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Want to get a glimpse into what life is like training for the biggest event in sport, The Olympic Games, while juggling kids and careers? What about what it looks like for athletes coming from other countries, other qualifying rules, other governing bodies?
This is an interview with three marathoner and mothers headed in Rio this summer. Hailing from Ireland, Hungary and Canada, these three badass fast mommas will inspire you to pursue your goals in sport and life. What’s their secret to success? What do Olympic mothers struggle with? From supportive families, to tiredness and runger, to Zika, to race goals, these three share their stories, advice and experience with everything Olympic training.
Lizzie Lee is 36, from Cork, Ireland. She ran 2:32:51 in the Berlin Marathon to qualify for her first Olympics. She works full-time for Apple—but had summer off to train for Rio—and she has a 2-year-old girl. Zsófia Erdélyi is 28, from Godollo, Hungary. She ran 2:35:37 to win the Dusseldorf Marathon and qualify for the her second Olympics. She has a 1-year-old son. Krista Duchene is 39, from Brantford, Ontario, Canada. She is the second-fastest Canadian ever, and her PR is a speedy 2:28:32. This is her first Olympics. She has three kids and works part-time.
How’s training going in the build up to the Olympic marathon?
LL: Training is going well. I’m tired all the time, but that’s really par for the course with the miles I have to do in the run up to the marathon. It’s eight weeks to go today, and I ran 22 miles miles this morning. That’s pretty normal.
ZE: I think it is going pretty well, but I’ve been having some trouble after Dusseldorf. I did not realize that my feet grew a size, so when I ran the Dusseldorf Marathon, my left shoe was too small, so after the race I had a little pain there. After that, I walked down the stairs holding my boy, I stepped a little badly, and my knee started hurting. It also healed pretty quickly, but I had to miss a week and a half. Fortunately, these are just small pains, and not too serious, but still making the build up a little harder.
KD: I entered this build with an excellent base and so far, training has been textbook. My coach and I have been following a similar plan to that of 2013, which was my best year with several personal bests. So far, quality and quantity is quite comparable to that year. Other than preparing for the expected heat and humidity, we are sticking to what works.
Do you work full-time outside of the home? If so, how is your company supporting your Olympic journey?
LL: I worked full-time up to June 1. Work have given me the summer off, so it’s much easier to fit everything in now that I’m off!
ZE: No, I am not working. I am totally focusing on running.
KD: I am only working outside of the home for four hours per week, enough to keep my license as a Registered Dietitian with PrimaCare Family Health Team. They are very supportive, allowing flexibility when needed, and most recently presenting me with a signed Canadian flag as a send-off for Rio.
How’s life with little ones? What does she/he/they think of your running?
LL: Life with Lucy (23 months) is great! She’s a bundle of fun and energy. She thinks that mommy go running is totally normal. She’s usually okay with me leaving, as she knows I’ll never be too long, but sometimes when she sees me put on my runners she clings to my leg and says, “No wunning mommy.” That’s probably the hardest part of the whole thing.
ZE: I have one boy. I think he does not really know yet, where mom goes, when she goes to run. But I feel like, it’s pretty good for him, because when I go for a run, I leave him with my parents, my partner’s parents, or my grandparents. It happened once or twice, that no one was able to look after him, so I brought him to practice. Life is a little harder with him, but so much more fun. I have to plan everything ahead, and I have to pack for my boy. It’s easier now, because I know now what I have to put in his bag, but at the beginning it took me hours to get ready in the morning. It’s still not that easy, but easier for sure.
KD: My transition to professional running was gradual as were the demands of parenting, having three children. I have not known it any other way and I absolutely love both careers. On a rare occasion when I have the day to myself, I find time can drag. But I am allowing myself to take more of this alone time, particularly to rest and recover, in this Olympic year. The kids have always had a running mom, and have enjoyed cheering for me at races, appreciated my leadership with school cross country and track teams, and supported me to reach my goals. Sometimes they quite enjoy the attention that comes with the territory, particularly at fun events where they are involved, whereas other times it is fatiguing and they just want me as their mom.
