Tuesday, January 28, 2014

QOM, or "What it's like to be a mumma-athlete"

First off, this is not a blog about anything related to Strava.  I still only vaguely know what it is and still adamantly refuse to get a 'bike computer'.  I'm talking metaphorical mountains here, people.

My goal for this blog is to help reach some of the new (and not so new) mummas out there who have worked hard to regain their fitness out there after giving birth.  I had no idea how hard it would be.  So if I had no idea, maybe a few other people didn't either, and maybe talking about it might make a few people feel better.  So, here's my take.

Side note: I know now it's impossible to sing the Itsy-Bitsy-Spider while typing a blog.  I just tried.  It's a no go.

What is possible though is popping your baby into a Ergo and swaying him back and forth while he happily looks at the world while you try to do a blog.  Standing up with the computer at the windowsill.   And within 10 minutes, the little monkey is asleep.  There is no better feeling I don't think than having your baby fall asleep on you.  Just the best.  They let of a radiant warmth that is everything good about babies.  Magic.

So, I won't lie.  It's been a bit hard to blog lately because if I do get spare time, I don't want to spend it typing away at the computer.  I likely want to read a book 'just because'. I want to have a shower.  I want to brush the mats out of my hair.  I often just say, 'to heck with spare time', I want to go back to tickling my baby into giggle fits.  I used to think of exercise as my 'spare time', but it's getting more and more incorporated into daily life, which is really good for me.  Consistency goes a long way these days.

I am getting back out on the trails.  It was harder, much, much harder, than I anticipated to get going in the post partum period.  It has nothing to do with my 'fitness' level, and everything to do with the fact that you are drained beyond all recognition in the first period when your new baby arrives.  The world does us no favours in the this department, as if it's "have a baby & then win olympic gold" 6 months later as the norm (or I saw it that way).  Ironically, I have never experienced a more love filled stage in my life, regardless of the tiredness.  It is simply a different stage of life, where to me, our baby mattered more than anything else, and everything followed suit.  They are only one month old for one month of their entire life, then, it's gone.  So running could wait.  And seeing as I couldn't walk a straight line after delivery, running was going to have to wait.

But considering I ran up until 2 days before I went into labour (because the day before was a swim day, of course), I felt fitter going into labour than I did 3 months after giving birth.  Weird.  Enter the mind games. "Will I ever run fast again?", "How do other moms do it?", "I am going backwards".  It wasn't very fun. I grumbled about it for weeks on end.  I saw friends running fast and I wasn't even jealous, I was just sad for what I felt I had lost.  I was also grumpy with myself for letting these negative thoughts take over some or any of the time I could have spent focusing on what a lovely baby we had.  Arg! So I was in a bit of a pinch.  Many, many experienced moms kept telling me, "Don't worry, it's temporary, and you'll be back".  I gritted my teeth, but I had to believe them.  They were real human beings, and all of them really excelling in the post baby period.  It had to be possible.  I just thought, I guess mistakenly, that it happened overnight.

Newsflash.  It does not.  But flash forward to now, a couple of months later.  I am seeing it happen.  I am feeling the fitness come back, like fresh blood into my veins, .  It is a much more amazing feeling than I ever thought.  I definitely took being in shape for granted, and as is the case with many neurotic endurance athletes, thought I really wasn't in that great of shape (yes, even after winning Ironman), and could do better.  Well, now I know I was in pretty wicked shape.  I have a much better appreciation for that now.  But surprisingly, I am really enjoying the 'coming back into shape' period.  After really working on a high level of fitness for a number of years, I haven't touched on the basic stuff for a while.  And it's much more rewarding and full of clarity than I expected.  Here is an example.

I started skate skiing a few weeks back.  I would have started a couple months back, but as every BC skier knows right now, the skiing is the P to the ITS.  But we got some snow, and I was immediately out on skis.  Enter a trail called The Grind.  It embodies it's namesake.  I used to work my way up there working hard but could reach the top without stopping.

Not this year.

