Mark Gollings Grantham Sprint Triathlon to Bolton UK Ironman part 2

I drove home from Hatfield Leger with mixed feelings . It was great to see how well the local guys who were also doing Bolton UK Ironman ( Craig & Gemma Scott / Karen Lynch ) were going at Hatfield , but it also enhanced the frustration with my injuries. Deep down I knew the Bolton Ironman run was really going to take every ounce of mental & physical strength I had left to give .

Dropping out of the event at this late stage was a non starter.  

I had to somehow get my head into thinking of getting my old injury ridden body on  the red carpet any which I could , to hear the immortal words “ Mark Gollings you are an Ironman” .

I was discharged by Victor @ Gainsborough , who was honest enough to say he couldn’t help me . He wasn’t prepared to take anymore of my money as it would be better spend on seeking a  physios attention. I tried to get in with Andy Coulson but he is a very busy guy due to his outstanding reputation, so was unable to see me before Bolton. I was running out of time & options so checked out U Tube for any possible diagnosis / exercises to help ease inflamed tendonitis. I was really surprised to find quite a few different exercises that guys had tried that had helped ease the condition. One particular guy from the USA interested me,  he explained how lifting weights i.e squats / use of leg press / leg curls would help ease Inflamed tendonitis. I was shocked as I thought lifting weights would aggravate the knee injury as cycling was doing .

With time running out anything was worth a try .

 I spent the next few days in the gym weight training , also doing squats with a range of low weights / leg pressing up to 80kg & leg curling up to 42.5kg sometimes using only my right knee.

My knee seemed to react well to this new training.

A bit late in the day TBH decided I needed some new running shoes , so popped to see Julian Moorhouse at Metre to Miles in Epworth. Julian sorted some Hoka 4 and got me to run up & down outside his shop. I couldn’t believe I was now jogging without pain but must admit I had only run a few metres. Julian was brilliant in advising how I could possibly get through the Bolton Ironman Marathon using this new model of shoe , that was designed to take the pressure off your knees by springing you forward as you strike the ground. Julian also advised / discussed using a Physio then sorted out an appointment with Ian Mcbride in Broughton.

I continued doing gym work and my right knee was definitely improving until I decided to test ride my Cervelo P5 to work the Monday morning before Bolton 6 days before the event  .I had changed both my tyres & fitted a 11t / 28t cassette + new chain so needed to try the bike out to make sure it was ok . The ride to work was only 13miles , but by the time I got to work my right knee was aching . Leigh Peat was again working on my shift so we had some banter with Dean Atkinson also pitching in with words of wisdom ( he had finished Bolton 2 years previous ).

How the hell was I going to run a Marathon off a 112 mile bike when I could hardly walk after riding only 13 miles. Leighs words of “Golly if you can walk off the course to your car , you walk that Marathon ! Now get on with It.

The next day my right knee didn’t feel too bad and I was also seeing Ian Mcbride after work @ 3pm.

Ian analysised my running style on a tread mill then outside in the street . He noticed I seemed to be stretching too much so my foot wasn’t under my knee as it landed so my running style required adjustment . He showed how I could self massage the problem area on my knee that certainly eased it straight away. After seeing Ian I felt a lot more positive & started to believe it was possible to still become an Ironman. I also liked a phrase he said “Don’t kill yourself on the bike leg, imagine your riding your bike to run a marathon race” something I thought about whilst on the Bolton bike leg.

That night I went to Hatfield Marina and completed 2 laps non wetsuit as rumours were circulating, that if the Bolton swim takes place it could be non wetsuit due to the amazing hot weather the UK was experiencing. What a difference swimming non wet suit is for a poor swimmer like myself. I was praying the water temp would drop so I could use my trusty wetsuit . Swimming nearly 4k would really certainly test my poor technique as well as contending with the reported blue algae in Pennington Flash. Hats off to anyone who has too race non wet suit in any Ironman race, as they deserve all the plaudits . Special kudos to the guys who recently competed in Maastrict.

That week leading up to Bolton UK Ironman was full of rumours . Social media reports of the swim been cancelled due to blue algae , then Bolton council banning people swimming in Pennington Flash . Was it going to be non wetsuit due to water temperature been over 25 degrees or was it going to be a duathlon with the swim cancelled.

