Motivation and Momentum through Motherhood

Yesterday afternoon I was kitted up to ride. Then I dozed off on the couch while my kids played noisily around me. My legs were still hurting from the previous day’s running intervals on the track. It felt so good to just lie still for a while and close my eyes. I could have stayed there and skipped the day’s planned intervals on the bike and had a nice dinner with my family. No one would know or care, and my coach is afar in Calgary. But because I hate the feeling of quitting, I finally got up, had a little coffee to get me going and jumped in the saddle. The week’s intensity had added up and it was one of the toughest workouts I’ve done in a while, physically and mentally.

I believe I’ve been an athlete long enough to know when throwing a day of training out is a good idea, and a rather smart idea in the overall scheme of things. But I also know when I just need to suck it up, take it one step, or interval at a time, and just see if I can do it. And I did it! It feels good, and such days put mental toughness in the bank! Especially after those low moments now and then, when I say, “Why am I still doing this?!”

Seven years ago this month, I won the athlete lottery and was welcomed on the Luna Pro team at the annual team camp aka take a few photos and get spoiled rotten with racing gear. My daughter Zoé was six months old and it was the beginning of, “lets see how this training and racing things goes again after bringing a child into the world”. And here I still am, two children later, and a year away from 40! Really?! Since then I’ve always told myself I will race as long as I’m still motivated, still having fun, and it still works with my values of balancing it with my family. Thanks to the incredible support of the Luna team and my family, I can continue to say yes to all of the above.

March 2008

March 2008

Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

I know I won’t race for Luna forever (well maybe, some of our team members have outstanding longevity – very inspiring!) or always race Pro, but I’ve learned I love training, pushing whatever my current limits are, and setting racing goals to motivate me. I know it is a lifestyle that I won’t easily give up. I’ll never be content to turn into a couch potato or just exercise 20 minutes a day in my athletic “retirement”.

I’ve also learned to appreciate all the advantages and positives of coming back to training and competition on the other side of childbirth. The first thing I learned was how much energy training gave me back! The demanding first blurry eyed months with a newborn left me feeling more like napping than getting out the door to train. But I was surprised often at how good I did feel once I got going. You are stronger than you think new moms!

Making Racing a Family Affair, July 2011

Making Racing a Family Affair, July 2011

Through ballooning up with twice with two very healthy sized babes in my belly, losing all my core strength and then starting all over again to get my fitness back I’ve learned a little more patience. And that getting back into race shape is most about how you feel, and the satisfaction of having strength, stamina, and speed come back through persistence, and plain hard work. I may never have a flat, six-pack again, such a goal is so passé anyways isn’t it?. It’s not about the numbers on the scale (best to throw that out!), or that go in your mouth – just eat often and well enough to nourish yourself and be reasonable with the treats is my motto. The only numbers I focus on are the training numbers my Coach Cal pushes me to shoot for, without him I would be deferring to my naturally lazy side, ha!

Many ask – how do you do it with kids? To be honest, I don’t know how I would still be doing it without kids at this stage of my life. My kids continually rejuvenate my motivation, put everything in perspective, and give more purpose to everything I do. They teach me to stay in the moment of everyday and focus on what is most important. They are what get me out of bed early in the morning to train so I have more time in the day to spend with them. While my body is stiffening up more with each passing year, Zoe and Nico have stretched me to grow in every way possible, and are my biggest cheering squad!

My fast growing kids, March 2014

My fast growing kids, March 2014

Xterra Racing 101

Spring is officially only a week away, and triathlon season is coming in full force! Which also means the start of Xterra season for those who enjoy switching up the pavement for dirt.  The world of  Xterra (off-road) triathlon is a unique blend of tri-geek  personalities mixed with laid back mountain bike personalities. Where else can you see athletes riding around on a mountain bike in full spandex and compression socks, ha! Overall though, it’s a friendly, fun, and laid-back crowd and I think that is what draws many to want to get involved in the sport. I’m asked now and then about how to get into Xterra racing, so here are three of my biggest tips from experience….

