Athlete-Mom Interview: Kelley Cullen

Let me introduce you to Kelley Cullen from New Castle, Colorado. She is a mom of two, and races for the HoneyStinger Bontrager Offoad Team. A super skilled mountain biker and ex-competitive swimmer means Kelley is always a threat on the Xterra circuit, one highlight being a 4th place finish at U.S. Xterra Nationals in 2011.
Below she talks about her athletic evolution through mom-hood so far. My highlights from this interview are her take on “training” versus “exercise”, not comparing yourself to other athletes (or even athlete moms), finding the balance to do what’s best for you and your family, and going with the flow, or rather unstructured life of being an athlete with a family!
Read on and ride on….
1. What was your life as an athletically (or otherwise) before having your children? 
I grew up with 8 siblings in a very diversely active home in Spokane, Washington.  One of my brothers tried out for the Green Bay Packers NFL draft, my twin sister is a professional enduro motorcycle rider, another brother is on his way to  the University of Oregon on a full-ride football scholarship, and my youngest sister (who still has two years of high school left) hopes to play softball in college.  I was a competitive swimmer growing up, but burnt out from swimming too much around age 16.  My mom encouraged me to try something new so I started running.  My last two years of high school I ran cross-country and track while still swimming half-heartedly.  I loved the new change and ended up choosing to run cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track for Montana State University in Bozeman, MT.  Upon graduating college my identical twin sister and I decided to move to the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado and that’s when I discovered mountain biking.  That was the beginning of a whole new kind of adventure that I have not stopped enjoying trail riding/running!
As far as triathlons go, I started out doing the kid’s triathlon in Coeur d’ Alene, ID.  In high school I decided to try some longer races in and around the Spokane area including Troika 70.3 on a crappy 30 year old borrowed ten speed road bike with cracked tires and no back brake.  In college I continued to do triathlons in the summers.  The summer of 2002 I qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.  After that race, though, I realized how much I despised road riding.  I sold my road bike and never bought another one.
I am married and have two kids now; a 3.5 year-old girl and an 8 month old boy who was born on Labor Day.  Obviously things are quite different then when I first began riding mountain bikes and running trails ten years ago. Ninety percent of my training now happens on a spin bike in our living room during a nap time or pushing/pulling the Chariot on paved paths and county roads.
2. What motivated (or continues to inspires you) to get training and racing again after one child? And then two? How does life with one versus two compare?
As any pregnant lady would agree to I wanted to lose the extra baby weight, fit back into my clothes, and feel somewhat normal again!  Being a stay-at-home mom exercise is an outlet for me and I look forward to it every day.  I have always been a highly competitive person who enjoys challenges.  Competing just adds a whole other level of challenge, fun, adrenalin, focus, and motivation.
3. Did you train during your pregnancies? What was/has your training been like post-childbirth? 
 Yes.  However, I strongly discourage using the word “train” when you’re pregnant.  It’s easy to become obsessively worried about losing endurance fitness, muscle strength, gaining too much weight, and feeling like you’re not getting enough training time in.  I preferred to use the term “exercise” instead.  My only objectives for exercising were to maintain some level of endurance fitness, maintain a healthy pregnancy weight, promote the healthy growth of my baby (if you’ve read Dr. James Clapp’s book Exercising During Pregnancy you know what I’m talking about), and most importantly to help me feel better emotionally and physically. Before I had my second baby I trained about 10 hours/week on average very consistently with a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, but that has changed.  I only put in about 6-8 hours/week now and most of that takes place on a spin bike, pulling the Chariot, or running with the Chariot.  Having a three-year old daughter I often find myself bagging my training to spend a little one-on-one with her.  Each day is full of so many unpredictable variables such as kids waking up early, disrupted naps, cranky kids, kids needing attention, unplanned outings with friends, etc.  Therefore, I do not train with a coach anymore and do not follow a structured training plan.  I just make the most out of the time I have when I have it and rest when I’m tired.
4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for 2013?
I had big ambitions such as winning the TEVA Mountain Games UMC, finishing top 7 at as many XTERRA regional races possible, and top 8 at XTERRA nationals. The reality of family life with another little one has changed things a bit.  Due to our family lifestyle, chosen commitments, work obligations, and financial limitations, racing full-time seriously is not logistical nor realistic for us anymore.  So, I have decided to finish out this year’s 2013 season with a few races but without a serious outlook.  That means no pre-riding, no special periodization to my training, and choosing races that allow us to make family camping trips out of them such as XTERRA Moab and the HoneyStinger mountain bike race in which my husband and I will race as a duo together.
5. How do you balance family/work/training/competing?
I used to teach kindergarten but am currently a stay-at-home mom.  Family always comes first.  I have two kids and a great husband whom I devote my attention to first.  Training and racing are scheduled around that.  Most of my training happens sometime during the day to allow my husband time when he gets home from work to get a bit of exercise in too. Oftentimes my training rides/runs with the Chariot take place after I have taken the kids swimming at the Glenwood Hot Springs pool where we have a family pass.  While my legs usually feel like crap after being in the hot water I find that my kids are content to sit in the Chariot, eat snacks, take naps, and simply hang out.  Obviously it’s not the most effective way to train, but when you have kids you’re training with it works pretty darn well.
6. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape or even competing again after having children?
 First, I would encourage all new moms to read Dr. James Clapp’s book Exercising During pregnancy.  Also, take out the word “training” and replace it with “exercising” when you are pregnant.  Make sure that you keep a healthy balance of your time devoted to family, work, training, and racing.  I would sometimes find myself comparing myself with other professional mom athletes and wanting to race and do as much as them.  But, I had to be mindful of the fact that our family lifestyle was not the same as their’s.  So, plan to be mindful of your family’s lifestyle and your time.  Also, plan to be flexible with your structured training plan if you have one.  And, don’t run too much with a double Chariot!  I have Plantar Fasciitis tendonitis in my foot due to the 70 pound stress load from when I started running hills and intervals with our Chariot late last winter.  In fact, I have only ran two times since late December and that included XTERRA West Championships this past April.  That probably explains my terrible run split at the race!
Thanks Kelley! You can follow her adventures on her blog here!

7 thoughts on “Athlete-Mom Interview: Kelley Cullen

  1. Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
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  2. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyways, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  3. Pingback: Xterra Mountain Champs Race Report | Danelle Kabush

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  5. I just wanted to say, my name is Ashley Cullen, I am 11 years old now, almost 12 and this is amazing that my mom did all this!!! Even with me and my 9 year old brother Brodie!

    • Hi Ashley – thank you for the comment. I loved hearing this from you, and there is lots to be proud of your mom for. And I’m happy this interview is here for you to come and read all these years later 🙂

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