The added challenges of racing as a triathlete MUM

My return to long course racing…..

I haven’t written a racing blog in a LONG time, so what better time to write one given it’s been a LONG time between races !

It’s been 3 years, and 2 babies since my last long course race. My youngest is nearly 10months old already. Wowee that time has flown, yet at the same time, pre kids seems like a distant memory. I guess now having two little ones keeping us occupied, plus working / running my own biz as well as back into full training – there really isn’t much time to just ‘sit and reflect’. πŸ˜‰ So much has changed in the past 3 years though and it’s hard to even compare my life now to what it was like 3 years ago. But as all mums / parents would say – we wouldn’t change it for the world!

So making the decision to return to long course racing as a mum of a 2 year old and a 9mth old wasn’t taken with a grain of salt. I knew I wanted to, and my main driver was when I heard the 70.3 world champs were going to be in New Zealand. I have always wanted to visit NZ, and we would have loved to have gone for our honeymoon last year but I was 6mths pregnant at the time so we decided we’d go another time when we could really explore and experience what NZ has to offer. SO what better way as two outdoor loving people to go and race there at the same time! (well hopefully anyway!) So the idea was born to work on qualifying for the Half Ironman World Championships.

This racing blog I’d thought I’d write a little differently though – because, well why not! Instead of writing a normal race blog on how my race panned out, how I felt, where I could have done better… I wanted to share the added challenges of getting to the start line, and racing as a triathlete MUM. Of course there are challenges being a triathlete dad also, but this is my experience as the main care giver at home and there are definitely additional challenges faced being a female.

So whether you are a mum yourself or not, I hope this can give you a little insight into what it takes to get to the start (and finish line) as a triathlete mum and an overview of how my return to racing went.

(you can also read my previous blog ‘The juggle (and real life struggle) of a working triathlete mum’ which covers some of my training and home dynamics.

The added challenges…..

Lack of sleep / broken sleep
This one is REAL. And for anyone who has ever suffered from sleep issues, I FEEL your pain! Sleep is when our body goes to work in repairing and rejuvenating itself. So when sleep is disrupted for what ever reason – and not just the quantity but more importantly the quality, then your recovery is going to be impaired. This is something that really has to be considered in the training of athletes – and in particular mums who have to wake (or are woken) over night.

From the period of 6 – 8 months old, Edie woke just about every night. Sometimes 2-3 times in the night. So for a good 8 weeks solid, I did not have a full nights sleep. I wasn’t getting to bed until around 10/10.30 and waking 5am to train, which is only 6.5-7hours of sleep regardless, but throw in a few wakes during that time and all of a sudden i’m only getting 5-6hours of UNBROKEN sleep. I definitely felt this at the time and I had to modify my training accordingly. I couldn’t do any hard / quality training sessions in the morning, and even in the day/evening I had to be mindful of doing any back to back intensity days knowing that my recovery was going to be impaired. So this limited my training during the week some what. But despite this, I still felt I was able to make the most of the time and energy I had at the time and stayed super consistent and healthy – which was going to get me better results than a few days of hard training, then resulting in having to have a few days off as a result OR getting sick or injured. Next race hopefully I won’t have to contend with this and I’m happy to say that Edie is back sleeping full nights and so am I ! πŸ˜‰

Balancing training with family life
There is a quote that I remember seeing on social media a little while ago – β€˜You have as many hours in a day as Beyonce’ Implying that we should all be able to do as much / be as much as Beyonce’ . Yes – it’s true that everyone has the same 24hrs in a day, but we don’t all have the same help and support. I don’t know any working age group triathlete mums who have a personal chef, a personal trainer, a stylist, makeup artist, a manager…… so go easy on yourself. And remember, you can do ANYTHING you want, just not EVERYTHING. And it is your choice on what you choose to do with your time. If you choose more family time over training time, then go you. If you choose more training time over family time. Then go you too. Just don’t go comparing yourself and your situation to anyone elses. It will serve you no purpose.

