FIVE members of Stratford Triathlon Club completed the Ironman UK long course triathlon in Bolton on Sunday in some of the most challenging conditions in the event’s history, writes Victoria Jeffs.
The swim – held at Pennington Flash reservoir – was tough on the athletes and supporters as torrential rain and gusting winds gave an extra challenge to the 2.4-mile two-loop swim course.
After a long run-up into transition and a very boggy exit where many athletes were carrying their bikes over the mud, it was on to the bike course for 112 miles around some very hilly Lancashire countryside.
The ride takes in the infamous Sheep House Lane climb, with supporters out on the road and cheering in a similar manner to the Tour de France. The support from the locals throughout the course was extraordinary and the area truly embraces the thrills of long course racing.
The run – a full marathon – runs into Bolton for a three-loop course around the town with an atmosphere to rival any big marathon around the world, with the obvious benefits of a three-loop course being lots of cheering points for family and friends to encourage the athletes along.
First home for STC in a field of over 2,500 athletes was Wayne Vickers. The swim is never Vickers’ strongest discipline and after a freezing swim he excited the water about 150th in his age group but, proving how strong he is on the bike, Vickers kept overtaking many competitors, picking them off one by one.
Vickers’ real strength comes on the run course and he picked his way through the field to put in a blisteringly good run time to finish sixth in his age group and 113th overall – enough to win him a slot in the coveted Ironman World Championships at Kona, Hawaii, in October – the Holy Grail of Ironman racing.
Next home for the club was Ironman virgin Pete Wharton – taking part in his first Iron Distance race – and what a cracker of a time he had.
Wharton embraced the challenge with everything he had and, after a good swim and proving what a powerful cyclist he is, Wharton was in a strong place going into the run.
A good, solid performance on the run course had him dancing – literally – over the finish line 73rd in his age group and 421st overall.
Phil Howell had a good swim and after a swift transition he headed out on to the bike course, which he demolished in a great time. Once on the run, Howell proved how well his training has been of late by overtaking competitor after competitor, keeping himself in the zone and putting in a superb run time to come 42nd in his age group and 656th overall.
Mark Bullock’s race was a lot more of a challenge as a recent illness meant he was on the start line not feeling his best. Bullock was disappointed with his swim and struggled through the wind and rain on the bike but, proving his inner strength regardless, the run proved to be the most difficult as a chesty cough made things even worse.
Despite these challenges he still managed to come 256th in his age group and 1,211th overall – a true Ironman effort.
Becky Loftus – the only lady to complete the race from the club – always knew she would have a slow swim, as this is not her strongest discipline, but once out on the bike course she proved how resilient and disciplined she is on a bike and overtook hundreds.
She smiled almost the whole way through the run, proving her strength in long course racing, as the longer it goes she just gets stronger and stronger. Loftus finished 31st in her age group and 156th lady home, 1,335th overall.
Results: (Long course – 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run): Wayne Vickers (swim 1:24:08, T1 6:56, bike 6:10:04, T2 4:03, run 3:20:15 – total 11:05:26, 6th in his AG 45-49, 113th overall, qualified for Kona, the Ironman World Championships); Pete Wharton (swim 1:24:34, T1 8:34, Bike 6:28:11, T2 10:22, run 4:15:50 – total 12:27:31, 72rd in AG 30-34, 421st overall); Phil Howell (swim 1:29:58, T1 7:59, bike 7:22:29, T2 10:29, run 3:57:11 – total 13:08:09, 42nd in AG 50-54, 656th overall); Mark Bullock (swim 1:42:59, T1 9:24, bike 7:30:38, T2 9:46, run 5:08:15 – total 14:41:02, 256th in AG 40-44, 1,211th overall); Becky Loftus (swim 1:54:10, T1 15:04, bike 7:58:41, T2 12:22, run 4:40:28 – total 15:00:45, 31st in her AG 40-45, 156th lady home, 1,335th overall).