Ironman UK Course Guide

IRONMAN UK RACE INSIGHT

If you’ve entered IMUK 2020 then this guide is for you! Whether you have entered for the first time, or haven’t raced on the ‘new’ course (the bike and run courses have both changed in recent years), or maybe you raced last year and feel you have unfinished business!


Let’s deal with that new bike course 1st since it got so much attention on social media both before and after the race. Boy is it tough! There are many climbs or varying gradients, most are short and steep and the descents are similar too. Technical sections and areas of poor quality road surface mean that you have to concentrate on your road position even when the physical effort drops a little. In 2019, we were ‘lucky’ that the weather was fair and still the attrition rate was high (approximately 15% failed to finish the bike section). In comparison to previous years the average finish time was 30 minutes slower too www.coachcox.co.uk/2019/07/15/ironman-uk-2019-age-group-results-and-kona-qualification. So what can you do to ensure that you prepare for biking success on the 12th July 2020?


In addition to those long endurance (Zone 2) bike rides that occupy your weekends in the build period I feel its essential to focus training specifically for the demands of IMUK. There are very few sections of the course in which you can keep to a constant steady Zone 2 effort. You will be climbing, descending, breaking, turning and moving between upright, aero and standing positions on a regular basis.

So, there is no substitution for knowing the course; get out there and ride the IM loop! And when you do so, give each session an objective, don’t just ride it flat out to see how long it takes

Possible objectives include building confidence on the descents; on which can you stay aero and which do you need to brake? Where are the worst sections of road (remember with closed roads and reduced traffic on race day choosing your line is much easier)? Try out your nutrition storage (top tube carriers, aero bottles, rear-mounted bottle holders) in order to see how easily (or otherwise) you can access them and whether the rough roads cause any issues (I lost my down tube aero bottle on race day). Check the gearing of your bike to assess whether you have the correct ratio to climb those steep gradients effectively. And remember you will probably be looking for an extra gear on the second loop. Check you heart rate and power data (if you have it) and you will understand the demands of this course. Equipment choices (wheels, gearing, nutrition storage etc…) all need to be decided well in advance of the race.

If you can’t get to Bolton on several occasions then my advice would be simply to ensure that you ride routes involving similarly hilly terrain in order to condition your legs and also develop your bike handling/control. Once weekly sessions on the ‘trainer’ to build muscular endurance are also beneficial: we are talking efforts of 1-5mins at threshold power (FTP) and above with low cadence (<60rpm). These types of intervals can also be introduced to your longer rides if hilly terrain is not in your locality.

Psychologically, the best thing I did in the weeks leading in to the race was to remove ‘speed’ data from my Garmin screen, instead focusing on the controllable variables of Power and Heart Rate. Speed will be relatively slow due to the course profile, weather and road conditions, so why focus on it?

Instead use your bike computer to pace your efforts based upon power, heart rate response and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) which are all under your control. Further ‘process focus’ could involve setting an alarm every 20-30 mins to ensure you keep to your nutrition strategy

Now, going back to the IMUK swim. This is a rolling start from a narrow pontoon with athletes self-seeding based upon estimated swim time. My advice is to get as close to the front as possible, especially if you are expecting to swim anywhere around the hour mark. Warming-up is difficult as you have to be in line early. Take a bottle of water and energy gel with you. Use the water to both stay hydrated and clear your goggles before the start. 2 laps of Pennington Flash in a left-handed triangular manner can be navigated easily. There is an Australian (dry land) exit at the mid-way point; unless you are gunning for a super fast time, I would advise walking between loops to avoid spiking heart rate or triggering cramp. Adjust your goggles and cap if needed and listen to the fantastic crowd support! This is what you’ve been training for!

When exiting the water and entering transition be prepared for some muddy conditions (depending on the weather during the previous week). This may influence your choice of whether to attach bike shoes to your pedals or to put them on in the change tent. If it’s muddy I would prefer to put them on prior to running to my bike. On the exit of Pennington Flash to the main road there are a series of speed bumps that cause havoc to riders each year. Ride out of the park steadily and don’t attempt to eat or drink whilst riding. You will likely lose items from your bike if you hit the bumps at speed or worse fall off!

Having completed these first 2 disciplines you will arrive at T2 for your 4 lap run. The section around Bolton town centre is virtually flat whilst the out and back through Queen’s Park and along Chorley New Road has you climbing most of the way out and descending back into town. The gradients within the park are the steepest. Luckily the crowd support on the run course is fantastic and will certainly help as you tire. Divide the course by laps and by aid stations. For most athletes it pays dividends to walk through the aid stations ensuring that your heart rate comes down a little as you eat and drink. Those who try to run for as long as they possibly can before beginning to walk often end up walking slower and further than those who plan to walk little and often from the outset. The steep gradient within Queen’s Park will sap strength and elevate heart rate if you run this section so this may be another area to schedule a brisk walk depending on your overall race goals and ambitions.

Similarly, to the bike preparation your training sessions should incorporate hill efforts to build muscular strength/endurance and fatigue resistance. Downhill running is also a skill that can be practiced and developed. Short transition runs off long bike rides and double run days are beneficial. Strength and conditioning in the gymnasium is recommended with a focus on the muscles of the posterior kinetic chain (gluteals, hamstrings, calves). These muscle groups are engaged strongly when riding in the aero position and also when climbing on both the bike and run.

Similarly, to the bike preparation your training sessions should incorporate hill efforts to build muscular strength/endurance and fatigue resistance. Downhill running is also a skill that can be practiced and developed. Short transition runs off long bike rides and double run days are beneficial.

Strength and conditioning in the gymnasium is recommended with a focus on the muscles of the posterior kinetic chain (gluteals, hamstrings, calves). These muscle groups are engaged strongly when riding in the aero position and also when climbing on both the bike and run.

Ironman UK: expect a long day, expect great crowd support, expect changeable weather and expect to be elated when you cross the finish line of one of the toughest Ironman courses in the World!

Phil Ellison 2019 Ironman UK AG winner (40-44) and Kona finisher is a Triathlon Coach with Total Tri Training (TTT) @PhilEllisonTTT on FB. TTT offer bespoke, personalized coaching packages for all levels and race formats. CLICK HIS IMAGE FOR MORE ON PHIL


For the ultimate in specific preparation consider booking a place. There is also a training weekend in the north-west of England planned for athletes focusing on Ironman UK or other early season Ironman races This is on May 2nd For more details check out www.totaltritraining.com/training-camps