How would that work?

Then with Hamburg Ironman made into a duathlon 2 weeks after Bolton , the swim was replaced with a 6k run. Worse was to come as the bike leg had to be changed due to fires on moors around Sheephouse / Belmont . It was deemed too dangerous for spectators as the peat on the moors was still smouldering so could ignite at anytime . The iconic Sheephouse climb is noted for the amazing support all the way up this climb , culminating with Famous Sheephouse Wrestlers giving their all boogying with their Ghetto blaster at the summit. Sheephouse climb was taken out & replaced with Anglezarke a tough 16% climb with  the bike course reduced to 95miles. Competitors were panicking as many had recced the original route up Sheephouse , so to many including yours truly the first time they will see Anglezarke would be on race day. Social media erupted as competitors and fellow triathletes expressed their views mostly negative, with arguments put forward that if anyone completed the full course they couldn’t call themselves an “Ironman” due to the bike route reduction .

The 10th Bolton Ironman was suddenly in turmoil , as no one seemed to know what was going to really happen on race day re the swim & bike course. The first race brief in Bolton was certainly going to be tasty with numerous complaints expected to be lodged. Bolton Ironman competitors via social media were talking about leaving the bike course & riding an extra 17 miles to complete the Ironman distance . What should have been a carnival atmosphere celebrating 10 years of Bolton UK Iron man was suddenly turning into a complete farce.

What could Ironman do to retrieve the situation ?

Friday July 13th – :

Drove across to Bolton to my Premiere Inn in Wigan where I checked in then left my bike & gear in my room before heading back to Bolton to register. Around the Ironman village in Bolton city centre , the atmosphere was buzzing as the reality of the scale of the event was evident . I waited to register then went into the first race brief expecting a few fireworks . Ironmans main man Paul Kaye came on stage  and immediately seemed to calm the partisan crowd with his calming witty chat . The reasons for the bike route change were explained in detail By Paul explaining how safety was paramount for everyone i.e competitors / spectators & the Emergency services helpers etc . The mood of the audience softened more when Paul informed that the swim would take place in Pennington Flash after it deemed safe to swim . Practice would be allowed on the Saturday morning for all competitors . The feeling amongst the audience of potential Ironman was to get this event on & running. Lucy Gossard was also a guest speaker , giving lots of tips & advice out to seasoned Ironmen as well as approx 500 newbie including yours truly.

Saturday July 14th – ;

Was a chase around day , first taking your bike down to Pennington Flash near Leigh to rack @ T1. The weather was hot so most competitors were letting air out of their tyres , so avoid any possible popping of tubes /tyres whilst been left in the baking sun. Your bike kit bag was left on the racks in the transition Tent where you picked up your race timing chip.It was great to bump into Karen Lynch & Sue Couch in T1 for a catch up . Then back up to Bolton to T2 in Queens Park leaving your run gear in the transition tent .

Went back to Ironman village for a few pics and to buy a Ironman tee shirt with all the competitors names on . Then tried to chill in the afternoon back in hotel room . Quick walk round the corner from the hotel to Lidl , to buy my food for the bike leg.

Decided to go for 4x sausage rolls / 4x flat breads with cheese & ham all wrapped in foil .

Bike pocket to filled up with salted peanuts on race morning . Energy bars / gels already taped to bike frame & handlebars.

Met up with Karen Lynch & her parents for last pre race supper in Bolton town centre . The weather was gorgeous, with Bolton town centre pubs / restaurant buzzing . People out dressed up in all their finery, out for good night out in the warm early evening sun . Did I really want to compete in my first Ironman in the morning or shall I go out on the town instead ! Tough decision but pizza was the last supper, washed down with a couple of large glasses of white wine all to help with carbing up . In bed for 9.30pm when I seemed to sleep till midnight then was tossing & turning till I got out of bed for the 3am for breakfast provided by the hotel.

