Athlete-Mom Interview: Cindy Spence

Meet Cindy Spence from Calgary, Alberta, where she lives with her husband Ryan, and two very active daughters, Emma (11 years) and Kate (8 years). I met Cindy through the mountain biking and Xterra scene while living in Calgary. Cindy always has a smile on her face and has an energy and excitement for life that is contagious. I am so excited to share this interview as I think she shares some amazing insights, wisdom and advice on balancing her full-time job, staying active and competitive (while being a great role model for her daughters!), spending quality time with her family and encouraging her daughters in their athletic pursuits. You will also find a link to Cindy’s great blog below.

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1. What was your life athletically (or otherwise) and how has it evolved before and between each of your daughters births, and as they’ve grown?

I was always active, I loved to ride my bike and run when growing up through elementary school, got serious about playing basketball and running track in high school and continued to play basketball at university. I remained active through university, and moved to outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and mountain biking after graduation. In fact, we moved to Calgary because of the active lifestyle and access to mountain exploits, like hiking and mountain biking in summer, skiing in winter.

Prior to Emma, I was “fit,” and between uni and Emma, I was involved with recreational teams (beach volleyball with friends, Ultimate frisbee) and outdoor pursuits with The Husband (Ryan). I commuted on a big, heavy old mountain bike to work. Nothing formal or structured, no racing per se.

My pregnancy with Emma was challenging: I gained a lot of weight and encountered some complications (the same thing happened while pregnant with Kate). So postpartum, I was anxious to not just fit into my clothes again, I also wanted to look good in them – it sounds vain, but that was my initial push. I made a small goal, and I enrolled in a local triathlon. It got me off the couch and was a great way to add intensity to the hiking and skiing and biking we tried to do as a family. Family activities were more “social” and low-intensity. I discovered that I loved the intensity of triathlon, and sought the help of a coach. I was also acutely aware of setting an example for my curious daughter. I wanted her to see a healthy, happy mom who was capable of chasing her across the yard, down the street, and all the way to the park – every day! I wanted her to see a healthy, fit mom whose lifestyle was sustainable and strong.

I stayed on the local triathlon age-group circuit for 2 years, and then came Kate! After Kate was born, I was hungry to start training again. This time my motivation was different. Yes, I wanted to return to an athletic “look,” and I wanted to set the example for my girls, but I was also conscious of the aging process. My family has some crazy genes in it, I was determined to be healthy and stay that way, I wanted to continue to be healthy for many years to come and beat the genetic odds. My Mom was afflicted by several degenerative diseases, some of them with genetic tendencies, and she passed away this year at the age of 67. I often reflected on her life at my age, and I vowed to do everything in my control to beat the odds.

So I returned to triathlon and made a multi-year plan: my next goal was Ironman Canada. In 2011 I raced IMC in Penticton. It taught me about mental toughness, it taught me about discipline, it taught me about pain. Training for an event like this requires extensive time away from the family. I also have a full-time job (Client Rep for Oil&Gas IT Services at IBM), so I had to find ways to balance and juggle all the spinning plates that come with family, training, and working. My LinkedIn profile and resume now includes an “Accomplishments” section, where one sentence reads: Trained for and competed at XTerra World Championships in 2014 and 2013, and Ironman Canada 2011 while working full-time, raising two daughters, and being a charming wife. The “charming wife” may be a bit tongue-in-cheek – but we are a happier and stronger family for it!

After Ironman, I went back to my mountain bike, I have always loved to ride. I got deeply involved with a Calgary-based women’s only club, Spin Sisters (www.spinsisters.ca), where I spent 3 years as President (I’ve been a member for 8 years). I loved the interaction with other athletic women who dabbled in racing and who genuinely wanted to keep advancing their skills on a mountain bike. The club seeks to inspire riders of all levels to take the next step, to keep riding. I strongly believe in promoting women in sport, that we need to continue to develop female leaders in sport throughout their active lives, it helps them in many areas of life and it provides younger girls with role models, examples, and heroes to model their lives around, whether consciously or not, at all stages of life.

I also crossed over to the world of XTerra racing, which has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Details can be found in my blog: http://graphixdivasblog.blogspot.ca/ . In short, I have been honoured to race at the XTerra World Championships twice, and each time it was a significant life experience for me.

I have always included my girls in athletic endeavours, whether they were riding in the Chariot while I ran or biked; whether they rode high on their perch in a backpack carrier across Scotland or through the Rockies, or whether they came with us to the mountain for ski days, we have tried to instill the notion that an active, athletic lifestyle is the status quo. They have always come to my races, they are my biggest cheering squad and love to cross the finish line with me. Now that my girls are reaching the ages of 11 and 8, they are starting to understand the social and personal-satisfaction benefits of an active lifestyle. They participate in local races. They ride bikes in a neighbourhood gang and are active in some local clubs. I can take them with me for a ride on the trails, and they can climb like crazy, their technical skills already surpass mine, they just don’t know it yet! I’ve got some wicked memories pics of my girls riding and racing, I am in awe of their near-perfect technique, their focus, their smiles.