What’s challenging about being a mother and training for the Olympics?
LL: Not seeing Lucy in the morning before heading to work, as I’ve usually gone training. It means that most weekdays I don’t’ see her until 6 p.m. at the earliest.
ZE: Time. I am missing time. Sometimes I have to miss stretching for example, because I am rushing for my boy. It’s the small stuff that counts. There are days, that my day is so filled, that I don’t have time to cook. But I am lucky, because my grandparents help me out with that for sure. No idea what I would do without their help. At the beginning of my training, when he was a few months old, sleeping was a big issue. I was up a lot at night, so I was so tired for my workouts, but I had to push my limits. Now he sleeps better, so I am more rested, but I feel like I could still sleep a little more.
KD: Although I have somewhat of an income from race winnings, speaking engagements, and my dietitian position, my husband is our primary financial provider for which I am incredibly grateful. However, there has been a fairly significant amount of time on my own as he has had to travel. I can handle the physical energy required to train and keep the house (groceries, cleaning, laundry) but can struggle with the emotional demands of discipline and refereeing. As the children have grown, we have trained them to become more responsible, particularly with assisting around the house. Our goal was to have them doing most of the cleaning and laundry while I would be training for the Olympics, and so far we have had a great start. We are big believers in teamwork where each person gets the opportunity to benefit from the others’ contribution. This summer is my time and everyone is rising to that occasion.
How did childbirth affect your running and training? Did you run during pregnancy?
LL: I ran up to 39 weeks. And I swam and walked up to the day I gave birth. I was very lucky with an easy pregnancy. I took six weeks off running post-childbirth and returned to competitive running when Lucy was six months old with a half marathon pb. I have no doubt that the pregnancy made me a better athlete!
ZE: I did not run during my pregnancy, or I could not call that running. I was jogging a few times, but it was not consistent at all. I biked, did yoga, but nothing super serious. I did what I felt like wanted to do. If one day I was not in the mood to workout, I stayed in bed, if the other day I wanted to do something< I sat on the bike, or walked, or jogged. But super slowly. I did not have natural birth, because my baby was too big, so at the end I had a C-section. After 6 weeks of rest, I went out my first 3K run, and it was awful. It took me 7 months or so to feel better. It was a hard comeback.
KD: I ran through all my pregnancies, even completing a half marathon at 6 months with my first baby. Each pregnancy allowed a mental break as well as a fire to get back at it with increasingly more passion. Recovery from each pregnancy was straightforward with no complications and I was able to breastfeed each child for 12-plus months.
How about the Zika scare? What have you been told from you federations?
LL: I’ve been given guidelines on bite prevention. There seems to be more and more information becoming available every day.
ZE: I am not scared of Zika right now. I mean I am not planning a baby for more than 2 years, so hopefully everything will be fine. My federation has not told me a lot about it, but they are doing some precaution. Mosquito webs, and things like that.
KD: Zika is definitely something to take seriously but not be stressed about. Our federation has explained the dangers and necessary precautions to minimize risk.
What are you goals for the race?
LL: To pace it sensibly given the humidity and the heat and to finish strongly.
ZE: I want to run better, race smarter than I did in London. I know the weather won’t be friendly, but still wanting to PR. That’s the only thing that I care for. I am not thinking in place or anything.
KD: Once the start list is released, my coach and I will establish more specific goals in terms of placement. Being a championship race, which often does not present ideal conditions, finishing time will be less of a focus. I look forward to running with women who have similar times to me, pushing myself to have the race of my career!
What role does your family play in your sport?
LL: I would not be going to the Olympics without their constant support. My husband is amazing and never complains about the sacrifices he has to make to help me achieve my goals. My dad comes to all of my races and most of my training sessions, I jokingly call him my manager because he’s always always there.
