The 12th of July was meant to be rather significant day to the more oxidized members of Westcroft tri club. It was on that Sunday we were meant to be doing the Bolton Ironman, obviously now cancelled. We were meant to be ‘Up North’ flying over hill and dale, dreaming of a finisher’s tee shirt and wondering where to have our tattoo!
Well, me and Dave were, in Bolton that is, not getting a pre-emptive tattoo. We had booked an AirBnB and cancelling it would have lost us our deposit, so we went anyway, to treat it as reconnaissance of the cycle course. Friday after work we loaded the bikes into the van and set off. (Our other halves had seemed less keen to go to a closed Bolton to not watch us race).
The fact we managed to miss Bolton on the way up should have been an indication of how well the directions were going to work over the weekend !
We finally found the place, wandered round to the local Morrisons to get some pasta for dinner, and for the ride, cereal biscuits for me, mini pork pies for Dave (he is going to keep banging on until they get accepted as a superfood) followed by an evening of tactical discussions (survival?) and an early night.
Saturday morning, nice and early we drove down to Pennington Flash, the location of the swim and the transition 1. The grey water looked rather choppy and uninviting and having seen how many geese there were wandering about, next year I’m going to make sure I’m wearing my flipflops right up to the point that I jump into the water.
It was all pretty quiet, we had been expecting a few more thwarted competitors to be doing a tour. We unloaded the bikes from the van and set off. From Penington flash the bike course heads into Bolton and starts 3 long laps making up the 180 km length and then transition 2 is a run through the centre of Bolton on 4 shorts loops to make up the marathon. The plan was to complete 2 bike laps, one as a bit of a sighter, the second at race speed.
On the Ironman website there was a map of the bike course (it was a new course after 600 competitors failed to finish the previous one within the cut off time). Dave pulled it up on his phone and we set off. One slight problem with the map, it didn’t have any road names on it, so we were having to guess which were the correct lefts and rights. The thick blue line of the route obscured all the finer road details.
We had to ask our first local resident for directions having arrived at a café in a small park. They were lovely and it seemed that the easiest way to get onto the route was to ride through the narrow paths of the park which I don’t think was exactly the official route.
We then got lucky, Dave, the most charming of men quickly fell into conversation with 3 members of ‘Deanes Triathlon Club’ as we set off on the lap. They were just starting their second lap and going on at a reasonable but not excessive pave. I was at the back and thought I would be fine but as we weaved through a complicated section with some sharp little hills I started to struggle.
The bursts of effort I was having to put in to make up ground started to take its toll. I just couldn’t keep up. Dave who was having no such problems hung back trying to keep them in sight and also giving me a person to follow. Finally, I got to the top of a hill and they were nowhere to be seen. At the next junction I found Dave waiting. In order not to leave me he had drifted just too far of the back of the pack to keep up. At the point when I caught up to him, I was seriously wondering if it was possible to get my money back as I couldn’t imagine how I would ever manage it if it was all like this.
Having been directed back on track by a couple of blokes outside a supermarket we set off again. I don’t know if it was a slight change of terrain, going slightly slower or if it was just the comfort of following Dave but it all seemed to get much easier. We made it to Ramsbottom but then we couldn’t make out which way to go. An incredibly nice man studied our map, bemused he got a copy of another map on his own phone because despite having lived there for decades our map made no sense. ‘Well’ he said ‘ now you’re here you might as well go up this hill’ gesturing to the road outside his house ‘that rather unpleasant man from the Isle of Man won the hill climb there one year’, and then gave us some directions to hopefully get us back on course.
The hill outside his house turned out to be Rake Hill, a notorious 1:4. I made it halfway before coming to a complete stop and having to frantically uncleat, Dave, very impressively made it all the way to the top but must have done at least 3 times the distance so severely was he having to weave (he’s a determined little bugger when he gets going).
