Having children while maintaining a multisport lifestyle can be like juggling shoes, while riding a bike and holding a paddle. There are ways to overcome this, says LISA DE SPEVILLE.
With children come greater demands on your time and as such even people with a strong commitment to exercise struggle to maintain their pre-children level of fitness. As a parent with a full-time job, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do or feel that you have time for. Yet sport should remain an integral part of your life; for physical health, for mental wellness and so that you are an active role model for your children.
Valid short-term excuses
Time constraints, lack of sleep and shifted priorities (child comes first) will put a damper on training but new parents need to be mindful of how long they’re inactive.
Six-time Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon runner Lynne Simpson had her first child five years ago and the second one two years ago. “I originally thought that it would be quite easy to pick up where I left off before I fell pregnant.”
She says that her biggest problem was not picking up some sort of training programme as soon as possible after each birth. “The longer I left it the less I felt like going through the initial strain to get back into training. Added to this was that I was carrying at least an additional 10 kilograms in weight, which made running even more difficult.” It took her about two years after each birth before she starting training again; keeping Augrabies in mind as a goal to focus on.
Single mom Marilyn Pirow has two young daughters, aged two-and-a-half and one. Pre-children she was a regular tri- and biathlon competitor. Even with help from a nanny, Pirow has cut down on training time and disciplines: “Partly due to time constraints and partly due to exhaustion!” she adds. “I have started focusing more on paddling now. Time is limited, so I am doing what I really enjoy. My girls are still very young and quite a lot of work. I expect it will get easier in time.”
Trail runners Iain and Su Don-Wauchope also have two young children. Su found that with one baby and a job with regular hours, her training was only marginally affected. “The one discipline that went out the window was paddling. I could get out jogging with my pram, do some hardcore sessions on a stationary trainer and leave Abigael in child care at gym while I swam… but paddling just didn’t happen. Now that Iain and I run our own hospitality business and have two children, training is very difficult,” she explains.
Clinton Mackintosh, a competitive adventure racer, is father to four-year old twin boys. He has always juggled disciplines, never focusing on one particular sport. “Having children has only changed my training times and availability but not the fact that sports are a major part of my life,” he says.
Flip-side of the coin
Even with four children Alec Avierinos has added to, not subtracted from, his sporty arsenal. He comes from a background of body building, weight lifting, power lifting and surfing. All this ended when he started his own business and got married at 22.
“Six years ago, aged 37, I was overweight at 104kg. I read an article on the Freedom Challenge Extreme Triathlon and decided it was for me.” Avierinos initially started with mountain biking and has progressively added trail running, canoeing, adventure racing, orienteering and duathlon.
How does he manage? “I’m up at 4am to get in two hours before work and then I do one hour in the evening with longer sessions on Saturday and usually races on Sundays.”
Alec’s four children are sporty too. Greg (17) and Ruth (13) are the ones most into adventure racing and related disciplines. “Ruth participated in her first AR sprint (30km) with me at the age of eight; Greg did his first 250km AR at the age of 16. He trains with me on Saturdays, if we are not racing.”
Shortly before Mackintosh’s twins were born, he raced in the 250km Swazi Xtreme adventure race. “It was 2am and we had to bum-slide down a waterfall. I am normally first in the team to go down these sorts of things and for the first time in six years of racing I hesitated, realising that I could be injured. That memory will stay with me forever because at that moment I stopped thinking about myself. I was thinking of my family-to-be. Now I only take calculated risks but am always thinking of the consequences of my actions for my family.”
The Don-Wauchopes try to make racing a family thing where they take their children along to races as much as possible. If they travel to a race they take a couple of additional days to holiday with the children post-race. “For our family this is important,” adds Su. “Because we run our own business, we found that by the time we had been away for races there wasn’t enough time left in the year to take proper family holidays at all and our down time was spent away at races, which does not equate to quality time spent with our children (or each other).”
Balancing work, sport and family
Nikki and Dawid Mocke are also sporty parents. Dawid, a full-time athlete, has tailored his training to be more focused and purposeful, making the most of limited time. With three businesses and a child, Nikki’s focus has changed.
“I was very competitive, but after having children, it’s never the same again; your mental and physical preparation is always divided,” she says. “I don’t want to paddle every day twice a day anymore and I like the fact that I can still compete (at a lower level, of course) but also be a mom. My focus has changed and I paddle for enjoyment now.”
Regular exercise is a stress outlet and it contributes to an overall feeling of wellness through its physical, social and psychological benefits. Going from hero to zero has greater-reaching effects than just feeling unfit and gaining a few kilos.
“I often feel a huge level of frustration with myself for not giving my body that sense of activity, adrenalin, feeling of ability, muscular relief, energy boosting and toning,” explains Simpson. Her frustrations spill over to those around her; especially her husband and children. “I am revitalised in mind and energy if I go out and sweat a little.”
Having children does not mean the end of your sporting life as you know it. But, you are in for some changes. Your training habits and schedule will not remain the same; your discipline focus will shift and time with your family will become a priority. But that’s ok. Work within this framework to keep fit and healthy for your benefit and theirs.
- Make use baby-care facilities at gyms.
- A running pram is great if you have one child; it isn’t practical if there’s one of you and two of them.
- Train in the morning, before the household wakes up, or after your children have gone to sleep.
- Forget about what you think exercise should look like or what you used to do. Be okay with what you are able to do now. Remember that you are not a professional athlete.
- Look at other disciplines that are more child and family friendly.
- Focus on one discipline; running is time efficient.
- Schedule regular races on your calendar to keep you motivated and training toward something.
- Buy a treadmill (and use it).
- Teach your children to sneeze into a tissue and cough into their elbow instead of hands as hands spread germs when they touch surfaces. Hand washing before eating or touching their eyes, nose and mouth (and you!) is a great contamination preventer too.