An Post series stamp of approval
Marian Heffernan has found that cycling is a great way to juggle family life, help husband Rob and stay fit, writes Gerard Cromwell
Having taken up stationary cycling as a way to stay fit during pregnancy, former Olympic sprinter Marian Heffernan was this week announced as one of five ambassadors to the An Post Cycling Series, where she will tackle the 60k Cork Rebel Tour on September 13.
As well as helping husband and world race walk champion Rob Heffernan with his training and career, and acting as cook, cleaner, taxi driver and mother to children Cathal and Megan, just six weeks ago Marian gave birth to daughter Regan.
It was during that pregnancy that Marian rediscovered cycling – albeit the stationary kind – for a few months at least.
"When I got pregnant I was nervous enough about running, so I took to the bike and just got the bug for it really," she says. "I started off with spinning classes and it was actually really enjoyable. In the gym, they have a cycling club and I went out on a few rides with them and caught the bug. I'm not up to their level yet but I'm able to push myself over 40 or 50k.
"Cycling has always been a huge part of training with Rob. I've helped him sporadically since 2006 and it's all been done on the bike. Depending on where he's walking, I'd follow him, do video work and take photos and stuff."
Shortly after running in the 4x400m relay at the London Olympics, Marian gave up chasing her own athletic dreams to help full time with Rob's training. Despite juggling the daily training sessions and logistical work of family life at home, the duo have grown closer and her input was instrumental in Rob becoming world champion in Moscow last year.
"After London, I did aim to go back and put in an indoor season," admits the track star. "But, halfway through the winter training, I just realised I was being selfish. I was putting everything on hold. Rob had no help. I looked at it and thought 'well I could put in the exact same year and get more or less the same out of it', or I could stop and help Rob and just maintain my fitness. Getting to an Olympics was fantastic. But if I wasn't going to be able to go to a championship and compete to win a medal it seemed like helping Rob was the most logical thing, so I was happy to give it up.
"We chatted about me coming on board and Rob was like, 'Marian this might work and it might not work'. We did a trial up to Christmas 2012 and we hadn't killed each other at that stage and everything was going well. We said 'look, this is working' and we went from strength to strength. We built a really good working relationship and were able to section off our private life."
A qualified physical therapist, Marian also does all of Rob's massage work and, with his training now ramped back up to double sessions, seven days a week, the new baby will certainly keep her on her toes.
"We're used to being busy anyway, but she's so good she fitted in fine," she says. "Rob gets one day off every three weeks. He sees a physio from Dublin once a week but other than that I'm a one-stop-shop, really."
"Behind every good man . . ." I suggest, before she finishes the sentence with a laugh, " . . . is an exhausted woman"!
"When you know what has to go into a year of training and the preparation he needs to put in, you want to help. There's no fear of Rob not working hard enough. He'll always put the effort in, so I'm happy doing it, knowing he's doing it right and you can see the finished product at the end of it.
'It's a labour of love. Rob is going to altitude from the end of March to the end of April, so I'll be left holding the baby then, literally. But the other two are older now and they're an extra pair of hands, too."
Not one to waste time, Marian was back on the stationary bike just a fortnight after Regan was born and is aiming to ride the Cork 60k event in a little more than six months' time.
"Rob has three gym sessions a week. He's in there for nearly two hours, so I bring the baby in the buggy and hop up on the bike and pedal away. It's working so far. I'm up to an hour and 10 minutes or an hour and 20 at the moment because I'm still a bit nervous going back out on the road.
"But Rob is finished competing in August. We're heading to altitude for four weeks in July and there are some brilliant roads over there, so I might get to do a bit of altitude training and surprise some people in Cork in September."