This incredibly friendly and helpful man was an example of, and not an exception, of how kind everybody was to the two desperate looking, lyca clad old men who kept pulling up to them to ask for directions. They gave us their time, didn’t object to how Dave pronounced Chorley, but did always reference at least two public houses in any set of directions. I fear that we would still be riding now if they hadn’t helped us.
We did persevere with the map, trying to make the landscape and shapes of the roads fit the screen but with only limited success. It got so bad that I even pulled into a garage to buy a map. They didn’t have one, but they did have an atlas, so I got one of those. Absolutely useless, it wasn’t just the limited scale, it was completely unintelligible because neither me or Dave had brought our reading glasses out with us. We gave up on the map(s) and concentrated on road signs which mentioned Bolton. We sort of made it back to somewhere near our starting point and a sign for Pennington Flash. We had been cycling for over 6 hours by now and the prospect of attempting another lap when we had obviously hadn’t successfully even done one seemed futile. We just headed back to the van.
When we got back to Pennington Flash we realised that we hadn’t done the notorious Sheephouse Lane, a fearsome hill which is perhaps best known for the group of Mexican Wrestlers who cheer the riders on race day. So back in the van we typed the address into the satnav and went to track it down (this time under petrol power). Half an hour late we found it. Not only had we unknowingly passed the end of the lane but one of many helpful locals had perfectly described the pub in Rivington overlooking a reservoir at which cyclists often stopped that was actually on Sheephouse Lane. As we would later discover (when we compared our GPS to the map) by missing this turning we had unwittingly extended the lap massively. We resolved to ride it next morning.
Not the most successful of days, but never mind, it was good to have ride and we got a sense of the terrain, so we headed back to the AirBnB rather tired and tender, a long day. We scrubbed up and headed out for a meal at an Italian. A couple of hours later we toddled out of restaurant just as the final glow of the sun left the sky. Dave looked at his watch “even if it goes really well on race day, we won’t even be finished by this time of night ”.
On the Sunday morning we once again loaded the bikes in the van and drove to Sheephouse lane. After a few deep breaths and some in trepidation we set off. Over the bridge and started up the hill, with a rare burst of energy I raced up the hill, not too bad, perhaps a bit ‘Leigthy’ but it flattened out soon enough the rest of it was ‘rolling’ rather than severe, it is riding across moorland and while I can appreciate that it would be ‘interesting’ in a gale it seemed rather more ‘last of the summer wine’ (no cheeky comments about myself and Dave being reminiscent of those doddering old guys wandering over the heath).
There were quite a few other cyclists, some faster, some slower but no bodies expiring at the roads edge. We rode it back the other way and it still wasn’t terrible. Dave suggested that we might as well ride it again as it was only a 20 minute section. One of my many failings is that if, in the unlikely event I do well on a hill, I’m unreasonably cocky about it.
Having blown away Dave on the first steep hill I ostentatiously gave him a bit of a start. I never caught him, he just disappeared into the distance and even Dave, (a man generous in his praise of others and self-deprecating about his own ability) could not resist pretending to have been waiting for hours when I ‘finally’ finished perhaps a minute after him.
Where we had parked was a lovely spot on a bridge over the reservoir and there seemed to be a trail around the edge of the water so we decided to go for a gentle run which could describe as a brick session in our training diaries (I fear that we might be falling into the mindset of exercise only counting if it is recorded). It was a really nice to have that gentle jog, beautiful surroundings, lovely weather and a good chinwag.
An unusual race weekend mainly for not actually featuring a race but it did end, as all race days do, with me driving us home and Dave, open mouthed dozing gently in the passenger seat.
What did we learn?
I don’t think that it is quite as ‘hilly’ as we feared (I say this, clutching a large piece of wood and knowing full well that this blog in a years’ time could well feature a collection of DNF excuses or even my obituary), most of it seemed ‘rolling’. Also, we are not fit enough. Dave needs to get some long rides under his belt and I (who was fresh as a daisy at the end) needs to be able to put in a short burst of effort without taking half an hour to recover from it.
The great thing we can take away from the adventure is that it might just be possible 😊