Get ready for the tough Ironman UK courses with TriRadar’s guide to the race
Ironman UK moved to Bolton in 2009 and provides a challenge worthy of its M-Dot status thanks to a unique swim, sharp bike course and deceptively tough marathon
The race is one of the most difficult in the world thanks to its courses and the notoriously-changeable British weather.
Here’s our guide to Ironman UK, with top tips from multiple Ironman UK competitor Kate Stannett and Ironman UK champion Phil Graves.
Ironman UK: The Swim
The mass-start 3.8km swim takes place in the beautiful Pennington Flash lake in Leigh and would be a simple affair in calm waters were it not for the run across the shore between the two 1.9km triangular laps.
Top tip: “The water’s quite calm, it’s nice and flat but for those who are nervous, it’s best to stay out of the way. In the middle at the start of the swim, it’s a bit of a washing machine, but as long as you can keep your head above water, it’s a good place to be as you can pick up on a draught if you’re lucky.”
Ironman UK: The Bike
After another run to transition it’s on to the 112-mile bike course, which includes 1,600m of climbing. The bike leg starts with an uphill 14-mile ride to reach the three-lap loop that takes in a triple ascent of Sheep House Lane, a tough climb that ramps up sharply but features a couple of false flats to lower the heart rate. After cresting the top, it’s pretty much downhill until the climb looms up again on the next lap. There are two feed stations on each lap, so timing your nutrition to coincide with these is essential to make sure you’re taking on board enough energy without carrying needless weight. At the end of the last lap it’s a short ride to T2 in Rivington and the marathon’s start.
Top tip: “The first part of the bike course – around ten miles – is quite easy going. You go past Bolton then up onto the looped section. Everybody goes on about Sheep House Lane and it’s undoubtedly hard, but the best way to treat it is as three separate hills, because it’s effectively three climbs with a little bit of respite in between. You can’t see the second or third element of it when you’re on the first part, so don’t over-egg it! The hill really looms above you as you go around the corner. Then you get a nice winding sweep down, but with a very sharp left at the bottom of the hill to watch out for. After the downhill you go out across moors where the wind can be a real stinker.”
Ironman UK: The Run
The run is mostly on road with a few tracks and paths thrown in. After an eight-mile point-to-point run to the centre of Bolton, it’s time for three loops of an out-and-back course around the town that’s gradually uphill one way and downhill the other, before finally getting to the finish chute.
Top tip: “You run into Bolton and settle into three laps of the central part of the town. It’s a strange course because it feels totally uphill with a gradual incline one direction and totally downhill the other. The turn point on each loop is within yards of the finish, which can spur you on or be a bit demoralising! Going around the town is absolutely brilliant. The people of Bolton sit in their front gardens and cheer you on; they really are a good crowd. Because it’s an out and back, you can make transient friends with people you keep seeing, and it’s nice to acknowledge those who are suffering as you go by to help each other along to the finish.”
Ironman UK Winner, 2009 – 8:45:51
We should all know what to expect from Ironman UK: road surfaces that’d be more at home in Paris-Roubaix, lots of hills and probably some rain! It’s a savage event – a race of attrition rather than speed, so don’t go off like a bull in a china shop. You’ll definitely feel like you’ve achieved something when you cross the line!