Athlete-Mom Interview: Gillian Clayton

Meet Gillian Clayton from Courtenay, BC, where she works part time as a physiotherapist. Previously a CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) gold medalist varsity soccer player, Gillian started running marathons in 2004. She taught herself to swim in order to compete in her first half-Ironman in 2010. Gillian raced as a professional triathlete in 2012 — and won the 2012 Ironman Canada — after just 2 years of racing as an amateur in triathlon.
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Gillian is mom to two little boys (3 years old, and 6 months) and recently finished the Victoria Marathon as the 10th women overall with a post-baby personal best of 3:11:30! Read on to learn more about Gillian’s latest perspectives on life and sport as a mother. You can also check out Gillian’s website here, and follow her on Twitter: @gillianliz

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1. What was your life like athletically (or otherwise) before becoming a parent and how has it evolved since?

My life before kids? Well, very different is the answer. The bottom line is that before kids (we have two young sons, 6 months and 3 years old), I could just decide what I wanted to do, and do it.  Quite simple.  I wanted to race in Europe? Okay.  Whereas now that question makes my head spin before I even figure out how to book a plane ticket (which we couldn’t afford anyways!).  So some logistics are different, and that shapes your training.  I get very excited now for local runs and races (here on Vancouver Island) because they are ‘available’ to me. Training is getting out the door and doing the best I can in whatever amount of time or energy I have that day.

2. Did you exercise/train during your pregnancies? How has your training/racing evolved/changed since becoming a mother?

I did train well through both pregnancies. I’ve often said I was lucky to be able to be so active during pregnancy, but I also worked really quite hard at it. Definitely I struggled in the first trimester with both pregnancies because I was so sick.  That was hard, for sure, but at least training made me feel like I accomplished something that day.

Certainly I’ve had lots of friends that had pain or illness that did not allow them to continue training, and I really felt for them, and felt quite lucky in that sense that I could continue doing what I wanted to do.  I was able to run and swim up until the days I delivered with both babies.  Biking took a bit of a backseat after the 3rd trimester because it wasn’t as comfortable and primarily I was more concerned of motorists on the road.  I am so happy I was able to train throughout pregnancy, as it has so many benefits (to the mother, to the baby, to the athlete, to the family!)

My training has changed immensely since becoming a mother so it’s a hard question to answer.  I realize I have a much smaller window for training, but I have quadruple (or more!) the amount of gratitude for the ability to get out and train. It’s a treat! I love my children and my life, but I am a born athlete, and I cherish when I am able to get out and move, breathe, and be an athlete again.  I recently trained for a marathon that I completed 6 months postpartum.  Some of that training was very hard, emotionally more so than anything.  But all I had to do was just start.  Just start and keep running. It came back to me, even when I was pretty sure what I had chosen to do was impossible (and maybe not the best idea – wrong, it was the best idea!).

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3. What motivated (or continues to inspire you) to get out training and racing?

Training is very simple.  I was just born to do it.  I love it.  It makes me who I am.  I’m not hardcore – I’m hardwired. I feel good inside my body when I move.  Racing is slightly different – there’s that extrinsic factor thing going on.  Why do we race? I’m not fond of race medals anymore and I am now comparing myself way less than I used to.  I do love the spirit of racing – of running beside someone and honestly putting your body & mind up against them and meeting the challenge. When you race someone to the line and you both end up laughing about it – that’s joy.

I keep getting out there because I have to do it too.  As a new mom, I’ve realized I need this for my mental health more than just about anything.  Postpartum hormones are no joke, and they can make for a very bumpy ride, and for me, I found that exercise was what kept me level. And as a mom of two young kids, being level is a gift in itself.

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4. What are your current training/racing ambitions for the upcoming months?


