Ironman Bolton 2019 – Dave Boltwood


I cannot tell you how amazing it felt to hear these words and complete what is a very tough IRONMAN event. It is weird really, this has not been a ‘lifelong dream’ or even anything close. In fact, I didn’t know what an IRONMAN was 2 years ago!

I only heard of IRONMAN after I joined the club 2 years ago. Listening to the members’ stories and tracking individuals I decided IM Weymouth 70.3 would be an ideal toe in the water so to speak. After successfully completing this event I was mulling over attempting a full distance 140.6 and after conversation with some of the other Ironman distance triathletes within the club I was sold! That was it, game on.

After discussions with club members, IM Vichy was touted and quickly became the firm choice and club event for 2019 however, cost and logistics came into play so I settled on IMUK 2019 BOLTON. Little did I know what I would be letting myself in for.

The bike route for Bolton had changed from 2018 with more climbing involved on pretty poor roads. The changes kept coming with more changes as close to 3 weeks before the race with total climbing of 8395ft (2559m) according to the IRONMAN official site (my Garmin came in at 2750m for the bike). This would be very technical and challenging. I don’t have a TT bike so it was a road bike for me. I ride an Orro STC Gold Ultegra carbon cycle.

So, to the race weekend.

I was joined at the event by an old Army friend of mine who incidentally is still serving and a veteran of 10 other 140.6 events so any and all advice was gladly received and listened to. We stayed at an Air BNB just outside Bolton on the Saturday and Sunday nights which meant travelling up on the Saturday early morning so we could be in Bolton by approx. 0900hrs to register, spend the obligatory money on T-shirts, hats, magnets etc. from the Expo, do the race brief and drop bags at T2. From here it was short journey down to T1 at Pennington Flash where the swim would take place. We racked our bikes, dropped bags for T1 then headed to the accommodation to sort personal admin, dinner and bed.

03.15hrs the alarms went off, I was full of nervous excitement and I admit a little dread at what the day was to hold. After a quick breakfast of porridge and banana we drove to Bolton centre and parked the car (all NCP car parks are free and open 24hrs over IRONMAN weekend), made our way to the shuttle bus which would take us to T1. Once there, final checks on the bike were made, personal and special needs bags dropped off then I made my way to the swim start. I opted for the area marked 1hr 30mins. The swim is 2 laps of 1.2miles of Pennington flash with an Australian exit between laps. As all athletes were readying themselves the minutes ticked down when at just before 0600hrs the first bars of AC/DC Thunderstruck sounded over the PA system. This racked up the nervous tension further and as this played we moved slowly forward toward the water as those before us started their race. The swim went well, I managed to avoid most trouble and kept a good line throughout. Only one punch in the face was administered that slightly dislodged my goggles but I kept my focus and kept swimming. The first lap was around 40 minutes. Lap 2 was slightly slower with no real issues except that I was about 40m right of the finishing ramp at the end of the lap! A quick left turn and hard swim and I was helped from the water at the ramp and I was running into T1.

TOTAL SWIM TIME: 1hr 29mins 03s – A new PB for me over this distance

T1 went without incident and I was out on the bike. The bike was a short leg from Pennington Flash to Bolton town centre where you pick up the main loop which is required to be cycled twice. The route was well supported throughout and undulating from the start however the weather conditions were near perfect with some cloud cover and no wind. I quickly got into my rhythm and settled in for what was to be a long day in the saddle (admittedly at this point I didn’t realise how long!) The bike route took us through Bolton and past T2 and then northwards out in the direction of Bury and to the first major climb which took us past the gold courses of Breightmet and then Harwood golf clubs. The climb was a view of things to come and from this point it got kinda brutal. From here the route went past Tottington and Ramsbottom and up towards the moors where the climbing just kept coming. It was a case of sitting back and tapping out the many climbs and try and make time on the down hills however, these were technical with poor road surfaces and the route once at the bottom of the hills tended to turn the rider round a tight turn and straight into another hard climb. This made for minimal recovery throughout the ride. The brighter side of the route came at the top of Sheephouse lane where you come across the Mexican wrestlers. These guys are all IRONMEN who have completed IMUK at some point. They really do lift the spirit when needed and have even made the medal this year! From Sheephouse lane you descend to Horwich where it is relatively fast although ‘rolling’ back to Bolton where you start lap 2. Again, there is no chance of recovery on this section as it is the only place I was able make up some time where I could get down onto my clip-on tri bars and get a fast steady pace. Due to the amount of climbs and technical side of the bike route my estimate of 7hrs 30mins was passed and I was flirting with the swim & bike cut off of 10hours 30 minutes by the time I reached T2. Luckily for me the ride passed without incident in the way of any technical issues.

