Ironman UK – Bolton 2012

Recently Chris completed her innagural Ironman finishing with an impressive (modest) 6th in age, here is her race report.

Sunday July 22nd 2012, a day that seemed so far away when I signed up to race Ironman UK last October. I must have been in some sort of frenzy at the time, because I also committed to do the London Marathon in April, the Hampshire Hilly 100 mile Cycle Sportif in May and Ironman UK 70.3 in June.

 After relocating the entire family to the UK last August, I really wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve any of these goals. I had left my training buddies behind and a training routine that was well oiled. Where was I going to do my training? Open Water Swimming in the UK – Brrrrr, cycling on the narrow roads – Ahhhhh . Running, well that seemed OK, a road is a road until 3 days after I turned 40 and my knees decided to give me endless grief.

Help came in the form of Tongy aka Andrew Tong. Tongy is a long time friend and triathlon coach. Thankfully, he agreed to coach me remotely from Oz. I looked forward to receiving my weekly schedules and eagerly awaited our regular Skype sessions. Tongy was a gem through the whole process. He believed in me from the start and I trusted his approach. Despite injury he coached me to finish the London Marathon running to pace. Whilst not achieving a PB I still cracked a sub 4 hour result. Despite chuckling when I mentioned the 100 mile sportif, Tongy’s  cycle sessions both on the road and on the turbo meant I had no troubles on the ride coming a respectable 5th in my age group. His controlled brick sessions and firm stance re rest days ensured my Ironman UK 70.3 attempt was a success. Noted as the toughest 70.3 in the world, I managed to finish 8th in my age group in 6.46.58.

Still despite all of the above, the thought of doing a full ironman scared the hell out of me. Soon enough July arrived and before I knew it, we were on our way to Bolton. We arrived on Friday afternoon and went to register at the Reebok Sports Stadium. I picked up my race pack and had a good look around the expo. I really wanted to buy a few logo items but wasn’t feeling worthy just yet and did want to jinx myself. We then headed back into Bolton to register the kids for their ironkids event. They were really excited and it was great to see all the preparations taking place in the Main Square of Bolton. I stood for a few moments and tried to imagine what it might be like to run through the finish shute and under the ironman arch!!! Room service Pasta for dinner and tried to get an early night.

Kids race started at 8am on the Saturday morning. It was so much fun. James was first up and using his blade hand running style came 4th in the 13-15 age group. Grace stormed off to a flying start in her race and kept a smashing pace taking first female in her age group to cross the finish line. Libby produced a solid effort in her race smiling most of the way and coming middle of the pack. I am so proud of all three of them and it was a great motivation for me during my race.

After the kids race, we then had to drive all over Lancashire to drop of transition bags and the bike. I can’t imagine how you could possibly do this race on your own without any support. The bike and the blue bag had to be dropped at Pennington Flash about a 30 min drive from Bolton. Then we headed to Rivington, to a high school to drop the Red Bag. I didn’t enjoy this drive as we got lost and I had a sneak preview at the mountain I was going to have to climb 3 times. Another 20 mins in the car and then back to Bolton. I dropped off Dave and kids then headed to the race Briefing back at the Reebok stadium. Phew!! A lot of driving and a pretty unrelaxed way to spend the day before the race.  The briefing said all the usual stuff, but I love how triathlete’s pretend to listen, when indeed they are checking each other out!!!

Couldn’t sleep much at all, and before I knew it the alarm was sounding. Kids and Dave had agreed to be with me at the start and they were all amazing getting up and ready with minimal fuss. We got to the start at around 4.30am’ ish and made our way up to the transition so I could check my bike and get nutrition sorted. TICK. The we waited around taking photo’s and watching nerves build. I got into my wetsuit around 5.15am and then made our way down to the water. It was a mass start in the water. I thought I was standing in the middle nearer the back of the queue. I was wrong after getting into the lake and looking back some 200m from the start buoy, there were still hundreds of people filing in. I wondered whether I had gotten in too early but soon enough the gun sounded and we were off. There was quite a bit of pushing and pulling  and “biff and bash” swimming out to the first buoy but things soon settled for me as I got into a rhythm and there is plenty of clear water once you get underway and pacing sorts every one out. There was a good few hundred meters where I felt like I was inhaling diesel fumes, apparently to do with a marina you swim past. There was a small run section in between the first and second lap. As I approached the edge I was helped out and I scooted along waving at the family and feeling good, ready for lap 2. A much easier swim second time around, and I felt good running into T1.