 Well, doing the marathon was a huge goal for me.  And now we head into the winter months where there is little on the schedule in terms of road races (I signed up for a trail race and rolled an ankle while walking on the road the week prior, and then realized, maybe trail is not for me – yet, anyways).  I really now look forward to the Cross Country ski season – because it’s a tremendous workout, lower impact, and I get up into the snow – which for the seasonal blahs of the west coast – is so, so important for me.  Plus I get to tow a kid along – honestly there is no harder workout!
Triathlon is a long term goal – I just don’t see the time to be able to fully commit to what I’d like to accomplish in that sport at the moment, so I’m happy with sticking to running.  Certainly I will run another marathon next fall, and perhaps one in the early summer depending on how it works for our family.  I just love endurance.  It should have been my middle name 🙂 My training is a combination of some workouts for my fitness, some for my mental health, and some to entertain my kids (or give my husband the occasional break!).  The goal of training right now is to stay healthy, in the greatest sense of the word.  But I do agree that racing helps you set goals, and that is something that I need to do to help feel purposeful in regards to training.  Certainly I will be back racing my second Loppet (Cross Country race) this year – I did one and loved it (bad technique and all!)

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5. How do you balance family/work demands with your training/racing goals?

I’m currently in the advantageous position of being on maternity leave, meaning I do get the extra time for training, but that’s balanced out with the needs of an infant who needs me a lot, so it also has some restrictions. Balancing the needs of my family with training is always the most important part.  Sometimes for my family to work well, I have to come first, and I need to get out to exercise enough to have a break, reap the rewards of the lovely endorphins of exercise, and normalize my energy levels (all moms know how being up multiple times every night can mess with your sleep/wake patterns). I’ve struggled with the guilt of saying, “I have to run”, but it’s getting easier.  I know as a mom I am not alone in this, which makes it easier too.
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6. Any tips or advice you would have for other moms with goals of getting back in shape and/or continuing to train/compete with children?


Oh, good question. Gosh, what would I say? I’d say do it because you enjoy it, not because you feel you have to have a certain type of body or look. I’m sure in the biggest milky boobs to speed ratio, I’d win every race. I look different – it’s okay. Your body has gone through a tremendous change, and it’s meant to be different right now.  I’d also say listen to your body – not everything is smooth postpartum (is anything actually….?).Push yourself because it feels good to do it, not because you’re supposed to.  Know that I felt so super crappy technique and speed-wise getting back into running – but that I felt so free getting a break that I didn’t care how awful I thought my running was.  It comes back to you faster than you think, but never as fast as you want it to.  Get a good sports bra.  In fact get 5 because you’ll never have time to do the laundry.  Find good body glide type products because you’re likely going to chafe – and that hurts! You’ve bled enough having a child – no need to lose any more!
Know that it’s okay to start small because no amount of exercise is insignificant.  Find a healthcare provider that can help guide you with exercise if you feel you need it – I’m a Physiotherapist so I have a bias, but we’re pretty good at getting you started and solving issues along the way.

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7. Anything else you would like to add?

I can’t imagine a life where I wasn’t able to intertwine exercise and pregnancy, postpartum, and motherhood.  It’s just who I am.  Motherhood has helped me see that more clearly because I care less about the results, the races, the validation of “I’m a good athlete”, because I now realize I was just simply meant to do it.  That has become a huge freedom in my life as of late.  I worried before, after having our first child and again when pregnant with our second, what if I lost the ability to really ‘push’ or ‘hurt’ myself in training to get to the level of fitness I wanted? When the mama-brain took over, I wondered if I’d ever be a good athlete again.  This was a real fear.What happened when I ran my last marathon was that I was so free of the old thoughts that once served me (usually punishing type thoughts), that it made way for a whole slew of positive thoughts, and room for the ‘flow’ of training and just enjoying doing what I was doing.  And now, although I don’t think I really care if I ever win a big race again, I’d be tempted to say, watch out, because I have a feeling I’ve finally gotten out of my own way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I can now achieve more than I ever have before.

 Thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions Danelle!

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