I see Emma’s friends dropping out of sports (age 11) and I worry that my girls will follow. I try to create an environment where they see my female friends, my peers, active and happy both in racing and in social athletics. I try to provide them with examples of role models and heroes across the sports that interest them, women like Danelle Kabush, Tatum Monod, Cindy Klassen, and others. I try to provide them with support for activities that interest them and keep those activities FUN. I try to include their friends, I often pile 4 giggling girls and their bikes into the back of the pickup, and head to COP where we might only ride one lap of the park, but we work on simple skills on the bike, and the girls get to laugh and shriek and ride together. My goal is to nurture them carefully and provide them with exposure to athletics and an active life.

Sport has always been in my life. I speak about it in my professional life, as I believe it has informed a lot of my habits: perseverance, mental strength, being a team leader or team member, discipline and more.

I also believe that sport and athletics make me a better person; the off-season makes me “itchy” and I find that I cannot last more than 2-3 weeks of unstructured non-athletic activity. I find a good workout will give me head space to solve lurking questions in both professional and personal life. I can hit the pool for an hour, count laps and sort out the structure of a looming presentation, I can hop on the trails along the river and run (never with headphones, I like to hear my own thoughts) and sort out the family calendar for the upcoming week, create a mental grocery list, and, when I’m all done, my sunny disposition has returned.

2. What motivated (or continues to inspire) you to get training and racing? And/or has this evolved through different stages with your daughters ages?

My motivation to return to an active lifestyle after the birth of my daughters came from three places: First, I wanted a “goal” to achieve, something to look forward to, something to train for. I chose a local triathlon. I also wanted to set a healthy example for my kids, to return to an outdoor lifestyle for our family and be a healthy Mom that could chase her kids, this was important to me. And finally, I have watched many members of my family fall prey to illness whether from genetic factors, inactivity or illness, and I am bound and determined to beat those odds.

As I have (gracefully?) aged, I am more focused, more motivated, and more determined to first and foremost set the example for my girls. In order to stay involved in their lives so that I can see them grow into adults and beyond, I need to be healthy. Athletics is one contributing factor.

It’s not just about the racing – I also genuinely enjoy the journey to race-day. I always view race-day as a celebration of the work that has gone into preparing for it, my ideal race-day will be a tough day, but it will be the result of my training. I love the thrill of competing, it suits my personality, and the extra effort to find the edge of my limits, to keep pushing that limit and exploring the nuances of it is what keeps me toeing the line. I’m not a pro athlete, I’m rarely on the age-group podium – but I love being out there, racing against my limits and, lately, like good wine, getting better with age!

3. Did you “train” during your pregnancies? How has your training/racing evolved/changed since becoming a mother?

Yes, while pregnant I tried to stay active – hiking, walking, and so on. But some complications arose, I gained a LOT of weight (close to 60 lbs) with both babies, and found walking painful and ultimately dangerous. So I turned to swimming. I swam for the final 4 months of both pregnancies, a consistent, even paced swim, 4 or 5 times a week, I remember the relief of the water for my joints, and I believe it helped to build strength for birth and beyond. Immediately following both girls, I started with walking and swimming, built back into running and cycling, then got motivated to race again.

4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2015?

After Ironman in 2011, I planned to return to mountain biking. In 2012, while pre-riding a course, I had a freak accident and broke my humerus, which out me out for the season.

In 2013, I focused on XTerra, where I qualified for the XTerra World Championships. I was honoured to qualify and return to Maui for XTerra World Championships in 2014, where I bettered my performance.

Cindy exiting the water at the Xterra World Championships

Cindy exiting the water at the Xterra World Championships

I’m still passionate about triathlon, and I will certainly continue to race both road and off-road tri’s, but my mountain bike has been calling to me. I plan to focus on mountain biking for the next couple of years, and plan to kick it off with a bang.In 2015, both The Husband and I are registered for BC Bike Race, a 7-day stage race in British Columbia. I’m excited and a bundle of nerves at the same time!

I’ve also gotten involved with the Calgary Women’s Masters Basketball League this season – my skills are rusty, but I’m energized by playing team sports again – with a full roster of skilled women across 8 teams!

And I am looking forward to a winter filled with skiing: downhill and alpine touring. We have some big trips planned, the girls have started to ski backcountry with us and are in search of the pow for 2015.

I’m also thrilled that my daughters share my excitement for sport. Both girls can shred on skis and on wheels, the only reason I’m ahead of them on trails is because I have mass and gravity on my side! They are both in ski and mtb clubs and love the social element – meeting friends who love to do the same things they do. Now I’m looking at ways to ensure there are appropriate avenues available to them as girls, making sure they have opportunities that nurture their interests and passions.

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5. How do you balance family/work demands and interests etc with your athletic goals? 

First and foremost, I have an amazing Husband. He is my partner in so many ways, his support is unwavering, and his commitment to a healthy lifestyle for our family is all-in. Sure, he grumbles about multiple, consecutive, large-volume weeks, sure we “debate” which races (and how many) to participate in each year. But he’s out there with me, making sure we find ways to turn a training day into a family day: we take shifts on the trails with our mountain bikes, we start early or finish late, reward the family with a trip to the lake or beach while the other gets in a long or hard workout.

I also gave up unnecessary things: we cancelled our cable service because we simply weren’t watching it. I’m not afraid to get up at 5am for a swim or to spin before hustling the girls off to school, because I get to bed early. I’m not afraid to call in the babysitter so that, when The Husband is traveling, I can go do a hill repeat workout. When I travel, I pack running shoes and explore new cities and work on speed on a treadmill if it’s too dark. There is more than enough time in a day, you just need to organize it.