TOTAL BIKE TIME – 8hrs 17mins 15secs

I was through T2 quite quickly and out onto the marathon run. As my estimated bike time had gone over by 45 minutes I knew I had to make some headway on the run to ensure I had a time cushion when the dark moments came and boy, did they come!

I wanted to try and make some time up at the start of the run so ran the first 7 miles at 12 minute mile run/walk pace which was comfortable. Knowing I then had time sometime in the bank I could relax the pace as far as 15 minute mile pace. After slightly pushing for the first 7 miles I then did a bit too much and the dark clouds descended around the 11 mile point. Cramps and sickness was soon followed by blurred vision. I was starting to worry at this point as I knew I was slowing way past my limit of 15minute mile run/walk. Drastic times call for drastic measures and I am sure my doctor would not recommend the following but I took 4x iprobrufen with a cup of coke and a cup of water at the aid station and followed this up with a further 2 within 30 minutes. Another slow 2 miles followed while this magic potion took effect and finally the cramps and sickness passed although the vision wasn’t ideal. Once through this issue I pushed again by tabbing (think fast military march) up the hills and running the flats and down hills although as someone pointed out, I wasn’t running – rather the gravity was forcing me downhill quicker!

As the early evening wore on I was at the start of my 4th lap in Bolton town centre near the start finish when I asked a supporter the time – I couldn’t make out the hands on the town hall clock due to still blurred vision and he informed me it was 21.15hrs. A quick calculation and finger counting told me that I had enough time at this point (I started in the water at 06.15) that if I didn’t suffer a puncture in my running shoes I should finish around the 16 hour mark. Again my pre-race estimate on training times was around the 15 hour 30 minute mark. I pushed on and as I came back into the town centre I neared the finishing chute and again the Mexican wrestlers had come to the last few hundred meters to support finishers in what they call ‘hero’s hour’ which is the last hour of the event. I had a few man hugs with the wrestlers then turned right to the start of the finishers chute. I was alone at that point with no-one close behind. I broke into a slow jog fought back the emotion as a large and enthusiastic crown clapped and cheered me up the carpet.

I tried to take it all in and even saw my mate near the finishers arch waiting for me. I high fived the compere and made my way to the finish line, all I could hear at this point was the compere saying ‘from Portsmouth triathletes, Dave Boltwood………..YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’

Total marathon time – 5hrs 59mins 06s

Total event time – 16hrs 10mins 33s

The administration of the event is second to none. Once racked at the 2 locations everything behind the scenes appeared to run smoothly and all bikes and bags were at T” post-race for easy collection.

Just a quick footnote, my Army friend has a slowest 140.6 time of around 12hrs 30mins. At IMUK he completed in around 14hrs 30mins. He attributed the extra time to the bike course. DNFs for the bike alone were 14.4% with a total attrition rate of 17.2% overall. The bike was by no means easy and I would not have had it any other way. IRONMAN events are meant to be tough. The pride and satisfaction I take from completing the event is huge. Training for these events is key and without the knowledge, I have garnered from club pool swimming sessions, Sunday morning bike rides out with other members and track running sessions this would not have been possible along with all advice from those I see regularly at the sea swims and other events. Thank you to all who have given advice, inspired and pushed me along the way. Without that support, this would not have been possible.

Dave Boltwood