For me, gone are the days when I’d happily train all weekend. Before kids, I would happily start training at 6am in the morn and not get home until after lunch and never thought anything of it. But when you have 2 young children at home (one still breast fed) then this wasn’t an option for me, nor did I actually want to. PLUS hubby is a cyclist and trains too, so we had to make compromises on the times we trained, when and for how long.

Did this impact my race? I’d say it probably did to an extent. I certainly wouldn’t have trained the same quality or quantity that some of my fellow competitors would have, but would I change it? Nope. As for now, finding a balance between training enough and still spending quality time with my family was important to me so I am happy to make that compromise for the sake of a slightly faster race time. πŸ™‚

Body changes
A couple of weeks before the race and I actually started to not only feel ‘race fit’ but I felt I looked race fit too. So I decided to try on my race kits from 3 years ago. ‘There’s no way I can wear that!‘ I thought as I glared at the image in front of me in the mirror. In that moment, all I could see were the little things that others would not notice, but through my own eyes was simply seeing what I thought were flaws.
My stomach was firm, but it didn’t quite have the ‘abs’ that it used to have. My butt was strong, yet had this little sag I could’t remember having pre children. My boobs were lopped sided, thanks to two fussy children who only liked one side…
So as I stood there in front of the mirror, being overly critical of myself I suddenly thought of my daughter. As women, we are far too critical of ourselves. We put ourselves down. We wish we could be better, smaller, firmer, stronger, leaner, taller….
And it was that thought that brought me back to reality and instead of being self critical and pointing out any perceived ‘flaws’, I started to be grateful and thanking my body instead;

So I thanked it for two healthy pregnancies.
I thanked my stomach for growing two beautiful children.
I thanked my boobs for being capable of feeding two vulnerable babies.
I thanked my butt for giving me strength on the bike and run.
I thanked my body for staying strong when I felt weak, for being the vessel to my soul and for being exactly who and what it is.
I thanked it for allowing me to continue to train and do what I love.

This was a reminder to me that our bodies are far more on the inside than what they just look like on the outside.

These thoughts didn’t effect my race at all, but I wanted to include this. As our bodies do change post pregnancy. Some more than others. So I implore women to try and not to compare themselves to their pre baby body, simply to appreciate your body for what it is and remember how incredible they really are.

Hormonal changes
The female body is INCREDIBLE. Just in case you didn’t know already. πŸ˜‰ The changes it goes through to grow another little human inside of it still blows my mind. There are so many hormonal changes that happen in a females body during pregnancy to prepare the body for child birth, and even more changes postpartum (post birth) that it’s hard to even get your head around! I feel blessed that my body managed well with these changes and settled back into routine within about 5 months post birth. BUT it’s certainly not fool proof just yet. I track my ‘cycle’ on an app and by it’s calculations I wasn’t due for my period (yes guys I just said period) πŸ˜‰ for another 2 weeks. But low and behold, I go for a pit stop at the race venue before heading into transition and HELLO female hormones! Argh! I had not prepared for this! Luckily I was there with another female athlete who helped a sister out. (thanks chick!) Otherwise I was going to have to make a quick dash to the medical tent. Lesson learnt – always come prepared, just in case!

Did it impact my race? Possibly. But I don’t feel like it did on the day. But it did weigh on the back of my mind throughout the race. At another race at a different time of the month and it certainly can though. So again, for female athletes this is something that should be discussed with your coach when you are talking about your training and racing planning.

The logistics
Preparation for a race doesn’t just come in the form of training, it comes in the form of logistics. Long gone are the days when you can simply plan, book and organise a race without thinking about others. Given this race was going to be interstate, and I was going to be away for 5 days, this meant even more planning and organising. Hubby had to work the weekend of the race so he wasn’t going to be coming. (and let’s be honest, Penrith isn’t really an exciting holiday destination anyway) πŸ˜‰ But given I was going to be heading up solo, kids couldn’t come up with me, so the process started in working out where they would be, who would be able to help look after them, what time Hubby could have off work, and then there was the issue of my youngest still being breastfed – being strong-willed (read stubborn) means she refuses a bottle!