Sunday 15th July – Race day

Up at 2.45am , quick shower then down for breakfast. There was only myself & 2x other guys also newbies to Ironman in the restaurant. Premier Inn at Wigan had put out a great spread of food and I tucked into porridge / bananas / possiants / toast & marmalade washed down with smoothies & tea. It seemed strange to see party goers returning to the hotel for a good nights kip as I waited in reception for Leigh & his wife Mikala .Dean Atkinson was enroute from Scunthorpe , but had to detour off theM62 due to an accident. So he headed straight to Pennington Flash instead of meeting in Wigan. Mikala was going to drive us down to Pennington flash roughly 20mins away . Leigh was absolutely buzzing after a lovely nights sleep & started to rip the piss saying Golly you look old, tired & rough . Thing was I did  , but this was  Leighs first ever triathlon and I knew what was coming! Where as Leigh was so calm & chilled , I was the opposite as I pondered how the next few hours would pan out . We arrived at Pennington Flash with athletes all over the place . No where to park so Mikala dropped us off & set off to find a car parking space @ Morrisons. Myself & Leigh walked into Park with what seemed a thousand or two other athletes . We seemed to walk for ages till we reached the entrance to T1.

The atmosphere was electric especially seen as it was only 4.45am with hundreds of spectators milling about . Our wrist bands were checked then we went to look for our bikes . I put my sandwiches / sausage rolls onto to my frame water bottle asking the referee if it was ok , as didn’t want my food confiscating if the plastic bag was deemed as an easy identification ploy. Poured my Orange Lucozade sport into my aero bottle & spare water bottle on the bike frame. The camaraderie in T1 was amazing as everyone was friendly & helping out re track pumps etc as we needed to pump our tyres up ready for the bike leg. Once the bike was ready we ventured out of T1 to rack our white bags ( gear you needed after the event i.e trainers / tee shirts ) onto a long lorry trailer . Once out of transition it was great to mingle with the spectators and managed to get a few pics before we were called to the swim start. Myself and Leigh were late TBH so had to squeeze through the line of Athletes congregated around their predicted swim time posts . I was trying to get to the 1 hr 15x mins post as I was advised to get with faster swimmers who you could possibly draft. But we struggled to get through so had to stand around the 1 hr 30x mins predicted time. It was great to see all the people who had travelled from Scunthorpe  a few to mention Kerry Padley / Jo Findley /  Rachel Brothwell / Steve Hall / Rob Marshall /  Dan Ellis who was all wishing us well .

Then the National Anthem followed by AC / DC Thunderstruck was played to signify the start of the 2018 Bolton UK Ironman. We all filtered very slowly towards the start banner myself still with Leigh , then we were on the pontoon and the swim began. The swim start was really congested as everyone tried to get into a nice rhythm , With myself starting further back then I really wanted , I found I was catching up slower swimmers in front and as I tried to pass had other faster swimmers hitting my legs and swimming across me. It seemed like a right battle as you were desperately looking for clear water . I kept sighting for the buoys on my left side , even though I breathe to the right as I cannot bilateral breathe . The water was warm but tasted terrible as I was getting pushed under every now & again when trying to breathe. Pennington Flash tasted of grimy murky goose pooped water , but I still tried to focus with the turn approaching . I knew that was nearly 1k swim completed , so was happy how I felt but little did I know what was round the corner . Suddenly the race seemed to stop as people stopped swimming and everything backed up , with guys popping upright out of the water as the strong sun hit everyones eyes . We were all swimming blind dazzled by the intense sunlight . You couldn’t see the bouys until you was on them and it was only the canoeists’ who were keeping everyone from venturing off course . That 2nd sector  was tough and I was so please to hear the music been played from the shore as I knew I was nearing the end of lap 1.

I was helped out of the water by the amazing volunteers as I tried to scramble up the ramp . I checked my watch & was happy to see 40mins 30s as I ran pass the excited shouting crowd ready to start Lap 2. For some reason the outleg of the second lap was congestion free & I started to settle into a nice tempo and could stretch out more with my stroke as I had clear water at last . I felt great as I seemed to swimming well within myself . Until close to the turn a guy seemed to deliberately swim over me twice , left then right elbowing me in the face . My blood was boiling as I increased my swim stroke to chase him down . We hit the turn and it was mayhem ! again people struggling to see due to the sun so stopping swimming . Again a concertina effect as swimmers crashed into eachother then fighting for clear water only to be overhauled by swimmers coming up from behind. I was so pleased to hear the music again coming from the shore as we neared the end of the swim. I was dragged out the water by a kind guy and I was out running towards T1 . I checked my watch and the swim was complete in 1 hr 24x mins so was happy . Later found out the swim was long as my Garmin registered 4650 yards so my swim at Pennington Flash ended up being my fastest to date averaging 1min 50s per100 yards over the distance.

