C’mon lets race!

When playing with my kids at a school park near our house the other night, we spotted the white outlined track on the grassy field. Zoé and Nico immediately got excited about racing each other and myself around the lap as well as several times down the 100m straight away. They were quite the challenge to my dinner filled stomach – whew! Kids love to run!

Then yesterday was Zoé’s first school track meet. In the morning she grumbled and whined about not wanting to go. However, when she got off the bus at the end of the day she was beaming with pride. She couldn’t wait to show off her two blue ribbons, give the play by-play of her races and recount the day she spent at the track with her school friends. It also brought back fond memories of my first and early days racing around the track in late elementary school.

When I see my kids eyes light up and race around the field with complete abandon, it reminds me of the true spirit of racing, of going as fast as you can while having fun doing it. Unfortunately, sometimes as we grow older our self-consciousness, performance anxieties and fears get in the way of that total abandon.

I was reminded this past weekend of that ‘I can’t wait, let’s get going already!’ spirit while watching the replay of the UCI cross-country women’s mountain bike world cup race in La Bresse, France. And that the childlike excitement of racing doesn’t need to disappear when we’re all grown up. The 2015 world champion, Jolanda Neff, a 23-year-old from Switzerland had missed the first two world cups of the season. While most others on the start line were doing some deep breathing with their serious game faces on, Jolanda could be seen in the second row, literally bouncing up and down with a smile that said ‘I can’t wait to get started!’ (pictured in centre below – as if its not obvious, ha!)

jolanda la bresse

And once she was out of the gate, as she always does, she raced full-out, charging up and down every hill with sheer confidence pushing the limits of control, along with a spectacular crash midway through the race on one of the narly, rocky descents. After a flat tire change on the last lap and some excitement battling our amazing Canadians Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty, she won the race.

Of course we could argue that’s its easier to have fun, and go for it full of confidence when you’re the current world champion and you’re at the front of the race most of the day. But we also know that winning, being the one everyone is chasing after, and staying on top consistently is often harder and can feel more pressure filled than being the underdog!

My high school friend, Kiara Bisaro, a 2004 Olympian, who also competed for Canada in mountain biking, was known for her constant smile while racing (and off the bike as well). Whenever I have felt fearful or nervous on the bike I still think of Kiara and her smile. When I remember to smile, it relaxes me and reminds me to just have fun and let things roll. As grown ups sometimes we mistakenly believe that to perform our best we need to be super serious or hyper focused.

grousexc_bisaro

However,  when I think of my kids saying, ‘c’mon lets race!’ its a great reminder to get out of our over thinking, often stressed out and pressure filled adult heads, to just go for it and have fun going as fast as we possibly can for as long as we can. No matter how we feel on the day or where we find ourselves in the pack, a race is a race! It can be that simple.

 

 

 

 

Ride like Yer Mom!

On Hornby Island, B.C. there is a trail called “Yer Mom”. It makes me smile and think of moms out there riding and I love that it’s a tough trail described on www.trailforks.com as the “Only trail with significant technical features. Large built up drops, gap jumps and skinnies. Most features have a ride around.New optional feature has been added to the trail. Its a 25 foot road gap that enters just passed the skinny to rock-face.”

However, it also makes me chuckle how often my 6 year son Nico will ask while out riding, “Mom, Uncle Geoff could ride that right?” When examining a feature or a descent its a fun way to assess together whether something is rideable. I may reply, ‘yes I’m sure he could ride that!’ or ‘hmmm, not sure that would be safe for anyone to attempt’. Or I may also need to add, “Yes, and mommy could do it too! Want to see?”

NicoBike

While I appreciate that the importance and value of my son’s male role models to look up to: the older boys at the bike park, family members like uncle, grandpa, and papa, I also take pride in the fact that I can model to my son and daughter that women can enjoy and embrace the technical and physical challenges of mountain biking the same way boys and men can. And that women can go for speed, distance, or strength in any other sport we so chose to participate in!

A friend pointed out to me recently that we are now seeing the first generation of kids riding and racing mountain bikes whose parents raced when they were kids. These parents are often still enjoying the sport competitively, or at least recreationally. The kids that grew up in the 1980s experiencing the beginnings of mountain biking are now raising kids and enjoying the sport alongside them.

