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Home / Blog / ‘Challenge Sophie’ takes on Ironman Wales

‘Challenge Sophie’ takes on Ironman Wales

A post-uni epiphany spurs Sophie Radcliffe to take on the jungles of Borneo, the UK's Three Peaks - and now Ironman Wales

Six years ago I graduated from university and was living in London. I realised I was unfit and spending too much time in the pub, I felt something was missing.

So I signed up for an adventure race in the jungles of Borneo and trained for six months with British Military Fitness classes. I bought a bike and remember how the thought of cycling eight miles to work and back seemed out of the question.

I worked at it and challenged myself to get fitter, and when the time came I loved every minute of the race in Borneo. ‘Challenge Sophie’ was born and I was hooked!

Since then I’ve been dreaming up new challenges, involving cycling, mountains or anything adventurous. I decided I wanted to cycle London to Paris in 24 hours and planned it in the pub with some friends I met in a bike forum.

The weather conditions were horrendous and my lack of cycling experience meant everyone had to wait for me at the top of the hills in the freezing rain. We persisted and the feeling of achievement was immense, a great motivation for more challenges.

In 2012 I cycled from London to Amsterdam in 48 hours and did the Three Peaks Cycle Challenge with a few friends. We climbed the UK’s three highest peaks (Ben Nevis, Snowden and Scafell Pike) and cycled between them in three days, a total of 450 miles of cycling and on the go for 19 hours a day. It was an epic adventure and really opened my eyes to what is possible.

Ironman Wales

It’s been my goal for a while to do an Ironman, so I took the plunge and signed up for Ironman Wales, taking place on the 8th of September.

The last six months have been an incredible journey. My coach Mark Kleanthous says: “It’s not all about the training and racing for an Ironman. It’s about the adventure to get there, knowledge gained and the great people you meet along the way.”

I went on a training camp in Spain and met some great triathletes who provided me with inspiration, support and friendship. It’s been amazing and I can’t wait to continue building on these relationships with more races, challenges and adventures over the next year.

Training your way

There seems to be a huge amount of hype surrounding Ironman. Everywhere you turn, there’s a book, an expert, article, friend, telling you what you should be doing, how much training you should do, how much of your life you have to give up and how hard it’s going to be.

Everyone is different and it’s down to each of us to know our strengths, our body and mind and to work with what we have within our time limits. I knew I had a good endurance base from the 24hour+ bike rides I’ve done. I also felt I would lose focus and motivation if I tried to train every day for months.

In June I built endurance through mountaineering, climbing and cycling in the Alps. I cycled the course for the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon and found it tough! However, it really helped to train my body and mind for pushing limits.

Sophie in the Alps

Finding a coach

With seven weeks to go until Ironman Wales, I was struggling to stick to a training schedule and with not knowing what I should be doing. So I called Mark Kleanthous – Ironmate – and explained my situation. I was expecting to hear a tone in his voice that made me feel like I had left it too late, that I had let myself down and was going to suffer in my quest to become an Ironman.

Instead he filled me with confidence from our first conversation. He explained that we would need to move fast but that we still had time to get me to the start. It’s been great to trust Mark’s expertise and focus on doing the best I can, without worrying about what training to do.

Mark is all about empowering people to achieve the best results they can with the time, experience and talents they have. He has never made me feel bad if I missed out on a training session and encourages me to listen to my body.

My goal for Ironman is to cross the finish line and enjoy it. I think it’s important to figure out what your motivation and goals are and stick to them.

Racing hard, resting well

Six weeks before Wales I did my first triathlon – the London Triathlon – and placed eighth in my category. A week later I did RideLondon100 in five hours and 10 minutes, I was over the moon with this result as I was expecting at least six hours.

The following week I did a half-Ironman distance event – Cotswold 113 – and completed the course in five hours and six minutes. It’s been a brilliant way to train, racing hard on the weekends and recovering during the week. This formula suits me and has greatly improved my fitness and strength.

Sophie in the Cotswolds

No expectations

This is what has worked for me. I knew I would burn out if I trained every day for months, and I know I am a fast learner, adapting quickly. I went into all these events with no expectations and have enjoyed the experience of testing my limits with triathlon and seeing what I can deliver on the day.

With three weeks to go until Wales, I’ve been training every day for two hours of brick sessions. Mark explained that the aim is to fool my body into endurance training without getting too tired. Push it enough to make big gains, but the right level so I can recover by the next day.

Bring on Ironman Wales, time for the big challenge!

Sport Pursuit – Brand Champion

Buying the right kit for triathlon and other adventures is a costly affair. When SportPursuit agreed to support me as their Brand Champion, I was extremely happy. Now I have access to the best deals on kit, but also their support in the events and endurance sports that I love. It gives me an outlet to encourage more people to sign up for a new challenge in a moment of madness.

More information here.



Profile image of Jamie Beach Jamie Beach Former digital editor


Jamie was 220 Triathlon's digital editor between 2013 and 2015.