ZE: A huge role. Without them I won’t be able to do what I do. They help me out so much. They care for my baby, when I am out running. And for sure he won’t be at a better place than with relatives.
KD: Our family knows this is a very important year for me. I have to control the controllables so that I am at my best for training and racing. They understand that I may need to sleep with our bedroom door shut or somewhere else in the house, not necessarily always being able to be there for them all the time. This is very difficult as a parent yet a necessary part of their life, to become independent individuals that can problem-solve. Now that it is summer vacation and when my husband is away, my two oldest are capable of putting themselves to bed so that I can get adequate sleep. It benefits me but is also a privilege to them, which can be taken away if necessary. My husband definitely takes the lead on the weekends, which is very helpful as I am completing and recovering from my long runs.
Is your federation and Olympic Council helpful? How are they supporting your journey?
LL: Athletics Ireland have given me discretionary funding which is helping with my preparations this Summer.
ZE: I haven’t felt their support yet.
KD: My federation holds us to high standards to make us the best athletes we can be on a world stage. They are clear about specific goal-setting, meeting established criteria, and making preparation for our main event our highest priority.
What’s the hardest thing about being an Olympic momma?
LL: The thought of leaving Lucy for 3 weeks.
ZE: Managing training. I think I do more since I gave birth, but I know I could still do more. But there are times that I am super tired, and the only thing I want is just to be. I drive to Budapest, where I train, and it’s usually a 30-40 minute drive, so my whole day goes by when I have hard workout. I wake up at 7 ish, leave the house at 9 a.m., and arrive home by 4 or 5 p.m. It’s hard to find the time to go and get a massage, I have to plan everything.
KD: I can’t be everything to everyone, in two places at one time, and always able to say yes. It has been difficult but I have been fairly successful at being able to say no when it requires more time and energy than I am able or willing to give. Likely the most difficult part as an Olympic mom is my parenting ability in the evenings when my energy is lowest. I aim to get most required work done during the day so that I can wind down in the evenings before bedtime. Serving dinner to everyone else first when I’m so hungry! Being up all night with a sick child while husband is away then having to leave him with a sitter to go train.
What would you like people to know about you and your situation?
LL: I only started running 10 years ago when I was 26.
ZE: I don’t really want to hide anything. They can know everything what they want. I want to let mothers know that mothers can still have their own dreams after childbirth. We don’t have to give up on them. Of course we are mothers, and the most important thing is our child, but we still have the possibility to fulfill our dreams. When my boy was sick, I missed training and stayed home with him. I have big dreams, but my boy will be always the first. And until I feel good about myself, and my situation, my boy is happy too. Happy momma, happy child. I feel so much better after I trained, I am happier, and my boy feels that.
KD: My Christian faith is the most important thing in my life. I am blessed with an incredible husband, three wonderful children, and a successful running career. I know that as a 39-year-old mom with hardware in my leg (after fracturing my femur in 2014), I am aiming to beat the odds but just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
Do you have anything further to add? Please share!
LL: Being a mom makes me happy, and I have no doubt that that makes me a better runner. Since having Lucy I have a better perspective on life in general and I don’t sweat the small stuff. So now if I need to take a few days off with a niggle, I do and I look forward to extra time with Lucy in the evenings!
ZE: Without help, I won’t be an Olympian. My dreams depend on other people, too. I depend on my family, and I am super thankful for them. I am lucky that I can do what I love.
KD: My husband, three kids (age 10, 8, 5) and three of five siblings will be making the trip to Rio to cheer me on!
These three incredible athletes will take to the streets of Rio on Sunday, Aug. 14, at 5:30 a.m. PST. Good luck, ladies! All three ladies are members of our Mothers on Track facebook group that we created as part of our study of elite runners and pregnancy. The Facebook group is a place to share stories, ask questions and support elite mother athletes.
Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, is an Olympian, sports psychology coach and the co-author of Believe Training Journal (VeloPress), available for order now.