I was fortunate and proud to be a member of the amazingly well supported, all-women’s professional mountain bike team, the LUNA Pro Team while racing Xterra triathlons from 2008-2014. After retiring from racing Xterra professionally, I kept running and swimming regularly but found myself begrudgingly saying ‘I don’t have time to ride’. After a certain amount of self-induced bike deprivation I realized how much I missed whizzing along the road, or rumbling down a trail in the woods on my bike. Plus my quads were shrinking, and who wants to lose all that hard earned leg power?! So the balance has swung back and biking has come back up the priority pole. As much as I’m motivated to stay fit enough to ride with my friends, especially my fast girlfriends, I also want to be able to keep up with my kids on their bikes as long as possible. I want to show them that moms don’t need to slow down or stop anytime soon! AND I aspire to be riding the trails as well as my parents, and my children’s grandparents still are in their seventies!

As women, it can be easy to find excuses not to get out there in the still male dominated sport of mountain biking. You’re only too old, too slow, too tired, too busy or too fearful if you continue to tell that story to yourself. It makes me sad when I don’t see more girls at the bike park or women out on the trails. But every time I do I smile and keep up the hope that girls will continue to feel more confident to try riding off-road. And persist long enough to discover the high of flowing up and down the trails on two wheels too! And yes, sometimes mommy can ride the same things as your Uncle Geoff!

Full Circle Focus for 2015

It all started with a grade six science experiment for school. The details escape me but it involved training with short versus long interval repeats, and running a mile flat-out several times, sometimes on the track and sometimes on a gravel road and see where I improved the most. It hurt every time and my lungs burned. My dad timed every one and cheered me on, he hasn’t stopped cheering since.

Running fast was fun. Battles and wins were fun. I peaked, plateaued and peaked again. A handful of times I experienced that perfect race: effortless, floating, in control with another gear ready to unleash anytime. It is the most amazing feeling when all the hard work pays off. Then my first long-lasting injury.

Why don’t you try mountain biking? Not many girls are doing it. Sure! You only live once! I learned that momentum is everything as I smashed my face into rocks and flipped over the bars. I was bloody and bruised almost every day that first summer. I was hooked. I like to be in control but I learned to let go of the brakes and be comfortable letting it slide. “RIDE IT!!” my brother bellowed from way down below. His teammates were watching on, waiting. I was shaking but I DID IT!! Things that were once scary and sent my heart racing became exciting and fun. I grew quads, developed pedal power and learned how to push mentally through race efforts of over two hours. I learned how to focus through fatigue and fear in order to stay upright at maximum effort on two wheels. I have had the opportunity to race on amazing single track all over North America. The post-race story-telling high can last for hours. There’s nothing like the feeling of flow on a mountain bike.

But I’m glad I dabbled with swim club racing in junior high. Gliding rhythmically through the blue water of a pool, over sea turtles, or next to the tree-lined shore of a glass calm lake is magical. I learned about balance through training for a 3-discipline sport. How all our energy comes from one place and that we need to spend it wisely; how variation and variety are the spice of motivation. From a sport that embraces the young to the very old, the able-bodied to the physically challenged, I have learned we should never set limits on what we think we can do…especially after birthing babies’ ladies! And oh, the places I might never have been and the wonderful friends I have made!

I’ve been away and now I’m back to where it all started. I’m falling in love with the purity of running all over again. I’m a runner who swims and bikes. I’m a triathlete who runs a lot. Either way, I’m having fun and still love the focus a competitive goal brings, the challenge of pushing way past comfortable, that body burn all over at least a few times per week. There’s no way I’m ready to just go easy yet. Maybe one day. Family and health come first. And for now, I just want to run out the door and see where it will take me next, some days easy, some days as fast as my legs can go.

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.

003 029

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.

small spence family mckerrell_photo_june 18, 2013 050 (1)

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!

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.

10411866_10202170650091142_236539650764936855_n

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.
427878_3728552015789_813512535_n
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.
1904213_10201528948369000_935868723_n
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!
1526809_10201292592060240_506218304_n
DussaultFamily

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….

