanted to go faster (not the best idea to use all your energy up before a massive ride). Coming through Bolton town was fine, then you head out into the countryside and start with the hills. I wasn't planning on moving fast for this ride, I simply wanted to learn the route. So i stopped off a few times to eat, but every time I did it got colder. Then, coming up to the highest point of the course just took all my enthusiasm away because the wind up there chilled me so much (even with my extra layers on). So I arranged to be picked up sooner than I'd hoped at Rivington. I didn't complete a whole loop on this occasion, but I wasn't far off, and I got to ride the very first section, which I don't plan to practise again.

My next loop wasn't until April (I put the bike back on the turbo until it warmed up a bit more!) I decided to start where I finished my previous time, so I drove to Rivington and set off from there. It was nice to be familiar with the roads, and afterwards I felt like my body recovered better. But I knew that I was too slow. I worked out that to complete the bike course within the cut off, you need to average more than 14 mph, and I was no way near that. Quite disheartened by this, I know the only thing that will make me faster, is to get better on hills, so I'm currently focussing on hills for my shorter rides.

Thankfully, I've got support from various people for my training, and a member of the Warrington Tri Club offered to ride a loop with me, at my pace, giving me tips and pointers along the way. I did this a week after my second loop, and boy, the difference was amazing. Having someone else show me the ropes gave me so much more confidence. Seeing someone else whizz down all the hills with no fear, meant that I could try going a bit faster, and I did. I think it helped that I'd done those descents two times before so knew the bends etc, but also being told when to put pressure on and when to ease off, made such a difference to my energy levels overall. After that ride, I came out feeling that maybe I might actually have a chance to finish this race. We were meant to do two loops that day, but I came away with a strain in my hamstring which I decided to rest rather than aggravate it.

My fourth loop I was again joined by a member of the Warrington Tri Club, but this time we took it easy (in a deload week for me), and I put into place a few of the things that I'd learned and worked on those descents, safely but fast. My plan is to do at least one loop every week until the race (depending on the weather, if it's pouring with rain, I might do something else). But my next challenge is to ride two loops of the course, keep up the pace whilst not working too hard, and finalising my nutrition / hydration plan for the event.

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