So my race planning and logistics included not only myself but my family and the worry of ‘will they be ok without me?!’ (of course they would be but why is it that as mothers we always worry they won’t be?!) Thankfully we have fabulous family who were able to step in and help out Hubby while I was away. And no, my youngest didn’t take a bottle for the 5 days while I was away (bless her stubbornness!) And yes I had to express while I was away – including getting up at 3:15am race morning to do so !

Did this impact my race. No, not at all, but it does make it even more satisfying to reach the finish line knowing what you have had to organise behind the scenes to make it there. πŸ™‚

Making comparisons
As mothers we are told not to compare our children to other children. That every baby develops differently, in their own time and in their own way. Yet as mothers we still find it hard not to compare. I already see myself doing it with #2 child and comparing her to #1. By 9 mths Mr Mills was already well on his way to crawling. Yet at nearly 10mths Miss Edie hasn’t shown much interest at all and will happily sit and play all day long without going anywhere. I found myself going back into my development books to see what I had done ‘wrong’. Had I not given her enough tummy time? Has she had less attention due to being #2? Other mothers told me the second learns so much faster so why hadn’t she?

But then I reminded myself what I was doing. I was trying to compare two totally different individuals. Comparing one child to another – what purpose did that serve? Will it make her crawl faster? No. Will it instead create self doubt in myself as a mother? Yes.

The worst thing one can do is compare – as all that does is create uncertainty, self doubt, a feeling of ‘I am doing this right?‘ ‘Am I doing enough?’ ‘Should I be doing more?’ Instead of trusting in yourself and in the process of development – in this case, the development of our children, but putting it into context of athletes, in the development of their training and putting trust in the process.

So when I was planning out this race, I made sure I didn’t get caught up in comparing my previous training or racing to that of my current training and racing. A lot has happened in 3 years since I last raced, and my body has gone through an incredible experience – not once but twice! So I wanted this to be it’s own unique journey. Of course I knew what my previous training looked like and I previously trained A LOT more than what I did for this prep, but I was ok with that. I was ok swimming twice a week, not 3 or 4 like I used to. I was ok doing the majority of my bike training on the trainer. I was ok missing a session here or there if needed to for my family, or for my health. This was a totally different journey that my body was going on, so it served no purpose to compare.

Someone messaged me post race – congrats on your race, a PB post pregnancy!! And I smiled. I loved that. πŸ™‚

Avoiding (unsuccessfully) bugs and germs
If you have children you will understand the struggle! And this one was the biggest one that impacted me on race day, and my biggest take away from the race. Heading into the race I was feeling amazing, everything had gone to plan, everything was organised, I was feeling strong and ready both physically and mentally and I couldn’t wait to head to Sydney.

That was until Tuesday of race week things started to unravel slightly. I started to feel nauseous that evening and all of a sudden I had the urge to rush to the bathroom. Gargh! I had picked up some kind of gastro bug! Bad timing! Ironically a day before competing in the Melbourne Half Marathon I caught the same / similar thing and it impacted that race. But I thought to myself, I’ve been here before and it only lasted a couple of days. I still had 4 days until race day, I should be fine! Little did I know how stubborn this bug was going to be! (and I laughed later as I thought I must have caught it from my youngest given how stubborn she is!) πŸ˜‰

So from there I did everything I could to get rid of this thing that was turning my stomach inside out and causing everything to go straight through me like an open sieve! (too much information?!) πŸ˜‰ As race day got closer, I actually started to get a little concerned. I wondered if I was going to be able to make it through the race without needed to stop at every port-a-loo on course. Would there even be enough port-a-loo’s out there for me?! I had pictures in my mind that no one would want to see! Plus I knew my energy levels were declining every day. Any food I ate – which was minimal, was heading straight out the other end, and dehydration was a real concern especially going into a race where it was going to be warm. I can’t believe a gastro bug was going to derail my whole race prep !

A last ditch attempt the afternoon before the race I headed to a local chemist again to see if here was anything else I could take that would stem the ‘flow’! lol ‘You really should be going to a doctor’. The pharmacist warned me. I know. I know. But that won’t help my race tomorrow I pleaded with him. ‘Take 2 of these tablets every 3-4hours, if this doesn’t stop it nothing will’. The pharmacist assured me when he grabbed a packet from behind his counter. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I said. And a little hope was restored that I would at least get through the race without needed a toilet stop.