RoseFamily

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)

Athlete-Mom Interview: Wendy Simms

Let me introduce you to Wendy Simms, a professional cyclist on the Kona Factory Team. Wendy is a six-time Canadian National Cyclocross Champion, and has way too many podium finishes in cyclocross and mountain biking nationally and internationally too count over her long career on the bike! After just missing out on the Beijing Olympics for mountain biking, Wendy went on to win the mixed category in the Transrockies Challenge with her husband, Norm Thibeault, as well as winning the B.C. Bike Race. She is an amazing technical rider, and lives in one of the best places to ride in the world to ride in Nanaimo, B.C. on Vancouver Island. Wendy and Norm have a 3-year old son, Tycho, and a 1.5 year old daughter. While Wendy works full-time as a Biology Lab Technician at Vancouver Island University, Norm is busy running one of my favourite running shoe stores back home, Frontrunners. After recently competing in the World Cyclocross Championships a few weeks ago, Wendy generously took the time to share how traning and competing still fits in her busy schedule. Read on for yet another refreshing perspective and some excellent advice….
Wendy and Tessa

Wendy and Tessa

1. Can you describe how your athletic/competitive  life has evolved before and since becoming a mom of one and now  two?
Before kids I trained a lot more, I raced a lot more, I traveled a lot  more, I slept a lot more, I ate healthier, I trained with other people, I  recovered faster, I stretched and did core exercises regularly, and I was sick a  lot less. But if you are reading this, you have probably  already experienced this yourself!
After having Tycho (my first) I left the door open to walk away from  racing. I didn’t commit to any events at all, just focussed on being a  mom and getting back into shape. I did the baby boot camp and went to  coffee with the other moms but it didn’t take long for me to  realize that I still wanted a physical challenge. I started skiing with  Tycho in the Chariot to get some fitness back. Eventually I cracked and  called KONA to set up a race season at the last second. Once I committed to a few  races I became pretty determined to prove (to myself? to others?) that I could  still race at the elite level.
After having Tessa (my second) things became a LOT harder in every aspect  of life. I had substantially less time, I barely slept and had no time to  think about my own health. The “training” became my sanity break. I had  daycare 2 mornings a week (we don’t have family in town) and even though the  logistics of getting everyone organized and out the door was mind-boggling,  I went for a ride even if the conditions were horrendous. Anything else I  could squeeze in during the week was a bonus. This time around I wasn’t  trying to prove anything to anyone, I just wanted to be outside doing something  for myself and my own health. I was pleasantly surprised and had some great  results.
But after returning to full-time work with both kids in daycare there  is even less time, less sleep and the worst part is that we have been sick  for the majority of the last 6 months. Colds, belly bugs, pink eye, strep  throat, more colds, repeat. Every time you start to feel good and get out  training again, everyone gets sick. It has been extremely frustrating so I have  had to back off quite a bit. Every little nugget of exercise I get in these  days is considered a victory. (As you can see below, Wendy and Norm have also enjoyed training with a Chariot Carrier)
A training day with the Chariot on Hornby Island!

A training day with the Chariot on Hornby Island!

2. Has your motivation and perspective on training and racing changed since  becoming a mom? And how?
My motivation has definitely changed since having kids. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to get results. Now, I have no expectations  when I race. There are so many factors working against me now that if I had expectations I would just get disappointed or frustrated. Don’t get me  wrong, I am still extremely competitive but now I find I have a lot  less motivation to actually train. Since I went back to work I see the kids  a lot less and I find some days I just don’t want to spend my time training. I want to play with the kids. So I use local events to “race into  shape” these days. They are loads of fun, I get a great workout, it’s a  good example for the kids and I get to be social. It might not be exactly what a coach would prescribe but its close enough.
Wendy with Tycho and Tessa at the BMX track

