For many, waking up at 2:30 on a Sunday morning to go for some exercise would seem far from the stuff of dreams – even less so if the destination was a rather rain-sodden Bolton town centre. However last weekend over 1600 incredible athletes did not just that, but upped their ‘exercise’ to one of the most awe-inspiring fitness challenges in the world right now – the Ironman triathlon.
Ironman truly is something else – whereas many of us would consider a marathon – or an etape – as the ultimate challenge of our fitness, the Ironman demands its challengers cover 140 MILES in one day – with 2.4 in the water, 112 in the saddle, and a full-distance marathon to finish off. This is a competition that pushes the entrants to the very limits of what their bodies can physically manage; and one with a devout following.
Earlier this year, we had a little chat with Ironman about SportPursuit and our members. We explained the passion for sport that runs through the company – and to our excitement, Ironman came back and offered us five places to make accessible to you – our members – therefore bringing the first sponsored Team SportPursuit into existence!
After some stiff competition – and some unfortunate retirements through injury – the final team of four came together: Graeme Buscke, Troy Squires, Allie Park & Lee Hill. They covered a range of abilities – from Graeme and Troy (both hoping for the World Championship invites), to first-timers Allie and Lee (who had never even entered a triathlon before applying)! Nevertheless, all proved to us just how much they wanted their places, and sure enough, last Saturday they came to find us at the Ironman Expo in the Reebok Stadium, Bolton – relaxed, prepared and ready to race!
At 5:00am the following morning, we joined them down at the start line, and shared a few cheerful words with Graeme and Troy (their smiles and relaxed demeanour helping them stand out from some slightly more stern faces surrounding them), before all 1600 athletes poured into the water and across to the start bouys. As the clock struck 6:00am, the siren went, and Ironman UK 2013 was underway!
Two laps of Pennington Flash, and it was out to the first change-over (Transition 1), where wetsuits come off and bike helmets go on, before the run into one of the most breathtaking bike compounds ever seen (from Cervelo to S-Works, they’re here in the hundreds). Graeme took an early lead for the team, followed closely by Troy; with Allie and Lee coming through almost side-by-side a short while later. With barely seconds to catch them, they were off onto the roads, and the beginning of their 3 lap, 112 mile journey to the second transition point.
The support of friends, family and the public was phenomenal throughout the day, but the cycle stage was perhaps where the most interaction between the crowds and the competitiors really showed, as the riders came through one-by-one, cheered by numerous groups along the roadside. A special shout-out has to go to rider 666 – Rupert – who after hearing his children at the roadside, pulled over for a quick mid-race photo with his family, before getting back into the competition!
With the lap structure, after a few hours it was common to see several standards of rider coming through together, really giving an idea of the difference in pace between the ‘regulars’ and the ‘regular riders’ – who were still in the midst of a challenge few can even contemplate! By the time it came to the second transition in Rivington, it was easy to have your judgement altered by the athletes who came running straight off their bikes – only rarely did you see someone walking in who gave away the 180km they’d just put themselves through!
By T2 the gap between leaders Dan Halksworth & Stephen Bayliss, and their nearest rivals was beginning to widen – it was apparent little could catch them, especially when third-place Harry Wiltshire was called into the Penalty Box for 6 minutes, ending his chance of challenging the front-runners.
The marathon took the racers back towards Bolton, and a few laps around the town before finishing in the Town Hall square. With Halksworth coming across the line in a staggering 8 hours and 45 minutes, the wait was on for the remaining athletes – and especially the fist six in each age-group, who would be receiving the invites to Hawaii…
With the professional athletes through, Mother Nature decided to take a cruel turn, and the rains – which had defied forecasters’ predictions all day – finally started to make their presence known. Making clear just how great his day had been, Graeme made the line before the water did, in an incredible 9 hours and 41 minutes – taking 1st place in his age-group, and only 13th in the overall competition – after a few tricky races, his strategy had come together, he’d qualified for the World Championships, and his day was well and truly made.
Just over 40 minutes later, the announcement came over the loudspeakers that Troy Squires was making his way to the finish line – alongside fellow Black Line London member Paul Burton. Having found each other on the run, they’d matched their pace for the final few km’s and enjoyed a true celebration to the finish line. Sadly no Kona qualification for Troy as hoped, but few people looked as happy as these two at the finish line all evening (except perhaps Lucy Gossage, who claimed her first Ironman UK victory and practically danced through the finish area!)
Eventually the rain refused to hold back another second, and the skies poured down, making this ultra-endurance challenge just another fraction harder for the hundreds of competitors still out on the course. The fans at the finish-line were unflinching in their support, pulling out coats and umbrellas, cameras still very much in hand, but the red carpet was now coated with a sheet of water, and more than one exhausted soul came to ground a few meters too early.
Eyes fixed on the finish and our athlete trackers, we held out for Lee and Allie; who both put in simply amazing performances (both first-timers at Ironman, remember) – Lee making the line in 12 hours 26 minutes, and Allie with seconds to go just under the 13 hour mark. Both were delighted with their performances – Allie having kept to her ‘training programme’ (Bolton is only the first part of her Ironman career, she told us), and Lee turning up ahead of the tracker’s predictions after keeping his pace strong on the run.
We caught up with all the athletes for a post-race debrief, before they went on their way to find friends, families, and a well-deserved warm bath!
It was genuinely inspiring being there to watch so many men and women all of shapes, sizes, and ages completing what for many would be a once in a lifetime experience – the ultimate challenge they could put themselves through. The intensity of the joy and relief on the faces of the finishers was like no other – the sort of emotion that can only be earnt through finding the absolute limit and coming away the winner.
Furthermore, it was amazing to have provided the opportunities we did to our team at the event. Team SportPursuit is something we came up with so that everyday athletes might be able to challenge their limits and do something great. Ironman Bolton is only the first event we’ll be providing the opportunity to be a part of – in the coming months expect to see more ‘real’ adventures allowing you to become one of our athletes – and receive the support that follows!
Watch this space for the full Team SportPursuit IMUK 2013 video production in the coming days, but for now, why not see our photo gallery from Bolton?