We find ways to turn “races” in “race-cations”. We continue to train while on holidays by bringing wetsuits and bikes everywhere.

We (almost) always bring kids to the Finish Line.

We support each other’s goals, and take turns having an “A” season or training camp. I support his athletic dreams and he supports mine. It took a lot of encouraging from me for him to get into the race scene, he was so busy supporting my dreams that he forgot to include his own. Now that he is actively racing (mostly running), I find that we are mutually better at supporting each other.

It all boils down to respect and communication.

6. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape and continuing to train/compete with children?

Be patient with yourself – you have plenty of time to enjoy your kids AND be an athlete.

Be kind to yourself.
Remember: you are stronger than you think, mentally and physically. Don’t be afraid of limits, go find them, then respect them.
Living in Calgary and very near to the Rocky Mountain, makes for an amazing place to play!

Living in Calgary and very near to the Rocky Mountain, makes for an amazing place to play!

Athlete-Mom Interview: Caitlin Foisy

Meet Cait Foisy who lives in beautiful Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. Cait and I met awhile back while mountain biking in Canmore. She and her husband, Alex have recently become the proud parents of six month old, Olivier. We can quickly forget the joys and tribulations of getting active again in the first year after a new child comes again, but you can feel the enthusiasm Cait has for continuing to stay active as a runner. She has so much in fact that herself and Alex and another couple started a blog as a resource for families who want to continue to stay active with children in the mix (link below).

Cait, Alex and Oliver at a recent Halloween 5km race

Cait, Alex and Oliver at a recent Halloween 5km race

1. What was life like for you athletically or otherwise, prior to having your son and how has it evolved since? Growing up I was athletic but never one of the ‘top’ athletes. You could probably classify me as an ‘age-grouper’ (usually placing top 3 in my age group but not normally top 3 overall, unless it was a really great day). I did my undergrad at Queen’s University where I decided to take my love of running to the next level. Long story short I learned at Queen’s what it really meant to be a serious runner, and over 4 years I significantly improved my performance. I also took a one-year post-grad diploma where I competed in xc-running again. After university I continued to run for fun (yes, such a thing exists) training for everything from a 5k to a marathon. I have competed in triathlon for a while (up until recently where my current job isn’t conducive to training in the summer), mountain biking, trail and road running… basically I love everything outdoors!

Flash forward to present day. My son Olivier is 6 months (already?!) old and I have made the lofty goal to do a marathon this Spring (Ottawa) with the end goal of qualifying for Boston. I have found there wasn’t a lot of resources or ‘how-to’ be active with your whole family, how to manage who trains with baby if you both want to run, etc, so another couple and my husband and I founded a website: www.myactiveparents.com that addresses these issues.On the blog I talk about everything from how I started racing too soon post baby (oops! sorry pelvic floor muscles!), to doing a hiking trip with my girlfriends and  3-month old baby, to my training plans for Ottawa.

2. What motivated (or continues to inspires you) to get training and racing again?
I think my motivation is two-fold. First and selfishly, running is my time to think, de-stress, and be ‘me’. Sometimes I run with baby, sometimes alone. I am a better, happier person after I run. Secondly, I want my family to be active and the best way to do this is by leading by positive example.
I have always been competitive so for me it was only natural to want to race again. I am really excited to see how my results will compare. I used to compare my results ‘pre’ and ‘post’ marriage (new last name, new clean slate, new PBs!), and now have divided my results into ‘pre’ and ‘post’ baby. I am interested to see if having kids makes me faster (there has been much discussion and speculation about this for professional athletes)
3. Did you “train” during your pregnancy? How has your training/racing evolved/changed since becoming a mother?
I am not sure if I would say I ‘trained’ but I was definitely ‘active’. I was fortunate enough to keep ‘running’ until 33 weeks. My activities looked completely different though. I didn’t do any interval training. My normal run speed slowed down to my long slow distance speed. I hiked a LOT. I was pregnant through the winter so I did a lot of spin classes (thank you YMCA!). I went on a trip to Nepal and did an epic hike to Annapurna Base Camp (I joke that our son should have a better VO2 max than Lance Armstrong after that trip). I used to HATE walking but I got into walking during the pregnancy. David Suzuki had a nature challenge in the Spring last year where you had to get outside for 30 min 30 days in a row. This was a great way for me to take breaks at lunch, go for walks and break up my day.
Cait before power walking a half marathon while pregnant

Cait before power walking a half marathon while pregnant

Since the birth of my son I was eager to get back into running. I took it slow. I consulted with a pelvic floor physiotherapist (which I now recommend to all my friends) and talked to other moms about what they did. I did a lot of run/walks and am now into continuous runs. I have done spin class again, a few road rides (before the snow came), hiking and some walks. I have tried to fit in yoga (mom and baby yoga), weights (when I remember) and have done a lot of postnatal fitness classes at the YMCA.

