Athlete-Mom Interview: Emma Garrard

Let me introduce you to Emma Garrard from Park City, Utah, where she lives and enjoys the outdoors year round with her boyfriend, Ian, border collie, Kip, and son, Torin (born December, 2012) . I have had the pleasure of racing Xterra’s with Emma over the last seven years, and as Emma has improved every year from U.S. National amateur champion in 2007 and since turning Pro in 2008.  After giving birth to her son, Torin in December, Emma, 32 years young, got back to training and racing by the spring. She improved and got fitter every race and by the end of the season was 4th at the U.S. Xterra Championships and 5th at the Xterra World Championships at the end of October in Maui. Read on to learn about Emma’s athletic journey into motherhood….
1. What was you life as an athletically (or otherwise) before having Torin?
Since 2009, when I lost my job as a newspaper photographer and moved to Park City it’s been focusing on XTERRA triathlon in the summer while also working at a bike shop and doing dryland coaching for a junior Nordic program. In the winter I also coach and work at a Nordic Center, White Pine Touring instructing, and teach Computrainer classes for Max Testa Training. I also competed in Nordic ski races and winter triathlons. In 2011, my last full season before becoming a mom, I traveled a lot, to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil and all over the US for races. I was trying to ‘make it’ as a triathlete but wasn’t really planning ahead too much.
2. I know your pregnancy with Torin was a surprise right at the start of  the 2012 race season – what was that like emotionally for you? 
I’m glad I waited until my 30s to have an unplanned pregnancy! It was a shock and really tough emotionally, I was coming off a good start to the season, placing 3rd at the XTERRA West Championships and felt like I was hitting my stride. I was really happy with my lifestyle and really excited for the season and the freedom to travel to races on a budget. I knew my life would not be the same again but knew racing could be an option as there are so many successful athlete-moms out there. I felt really stressed out financially because if I could not race I could not get a large portion of my annual income. Pregnancy in the US is incredibly expensive and my health insurance plan did not cover pregnancy. On top of that I was worrying about funding my racing when I returned from pregnancy. That being said I’ve always wanted to have kids and was planning on having them while being an athlete but I’d hoped to establish myself better as an athlete first to have a bit more stability. It was really stressful making the call to sponsors but they were all very understanding.
3. What motivated (or continues to inspires you) to get training and racing again after Torin was born?
I really love the process and getting out everyday and training, especially when it’s outdoors. But mostly I felt I still had something to prove and had not achieved my goals. It was also important for me to prove women can do whatever they were doing before they had kids whether it’s racing or any other kind of profession of passion. I shouldn’t have to, because there are so many moms who have proved it before me but I still hear doubt and I was still asked a lot if I was going to keep racing after having a child. Initially my goal was to finish an XTERRA and not be last in the pro women, and hopefully score some points for the overall series. Ten months later I was hoping to win worlds, it didn’t happen but I came a long way!
4. Did you “train” during your pregnancy?
Yes. I kept racing until about 10 weeks. Most of the racing I did not know I was pregnant but some I did. I initially did a lot of research and talking to doctors to figure out if it was safe to keep competing and whether or not I could still be competitive and for how long. I made it a goal to finish the ITU World Championships in Pelham, Alabama. I’d slowed down already but it was a very fast decline after that even though most people couldn’t tell I was pregnant (besides the giant boobs!) I’m glad I competed in the race but wouldn’t do that again, I’d probably stop when I knew I was pregnant because I didn’t feel good in that last race. After calling my season quits I made it my goal to exercise during pregnancy, again after doing a lot of research, including reading all the athlete-mom interviews 🙂 and believed it would help my pregnancy, labor and child. Not to mention make me stronger for when I returned to racing. I did not have a coach or training plan but generally exercised once a day for about an hour, a lot of jogging, hiking, swimming, mountain biking and some rollerskiing I was doing for coaching. But it was very unstructured and if I really didn’t want to I didn’t workout, that being said, I rarely felt like doing anything in the 1st trimester but always felt better and less tired and nauseous when I worked out. The heat also bothered me a lot more when I was pregnant and seemed to do a lot better once it cooled off. I tried to make sure it was a break from my training in the past and I stopped and turned around when I’d had enough rather than trying to make it to the top. I tried to do one longer ride a week anywhere from 2-4 hours. We had a late winter but I got out on skate skis a few times when I was pretty big and that was not fun because it felt like I was holding a medicine ball! Classic skiing was a lot better and the day before I went into labor I remember classic skiing and feeling pretty good and making it up all the hills, having poles took a lot of the weight off. I went into labor right after swimming.
5. How has your training progressed post-childbirth?
It felt great to get out again after having Torin and didn’t worry much about times or pace before 4 months. I did a lactate test a couple of months after and I think I was about 20 watts off my threshold pace which wasn’t bad, I know it’s a lot higher now than it was before I had Torin. I certainly underestimated how much nursing would control my life and impact my training so I really had to remember to eat and drink a lot. My workouts are still scheduled around feeding but so much more so early on. When you are nursing every couple of hours that 2 hours goes by so fast. It takes 45 minutes to nurse you only have 1:15 and that doesn’t include getting things ready etc so making it to the pool is pretty challenging. After 4 months I started to feel a lot better and improved a lot between 4-6 months and continued to improve until the end of my season. Any major differences from pre-Torin days? I’ve trained a lot less now and my training is a lot more specific. The biggest thing was logistically finding time to train, for the first 7 months it was mostly Ian and I taking turns working and taking care of  Torin so I found ways to train with Torin whether it was with the Chariot, or riding the trainer inside while he napped or setting him on  the pool deck in his car seat while I swam. I was grateful if I could get out and do anything. After 7 months I had a lot more time to train but still had a lot less volume so I could do all the other mom stuff! It seemed like initially it took me so much longer to get out the door, whether it would be feeding the baby, pumping, bringing Torin over to his aunt’s house along with all his stuff and then getting my stuff ready and remembering to eat. But I rarely think, ‘it was so easy to train before I had a child’ because I always felt like I was juggling a lot and was never just a triathlete. I certainly feel stronger now but it could be because of a lot of things.
5. How do you balance family/work with your training/competition schedule? Doing less of everything else besides being a mom; working, racing, training and spending time together. Taking turns working, riding, and watching Torin. Focusing on a few key races a year and having a low volume training plan. Having someone come to races with me whether it be Ian or my mom was essential. Investing in daycare helped a lot too, that way you can also have more quality time together rather than always trying to do other things while watching your child.
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?
Be patient and enjoy being a new mom as the races will always be there. But having a race as a goal is great motivation and a break and alone time from being mom. If you don’t have that goal it’s hard to get out the door. A big realization for me was not stressing out about following a training plan exactly, you will have to skip some workouts, but instead being more concerned with how I felt, if I felt fit and fast despite how much training I’d done I believed I could do well in a race and usually I did.
Thanks for sharing Emma! Please check out Emma’s insightful and entertaining blog posts and photography on her website: You can also follow her on twitter:@emma_garrard

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