Better then I could have imagined , so I am running towards T1 when I heard Kerry P shouting & encouraging then Dan Ellis shouting “Go on Golly you have got the swim done , go smash the bike “. I changed into my cycling gear and grabbed my my sandwiches . sausage rolls stuffing them into my pockets . I was away coming out of T1 and on to the bike , with the crowd shouting words of encouragement. I settled in to a nice tempo during the early miles of the bike as I started drinking plenty of fluids and eating the sausage rolls. There seemed to spectators all over the place shouting & waving . This was amazing and everything felt right as I turned up Babylon lane for the first time .

Wow the atmosphere on Babylon lane was special as people shouted & cheered as I started to push on up the hill . Once I reached the top & turned right at the pub the route I had recced suddenly changed & we turned a sharp left where the first fuel stop positioned. I was taken by surprise as the road to Sheephouse took you right not left so I was know on unknown roads. I bypassed the fuel stop as I was carrying plenty of nutrition and then I was on a steep descent that I didn’t know or recognise .This road was taking  me as I found out a little later to Anglezarke . The road seemed to start climbing past a pub on the right , and I was pushing on to shouts from the crowd . Then I cycled across a reservoir that I know now was Anglezarke reservoir so it was nice and smooth so time for a sandwich . Then I turned off the reservoir left and hit a road strewn with potholes and my sandwich fell apart as I tried to dodge them but hit every one. My speed dropped dramatically as I didn’t know or like these gravelly pot hole ridden tracks . I was riding under a blanket of trees and just didn’t know where or what was coming up next . Surely this cannot be the Ironman route as the road was dam right dangerous. Then I heard a few shouts of up here turn right ! . I was in my big chain ring at the time , when I turned to be confronted with a 16% climb Anglezarke . Luckily I had Di2 so slipped into my bottom ring and 28t rear quickly as cyclists in front were falling off all around as they had started the climb in the wrong gear.

The crowds up Anglezarke were amazing all shouting & cheering as I pushed on towards the summit when I saw the main men “the Sheephouse Wrestlers”. The music pumped out and they danced high fiving riders as each one conquered Anglezarke . I was in awe of these guys what I spectacle . The descent from the summit of Anglezarke was dodgy to say the least as the road surface was poor and it was a sudden steep drop . I hit a pot hole and my Aero bottle fell off , I had to stop and retrieve it . I pulled to one side but riders were quickly descending as I dodged them to retrieve my aero bottle . The clip was lost so this was going to be interesting to keep it on my bike for another 75x miles. I resorted to descending the rest of the bike ride slowly , holding the bottle in place whilst braking with the other hand. In total I lost the aero bottle 5 times at various points on the course obviously whilst descending when I needed 2 hands on the brakes.

After retrieving my bottle the first time I slowly descended only to find a cyclist had descended to fast and hit the stone wall at the bottom . He was getting attended to by first aiders . The tough descents on poor road surfaces claimed a few casualties around the course . This bike course had suddenly changed into an off road cyclo cross sportif course not a TT bike Ironman course. After Anglezarke the roads seemed to be up hill & down dale , until after a steep descent onto a main dual carriageway the road changed  but only for a mile as we hit Dark lane then through Brindle . I was trying to increase my bike speed when the roads allowed , and the shouts from the spectators spurred you on . Next iconic climb was Hunters , where the crowd were congering up and down the hill with music pumping up the crowd. It felt like the tour de france as you ride through an arch of spectators all keen to encourage and push you up the hill . At the top the local pub was full of enthusiastic spectators possibly fuelled by a beer or three .

 It was great hearing shouts of go Lincsquad all around the course so I waved and shouted thankyous as much as I could . Towards the end of the first Lap I spotted the ”Craig & Gemma Scott” support banner then all the supporters / lincsquadders appeared shouting words of encouragement as I sped past towards Babylon Lane . Seeing all the supporters who travelled across from Scunthorpe was amazing and their support really inspired you to drive on . As you came around on the second lap you were looking for them, to use their immense energy to help you to the finish of the bike leg.