A 5km run at 6-months post-baby

A 5km run at 6-weeks post-baby

4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2015?
-Snowflake Series (a fun, no-frills winter running series in Orillia, ON).
-Surf City Half Marathon Feb 1 in California (hellooooooo sunshine!)
-Ottawa Marathon in May 2015
-5 peaks trail running series
I would love to do a triathlon but with going back to work in the Spring I am not sure if that is realistic. It likely will not happen…
5. How do you balance family/work demands and interests etc with your athletic goals? 
This is a tough one! Communication. My husband is very supportive and understanding but I need to tell him in advance what the week’s plans look like so we can plan accordingly. My son is still not sleeping through the night so I am not willing to get up early to get a run in before my husband leaves for work. This means being very effective with my time during the day, and planning workouts/chores etc. I find I usually make a list for the next day with 5-10 things on it. I am lucky if I accomplish 3 of those things! A great tip from my friend Chantal Warriner (who is an amazing ultra runner and mom) is to do a ‘kid swap’ where you watch your friends kids for an hour so they can get in their exercise/ sleep/chores and then you switch. Moms are great, aren’t we?
7. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape and/or competing again after having children?
The biggest piece of advice I have is to be flexible. Before baby, getting a good night sleep was a given before a race. Now I am lucky if I get sleep on any given day. If you are tired or your body needs a break- listen to it! Take it slow. You don’t need to get into racing right away- you just had a baby for goodness sake! If you are worried about the weight not coming off, be patient. If you can breastfeed that definitely helps. If you are breastfeeding- get a supportive bra! Find a gym that has childcare. I am a member at the Y and it is great to be able to get a quick workout in while someone watches my son. Invest in the right equipment. Try out run strollers, baby carriers, etc. I have the chariot which is perfect for me as I can run with it, bike, and I just got the ski attachment so I can substitute some runs for skis this winter. Find like-minded moms or athletic groups. It’s a lot harder to bail on a workout if someone is joining you. Be happy and have fun! Enjoy being active. Your kids will thank you for it (maybe not right away, but they will one day!)
Hiking in the Adirondaks with Oliver at 3 months old

Hiking in the Adirondaks with Olivier at 3 months old

Ready, Set, Stop? Preparation Beyond Life as an Athlete

What does it really mean for an athlete to “retire”? Does it mean not competing anymore? Does it mean not participating in one’s sport ever again? Can you only retire from something you call an “athletic career” if you’ve been successful at it and/or made financial gains from it? Of course these questions can depend on the sport and competitive level. In any case “retirement” from a sport can be forced (e.g. injury or team cuts) or chosen. I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot lately and how athletes can what I’d prefer to call “transition” successfully, and in stages, for life beyond their sport….Never mind the fact that I’m pushing 40 and starting to move my training and racing goals and little farther down the priority list, or that my college sport psychology class just wrote some fantastic journal entries on athlete transitions, or that I was recently at a social gathering with much joking going on around the subject of athlete retirement.

What follows is a large dose of my personal opinion and a smattering of my interest in and knowledge base of sport psychology. Here are some thoughts on how athletes of any age or level could assess if they are positively set up for an athletic transition, whether forced or chosen:

1. What are you other than a(n) [insert your sport here] athlete? If you haven’t taken time to nurture and invest in other aspects of your identity such as family member, friend, student, mother, father, daughter, son, or any other endless list of interests, hobbies, ways you prefer to spend your time that you identify with etc, then take some time to do so! Recognize that you have many other important aspects of your identity. What other possible sources of achievement and satisfaction do you have in your life if “athlete” were to be taken out of the equation?

2. Don’t wait until your athlete career comes to a halt to think about and ask yourself, what’s next? Always be dabbling in other things to at least explore what else you want and value in life? If you don’t know how you feel about post-secondary education, having a relationship, starting a family, starting a career, or everything else in life that transcends sport by say, right now – then think about it. You can’t set yourself up very well for the things you want most in life if you haven’t at least had a few deep thoughts about where you ideally would like to be 10, 20, 30 years down the road from now.

3. Continually reassess whether you’re continuing in your sport for positive reasons. If you are presently doing your sport simply because you don’t know what else to do, because you feel others (e.g. parents, coaches, teammates) expect you to, or you are scared to experience what might happen to you if you stopped, then refer back to point number 2. Start at least exploring other things, experiences, people, interests, or even other sports and be open to what you might discover.

4. Sport participation has so many positive benefits, but be aware of the line between healthy habits and negative dependency. If you are so dependent on your sport, that a) missing out on your sport disrupts your daily functioning in other areas of you life such as relationships, school, and work, b) that you would do it even when you are injured or sick, or c) that you experience withdrawal symptoms like depression, anxiety, guilt, headaches, loss of sleep or appetite when deprived of your sport then please seek some support to equip you to better handle the possibility of forced time away or even life without your sport. For example, in Canada a program has recently launched for carded athletes called Game Plan with the mission of supporting and empowering high performance athletes to pursue excellence during and beyond their sporting careers.

With all of the above said, it is important to recognize that time away from sport can leave anyone feeling a little lost and down, and that is completely normal. After all, pursuing goals in sport naturally aligns with many positives: structure, discipline, focus, time management, a healthy body, eating and recovering well, camaraderie, persistence, and the highs of overcoming challenges, to name a few. What athletes can fail to realize is that they have developed many skills through athletic pursuits that are transferable to anything else in life. As a reminder, just take a reread of the incredibly popular article from about a year ago on http://www.forbes.com entitled, “Why You Should Fill Your Company With Athletes”

Timeless Mental Tips for Mountain Bike Racing

While cleaning out my office the other day, I came across an excerpt of interview tips from my M.A. thesis. While studying at the University of Ottawa over the summer of 2000, I conducted interviews with ten of the best cross-country mountain bike racers in Canada at the time. The bikes may have evolved big time in the last 14 years, but I believe their advice and mental strategies are timeless. All of the athletes (men and women) were Canadian National Team Members at the time with several years of experience at the international level including World Cup and World Championship races. Four of the athletes are Olympians.Some have moved on from mountain biking, most are still enjoying the sport in one form or another, and one in particular is still racing strong at the top of the sport. Can you guess who? :) To read the full published article, entitled “Focusing for Excellence: Lessons from Elite Mountain Bike Racers” click here.

