I have three clear “mom-athlete” memories from when my kids were little. I remember squeezing in a 20 minute run on the treadmill while my daughter slept in her car seat next to it (no judging about sleeping in the car seat please…she is now 16 and barely ever sleeps in a car seat). I also remember getting up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 AM to pump before I left to teach my 6 AM spin class. And I remember coming back from runs or rides and pulling up my sweaty sports bra to nurse my son as soon as I walked in the door. I was hungry and wanting a shower, but his needs came before mine.
From the very beginning of motherhood, I knew that it would be difficult to balance being an athlete and being a mom. We all know that triathlon in itself is a very selfish sport. Training for three disciplines takes time. Recovering from the training also takes time.
I just didn’t feel like using the little time I had left to try to fit in swim, bike, and run. To be honest, I couldn’t even fathom getting to a race on time, since once I had kids I was perpetually running 15 minutes late to everything. So for years, I stuck with teaching spin classes and lifting and running short distances. And you know what? It was enough.
Then my kids got older. They slept more. They became more independent. My husband and I got better at giving each other time to work out.
And then came the day where I yelled up the stairs that I was going for a ride and I would be back in a couple of hours and to watch the dog.
I would like to wax nostalgic and say it happened “in the blink of an eye,” but it did not. It happened in more of a slow, turtle crossing kind of way.
So how do we mom-athletes find balance? Or more importantly, how do we define success and fulfillment in our athletic pursuits while also feeling like we are “good moms” too?
Here are my takeaways:
Adjust your expectations (but maybe only for a little while). I know plenty of moms who train for long course racing when their kids are little. Hats (swim caps) off to them! Myself? I could barely pull off half-marathon training. If you still want to race, do some local sprints and Olympics. Jump into a 5K. Or don’t race for a little bit. Give yourself the gift of time. You’re still a triathlete.
You have to have support. I’m not just talking about “someone to watch the kids” while you go for a run or a swim. I am talking about someone who fully supports your athletic pursuits- from buying new cycling shoes to planning out a race season to listening to you talk about how good your tempo run felt (which is a lie, because tempo runs are *&%#* hard, but you get the point). This could be your partner, your mom, your best friend. For me, this is my husband, who is also a cyclist/triathlete. He cheers me on and also splits the housework with me (actually, he probably does more but don’t tell him I said that).
FOMO is real and you need to get over it. I cannot tell you how many times I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram, looking at pictures of group rides, group swims, and team races that I could not make and had a little pity party of one. Rationally, I knew I couldn’t go because of [insert kid activity here] and I was okay with that. Irrationally, I wanted to be at all of them, while also being at [insert kid activity here]. Just remember that your triathlon circle is made up of all types of folks: people with no kids, grown kids, kids half the time, etc. My advice would be to figure out which event(s) you really want to join in on, and make those a priority. Then, when you see group events you could not make, be happy that others are out there doing what they love.
Mommy guilt will happen, but it also fades. I used to rush through workouts and rush home because I felt guilty that I was training instead of being with my kids, especially as a working mom who didn’t see them all day. But as they got older, I realized that I was a better mom for taking time to exercise and do what I love. It’s easier to take care of others if you taking care of yourself. I also realized it was not the end of the world if I didn’t make it to a little league game. Don’t worry, one day you will find yourself running a marathon instead of going to a gymnastics meet (BQ’ed, baby… worth it).
You have to do more with less. Time, that is. This is why I eventually got a coach. I needed help fitting my training into my work and home schedule. You don’t have to train 12-15 hours a week to see results. A good coach will help you work within your schedule and help achieve your goals.
Let me be clear. I am still looking for the mom-athlete balance. Instead of juggling diaper changes and naps and midnight wake-ups, I’m now juggling after-school car pools, weekend gymnastics meets, late night homework help, and monitoring screen time (not successfully, but that’s another essay). I still plan my workouts around their activities. It’s just not as hard.
…which is why I finally signed up for my first Ironman this year.