Babylon lane on the 2nd lap was awesome as the street was on full party mode and I was feeling great so I attacked the hill to the crowds delight . The crowd was touching you / tapping you and waving as you went up the hill to amazing shouts from a party active crowd. I  settled into a nice tempo as I had been riding 3 hours & covered 57 miles , so everything was going to plan apart from my Aero bottle dropping off every now & again.  nglezarke second time was tough but again the crowds encouragements literally pushed you up the 16% climb. I again shouted thankyou to the Sheephouse wrestlers high fiving them as I went past smiling . The bike course was tough and I could see it taking its toil as riders were definitely slowing in front . I kept thinking of Ians advice re riding your bike to run a marathon but I knew deep down the run was going to be self preservation then survival.

On the approach to Hunters I noticed Rob Marshall was there shouting words of encouragement. Greatly appreciated Rob thanks. After hitting Hunters for the 2nd time I knew the bike leg was less than hour to be completed , so I had to think about preparing for the run / walk or maybe crawl onto the red carpet . My knee was now hurting so I started taking pain relief as well as fuelling on peanuts and my last couple of sandwiches. Through Standish Steve & Shona Cannings were on the corner shouting encouraging words. ( Thankyou Guys for your support through Standish & in Quens Park )

I approached the “Craig & Gemma” Banners and again all the Lincsquadders were out in force shouting words of support that pushed me on towards Babylon lane for the 3rd & final time . I must say that the support I received from all areas of the Bolton bike course was absolutely unbelievable and I cannot thankyou you guys enough as it really spurred & kicked me on during that tough bike course. Up Babylon lane for the 3rd time with a party in full swing , with all the people having a great time dancing , singing with a true carnival atmosphere exploding up that hill . Now onto Bolton , & T2 in Queens Park for the Marathon run !

Before Bolton the longest I had ever run was a half marathon , so intended Bolton to be my first marathon in an Ironman !! was I stupid or what . Into T2 to rack the bike  after a 5hrs 17mins bike leg then  into the tent for a full change into running gear . I had been competing for nearly 7hrs without a toilet stop , so now was the time and I took my place in the queue .

I started the run with 6 hrs 57 mins on my watch so was well happy , as records showed later  I’d passed 500 athletes on the bike course . But this run course was going to be a different kettle of fish as I entered the streets of Bolton . There seemed to be little wind and it was baking hot nearing 27 degrees , so this run was going to not only test me but the best athletes. I Spotted  my mate Maccy who shouted Golly your doing great !  Then the crowd erupted and I thought WOW is this how the Bolton Ironman crowd support you on the run only to see Joe Skipper ( Leader ) running along side me just starting his last lap . The crowd was electric as they cheered Joe on as I followed him round the city centre then past the Ironman Expo . The Lincsqadders had now assembled in the city centre next to  Subway with Team Gibb near the Exop , and were shouting & waving as I jogged past .

On towards Queens Park is where I caught up with Karen Lynch who was clearly in pain & carrying an injury from being kicked in the ribs on the swim leg . We both entered Queens Park and was faced with a pathway meandering through the park & up a nasty looking hill . A motorcyclist past us on the hill closely followed by the lead lady Lisa Gossard who was on her last lap . Myself & Karen was been screened on the Ironman live site as we ran a few metres with Lucy till she gradually run away from us and up the hill towards Chorley road . With Karen in pain & my right knee issues we were a right pair getting through Queens Park & on to the top road as it was all up hill . We decided to save ourselves & walk the hill through Queens Park and try to up the tempo once on Chorley Road. Chorley Road was also on a gradient for approx 1.5 miles , then you ran downhill back into Queens Park meandering round the park paths . Here myself & Karen formed an alliance vowing to get each other through this Ironman Marathon run no matter what !