I suffered on that hill the first time up.  I probably stopped half a dozen times.  Feet aching, breath abating, muscles searing, coordination floundering, heart dropping (really, skyrocketing).  I'm sure I fell on the way up, feeling embarrassed that people would be watching and thinking how awfully out of shape I was.  I know that's a bad complex to have, but it's tied to my ego, the same ego that told me that if I wanted to win a race, I could, I just had to believe it.  So ego is not all bad.  But sometimes your ego is tough to deal with.  So, I struggled on in quite poor technique I'm sure, but I made it to the top.

Flash back to yesterday, 2 weeks later.  I skied up the hill.  No stopping.  I skied a few loops around the top (not shredding my elbow to bits as I had done a few days ago on the ice - bonus).  When I came back down the hill, I decided to go up it again.  I was almost giddy with enthusiasm to do this.  My legs of course protested much more on the 2nd go, but it felt so good.  I was doing it, I was doing what I could do not that long ago.  Talk about finding hope on a half scraped out ski hill.  I was in love with that moment.

And it's that moment, and the feeling today that I could do 100 pushups.  Not consecutive people, come on, but 100! I haven't been able to do that since 2012.  It's my reward for pulling myself up the ski hill, ugly if I have to, pretty if I'm lucky, and either way, feeling really quite proud of myself at the top.  Someone asked me at the top of the hill if I was "that biathlon girl" - I smiled, and said "No", but I thought to myself, what I'm thinking about myself has been validated.  I'm an athlete.  I missed that.

I think I got used to race placings as reward for my training, as it's a highly satisfying experience to win, or podium, at a race.  People take notice, and help fill up that insecure spot we all seem to have from time to time, that yes, we really are a good athlete or good person.  But I'm not breaking down any doors right now on the racing front, and almost welcome the respite from that world.  Racing would be fun right now only because there would be other people that would show up you could talk to or joke with, as I do a lot of my training alone on a mountain, often in blizzards or fog, but sometimes in absolutely gorgeous sunshine which requires t-shirt skiing and 60SPF sunblock.

But I'm loving just moving my body and feeling it get stronger.  For those people who have delivered a baby, they will understand the unbelievable feelings of bringing a child into this world.  Maybe it's just taken me 5 months to move on from revelling in how amazing my body was to do that, and maybe now is why my body is ready to move back into sport.  I don't know.  It seems a nicer theory than just 'everything was so hard and I was so tired and depressed and didn't want to spend an extra ounce of energy unless I needed to'.  As I found out with labour, your inner 'body' knows more than your brain will ever be capable of finding out, and sometimes you just have to go with it, and I guess I've done that without noticing.

Not that I want to hold anything over anyone's head, but you really won't understand this feeling until you go through it. You will not know how hard moms (or dads) work until you become one.  You will not know what's it's like to go for your first run after you've hard a baby (read: wobbly, and wobbly may be a metaphor for all things with a new child).  So to all the mummas who have come back into fitness after having a baby, I'm in awe, and I'm feeling pretty darn lucky to be becoming one of them.

I can only see a mountain of strength to be gained this year.  I can't wait.

xo g

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I'm "baaaaa-aaaack" , or the 2014 Mount Washington Yeti Snowshoe Race!

The title of the blog is borrowed from a dear friend of mine, Steph, who wrote that on my facebook wall after I talked about completing this race.  It struck a chord with me, it made me remember - oh yeah...I was that girl who did something pretty great in a race a while back.  Waaaay back, it feels like.

I've been pretty enamoured with my life lately, and very proud & focused on growing a baby, having a baby, and loving our new life with this baby.  So racing seems like a long time ago - although yes, if you do recall, I raced in the Subaru Vancouver Sprint Triathlon in July and had a blast, but I was honestly on cruise control with no thoughts of really 'pushing' anything.  I was 34 weeks pregnant after all!

Flash forward to me running up a very long hill.  In snowshoes, all alone, breathing very hard & wondering when I was going to fall over.