Wendy with Tycho and Tessa at the BMX track

2. How do you balance your family, work, and training/racing?
I have a very supportive husband (Norm Thibault) who also loves to  race and train so we try to help each other get out the door (the hardest part). We work together to find the gaps in the day  and squeeze in the appropriate activity. It’s almost like a flow chart or choose  your own adventure:
Question #1 – Am I healthy (go to #2), feeling like I am coming  down with something (=easy day) or sick (=rest day)?
Question #2 – Did I get <4 hours sleep (=rest day)? 5-6 hours sleep  (easy day)? or more than 6 hours sleep (go to #3)?
Question #3 – Do I work (go to #4) or do I have a baby sitter (go  to#5)?
Question #4 – Can I ride to work with the kids in the Chariot (do it!)?  or Can I run at lunch (do it!)?
Question #5- Do I have less than an hour (=run)? Less than 2 hours (=speed  workout)? 2 hours or more (=hill workout)?
WendyNorm
4. Any big challenges and competition goals for 2013?
I just got back from cyclocross world championships so I am just taking a breather and re-assessing what the goals are for 2013. KONA has been a great  sponsor and his given me full flexibility. Norm has mapped out a season’s  worth of possibilities for us so now we just need to sit down and figure out  what works for our family.
BC Bike Race Podium

BC Bike Race Podium

5. Any advice you have for other mom’s trying to balance it  all, while training and competing?

I would say the biggest things that I have learned are:
a) Listen to your body! If you are sick, exhausted, run-down, overwhelmed etc just have an easy day with no structure or rest completely.
b) You do not have to train as much as you think you do. Just make sure you have some quality, key workouts that your body responds to.
c) Do not feel guilty! I am always a happier, more patient and overall better mom after I come back from a run or a ride.
d) Be creative and flexible! If you aren’t, well you probably won’t get out nearly as much as you could. Those minutes add up!
e) Dont be afraid to cross train if it is more time efficient
f) Have a few workout routes close to home to minimize wasted transit time. I have a run workout that doesn’t get more than 500m from my house and a bike workout that doesn’t get more than 2km from my house
g) Be proud of yourself. It IS extremely hard to have kids & train/race. If you are even attempting it you should be proud and know there   are many women in awe of you
h) You CAN do it all, but maybe not all at once. There will be cycles of training that might correlate to life more than the physiological   requirements of racing but that is part of the deal when you are juggling it all.

Me, myself and I riding for Africabike

After one of my biggest weeks of training in a long time, with my mother in law in town for a visit, we headed to Canmore for the day on Saturday. It was a perfect day to spend in the mountains, but slightly on the hot side to be starting a mountain bike race at 1:00pm! It was an Alberta Cup race, as well as a fund raiser for the Africa Bike Project whose goal is:

“…to change the lives of the students and staff at Kipgrengwe Primary School in Kericho, Kenya.  Providing these students with bicycles will mean shorter days, which will directly increase productivity, increase safety and decrease drop-out rates.”

It is a great cause and with just one week to ask around for a few donations, I was overwhelmed with the generosity of pledges! Thank you all – and you know who you are!!! With your help I was able to contribute 510$ in pledges!

On the other hand it was disappointing to see so few riders on the start line. I think I heard there were only 37 racers total! A huge bummer of a turn out! I lined up as the only elite female with one other expert female, and four guys, three of whom were racing elite. With Crazy Larry announcing and keeping it loud and exciting, the six of us headed off into the 30 degree heat straight uphill.

A great day for a race! Where are all the riders??

It was fun, but I was also happy to cross the Finish! Wish more were out to do so!

Right away I knew my legs were feeling pretty punched and there was no chance to stay with any of the guys. So I just found my own rhythm and decided to put in whatever felt like a hard effort for the day, and to enjoy the trails. And what a fun course it was! I got to ride some of my favorite single track including FYI, EKG, and Baby Beluga along with some new trails I hadn’t ridden yet – so fun! And luckily most of it was in the shade. As I was all by myself the whole time it was hard to remember I was in a race! Luckily the orange taping, arrows, and volunteers at various locations were some good reminders 🙂

Post-race smiles after water hose down!

I raced two laps in 1h33, and two bottles, and two gels later I still came across the line thirsty! Whew, no snap in the legs but still had fun and it was motivating to be riding for such a good cause!

The view from a much-anticipated dip in the Bow River before heading back home!