2019. 3rd time Ironman Bolton UK.
This year I set my main goal on to qualify for the Ironman World Championship Hawaï – the holy grail for long distance atletes. In 2017 and 2018 I missed the Kona slot by minutes at the roll down. This year my target was to reach podium – and with that the certainty of getting the long desired slot. The Bolton course (also like Wales) is my cup of tea with a tough bike course with many turns and short but numerous climbs. Next to that – Bolton lies between Manchester and Liverpool – the home area of the sub-pop culture I am fond of with bands as: The Verve, Stone Roses, Oasis and the fab four. And the new-mod culture thats quite vivid over there – and dictates my style of clothing.
Arriving at 4 am at T1 I quickly ran into Julia and Bart. Julia also started in the F24-29 category. Nice to help each other and do the last preps. About 20 minutes before start I got into my ‘tunnel’ and slowly got into the desired mindset. Perhaps it sounds selfish and aggressive; but for me that’s ‘kill-modus on’ .
After God Save the Queen and Thunderstruck from AC/DC (works for me!) we went off at 6 am. Hearing the cheers of Lore, Jelle and Ingmar got in the water and swam hard for the first 300m. Got in the 2nd group of 4 – just behind the leaders. After 500m we swam right trough the Military Division field – about 40 atletes whom started 1 min before us.
After the first lap of 1900 meters my Garmin showed 27;45 – really good on pace.
Second lap could manage to swim in the feet of a fast atlete -which was very useful – avoiding the not-so-fast-swimmers who were in their first lap. Getting out of the water after 55.31 minutes; an extra boost for me – just seconds away of my personal record of 55.20 in Wales 2018.
New bike route. Brutal.
Rushed out of T2 on the Argon 18. This year no disc – but a 404 as rear wheel. With 3.000 height meters (500m more than the old bike course) and almost no straights to dig deep in the aero bars – the advantage of being lighter made me choose for the 404’s. Do check the realistic number of heigth meters here.
After the first 30kms I was in 8th overall position. Powermeter showed the wished numbers and I felt strong. Then the first climbs showed up. Tried not to push to hard on de ascents – and really push on the flat parts and downhill. It became a solo ride – with no atletes passing me by – or vice versa.
Some atletes fear IM UK because of the infamous Sheephouse Lane climb. With the famous wrestlers on top of it. For me it’s one of the main reasons to race Bolton. The atmosphere and hard but steady climb of Sheephouse lane is stunning. Because it is the last climb you pass twice I reached out to the wrestlers with asking them to put a Frisian Flag in one of the poles next to their spot. This flag represents my home-soil, a provence in the Netherlands, known for the stubborn, persistence, straightforward character of the inhabitants :-).
On the 2nd loop on the bike I tempered my effort a little bit – trying to hold my Normalized Power around 225watts. I still felt quite strong, the nutrition plan worked, the powernumbers were ok, and I actually could enjoy the scenery and the enthousiasm of the crowds in the villages and Bolton. Bike; 5.43 – 7th overall.
My weakest part
After the stunning and brutal bike course (with an extremely high drop out of 17% of the field!) the marathon is there. Also not flat – with a 1ok loop and 350 heigthmeters – a challenge itself. This is relatively my weakest part. I put a lot of effort this year in running and core training – with a focus on pace instead of stamina.
After 10k I still wasn’t passed by other competitors (normally 2 or 3 atletes do) and my pace was around 4.30 – and felt ok. I knew I was upfront in the field after the bike, but still uncertain about my chances on the run. After passing for the 2nd loop (20km) Bart yelled out at me that nr 5 in my category was 25min behind. That really gave me a boost – the slot seemed to be secure. As a matter of fact – I still was at position 1 – but my goal was Kona – so I instructed my friends to only communicatie the position of nr 5 – because there are at least 4 slots for my category. Bart, Lore, Jelle and ironman friend Pepijn cheered to me and told me to keep going. Did also encounter Julia again – shouted out something to her. She actually raced to the 3rd (!!!) spot OVERALL in the female field. Stunning.
Lap 3 was more of a struggle. Running uphill on Chorley Road I hit 5.10, 5.12 per kilometer. Then the thoughts came “Am I going to collaps? Can I hold on?” “Stop nagging” “Embrace the suck”. Then a few people stood with Signs: Tap For Power. and Don’t Worry. You’ll never be as slow as Brexit”. A nano second I was without any thoughts. And then immediately: ‘IK GA HEM PAKKEN. I CAN DO THIS!’
Back to the sub’s 4.55 p/km and completing loop 3. After 32k I still asked Bart were nr 5 was – “It doesn’t matter – You are going to KONA!” he yelled. The last loop was actually fantastic – although nr 2 passed me at km 39 – I was going to be on the podium of an Ironman – and getting my slot.
Whilst running the last kilometers I felt humble and grateful to my wife, family, coach Steff, close friends whom made it possible to do this. High-fived the cadets who volunteered at the central aid station – and ran with a big smile to the red M-dotted carpet. Run 42.2km: 3.26. 10th overall
Finally. Qualified for Kona. In my beloved England.