As I struggled to get my wetsuit off in T1, it suddenly dawned on me that I had just finished the first part of Ironman. I needed to stay composed but felt very excited. I headed out to my bike and made my way to the exit. The first bit of road is the car park and narrow road out of the country park.  I said a quick goodbye to the murky waters of the Pennington Flash, as we didn’t come back here due to the split transitions.  As I rode out there were quite a few speed humps, and I slowed up a bit as I heard something drop. By the time I had realised that it was part of my nutrition (2 x Mule Bars) falling out  from my bento box , I decided I wasn’t turning around and knew I would just have to take on some extra nutrition at each aid station. I smiled as I thought this was one of those “curve balls” Tongy had warned me about that lurked around every corner in IM. The course then heads onto a flat and fast section in Wigan, heading through Bolton to the Lancashire hills and the start of the three laps. The course is undulating and there is one major climb which we rode three times at the start of each lap. There is 5249 ft of climbing on the course, but it wasn’t until the 3rd lap that I actually started to feel the burn. I hadn’t actually rode a full 180kms before and I began to get a little concerned that I may have gone to hard on the previous 2 laps. My legs started to slow and it felt like my back bike tyre was flat but after constant checking I knew it wasn’t. I continued to push on but it felt like every other female competing that day was overtaking me. I just couldn’t seem to go any faster. My Garmin started to beep non-stop around the 165km mark and I could not work out how to stop it, but this was a welcomed distraction from what was happening to my legs and my declining speed on the bike. Finally, after being told by each person that passed me on the bike that I was beeping, I made way into T2. My legs were jelly and as one of the volunteers grabbed my bike to rack it, he couldn’t push it. The rear wheel was seizing. I was so relieved to be off I put it out of my mind, again managed a quick smile as I muttered to myself, that’s Part 2 done. I did however find out, when I collected my bike the next day, that in fact my spoke had broken. The wheel was warped and rubbing against the brake. Can’t believe it, but again that’s ironman, race day and just another curve ball!

I grabbed my Run Bag from a sea of red bags and found a bench. I took my Gilet off as it was really hot and put fresh socks and runners on.  I re-glided my arms etc to avoid chaffing, my worst enemy, and grabbed my gels and headed out to pound the scorching pavement.

The run was downhill for the first 1km or so, which was great and allowed me to settle into my pace. It was incredibly hot and despite Dave warning me that morning about sunscreen, I didn’t apply it. I was feeling a little scorched but knew I needed to focus on staying hydrated and in control.

As we headed toward Bolton the course was a mix of a few hills and some off road. We ran along a cycle path which is the most isolated part of the course, but it was here I seemed to find my pace. I was overtaking people continually. As we ran toward the main street of Bolton where we would start the 3 laps and we had to climb some steepish hills to get up onto the road. I HATE hills, but so many people stopped and walked, I decided to just keep shuffling.  I had no idea how far to go except that I had three laps to do and it would be mental game working toward each coloured arm band. I had accidently stopped my Garmin 910 as I took off my Gilet, so I decided not to worry about time or distance but just about pace. I stuck to my pace religiously, as I knew from the London marathon , what I could cope with. The knees held out til about the last lap, but by this time, I knew I could do it. I had the yellow arm band and the pink, I just needed the green. When I put my arm out for the volunteer to put it on, I wanted to kiss him. I was so happy. The run leg of an ironman is incredible. So many competitors, stop and walk (ed note, Chris did not stop to walk), there is an amazing sense of comradeship between everybody, urging each other on. The spectators go wild, and whilst I only knew Dave and the kids, and they were amazing on the run course with their support, so many people called out my name or shouted “GO GIRL”.

As I ran down toward the finish shute, am overwhelming sense of emotion overcame me. I still had 100m to go, but the tears were already there. Dave and the kids held out the Aussie flag and after high fiving them I took it and ran towards the IM Arch and I heard the announcer say, Christine Kells, You are an Ironman. I did it, I couldn’t believe it. That was me he just announced.  It was the hardest race I have ever done, full of huge physical and mental challenges. The journey to get even to the start line, let alone the finish, is all consuming, BUT I loved it, every single bit of it. A huge, enormous THANKYOU to my wonderful, amazing supportive, Husband, David. Without him I couldn’t do or even think about doing something like an Ironman. He is everything to me, and has travelled every part of this journey. To my wonderful and patient kids I love you, and you inspire me everyday to achieve more. To Tongy, well what can I say, I hope I did you proud and Thank you for your belief and support. To Caterina, my UK training buddy, thanks for all the miles and the smiles. To Bel, thanks for the constant inspiration. To my family and friends, who have listened to me rave on, about training, racing, nutrition, being tired, etc etc I cannot thank you enough.

Now I guess from Ironman I go back to “ironing woman”…… stay tuned……

1 Response to “Ironman UK – Bolton 2012”


  1. 1 moniquesmantra 20 September, 2012 at 17:19

    Awesome work Chris…Remote Coach so No Excuses ….Enjoyed your Blog Andrew …… Training while traveling need the motivation to get back into it !!!! No Iron Women more like a Shuffler but got to start some where!!!!! cheers


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