1. It’s a lot about the mountain bike! If you don’t come from a mountain bike riding or racing background the most important thing to do is focus most of your time getting comfortable on the bike by improving your bike handling skills on technical terrain. The added dynamic of Xterra that makes it so exciting is that you could be the fittest athlete in the race on paper but if you waste too much energy just trying to stay upright on your bike, a more highly skilled and efficient bike handler will gain time and go into the run with more energy left in the tank! Of course, every race course is unique as far as the technical demands, but in general bike times in Xterra are about 60% of your entire race, so it is worth spending the time on your bike. Ride with more skilled riders whenever you can (you’ll improve fastest when riding with others) and enter mountain bike races to get comfortable riding technical trails at maximum effort, and learning to pass and be passed by others doing the same.

At the same time, one thing that blew me away at many Xterra races when I first started was other athletes asking me the night before the race, “so what is the course like?” Before getting into Xterra racing I competed in cross-country mountain bike racing for five years. The most important thing in preparation for a race is pre-riding the course, figuring out the best lines to go the fastest according to your ability, deciding the best places to eat or drink, where you’ll be able to push hard, recover a bit etc. If you’re new to the sport it is particularly important to decide if you’re uncomfortable riding any sections. Although most Xterra courses are less technical than mountain race courses (except in Canada, ha ha :)), there can still be steep ups, downs, or obstacles that are challenging. My philosophy is that if you can’t ride something while pre-riding, don’t expect to miraculously be able to clean it with the added race adrenaline and fatigue while going at race pace. Also, if there is a part of the course you’re fearful of, just commit to jumping off and running it, instead of dreading it and likely unconsciously slowing down as you approach it. Ride within your limits. Although some choose not to pre-ride a course to save energy, particularly when Xterra courses are longer loops, if a course is technical, I would say knowing the course and what to expect trumps a little extra pre-race fatigue most of the time. As anyone who was there may agree, the bridge-packed Whistler Xterra Canada course was the best example of the need to pre-ride!

2. Get to know the brick. Although I spent most of my life pre-Xterra competing as a runner, the biggest shocker when I started racing was the feeling from the bike-to-run transition. Your legs may literally feel like bricks for the first 5-10 minutes or more. Anyone from a triathlon background will have some experience with this feeling but the added challenge of Xterra is coming off the full-body effort on the mountain bike onto running trails, which can often head straight up or down with added roots, rocks, logs, mud or loose terrain! Doing workouts that involve race intensity from your trainer to the run, or even from your mountain bike to varied terrain trail running outside are great preparation for an Xterra.

3. Open water swimming practice. Unless you have a rock star swimming background, often the most feared discipline is getting through the open water swim. While smooth, no-contact lane swimming in a pool is great fitness preparation, whenever weather permits prior to a race, take any opportunity to swim in a wetsuit in cold and/or rough, ocean or lake water. It is also important to practice sighting where you’re going, and checking your ability to swim in a straight line! AND get comfortable swimming with others in very close proximity, and knocking you around at the same time. With all the extra external distractions, don’t forget to breath and find your own rhythm too!

A good option for trying out an Xterra race is to enter the sport race, which is half the distance of a full Xterra (approximately 1500m swim, 30km mountain bike, 10km run). For a fun challenge against changing terrain in beautiful places, think about trying some Xterra racing in 2012!

For the full U.S.A. and global schedule of Xterra triathlons and trail runs here

For the entire Canadian schedule click here.

Implementing Core Intentions

Well, if there is one thing you learn after childbirth, when you get exercising again, it is how much you use all those small core muscles to stabilize everything! After both kids were born, when I first started running again it felt like I was running with a jelly belly! It took at least six months each time until I felt everything was holding together solidly again when running, especially during speed work! And if you’re not strong from the core, it can lead to a bodily chain reaction of nagging pains or injuries in other areas. I came back quicker than ever after having my son and suffered some achilles problems for a bit as a consequence of a weakened core.

Every season, I have intentions of doing more core work as it is the foundation to having proper technique, strength, power and stamina in any sport. I realized this importance while mountain biking in the early months after having Nico as well, my back was often sore as it was doing all the work to stabilize me on the bike!