Race morning and I woke early. And immediately I knew I was in trouble when I had to jump out of bed and head straight to the bathroom. Not once. Not twice. But 6 times before I left for the race…. This wasn’t looking good! I was aslso slightly concerned about the toilet lines I was going to be confronted with at the venue and working out what story i’d have to tell the ladies in front of me as I rushed in. God help me.

So I guess you want to know if I survived the race? THANKFULLY I did. I got through nearly 5 hours of not needing to visit a port-a-loo and that was the most satisfying thing ever!! haha.

Did this impact my race though? Yes, I believe quite significantly. I went into the race under nourished and dehydrated and my energy levels were way down. At the start of the race I didn’t notice it at all, but as I had experienced the same thing prior to the Melbourne Half Marathon, I knew it was in the back half of the race that it was going to come and bite me in the bum (literally and figuratively). I knew it was going to be hard to manage my nutrition and my energy levels and I had to adjust my race accordingly. And it hit me at around the 60km mark on the bike. Up until then I felt strong and in control, but around 60km I could start to feel the energy wane, like you get that sugar low if you haven’t had enough nutrition. There was nothing I could do other than to drop my intensity and slow my speed down to counteract it. It took probably the next 15-20km at a lower intensity and continuing to drip feed myself with nutrition to balance this back out again and finish off the bike feeling ok. Not great. But ok.

Onto the run and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace / intensity that I wanted to. If I tried I knew it would end in disaster. So as I started out I did some calculations in my head and decided on settling into around 5km/pace (by goal was originally 4:40-4:45’s). I felt at this pace my energy levels were conserved enough that I could still finish the race consistently. And I did. And I was super proud of that. As I felt in control for the whole run AND didn’t need a toilet stop once ! ! ! Winning!

Lesson learnt: I’ve joked that I will be putting myself into quarantine before my next race. And that I might just have to ! (sorry family!)


Western Sydney 70.3 Results
Goal Time: 4:45-4:50
Actual Time: 4:58:50

View full results from the race here.

Apart from my goal time for the race, my main goal was firstly just getting back out there and racing and feeling good doing so. Despite the issue with the gastro bug leading in, I felt I executed my race day well, adjusting it through the day as I needed. And this is what I try and teach my athletes to do. It is all good and well to have a well laid out race and nutrition plan, but you need to be able to be flexible with it. If not, things can go pear shaped quickly. If I hadn’t have adjusted my intensity on the bike, my whole race could have finished off completely differently – and not in a good way! So I’m super happy with how I executed my race and I gave it 100% of what I had on that day – and that’s all that anyone can ask for.
I did also have the goal of qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships – which I missed out my one spot, so although disappointing, I had anticipated this as a possibility so had already got my next races lined up. So here’s to a HEALTHY race prep into next race! πŸ™‚

Big thank you’s
Go out to firstly my family – Hubby Aaron especially for supporting me on my journey back to racing. He is the most amazing support person there is and couldn’t have got to the fitness levels I did without his support.

Jano and his team at Giant South Yarra. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jano for the majority of my racing ‘career’ now and I can’t thank him enough for his support. To head my return to racing on the fastest TT bike I have ever ridden – the LIV AVOW Advanced Pro 1 gives you that added confidence on the bike. And man does it ride like a dream! Seriously you can’t get better value for money in a bike than a LIV / GIANT. So thank you again Jano, one less thing for me to worry about when out there racing!

Jamie Edwards and his support with his coaching JET Coaching. As a fellow coach with similar principles and philosophies, we bounce ideas off each other, support each other at races and he’s been helping me in the pool with my swim. So thanks Jamie, nothing like learning and supporting other coaches for the benefit of the triathlon community and athletes as a whole and has definitely helped me personally as an athlete too.

My athletes – for being amazing yourselves! As well as being supportive in your own ways of my journey alongside your own. I have my own internal drivers for why I love to race and part of that is because of my athletes. It is important to me as a coach to be able to race and continue to share my experiences with my athletes so thanks to each of you for sharing the journey with me as coach and as athlete.

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