Plate #23 at the tender age of 23 - Geoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he placed 9th Credit: Tom Hanson (www.olympic.ca)

Plate #23 at the tender age of 23 – Geoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he placed 9th Credit: Tom Hanson (www.olympic.ca)

1. Focus in Mountain Biking

“Focusing to me would mean concentrating upon the race coming up in the immediate future and just picturing yourself having a good performance. For me, positive thinking helps quite a bit”

“Focus to me is pretty general. If you’re focusing on an upcoming mountain bike race, you try to get your rest, you try to eat well, try and check out the course, work on any difficulties you are having with the course”

2. Staying Positive in Races

“I find that to help focus it is good to have key words that you remember. By using them in training it helps you to remember them during the race so you can key on a word that helps you to spin, reminds you to attack, that you are strong, that you love to climb, these kinds of things”

“As the race goes on, in the technical I’m trying to just relax. I talk to myself all the time, ‘relax’, ‘look ahead’, and ‘let it go’. I say these things to myself all the time”

3. Using Mental Imagery

“I visualize whenever I am just sitting around. I think about all the different parts of the course and how I’m going to ride them, go through the feelings I’m going to have before the race and at the start. Like just picturing staying relaxed and not getting upset if things are not going the way I want them to. I try to see how I’m going to start knowing and that its going to be harder at the end of the race and so I get ready for that”

“I visualize the first lap if I know the course, if I know what it looks like, just to visualize myself (doing it) ahead of time so its not like an alien situation that I’m suddenly in and it becomes stressful”

4. Race Focus Plans

“When I’m pre-riding the course usually I decide what areas are good for attacking, standing up, sitting down, doing certain things with the bike, going smooth, all these things. And then it’s just a matter of reminding myself before the race starts and then remembering that during the race. And even different strategies per lap, how hard I’m going to push, deciding what the goal of the first lap is going to be, second, third, fourth, and following through on that”

5. Refocusing

Flat Tire: “What I’ve learned is that you have to start back slowly, not to go crazy right off the bat getting your legs huge and full of lactate. So you just start easy again and try to be relaxed about it. Okay, I’ve lost so many positions but hopefully I can come back. You have to try and look at it in a positive way like I just got a rest, I had something to drink, stretched out, I don’t know. No there’s really no positive way to look at getting a flat tire but you can try”

Crashes: “I think you expect to fall especially in some muddy races and that’s usually not a problem. Its only the unexpected crashes which just kind of catch you by surprise which can kind of knock the wind out of you. But normally I’m so focused on keeping going that you can just bounce back up and get right back into it. Its only if you knock the wind out of yourself, or hurt yourself really badly for the first couple of minutes it’s a little harder to keep pressing forward. You just kind of have to keep your rhythm going until you start feeling normal again. And then you can get back into pushing harder”

6. Post-Race Evaluation

“After the race I think it’s important to look back on your race. If you had a really good race it’s really important to look back and see what you did well. Even if you did do well (had a good result), maybe you performed poorly and everyone else performed even worse. Even if you won, you still may have been able to improve on things. And then if you didn’t do well in the race, (it’s important to think about) your perception that things went badly, why was it that you didn’t do well. Was it your focus? Was it what you ate? Was it the course? Maybe the course wasn’t right. Were you too excited? Things like that. Or maybe it was just that you did have a good ride but your placing was really bad. There are so many things involved. I think it’s important to go back and look at it. But I also think that has to be done quickly and then to move on. Get information from it and use it but move on”

7. Improving Mental Focus/Confidence

“I think you’re always trying to work on your confidence. There’s always a bit of doubt coming into races whether you feel like you’re going to do well or not. I’m not sure how you work on that all the time. Another part you can always work on is just maintaining focus throughout the middle of the race. There’s always a time in the middle of the race where’s there’s a little bit of a lull. You sometimes let down a little bit and start thinking about how much longer the race is and thinking I’m not feeling too well, and working on being able to just focus on pushing through that and being confident right until the end. I don’t think it (confidence) is something you can consciously work on during a race. I think you can work on just getting ready, visualizing, knowing that you’re going to have those kind of feelings during the race. Just recognizing that it is going to happen, and coming into a race with confidence is fairly….confidence can be a very fragile thing. Its just comes with experience, having confidence that you’ve been training well and have taken care of your preparation, and other things”

 

 

Athlete-Mom Interview: Rebecca Dussault

I met Rebecca Dussault a few years back when she got into racing Xterras as a Pro as she was coming off of her stellar, Olympian cross-country skiing career. Since I first met Rebecca, her family has doubled in size and we met up again recently at the Whiskey off-road race at the end of April. She is a down to earth, multisport mama who recently won the Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail and is ripping it up on her road bike as well. Rebecca lives in Gunnison, Colorado with her husband, Sharbel and four children: son Tabor (age 12), son Simeon (age 7), son Anselm (age 3), and daughter Emiliana (age 15 months). Read on for yet another refreshing perspective on raising a family while being real to one’s inner “default mode” to stay active!