I was trying to encourage Karen who was clearly in a lot of pain , as  I tried to hid my own frailties to keep us both moving on & through the aid stops. We kept going chatting & motivating eachother to keep moving forward down Chorley Road & into Queens Park . In the park  we were encouraged by the support & shouts from Steve & Shona Cannings , boy did both Steve & Shona witness our deterioration as we progressed through the Ironman run . We were through Queens Park on lap 1 and getting out our wrist band to signify a lap complete . This spurred us on as we both knew the Linsquadders were in position at Subway corner to cheer us on . Round to Lap 2 onto Queens Park up the hill  & back onto Chorley road as we kept moving forward taking on what aid was on offer . A kind gentleman was spraying all the runners with his garden hose as we all ran past his garden . This was much appreciated as the temperature as risen to 27 degrees and everyone was feeling the heat .

Around the 10x  mile point of the Marathon on the Chorley Road Craig Scott caught us up . We chatted for a while encouraging each other as we started to enter the dark places most Ironman experience at some point in the run . Craig was certainly going  a lot better than we were at that time & he gradually pulled away . Throughout the rest of the run we crissed crossed Scott who kept shouting and encouraging . He went on to finish 40mins in front of myself & Karen, a great performance in his first Ironman . We kept pushing on and we were back in Queens Park , with the enthusiastic spectators enjoying the sunshine laid on the hill side and sat on park benches eating Ice creams & drinking . I so wanted to join them but we had to keep moving on .

We got our 2nd wrist band so we half way , I kept talking to Karen come on only 2x laps left . The Streets of Bolton are coming up with the immense Linsquadders support so we had to keep running . I was starting to fall apart as my right knee was in crisis and my right Achilles was hurting . Karen seemed to get a second wind & was starting to push on as we got into Queens Park . She seemed to be getting strength from somewhere as I was starting to flounder . Up through Queens Park onto Chorley road and Karen was really starting to fire and push on where as I wanted to stop . This was the point the alliance was broken as I told Karen to go on alone . She was adamant she wouldn’t leave me but I insisted. It was gutting to see Karen run away but we both knew she had a lot more to offer then I did at that time . I kept focussed  but only running a bit then walking thinking would I be in the same state as both the famous ladies who crawled across the finish line in the IRONMAN 1997 when their bodies had just about given in . Back into Queens Park over the bridge to receive my 3rd wrist band . Come on Golly last lap only 6.5 miles to go know lets push on !! I kept telling myself . The lincsquadders cheers around the city centre streets spurred me on but I was hurting so much could I possibly finish . Deeper into the lap & through Queens Park up the hill onto Chorley Road again for my last lap . There was a double decker bus with the world cup final been beamed to the side of the bus . Could see France were leading and every step was a step nearer to a Iron man finish  . I could see Karen at the turns on Chorley road and she wasn’t too far in front . Could I catch her !! push on Golly lets do this !! . I checked my watch and I looked once then twice then thought if you really go through the pain barrier you could break 12hrs for this Ironman race . I kept running slowly then walking abit and here I was getting my last band no 4 . Come on Golly only just over  a mile left can we do it . The last mile was pure torture as I pushed my old flailing body to places it never had been pushed before to keep going ,while other athletes were laid in the gutter with some keeling over in the heat . Then onto the streets of Bolton and past the Cheering lincsquadders for the last time onwards to the finish . I was so chuffed as the finish was within sight !! . I checked round to see who was finishing with me as I wanted so much to go onto the red carpet on my own . I let two guys go then the red carpet was clear to enter  & run alone through the Finish . Mark Gollings YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”

Tears in my eyes it was so emotional !! . Could I believe I done it !! . Into the finshers tent where Karen was awaiting for me . She said well done Mark you’re an Ironman ! . I said Karen how the hell have we done that !! You’re an Ironman too so well done .

I finished the marathon in 5hrs 5 mins to give an overall time 12 hrs 2 mins , a little gutted not to break 12x hrs but I did try .

Special thank yous to all the people who ventured across to Bolton to support us all as it was much appreciated . Thankyou to Kerry Padley for videoing my run onto the red carpet up to the finish .

Well done to Craig on his supreme Ironman finish in 11 hrs 42 mins .

Special well done to Leigh Peat for his fantastic performance in his first ever triathlon !!

What a baptism of fire that was Leigh !

Special kudos to the ladies Sue Couch & Gemma Scott who  gave everything they had to finish that tough Bolton UK Ironman .

I hope my story comes across as it was intended – : an honest assessment of my days racing at Bolton with my all the emotions I went through both high & lows experienced in the event.

Regards Mark