While I had a good start to regular core work as I began my winter training recently, as I write this I have fallen off the core wagon again! Unless I count all the box lifting I’ve done while moving houses the past week – and that’s my time excuse too, ha! My goal is to do regular core work 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 15 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much and as important as I recognize it to be, when the business of life and training sets in, and when I’m healthy and taking being injury-free for granted, core work is unfortunately the first thing to get dropped from my schedule. Oh, did I say schedule? Part of getting it done would be to put it in my schedule to start with! I’ve always liked the ring of “implementation intentions” an academic term related to the research of effective goal setting that means going beyond having the goal (or intention) to do something and planning the steps for how you will implement it – to consider where you will do it, how you will do it, when you will do it, with whom you will do it etc.

For now, I will focus on the how. Here are some of my favourite ways to work on core strength with enough variety to keep it interesting from week to week…

1. Swiss Ball Exercises. Coach (brother) Geoff put me on this program when I first started mountain biking. I do 10-20 repetitions of sit ups, right and left side sit ups (is this the right term?), back extensions, hamstring curls, and ball roll ups (from plank position with hands on the floor bring your knees up into your chest with the ball under the top of your feet) continuously rotating through each exercise for 10-15 minutes. Or build up to 45 minutes for a real trunk stamina challenge!

2. P90X. I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise DVD’s but my dad got into P90X and introduced it to me in the summer. The guy (Tony) is motivating and not annoying to listen to. Every exercise has a countdown timer too. My two favourites are Ab Ripper X, a solid and tough 15 minute core routine or if you have more time, the core synergistics workout is a good one that involves more dynamic and functional work with light weights and bands.

3. The Timer Mix. I set my watch to beep every minute and just rotate through any core exercises I can think for 10-15 minutes or more. Using a combination of ab work, planks, push-ups, side leg lifts, arm and leg work with resistance bands, the time goes by amazingly fast.

4. Yoga. In the past I’ve attended instructed classes, but since kids any “luxury time” to do yoga is usually with a DVD at home. On of my favourites is Baron Baptiste’s beginner Yoga workout. Unlike many yoga workouts that take well over an hour, this one takes 40 minutes and includes all the essential poses with a good core workout to finish it off. I love yoga for all the other things you can work on at the same time as well such as relaxation, breathing, mindfulness, and flexibility

5. Pilates. Not one of my faves because I’ve yet to try it but I must add it to the list as I’ve heard this is a great workout for core strength!

Hello Trainer! How can we get along this winter?!

On the first super cold, not really worth going outside day in Calgary the other day, I hopped on my trainer for my first ride heading into winter training. With no real

A garage ride my first year on the LUNA team, Photo by Mike Flynn

structured training plan in place yet, I had enough motivation to ride for about 45 minutes. Enough time to think about the fact it was only the beginning of the 4-5 month indoor riding season, sigh! For those of us triathletes and cyclists who live in the more northern latitudes and parts of the world where sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow are the norm for the winter months, riding with a trainer, rollers, or on a spin bike are usually the only options to giving cycling specific muscles a workout. Ever since I have called myself a cyclist or triathlete I have lived in the land of snow and ice, far from balmy Vancouver Island where I grew up and one can ride outdoors year round!

Over the last ten years, I have also experimented through trial and error as to how much and what kind of indoor riding works best in order to make it to spring still physically fresh and not mentally burned out! Here are a few things I’ve learned to do in order to keep pedaling nowhere as exciting as possible…

1. Learn and respect your indoor riding threshold! During my first winter training for mountain bike racing I was living in Ottawa and rode my rollers in the dingy basement of a rental house I was sharing with other students. Midway through the winter I found myself burnt out of indoor riding and had to take a little time off to refresh my physical and mental motivation to ride inside again. Although I’ve known a few mentally tough (or crazy?! :)) athletes over the years who seem to actually enjoy and/or can tolerate many hours per week of indoor riding, it’s best to respect how many hours per week you can personally handle mentally in order to optimize your time on the trainer and pace yourself until the snow finally melts!

2. Use every motivational tool you can. If you’ll be riding the trainer for several weeks or months at a time, it can be worth getting a lactate test done with a coach to find out your training zones with heart rate and watts. That way you can gauge your efforts, and monitor whether you’re overdoing it as well. While riding nowhere, rides that focus on your heart rate, cadence, and wattage can be welcome “distractions” to pass the time productively. Add in your favourite motivational music mixes and you’re ready to go!