Go Pro Mountain Games

Go Pro Mountain Games

1.  Describe your life athletically (and otherwise) and how has it evolved through having each of your four children?

My husband and I married at 19 years each and I continued to compete for another season in XC skiing. Traveling the world with various teams lead to my early retirement from racing due to the struggle to be myself and remain faithful to my morals. During my 2 years away from the sport we had our first son and then I returned to skiing. It felt much better to be traveling with others who share my Christian beliefs and support me unconditionally. As a family, we committed to trying for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, which I did compete in, and one of the real victories was that my husband and son had come to every race and training camp for three years straight.

Next up was son number two conceived right after the Olympics. Unfortunately, my husband became very ill with an auto immune disease 8 months later and I again had to step away from sport to care for him. I was in survival mode as an athlete at this time. He eventually regained his health after three surgeries and I regained my competitive edge. I narrowly missed qualifying for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (overlooked for being a mother of two who’d taken breaks from racing despite skiing to a National Championship right before they named the team), but instead won a World Championship in Winter Triathlon in Norway 2010.
Ski racing in January 2010

Ski racing in January 2010

Following this win, true to our commitment to be open to life and fruitful in our marriage, we conceived another son and took a summer to learn holistic farming techniques. I got a lot of exercise on the farm just chasing pigs, carrying water and milking cows. I was strong from life, not lifting.
Since then, we have had a mobile wood fired pizza business which operates heavily on the weekends throughout the summer and totally cut into my competition schedule. That and we decided to live in a camper traveling the country for a year of learning. During this hiatus our fourth child, a daughter, born to us on the road in Washington State.
I have had to be content to be primarily a winter athlete until this year.  After a full and successful season of XC skiing and ski mountaineering, I have transitioned onto the bikes for racing and am loving it.
2. What motivated and continues to inspire you to get training and racing again?

I think I’m hard-wired to compete. Each pregnancy or life event, like my husband’s illness (2007-2008) which have taken me away from competition have caused me to fall back on my “factory settings.” It is my default mode to stay active for my own health and to maintain an effective platform for reaching people who need motivated and encouraged. Plus, being a homeschooling mother, I need a break from the kids occasionally and I’m not going to spend it any other way than exercising and having that healthy interior conversation time. I think it’s the picture of being wholly healthy (physically, mentally and chiefly spiritually) that keeps me going.

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3. Did you “train” during your pregnancies? How has your training/racing evolved/changed since becoming a mother?

I never “trained” while pregnant, but allowed myself ample opportunities to get out and stay fit. I was able to remain very active almost the whole duration of all four pregnancies. I believe this helped me have four totally natural births and very healthy babies.

Since becoming a mother, my training and racing has looked more like a balancing act. It is of utmost importance for me to keep things in the proper perspective, getting my priorities right daily. I am wife first, them mother, then athlete/mentor/coach. I know I am happiest, and so are those around me, when I stick to that. I have a selfless husband who kicks me out the door to train while he holds down the fort. His support, willingness and flexibility are the only reasons I have risen to the level of athlete that I am.
We make it a priority to travel to races as a family so that it is not just about ME because a lot of the training can feel that way, but it’s about a healthy exposure for our while family. Our children are gifted athletes and already love to race, so they are less thrilled than ever to miss out on competitions. The fun budget is sure tight when everyone comes, but it’s actually priceless to be together.
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4. What are you current training/racing ambitions for 2014?

I am not a very scripted person and least of all a planner. My spontaneity has me doing workouts and entering races on the fly. I wait for my window of opportunity to open and I race out the door to train or drop everything and head to a race. With 4 kids and 4 small businesses there’s so much to continually juggle.

I have the ambition of becoming pro in another sport, which this time around is road biking. I have in the past and currently, race pro in XC skiing, Xterra triathlon, winter triathlon, mountain biking, ski mountaineering and adventure racing. I guess “multi-sport momma” is a fitting title. My goals are to inspire women (men and children too!) everywhere to seek to be wholly healthy and I do that through my outreach at www.massstart.org and through my motivational talks, coaching and clinics nationwide. My further ambitions are to grow my fitness business, be a student of sport myself, and to race awful fast while keeping everything in balance.
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5. How do you balance family/work etc with your athletic goals?

Drumroll please… A Great Husband of course! Actually, we both have always been entrepreneurs and have conducted business (e.g. www.globalshelters.com) from the home or the race course. I have been blessed to have flexibility to have my family in tow at most races. There is no more important work than I do as wife and mother, so my athletics are just the bonus round.

