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Road to Ironman UK: The February and March update - hills, cleats and feasts


Read the next instalment from Mara on her journey towards her first long distance triathlon.

After January felt like a big month in training, February and March felt a lot calmer in some ways - the weather played a big part in training during those months. As I write this, London is basking in the sun and writing about the Beast from the East weather feels like a lifetime ago. 

In February, I bought my cleats and road shoes for cycling. I was prepared for my first wibbles and wobbles and falls on the bike. But the weather had other plans; with the Beast from the East, cycling outdoors was proving to be a nightmare. My Raynauds got really bad during the weather, forcing me to do a lot of my runs and rides indoors. On one occasion, during a long ride, the pain in my hands had become so bad that I couldn’t apply the brakes. In the end, Jon and I decided I’d do my rides on the wattbike until the  and my cleats and shoes gathered dust awaiting the time I would use them. 




I‘m incorporating core workouts regularly into my training plan and sticking to it- which is a first! For all the marathons and ultras I’ve done before Ironman, I’ve honestly never been so good at working on my core and upper body! But in my pursuit to complete Ironman UK, I have really tried to stick with them. Ok, admittedly, if there is ever a workout I have to miss or swap, it will often be my strength session. I feel a bit naughty doing that, but then I try to stick in some exercises during a session that was at a low intensity.


Another aspect to training I’m really trying to incorporate is stretching. Come Friday evenings, I’m usually starting to feel a little sore all over, and after the Saturday long bike ride and run brick sessions followed by Sunday long runs, my legs suffer serious serious DOMS from the weekend’s endurance antics. Even more so, I’ve never been so grateful before with ending the week with lazy Sunday afternoons: bubble baths, dressing gown on and Netflix.   

For my race calendar leading up to Ironman UK, the big event in February was another Evans Ride It road sportive. This one was their London Gatwick Sportive and was made  up of 53 miles with 3,483 feet of elevation. I had never cycled that total elevation before and I kid you not, it was hard. But at least the feed stations were like feasts. Absolute feasts. Sportives have won over by the feasts these organisers lay on at the feed stations -  marathons and obstacle course races just don’t compare! I was still cycling in trainers at this point and going up some of those hills felt impossibly hard. On two climbs I struggled to the point I had to get off the bike and walk the rest of them. To end the day, Jon had scheduled that sportive as my first long bike-run brick session - the moment I arrived home after a hot shower and quick dinner, I slept like a baby - I was exhausted. That day made me realise I needed to practice more hill work. 


March started to pick up pace a little bit. No major races were planned apart from the Velopark Ladies’ Duathlon. It was a brilliant event seeing so many women taking part and also seeing so many different cyclists use hybrids, mountain bikes and road bikes, cleats or no cleats. The hill reps and turbo repeats I’d been doing clearly were starting to make a difference as I was able to cycle round the road circuit at a faster pace and without the struggles I had previously felt. The longer distances on the bike didn’t feel so bad on the legs and I was getting used to the post-bike leg feelings during the run in a brick session.Things were looking up. Positive thoughts reappeared: I will be able to complete the bike course during IM UK if I continue to work on these hill reps. Yes Mara!

Something came up during that week that highlighted a serious point about the way in which cycling brands treat new cyclists or those who don’t ride with cleats. The Ladies’ Duathlon was done as part of the celebrations for International Women’s Day. And there were plenty of brands who were taking part in the celebrations too. Rapha was hosting a week of events and ending with bike rides of different distances to mark the day. I was so excited. I knew I could cycle the longest distance (75.8km) so I signed up.

A few days before the ride, all riders received an email containing all the health and safety briefings. Among this, we were told we weren’t allowed on the ride if we didn’t have cleats. Pardon? I emailed them back, feeling quite angry. If sportives allow cyclists who don’t have cleats, why would an organised ride refuse entry to participants on the grounds that they didn’t have cleats? It is exactly these kind of barriers from brands that can prevent people from taking up cycling or triathlons. People have all sorts of reasons for not wearing cycling shoes - financial or comfort among other reasons. I emailed Rapha questioning the reasoning behind it and was told that “generally for a ride that heads out of London, it’s more comfortable to do so with clipless pedals.” During these months that I have been training for Ironman, I have met one lady who completed the bike course for an Ironman event on flat pedals. By Rapha’s reasoning, despite her obvious capability, she wouldn’t have been allowed onto the ride. This pure and utter snobbery frustrated me. The Marketing Manager then mentioned I could join the ride if I wanted to or join the shorter distance instead, but from her response, it was clear I wasn’t welcome. 

This bad experience was counteracted by the cycling club, Dirty Wknd. I’d heard about them last year but up until February, had felt too nervous to join their rides. So many London cycling clubs advertise themselves as newbie-friendly, yet set minimum pacing standards they expect you to be at. Dirty Wknd had told me hundreds of times they had a no-drop policy and welcomed cyclists of all levels but I just couldn’t believe them. They just sounded too good to be true. I was totally afraid I would be too slow for them. Yet, somehow, nervously, one Saturday morning, I found myself in a west London cycling cafe, listening to the pre-ride safety briefing and getting ready for a ride to Box Hill in Surrey with the club. I was still cycling in trainers by the way. And you know what? I enjoyed myself and found that they really do have a no-drop policy and really do welcome people of all levels. One of the best things I discovered about myself on that ride was that I could even cycle faster than I knew. On my own I had been struggling to hit certain speeds but with this club I was hitting speeds way above my targets without feeling too exhausted. Faith in myself had been restored again that I definitely would be able to complete the bike course of Ironman much before the cut off time.     

  To round off the month, I finally managed to make the switch to clipless pedals! Yes, finally! I spent half an hour a few days after work cycling on the grassy areas in the local park practising clipping in and out. It felt like learning to ride all over again - the bike felt so wobbly and unstable. When things began to feel more comfortable, I started to practice in a cul-de-sac. And on cue, the falls happened.As is the rite of passage when switching to clipless pedals, I fell off so many times in that cul-de-sac. One time, I crashed right onto the concrete paving, ripping my favourite bibbed tights. R.I.P. Altura bibbed tights. I had my first ever triathlon booked in two weeks and I was beginning to wonder when I’d be able to get used to this clipping in, clipping out malarky. 

Writing this post now, it’s so interesting to see how much I’ve learnt over the past few months. I’m gaining confidence and acquiring so many skills I never thought I would have achieved before. And, just to let you know, I’m mastering (and enjoying) hill climbs as well as clipping in and clipping out of the pedals. What will I achieve in April?





You can catch up on Mara’s training on Instagram here and on The Fit Londoner blog.

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