DISCLAIMER: This is not the official race guide for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire. This is an unofficial guide written to help athletes familiarise themselves with the course. The official IRONMAN Athlete Guide is compulsory reading and will become available close to race day at https://www.ironman.com/im703-staffordshire
All information provided here is based on my experience at the 2022 event, however things may well be different when you compete. Always defer to the information in the athlete guide and that which is provided by team members on site.
I have written a guide for a generic M-dot branded race day which goes more into the nitty gritty that can be found here, where this article will focus more on what makes the Staffordshire course itself unique.
Congratulations on taking the plunge and signing up for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire. Whether this is your first 70.3 or your 100th, I’m sure you’re going to have a great day. The course is the toughest half distance event I’ve ever raced, so underestimate it at your peril. The swim can be choppy, the rolling bike course has a real sting in its tail, and the run features a punishing hill up to Staffordshire Castle and back.
This will probably be the longest section of this article, all of the logistics involved with setting your transition area up. I remember thinking on the Saturday how I was looking forward to the Sunday morning, as the amount of faffing I had to do to get myself setup on the Saturday was mind boggling. This is a very difficult race logistically, and you have little hope of getting everything done without access to a vehicle of some sort.
Firstly, if at all possible, I recommend you travel up to Staffordshire and stay over on the Friday night, and register on the Friday if at all possible. The reason for this is two fold. Firstly, you have more time to get everything done, and don’t run the risk of running out of time. Secondly, if you get ready to leave on the Saturday morning and your car won’t start or your train is cancelled, you have time to sort it out. The registration tent closes midday on Saturday, and if you arrive any later than this you won’t be able to race.
Registration and T2 Setup
Registration and T2 are both in the town centre, so I recommend you head down with everything you need for your run bag. This should include your running shoes and any additional clothing and/or nutrition you may want for the run course. For registration you will need photo ID (passport or driving license) as well as your proof of entry, in 2022 this took the form of a QR code we needed ready to be scanned. T2 is a long way from the town centre car park recommended by IRONMAN, so make sure you factor this into your timings.
Upon registering you will receive an IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire backpack, wristband, race number, series of stickers, swim cap, blue bag, red bag, white bag and some promotional items. You will receive your timing chip in T1, so don’t worry about that just yet. Apply your stickers to your red bag and place the items you need for the run inside of it. It is worth running through in your mind the things you’ll have on you at the time, and the things you think you might need.
You can now enter T2 (using your wristband as ID) to hang your red bag onto your hook in the marquee. From here, walk all the way from your bag to the entry to T2, where you’ll be arriving with your bike on Sunday. From here, plot out your walk to your bike racking point. This is denoted by stickers on each piece of racking, one of which will have your race number on it. Plan your exact route from racking your bike over to the marquee, so you don’t run the risk of getting confused on the day.
While you’re in T2 you can check out the merchandise tent if you’re that way inclined, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you will get a free technical T-shirt when you finish tomorrow.
Transition 1 for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire is a bit of a nightmare. Firstly you have to find the car park for T1, avoiding the directions your satnav will give you over a bridge that is closed to traffic. Once in the T1 car park you then unload all the gear you need, build your bike back up (giving it a test ride to make sure it works as it should), then wait for a shuttle bus to take you to T1 itself. Once you disembark the bus, you then have a 10-15 minute walk to transition. After leaving T2, you should budget between 60 and 90 minutes to get to T1. As a result of the logistics involved, it’s worth triple checking you have everything you need before leaving for T1. You will have access to your blue bags on Sunday morning if you forget something small such as your sunglasses, but it’s a stress you can do without.
Before entering T1 itself you will need to ensure your stickers are on your helmet, bike and blue bag. Your helmet will need to be on your head, with the strap tightened so marshals can check it is fitted correctly.
Once inside T1, your first job is to find your racking point. Like T2, you will have a designated racking point denoted by a sticker with your race number. Rack your bike in a way which doesn’t cause an obstruction to other athletes, and make your way to the marquee to hang your bike bag in the same manner as your run bag. You can then collect your timing chip from the volunteers at the far end of the marquee.
While a walkthrough of T2 is a nice to have, a walk through of T1 is essential. When you come out of the swim you will probably be slightly disorientated with your heart rate pounding and the excitement of making it out of the water. As a result, it’s easy to misplace your bag and even your bike, costing you time, but more importantly, causing you stress.
If at all possible, it’s ideal that you coincide your visit to T1 with the official swim practice. this gives you a chance to experience the waters of Chasewater Reservoir. Perhaps it was a one off, but despite very little wind in 2022, it was the choppiest fresh water swim I’ve ever experienced. Nothing you can’t handle, but if it’s as bad the year you race, it will help your confidence knowing what to expect on the day itself to avoid any panic attacks.
With your bike and run kit in place, you have everything you need to succeed on race day in place. Time to head back to your accommodation, take a load off, and focus on rest and nutrition ahead of the big day tomorrow.
Due to the inaccessible nature of T1, IRONMAN put on a shuttle bus from the town centre to the start. Make sure you have everything you need for the swim (including your timing chip) and head to the pickup point with a lot of time to spare. The first few shuttle buses are for athletes only, where the following buses are also open to spectators. You can’t get to T1 early enough in my opinion, as this allows for faff time, getting changed, and a final toilet visit.
Once you are changed into your trisuit, wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and any other accessories, place your other clothing in your white bag and hand it into the volunteers at the trucks. These will be waiting for you to collect at the finish. IRONMAN recommend you don’t leave any valuables in these bags, so it’s best to leave your phone and keys with a spectator if at all possible.
The swim will likely be wetsuit optional, with the vast majority of swimmers opting for the wetsuit option thanks to improved buoyancy and warmth.
Once you are ready for your IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire race day, take your place by lining up alongside the board with your expected swim time. If in doubt, go for a little bit slower, as it’s preferable to pick your way past slower swimmers, than to be half drowned by faster, potentially aggressive swimmers. If you are a faster swimmer yourself, it’s worth getting to the swim pens extra early, as they fill up fast and you could find yourself surrounded by swimmers aiming for a much slower time.
Once the race officially starts athletes will make their way though the wooden hut and onto the pier itself, which provides an opportunity for you to wash your goggles with water to reduce fogging, if that works for you.
You will then be asked to line up in threes, and released at five second intervals. Once you cross the timing mat your race has begun and you are on the clock.
IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Swim Course
There is a gentle ramp which takes you down into the waters of Chasewater reservoir. If you are an experienced swimmer you can enter with some gusto, where more nervous swimmers are better off making a slow entry. The course is made up of a series of left hand turns, followed by a right hand turn at the end. You will make three major left hand turns, so count these as you go, and visualise the map in your head to give you a good idea of how far you have left to go.
If you are a stronger swimmer and holding pace, then staying to the left will be the slightly faster way round, where if you’re a nervous swimmer, it may be worth taking a slightly wider line to stay out of trouble.
As mentioned earlier, the water was pretty choppy in 2022. If this is the case when you are racing, you can compensate for this by lifting your head slightly higher out of the water to breathe, and slightly increasing your stroke rate. This isn’t the time or place for a slow, aesthetically pleasing pool stroke, this is all about adapting your stroke for speed in tough conditions. Focus on keeping your breathing relaxed, and roll onto your back if you need to catch a breath. Despite the chop, I didn’t take a single mouthful of water while swimming, in part due to my ability to breathe to both sides. If there is chop coming in from the right, and you can only breathe to your right, you might be in for a rough swim. As it’s a course made up of left turns, the ability to breathe to your left will also make your sighting more effective.
In the last 50M you may want to try kicking your legs a little harder to get the blood flowing and prevent disorientation coming into T1. At the end of the swim you will come out at a launching ramp for watercraft. This ramp is very slippy, so don’t be too proud to refuse help from the volunteers. Once off the ramp you can make your way into T1.
There is a sizeable run up to T1, so keep this in mind. If you are feeling disorientated then you may want to walk rather than run. When swimming you are in a horizontal position surrounded by cool water, which keeps your heart rate low. Once you stand up and start walking/running, your heart rate shoots up to adapt, which can result in light headedness. You can work on reducing this by practicing a very short run out of the water in open water training sessions. If you can practice removing your wetsuit at the same time, even better.
Once you make it to the marquee you can head straight for your bag, then straight out the other side where there will be a collection of benches available for you to sit down and change on. Unlike a sprint or Olympic where seconds lost in transition are vital, it’s worth taking a bit more time in a 70.3 transition to put on socks if desired, apply suncream or extra layers if the weather demands them. It may cost you an extra 15 seconds, but you’ll lose a lot more than that if you get hypothermic, sunburnt or develop blisters. Once you are ready for the bike, you can pass your blue bag (now full of your swim kit) to a volunteer, who will place it on a truck destined for the finish line.
From here you can make your way to your bike, grab it from its rack, and make for the bike mount line. It’s quite a distance to the mount line if your bike is close to the marquee, so keep this in mind. Once at the mount line hop on your bike in a way which won’t block other athletes and get ready for the bike course.
IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Bike Course
The ride is a 90KM point to point route, which to my knowledge has remained largely unchanged in recent years, so it’s unlikely it will be different for you if you are reading this the right side of 2030.
To start with, you will head out on a pretty rough road out of the reservoir. The tarmac is broken up, and any nutrition not firmly attached to your bike is likely to be ejected rather unceremoniously. If you have rear mounted bottle cages, it may be worth using some rubber bands or velcro to keep them more secure for this part of the course. Even if you’re not running rear mounted bottle cages, keep and eye out for bottles in the road, which may have been ejected. Once you’re onto smoother roads it’s worth thinking about nutrition. It’s probably the best part of an hour since you had anything to eat by now, so worth keeping on top of those energy stores.
There is a gentle but prolonged uphill from here. For those who have not ridden in the UK before, the roads are pretty narrow, potholed and rolling for the entirity of the route. You can only fit an absolute maximum of three riders on one side of the road (you’re not allowed to cross the centre line of the road) and there is very little flat. It’s definitely a course for triathlon bikes or aero bars if you own them, but make full use of your gears on the hills, and stay cautious on the unsighted corners.
