Tuesday, July 20, 2010

UMIK Bike Course Recce

This Sunday just gone and 2 weeks prior to the race, I arranged to go up to sunny Bolton and check out the bike course.  The plan was to cycle the initial leg and 1 loop of the 3 loop course.  We also wanted to check out the run route too, but were pushed for time and so had to head back to London town.

I hadn't met my fellow IMers before and had been put in touch with them by Harriet, who has just completed an awesome race over in Roth.  Anton and Christian were to be doing their first (and reportedly their last) IM and had been roped into it by a friend who has subsequently pulled out.  With friends like those...

If the 'friend' had not adversely influenced them, they might have been doing Roth with Harriet. I felt truly sorry for these guys and said they had to go to Europe to do at least 1 more IM to experience what it should be like.

OK I'm going to get it out of the way here and then just focus on the task in hand.  IM races are in spectacular locations all over the world, and often the local support and enthusiasm reaches fever pitch on the day.  The UK has many diverse and beautiful landscapes which would make amazing locations for an IM.  I know in this country races must be incredibly hard to put together and organisers no doubt have to battle against almost insurmountable odds, especially for long distance... however - Bolton?  I mean seriously??  The previous location at Sherbourne was 100 times better, but I guess they had to move for good reasons whatever they were.

I could say a lot more, but I won't.  IMUK have been known to ban adverse press bloggers from the race in the past - I kid you not.  Suffice to say you do not come to this race for the scenery.  You come to this race to get a down and dirty tough race.  None of that airy fairy pampering of the athlete's village in Zurich, or the glitz and glamour of Nice, or the distant majesty of the snow topped mountains of Utah. This aint no George Clooney of a race - more like Ray Winstone in Nil by Mouth.

One thing I will say: everyone we met up there was really friendly and very helpful, especially the numerous times we asked for directions.  I may not be a fan of the location, but I can't deny that the people are very hospitable and I recognise that a heck of a lot of effort will have been put into getting this race together.

First thing to note - the road surface out here, as probably for most of the UK is not very good - very rough - neck and lower back will suffer over 180ks.  Also puncture potential is very high with plenty of roadside debris which could be made worse by wet conditions.  I punctured after 1k in our little jaunt.  Thankfully OK for the rest of the day.  Note to self - Gatorskins are the way to go, leave the race tyres at home.

Equipment: tri bike, aero helmet, race wheels - yep go the whole nine yards if you can.  Sure there is 2183m climbing on this course, but there's plenty of flat and downhill too and it's non-technical except maybe the first descent off Sheep House Lane where a little care is required.  I wouldn't go too deep on the rims, 808 max and not a disc - it can get windy out there.  I don't have race wheels for the day and won't be hiring as this is not a key race for me.

The course starts at Pennington Flash, a large lake.  Speaking to one of the groundsmen, apparently the hot weather has increased blue-green algae in the lake which can cause illness and vomiting.  The swim may or may not be canceled. Oh joy, but no point worrying my little head about that one.

The bike course goes from Pennington Flash north, past Bolton and Horwich to Adlington where you start your first loop of three.  This initial section is generally uphill, but at a gentle gradient.  It's pretty quick and guys will be gunning it.  I have The Fear, so I'll be taking it easy.

Once into the loop pretty sharpish you get to the major climb up Sheep House Lane (pic right).  This is not a crazy climb by any stretch, but it's relatively steep, peaking out at maybe 10-12%.  It also looks pretty exposed on the upper sections and with a windy day it could get interesting - we had mild conditions so that was not much of an issue.  The climb is about 2 miles long.  I reckon this will take a fair amount out of the legs, especially by the time loop 3 comes along.  Not a good idea to beast up this one, just an easy effort in the lowest gear.

After Sheep House and another minor bump, you are rewarded with a long non technical and fast descent - woot!  We had a tailwind and I reckon you can get up some speed here.  For me I'll be careful not to push too hard though, try to keep below 180 watts.  There are a number of rollers out there - I'll be trying to get up enough speed to roll over them, but will not be making hard efforts if I can't.

The second half of the loop makes its way steadily back uphill to Adlington.  It doesn't look like much, but this back end of the loop is quite tiring, and then of course at the beginning of the next loop you have Sheep House again.

We struggled to navigate the course as there are numerous twists and turns, but we made it eventually with only getting lost a couple of times when there weren't any road signs.  In summary I think it's going to be a long ride for me, and it's a course that demands respect if you want to have a chance of a reasonable marathon.  It's worth noting that the marathon is hilly too (459m climbing) - I haven't recce'd the course but don't think it's crazy like IMSG, but it won't be easy either.

Sunday 1 Aug is going to be a long day and in truth I wish I hadn't got all excited back in May and entered, but there we are.  Looking back to my reasons, I think I actually thought I might be in with a shout of qualifying, or else why enter this race?  I know better now.  Snow ball's chance in hell of that - 2 slots in AG - HA!  If I get round in 11:30 I'll be pleased with myself and certainly won't beat myself up for a sub 12.  Sub 11 will be rock star for me in my current condition.

Treating this one as a long training day to experiment with pace and nutrition, and also to try and hold up mentally late in the day with the fatigue.  Bit of experience, another medal (I hope!).  My main goal is to get the strategy right to have an OK marathon.  3:45 will be sweet.  Don't watch this space.  Please.


  1. I'll watch your attempt at this Ray Winstone of a course (classic chirp!) with much glee. Rather you than me. Give it some oomph and hold steady on the descents. Holding thumbs (and toes and....)

  2. Thanks Guys - race report will follow sometime in the next couple of weeks, just the small matter of doing it now..