3. Have a detailed ride plan. When I ride at home solo, a 90 minute plus trainer ride takes a lot less mental energy when I have a detailed down to the minute plan to follow. I’ll use one of my workouts after teaching spin classes for many years, or get one from my coach. With a variety of efforts (heart rate or watts), cadence, standing, sitting, and one-legged exercises to all taped to the wall beside me, the time goes by much faster with a quality, focused plan to follow.

4. Choose TV/movie watching or radio listening wisely. Some rides are meant to be just steady aerobic rides, and these ones can be the best ones to choose to watch a movie or TV or listen to the radio instead of rocking out to motivational tunes. I also like to spend time on my rollers instead of the trainer for these types of rides which also helps improve balance and pedalling coordination, as well as being closer to simulating outdoor riding. However, I usually don’t choose to watch TV during intervals since I associate it with relaxing and chilling out and I think my legs subconsciously start to pedal slower when I watch it – one exception would be watching Tour de France type footage where you can focus on matching the pedaling cadence. When first learning French I also learned that listening to French radio while riding to work on my comprehension skills only made me fatigue even faster while indoor riding because of the brain power depletion it took to focus!

5. Train with a group as often as possible. There is always more energy and motivation in numbers! If you can join or even teach a spin class for a ride or two a week, it keeps you accountable to keep riding and is a good change of scenery from riding at home. Group movie rides in a friend’s garage or basement are great. In Calgary, our Critical Speed triathlon training group does famous bimonthly 3-5 hour indoor brick sessions (a mix of riding, track running, stairs, and core conditioning) during the winter, which I could NEVER do on my own!

6. Cross-train! As related to point number one, when your indoor riding threshold is maxed out, cross-country skate skiing is my favourite method of cross-training. Even one day per week, things like snowshoeing, stair running, or even stairmaster and uphill treadmill running if you’re still stuck inside can be a nice change to the trainer while also still working on cycling specific muscles and strength.

A gorgeous, mostly vertical, snowshoe day up Sunshine in Banff

Skiing in Canmore with Zoe when she was 16 months old

7. Remind yourself of the few reasons indoor riding can be superior to outdoor riding. You can always periodically pump yourself up to ride the trainer with fun facts like it beats riding outside in 5 degree rain, its more bang for your time bucks, you can often push yourself harder than you might be able to outside by locking in the watts for intervals, and one-legged work, high cadence riding, and roller riding can improve your pedalling efficiency for when you hit the road again. It’s also not a bad time to remember the long-term perspective as to why you’re doing it in the first place, hopefully to prepare for a big event or some big races you have planned for next season! And of course it is our northerners secret to building mental toughness in the off-season!

8. Plan one (or two!) midwinter escapes to a warmer climate to train.  If you are able to, planning a welcome break to a warmer destination mid to late winter is always a great way to break up the indoor monotony and have a shorter term goal to work towards and look forward to enjoying the fruits of your indoor work. When I lived back east, a big group of us from Ontario would pile in our cars every year at the end of March, and drive down to South Carolina for a week of riding in Table Rock State Park. It was beautiful riding and great motivation to keep the winter riding up in order to be fit enough to handle the miles ridden that week. Now I enjoy occasional winter escapes with my kids to my hometown on Vancouver Island. And if you can’t escape winter, even a midwinter excursion to back country or xc ski for a few days can be just as refreshing!

9. If all else fails, ride outside anyway! If you’re lucky enough to have an old mountain bike that can potentially get covered in snow, slush, and salt, throw on some studded tires with extra low pressure, and on those slightly warmer winter days – called Chinooks in Calgary – take a spin on the bike paths on lightly covered single track trails and have fun practicing your balance. If you can ride where there is not too much ice, blasting down a snow-covered hill and trying to stay upright is a blast when falling into the snow won’t hurt one bit either!

Post-season blues or bliss?

Whether you’ve finished the one main event you’ve been training for, or several races as part of a season, it is completely normal to come down with a case of the post-race or post-season blues. If your “A” race is done, or the main event is over, no matter how well you did, there is a period of letdown. The event is finished, the race stories for the day are written, everyone has gone home and the party is over. You may feel as a child does, or you still do  :), after all the presents have been opened on Christmas morning. With the feelings of excitement, anticipation, planning and preparation for the big day suddenly dissipated, it is easy to feel temporarily lost.