I do, however, have to confess a great struggle with feeling grounded enough to compete steadily and with my whole heart. For years we’ve wanted to move to the land and homestead, so I feel like I’m straddling the fence with my lifestyles. We are still in the process of hunting for the perfect community and land. I think I have a “best of both worlds” scenario in part, but we need to put down roots soon to stay true to our holistic and bigger life goals.
Also, I for the first time at 33, I feel my window of competitiveness closing. It has been a challenge to still be such a competitive mom while my children have begun to compete as well. We try to never head in different directions on the weekend, but rather stay as a tight-knit family which has me at lots of sacrifices. I feel a little guilty that they’re only really getting exposed to sports I love at this point, but that’s where we’re at. I will always compete until they shovel rocks over me!
7. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape and/or competing again after having children?
Find inspiring faster people to get out with. Cause yourself to be challenged. Be creative with your schedule and look for that slot where you can get out by yourself too and remember how much you love to move your body as a female athlete. It is a “body battle” just to get your figure back, never mind getting the competitive juices flowing again. Be patient. You just gave life to another human being. Embrace this sacred and precious time in your life. You can smash a new athletic record tomorrow!
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The Race Within A Race Recap

Ever since I’ve been an Xterra racer, I’ve always been envious of the fast swimmers. They are up at the front on the race, in control, and know what’s going on and likely what position they are in. Fast swimmers get to head out onto the single track first without any traffic and simply have to charge forward on the wide open trail to hold off as many people as they can for the rest of the race. Racing from the front or chasing from behind? Which is more motivating? I suppose it depends on how you rise to the occasion of whichever race scenario you find yourself in….

Unfortunately for me my first two Xterra races of the season have been long, solo efforts of chasing from behind. While I’ve certainly tried my best to hang on, the ever-increasing swim speeds of the majority of the pack in Xterra are tough. Its my own fault when I lose the front pack and the challenge of catching back up begins. In the last race in Alabama on May 17th I chased all day and gave it my best effort with the 2nd fastest run split but unfortunately didn’t close any gaps so 6th again it was. It was an eventful race with colder than ever temps (14 degrees C!!) in the usually hot and humid south, along with a massive, dark rain storm that left my hands and feet numb and I bounced down blood rock on my bike and tried to get the circulation going again. After one really hard crash on my right knee, which I still can’t kneel on without pain, it was still overall a fun day. But I was missing the real racing battles that I love.

Xterra Bama Mountain Bike - thanks to Trey Garmin for the pic

Xterra Bama Mountain Bike – thanks to Trey Garmin for the pic

A few weeks before the Xterra SouthEast Champs I flew down to Prescott, AZ for the last weekend of April to have a go at the Whiskey 50 mountain bike race. (thanks to my brother for lending me some Aeroplan points for my birthday weekend, and for my Luna teammate Katerina for letting me crash in her hotel room). The event started out with a road criterium on the Friday night. After not racing a crit or a short track race in at least 5 years, and on the verge of turning 39 I was a little nervous about whether I have any fast twitch left in my legs. Feeling extra sluggish with a small head cold, I chugged a few shots of espresso before the race and hoped for the best. When I heard “first lap prime” on the start line, with all systems firing with caffeine, I just went for it up the first hill. Unfortunately after the descent I only came across the first lap line in 3rd, and then realized I had to go up the hill about 9 more times – ouch! I regrouped enough to hang it for 8th but it was a lung and leg busting, post-race cough attack inducing race!

Leading out the crit at Whiskey 50 with a "well this isn't too bad smile" before the pain hit the next lap.

Leading out the crit at Whiskey 50 with a “well this isn’t too bad smile” before the pain hit the next lap.

The Sunday 50-mile mountain bike race was great too, after snow (incredible freak weather) the day before for the poor amateurs, the single track was in mint condition for the Pro races. After hanging with Erica Tingey and Rebecca Dussault in the mom-pack for a bit, it was time to work up the massive long climb. I bridged up to 3-4 girls on the climb and went kamikaze on the last long descent before hitting the road home and pinning it as fast as I could with Heidi Rentz hot on my heels after the last single track to roll in for 9th place.

Last bit of single track for a 3h48 day in the saddle

Last bit of single track for a 3h48 day in the saddle

A week after Alabama, I enjoyed the luxury of a local race, the Oak Bay Half Marathon. Being Victoria, the land of many fast runners, I was hoping for some good company. Unfortunately once the race was underway, Marilyn Arsenault was off the front and my good training buddy, Clare was behind me, and so it stayed for the rest of the race, I was stuck in no (wo)man’s land with no guys either! But a fun test to keep charging and on a slightly hilly but scenic ocean side course I finished the day a few minutes off my best in 1:21:23 for 2nd female, and 5th overall – and then couldn’t walk for a few days.

And most recently was the Island Cup mountain bike finals in Campbell River, B.C., 45 minutes north of my hometown of Courtenay. When I saw super fast mom of two, Carey Mark, on the line I knew it would be tough day. I got to the first single track in front of her but by the end of 1 lap she was still on my tail. She went by and I was looking forward to following her for a bit but unfortunately she took a slight wrong turn and I was back in front. That’s where I stayed, putting as much power in to my pedals as I could to break away and trying to stay smooth over the rocky, baby head descents on my hard tail, rough stuff! And after approximately 1h45 of racing Carey sling shotted around me for the win! The last time we raced I beat her by 1 second! Now that was a race!

Island Cup Series Final Finish Line

Island Cup Series Final Finish Line

Chatting randomly after the race about cyclocross, Carey said, “You should do it, you’d be good with your aggressiveness.” Me? Aggressive? I had to chuckle. But it made me think, I have always raced my best, running on the track, short track, mountain bike, and triathlon, when in a head to head, even body contacting battle! And maybe that is why I will likely never do an Ironman. After dabbling in some 70.3’s the last few years, I returned my Tri bike this year. While some thrive on it, long solo efforts are not fun racing for me. As I head to Richmond, VA for the next Xterra next weekend I hope for the luck of a good battle, another female Pro or otherwise! Either way, it is the race with some of the best mountain bike trails in the series so it will be fun regardless!

Bottom line: No matter how big or small, A-race or not, if you find yourself in a great race within a race, seize the opportunity to bring out your best! And if you like those long solo efforts, all the better too – maybe something like an Ironman or Ultrarunning etc is your thing – knowing your racing personality helps a bit too!

 

Athlete-Mom Interview: Rose Hughes Grant

Meet Rose Hughes Grant, a Pro mountain bike racer and travel agent from Kalispell, Montana. I first met Rose at a 3-day mountain bike stage race in Fernie, B.C. in 2011. Fast forward almost 3 years and Rose and her husband, Nelson are now the proud parents of 14-month old Layla. I ran into Rose again recently at the Whiskey 50 mountain bike race in Prescott, AZ at the end of April. She ripped it up there with a 5th place podium finish in both the Friday night Crit and Sunday Pro mountain bike race! She is going full steam ahead with a many national mountain bike races to come and two World Cup races in the schedule for 2014. Read on to find out how Rose has continued to follow her riding and racing passion through pregnancy and the demanding baby days….

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1. What was you life as an athletically (or otherwise) before having your daughter?

I’ve always been involved with athletics, mostly running in the years leading up to finding my mountain bike again in 2010. I enjoyed endurance races, and got to run the Boston Marathon in 2007. In 2011  I purchased a USA Cycling Race License for the first time and did my first real travelling for mountain bike racing. I completed that season with 2 national championships as a category 1 rider. The following season, 2012, I upgraded to Pro, and at the very beginning of my scheduled race season unexpectedly found out that I was pregnant. I was on my way to Fernie, BC for the Furious Three, a 3 day stage race, when through a conversation with a friend, confirmed that I had better take a pregnancy test. I waited until after the race and the test was positive. The next weekend I had XC Nationals slated in Sun Valley and the Missoula Pro XCT race the weekend after. I was feeling pretty good, so I competed at nationals to finish in 13th and in 6th place the following weekend at 6 and 7 weeks prego. I continued to race locally until I was 15 weeks along.

Rose 3rd on the Podium at US Super D Nationals Race with Layla - 4 months old!

Rose 3rd on the Podium at US Super D Nationals Race with Layla – 4 months old!

2. What motivated (or continues to inspires you) to get training and racing again since becoming a mom?

Even after becoming a mom, I am motivated to find where my potential lies. I love riding and racing my bike. I like structure and having goals. For me, training and racing is my outlet, it’s where I unwind and regroup to be the best wife and mother that I can be. Biking is my thing. It’s what I’m good at. It makes me happy, and as long as it continues to work… as long as I am able to fit in my training…. And as long as I continue to have support from my husband and family….I’m going to keep running with it. I believe that God gave me a talent, and I believe that my passion is my purpose.

All of us moms are truly thankful for supportive moms/grandmas!!

All of us moms are truly thankful for supportive moms/grandmas!!

3. Did you “train” during your pregnancy? How has your training/racing evolved/changed since becoming a mom?

I did all I could to stay in the best possible shape throughout my pregnancy. I made it my goal to do something active every day, knowing that I fully intended to put in a solid race season after having my baby in March. February came and the Montana weather started to warm. I switched from skate skiing to riding my bike (although very uncomfortable),and was doing mellow 40 mile rides on the road through my due date. I also made sure to incorporate some strength training at the gym throughout my pregnancy.

Since becoming a mother, I am not on my own time frame any longer. The biggest change is not actually a change in my workouts, but the strategy to accomplish them and in a timely manner. With the blessing of working from home, I am flexible to train during a portion of my day that my husband is available to watch Layla. Otherwise, I find a sitter or ride with her in her Chariot. I actually use the Chariot 3-4 days per week, or I would ride my trainer during her nap during the winter months.

4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2014?

Last season was an experiment really. Having an infant, nursing, getting back into peak fitness, losing the baby weight, etc. I didn’t place an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself. I trained hard and did have a solid season, but I wanted 2014 to be my year to have a consistent presence at the national races. My ambitions are to never miss a workout unless there is a very good reason. My biggest and hardest ambition is the East coast block of races that I am planning out the logistics for currently. There are a lot of details to coordinate when traveling/training/racing solo with a one year old. I’m planning to race XC Nationals and my first 2 world cups during the East coast block.

5. How do you balance family with your athletic goals?

I don’t over commit my time. I prioritize what is the most important to me…family, work,and training. Most days I don’t do anything else. My husband is really active too, and it can be so easy to do the “pass-off” at the door, which some days is just the way it is,but time together with the hubby is something that unfortunately has to be scheduled into our busy lives.

Husband Nelson with Layla cheering on Rose 2 months after baby Layla born!

Husband Nelson with Layla cheering on Rose 2 months after baby Layla born!

6. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape and/or competing again after having children?

The biggest thing for me was to set goals that are reachable, but not without hard work and commitment. I think there is almost always a way if there is some creativity put into your planned workouts. If training gets too hard or is causing family tension, re-evaluate how you are completing your workouts. The Chariot is my lifesaver! It was a splurge but worth my mental and physical health ten fold!! In addition to pulling it behind my bike, I use it as a jogger and for skate skiing in the off-season as well! Sometimes splurges are necessary if they are possible!

Rose racing the Whiskey 50 one month ago (April, 2014)

Rose racing the Whiskey 50 one month ago (April, 2014)