Flash backward to me thinking entering a snowshoe race in the 'enduro' category after only stringing one week of regular training (doing something every day for at least 45 min) 5 months after having a baby.  Months 2-5 generally consisted of me maybe doing 2 30-60 min runs a week, and in the last couple of months trying to throw in a core workout a week. (For the record, month one was learning to walk a straight line again and not get winded in the grocery store).

Flash forward again to me walking up a hill.  Gasp!

Flash backward to me showing up to the race realizing I didn't bring a watch.  When in my life have I shown up to race without a watch.  Oh right, "never-ever-in-my-life".

Flash forward (you are catching on?) to me realizing I really just don't have that 'push on all accounts' urge to flatten myself on this course.  It's a funny feeling.  Something I think I've taken for granted.  It's not there right now.

Backward: "Oh my goodness, I've never run a trail race before.  Or a snowshoe race - FUN!"

So I lined up with a posse of other sunshine & snow loving eager snowshoe racers at the Yeti Snowshoe Series race #1 at Mount Washington Alpine Resort.   A crazy white Yeti was there to wish us luck - and off we went!

Talk about a beautiful day when your race starts off like this:

And your race course looks like this:

So I'll describe the course in one word: HILLS! I have not run up and down so many hills in a long time.  In fact I think I ran more hills in the Yeti race than I did in the entirety of 2013 (not kidding, not even a little bit).  So lap one was a little tough to take, realizing that if you don't train on hills (or don't train at all, I realize now...) that running up hills is one tough venture!  But by lap two, I was starting to enjoy the struggle.  I also decided that on one particular hill, where I saw almost every woman ahead of me walking up, that I would walk up too (usually this is sacrilege).  But I was by myself, and having fun, and thinking to myself, "why not?".  And I survived.  Both the hill & the ego check.

And how can you not enjoy yourself with fans out on course like this?

After this, it was another kilometre or so to the finish, but I tell you, it feels a lot longer on snowshoes than it does on the road.  There must be a lot of technique to the art of not-super sloppy fitness slogging on snowshoes (my style).  Maybe one day I'll learn it too, because this race was really fun and I definitely want to do another.

And being able to zoom around in the chariot makes both husband and baby quite happy.  Look, Dad & Matthias got some freshies!

So, maybe there's something to this trail running thing after all.  I'm quite far out of 'competitive' mode at the moment, so doing new things and tackling new challenges where you have no stick to compare yourself against is pretty awesome.  All you have to do is go out, have fun, and work hard.  Sounds about exactly right for me right now.  I also must add - much easier on the old lady hips & knees I'm feeling right now getting back into running after having a baby.  My muscles could feel it the next day but no pain at all in any joints - which is kind of important when you do 100 deadlifts with a 17lb+ baby daily.

And when it's all said and done, I get this little man to give me a squeeze - how can it get any better than that?  Actually I get a squeeze from the bigger man as well, so it does get better! And if you're racing solo, I saw the Yeti giving out quite a few squeezes as well - what a nice big white fluffy creature!  The Yeti also provided us with a table of treats after - most coveted by me of course was the chocolate milk!  It's been a long time since I did a race and remembered how good chocolate milk tastes after! So, Powered By Chocolate Milk, as the title of the blog suggests - I'm "baaaa-aaaack". Tell the cows Imma-coming!  All said and done, I finished in 4th place, and in 1 hour and 1 or 2 minutes, for a 10km snowshoe - which I was more than happy with, especially considering I haven't been cracking 50 min for a 10km on the road - so encouraging!

A huge thanks to the great people at the Yeti Snowshoe Series & 5 Peaks Adventures Trail Racing Series for letting me be a part of this race.  I had a blast!  I will do it again! And scarily enough, you might have converted a roadie into a trail runner (at least for a while).  The lure of the marathon still pulls quite strongly, as does the pavement we run on in that little race called Ironman, but for now, as a new mama taking her first new steps back on the racing circuit, this was a perfect event!

And I must say, running up here on the snow in snowshoes is really going to make running on the road feel quite easy breezy.  Can't wait!  But for now, we're mountain people for the winter.  So do your little snow dance please and get us some new stuff so our baby can rip some more freshsies!

Enjoy the start of your new year, and get out there and have fun!