The first half of the bike will probably pass by relatively quickly, but once you reach the 35 mile mark, you’re in for a challenge. Now, at 55KG and I have an FTP of 4W/KG, I’m well suited for long climbs. However, I struggled here. You will be reaching this climb with 2-3 hours of racing under your belt, and unless your pacing and nutrition have been on point, this climb will find you wanting. Of the club members I attended the race with, the vast majority of us underestimated this climb, and suffered their way to the top.
The loop of the Chase Climb section is 18Km long, and the KOM is 27 minutes, so the average competitor should budget around 40 minutes for this section alone. At the top of the climb you will reach a wooded area where a feed station is located. Take the time to stock up on what you need here. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’m almost off the bike, I don’t need to stop” as you still have 15 miles to ride, including a couple of small hills, as well as T2 and the first 2KM of the run before you reach the next aid station. After this is a technical downhill including a very sharp left hand turn. Don’t get too carried away here, and ride within your ability.
The main takeaway point here is to keep something in reserve for this section. Rather than scrapping for position and fighting to get ahead of other riders on the smaller hills earlier in the course, it’s better to keep things comfortable, and save a bit of energy for this climb. You’ll still be around halfway through your race by the time you reach this climb, so can’t afford for it to send you into the red.
If you are hurting from the climb the last 15 miles will be tough, but they’re not overly challenging. Keep eating and drinking, maybe avoiding solids ahead of the run. Get your head down, and start shifting your focus towards the finale.
The mount line is just before a sharp left hander, and is well sighted. Make sure you dismount in time or you may have to make a visit to the penalty tent, which is stress you don’t need. Rack the bike you’re likely to see the back of onto your designated space, then make your way with everything towards the marquee, where you’ll grab your red bag and choose a bench like you did in T1.
Change into your run kit, and stuff everything from the bike into your red bag, and thank the volunteer as you hand them your kit bag. There are toilets available in T2 if you’re busting.
Now all that stands between you and the finish line is 13.1 miles of running. Oh, and a massive hill you have to run up twice.
IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Run Course
As you head out of T2 you’ll run alongside the river for just short of a mile before you pick up the course. You will follow this for a short while, then reach a junction where you bear left for laps, or right for the finish. Keep to the left and follow it through a town centre section.
As you are on your way out of the town centre you will make your way over a humpback bridge. This is worth mentioning as it’s pretty steep and will likely burn your quads as you make your way over it. If you are already suffering, you may want to consider walking this. I saw a lot of people vomiting in proximity to this hill, so it’s far better to knock it off a bit and keep your energy gels where they belong, rather than trying to be a hero.
On your way out of town you’ll make your way out towards a main road where you’ll bear right onto a pretty uninspiring out and back section along a dual carriageway. Upon completing this you’ll make your way onto Newport Road.
Newport Road is a slight uphill which will last for just short of a mile, which seems unfair for a triathlon run course. However, this isn’t the end of the fun. You will then do a right onto a narrow road which takes you up to the castle. I hope it’s not an understatement to say that this hill will rip your legs off. Between the bottom of Newport Road all the way up to the castle is 60M of elevation gain, and the gradient maxes out at 17%. I was suffering with significant stomach problems by this part in the race, so for the first lap I walked the entirety of this section. On the second lap once the stomach cramps had subsided I ran the Newport Road section, but still felt the steep road up to the castle was difficult to justify running, as it’s not an awful lot faster than walking for me.
Once you reach the castle you’ll run a lap before making your way towards the downhill section, where it really is worth running if your legs will let you, maximising the momentum to let gravity pull you down. Once at the bottom of Newport road you’ll follow it along, make a short lap around a pond, back over the humpback bridge then back into town to start lap two. Once you have completed your second castle hill rep it’s only 5K to the finish (one parkrun to go), so put on the afterburners here if you still have something in the tank to push onto the largely downhill/flat finish.
While the bike course is challenging, but manageable with the right pacing strategy, this run course is probably the most brutal of any M-dot branded event I’m familiar with. It’s not impossible to run all of it by any means, you just need to consider the amount of elevation when deciding on your pacing strategy. If you have run a flat 70.3 at a pace of 5:00 per KM for instance, you may want to head out at 5:10 or maybe even 5:20 per KM, at least on the first lap, to ensure you still have the legs to run the hills.
On completion of your second lap you’ll bear right at the junction to take in your finish line experience. Savour the moment here, whip up the crowds, be generous with the high fives, and collect your well earned medal in the finisher’s area. Here you can grab a slice of pizza, collect a paper bag with some freebies, then follow the path around to the left where you can collect your white bag with your clothing in.
Next up you need to collect your bike and other equipment from T2. It’s a long walk from the finish line, so factor this into your plans for the day. Regardless of your time, you should feel proud of your achievement and wear your finisher’s T-shirt with pride. I was a full 90 minutes slower on this course than my PB at the distance, which should give you an idea of how challenging it is.
If you are looking for help preparing for your event, check out our range of 70.3 training plans here: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/my-training-plans/70.3plans