Crossing the finish line for the last time in 2011

With my last race of season complete last weekend, I got thinking about what are the best ways to handle any feelings of post-race blues and make the beginning of the “off-season” as blissful as possible. Expecting and preparing for a bit of letdown time is half of the battle. Here is what has helped me enjoy and get the most out of this short period of re-balancing, renewing, and refocusing on what’s next….

1. I take some real time off training. I give myself permission to do absolutely NOTHING physical for at least a week to 10 days other than walks to the park with my kids and stretching. Usually, I get physical withdrawal symptoms earlier than that and feel like doing something. But I just wait until my body says, “I can’t stand this any longer, take me out the door for a little run at least!”

2. I indulge a little in all the forbidden foods I usually cut way down on when in serious training and racing mode. After a maximum of a few days of eating too much chocolate, chips, donuts etc the yuckiness I feel is enough to remind me why “everything in moderation” is the way to go and return to asap!

3. Before the off-season officially begins, I have a list of things I’m looking forward to doing, any projects I’ve had on the backburner all season. All those, “if I wasn’t training/racing so much, I’d take more time to….” Things like projects around the house that have been pushed down the priority list for several months as well as spending extra time with friends and family.

4. After some real time off, I start a fun “active rest” phase for about a month. When my body is itching to start moving agian, I do what feels good. I enjoy some “training” that might not be a regular part of my structured training routine, things like yoga, pilates, hiking, or fun social runs with no pacing/distance agenda. And I do enough so that the transition back to full on training again isn’t too painful.

5. Of course, part of the post-season blues are related to a sudden lack of goal focus. So it can be a fun time to take some time to plan out any events I’m going to compete in next season. I reflect on any races I’d love to do again, new ones to try, or ones I swear I won’t do again!

6. Once I’ve had a good body and mind break from sructured training and am feeling recharged, renewed and fully motivated to get back to work, it is time to sit down with my coach and get into the serious details of week by week training plans again. Of couse, I like to make sure this is well underway before the holiday season, so I can afford my beloved eggnog lattes and other occoasional goodies (in moderation of course) around Christmas!

Thanks to my Chariot Carrier another training day is done!

Its a Saturday morning. My husband, J-F has work meetings all day. With a 1 and 3 year old too look after, I don’t have a babysitter and a 2 hour run in on the training agenda. No problem! Its a great day to use my trusted double Chariot Carrier XC!

With snacks, drinks, blankets, cell phone, hats, extra clothes, diapers and sunscreen easily packed I headed out on the Calgary bike paths with the promise of park pit stop near the end of the run. Nico napped, Zoe sang, snacked and held Nico’s hand, Nico woke up, Zoe made him laugh, then cry, then laugh again. And before we knew it it was 1h45 minutes into the run and we stopped for 45 minutes of fun at Prince Island Park playground before Zoe ran for awhile before deciding to jump back in the Chariot for the last 15 minutes run to home.

Here are some of my favourite ways to use the Chariot for training:

1. Running – it is perfect for getting any steady paced run in. With at least 50 lbs worth of kids, and likely at least another 50 lbs of Chariot and gear, it definitely adds some resistant training.  To up the intensity, change up the pace with a fartlek (some of my favourites – 10 x 1 minute, 5 x 2 minutes or a pyramid 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 minutes hard with equal rest.  To up the intensity even more try doing hill repeats! With the double my hills are more like a strong walking stride now, but it definitely gets the heart rate up fast!

2. Cycling – again, a good way to get an easy spin to steady ride in with the kids – don’t forget their helmets. To up the intensity, try some hill repeats. This is best done on a bike with low enough gearing like a mountain bike.

3. Cross-Country Skiing – I confess I haven’t attempted this with two, but when with one child I love getting out for a skate ski in the winter. The slow down in speed allows me to work on smooth technique and the motion of skiing really lulls a bundled one to sleep well! Keeping the heart rate down can be the biggest challenge skiing

Finally, you can keep it exciting for the kids by having a fun destination in mind. For example, in Calgary we can ride to the Zoo, lock up the bike, and convert the Chariot to a stroller for a visit, before heading back home.

And don’t forget all the gear you might need and can bring thanks to the spaciousness in the back of a Chariot: