Savor this time… they said.

As much as I want to express that motherhood has been a net positive experience for me thus far, I also want to be honest.  I don’t want to paint an exclusively rosy picture just because that is the overall takeaway I want you to have from this whole thing.  Maybe this is because I know I only want one kid and I want to document the difficulty so that I don’t forget, or maybe it’s because I want to remember what I went up against and survived.  Either way, the point is,  I don’t want to forget to tell you how f**king hard having a baby was.  I have better perspective now that I’m out of the tornado, and as I said, definite net positive…but I still remember the hard bits, the Mom Amnesia hasn’t set in yet. So, before my brain becomes too clouded with sweet, sweet baby vapors to remember, here it goes: brace yourself for brutal honesty.

I’d love to tell you that labor isn’t as hard as they say, but I’d be lying.  I’d love to tell you that breastfeeding is always a beautiful experience, or that the first few months of sleep deprivation are manageable.  But I can’t.  I can’t tell you that I didn’t feel lonely, or inadequate; confused, or sad.  I can’t tell you that I bounced right back into shape.  None of that is true. Childbirth and the months following are the hardest thing you will ever do.  Period.  I don’t care if you run ultra marathons.  I don’t care if you’ve broken limbs.  I don’t care if you were super good at all nighters in college.  Maybe if you’ve had some real crazy hardships in your life you’ll tell me I’m wrong, but for the average person, I promise, it’s harder than anything you’ve done before.

Moms don’t tell you this. Sure, they tell you it’s hard, and they casually mention their sleep deprivation, but they don’t really specifically delve into the magnitude of the difficulty.  Until you’re a mom too. Then the stories are shared, the shoulders are leant, the sympathetic smiles appear along with the meals.  Maybe it was just me. Maybe they just didn’t tell me, because I probably didn’t ask. I didn’t want to hear about the bad stuff. I was scared enough by my own imagination.  But I don’t think it’s just that.  I think it might also be because they have this wonderful little being to show for it all and the thought of disparaging any experience associated with that little nugget seems unthinkable.  Even writing this now, my heart is pulling at my brain, urging it to tell you how wonderful it is. Because SHE is wonderful.  SHE is perfect, SHE is everything. But IT was not easy, IT is not perfection, IT is not all magic.

Childbirth, the actual moment when your child is born, really is something incredible, I will say that.  At least for me, I really did have that moment of overwhelming and immediate love when they laid my baby on my chest.  However, apparently it’s not that way for everyone, and let me tell you, the rest of labor sucks.  I had a NORMAL delivery, no major complications, and I’ve likened the pain involved to that of having a bone broken every few minutes for hours and hours, and that really… doesn’t even describe it.  I can only imagine how hard it is for people that deal with complications while they are going through such pain. And then there is the pushing.  People told me this would be the easy part.  Well folks I disagree.  I pushed for an hour and a half and it was exhausting.  I felt like I was being asked to dive down and retrieve a treasure chest that was just a bit too far under water for me to get to, and a bit too heavy to carry even if I could.  I thought I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen and it took the doctor literally yelling at me to motivate me to keep going.  Think about getting the epidural ladies.  I didn’t, because I thought I was a badass.  Guess what?  I’m not.  Or I guess maybe I am, but does it really matter?

For hours afterwards I shook and shivered, and it hurt to stand up.  Two days after giving birth it still exhausted me to walk down the hall at the hospital to the cafeteria.  I repeat, it felt like I’d just finished climbing a mountain… after walking down the hall.  I got out of breath taking a shower.  A few weeks in, my nipples were on fire, it hurt to wear a shirt, and to use a towel to dry off.  I was sleeping in 45 minute increments, and even when I was sleeping, I was waking.  Because SIDS…what if the baby isn’t breathing? did she just make a noise? did she just stop making noises? why hasn’t she woken up yet?  Does she need to eat? Is she too warm? Is she too cold?  Did I just fall asleep and miss her crying?  And then, when I wasn’t asleep or attached to a baby, I was attached to a machine trying desperately to increase my milk supply.  I felt like I was never going to leave my chair. At least it was comfortable and I had HBO.

It was a task to remember to do the most basic things like eat and drink.  Take a nap, they would say, sleep when she sleeps they said. And I tried, but whenever I took a nap, I would just wake up in a fog, mad at the world for not letting me rest longer and grumpy at everyone for telling me to take a nap.  Better to stay awake?  Probably not.  Cause then I felt like I wanted to cry.  Oh, and literally everything made me want to cry, way worse than when I was pregnant.   Savor this time they said… and in the moment I thought…why?  Can’t we fast forward to a baby that can tell me what’s wrong and can sleep without probability of certain death?

My experience was exacerbated by a poor milk supply and a sleepy eater.   They told me my baby wasn’t growing.  Talk about the worst feeling in the world, realizing that the reason your baby is crying is because you aren’t feeding her enough. I was this little persons whole world, and I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and the solution seemed so impossible it made me want to give up.  But I couldn’t give up.  Because for the first time in my life, someone else besides me was 100% relying on me not giving up.  This precious tiny human being needed me more than anything else in the entire world.  But don’t stress they said, because stress makes your milk supply decrease…and make sure you drink these extra six cups of tea a day and take your vitamins and get plenty of rest – get plenty of rest?? how is that a suggestion for increasing milk supply?  When is a new mom supposed to get plenty of rest?

My normal self would have been logical, she would have understood she had a plan, and executed.  This wasn’t my normal self, but I tried hard. I put on my strongest face.  My philosophy from the beginning was to try to take things as they come, not freak out, be ok with not being ok… so I put on a smile and made some jokes about feeling like a dairy farm.  But damn if I wasn’t on the verge of collapse on the inside.  Thank goodness for my husband, thank goodness for my parents, thank goodness for my friends and family encouraging me at every turn.  And also thank goodness for oxytocin and the fact that babies are cute.  I now can see the parallel between those things and survival of the human race.

For the first few months, I was genuinely confused as to how there are people who have voluntarily done this more than once.  Like how are there so many kids with siblings?  For that matter, how do I even exist?  I’m a younger sibling after all.  Much props mom.  Clearly it was all worth it for this girl looking me in the face, but to do it again? No thank you.

Things got easier, as everyone said they would. Noelle started growing, I managed a plane trip across the continent, we started to get more than a few hours of sleep at a time.  The nice moments started to outweigh the ‘omigodican’t’ moments.  I started to think that maybe I was getting the hang of this baby thing after all. But still, the idea that there are women who have 2, 3, 4 babies pretty much exploded my brain.  You did this how many times?  On purpose??

But then one night, maybe 4 or 5 months in, I’m sitting in the rocking chair in the dark.  It’s 3 in the morning, and only the faint light from the little owl nightlight in the corner illuminates the room.  I’m holding my little one in my lap, nursing her. And she’s so peaceful and heavy in my arms as she’s falling asleep. Her little hand is lying on my chest so gently, and it was one of those quiet, perfect moments. And I thought “oh. oh I see.  I see why people want to do this again.”

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I suddenly realized that I was only going to have so many of these moments.  In a few short months I would be longing for these mid-night cuddles… for someone to need me and trust me so completely.  I knew I would be missing those tiny hands resting peacefully on my body.  In that moment, all the comments people made about savoring every minute sunk in.  As I gazed at her little face in the dim light, I realized she was not the tiny baby she once was, and for the first time it made me sad.  Already she was changing so fast, the little fuzz on her tiny ear wasn’t there anymore.   For the first time, instead of waiting anxiously for her to reach the next milestone, I wanted to throw it in reverse.  I wanted the tiny baby that nearly broke me back.  Or I guess what I really wanted was to be able to capture that moment, and all those moments when she was so tiny and helpless, in a little snow globe or something, where I could revisit them later via some kind of weird time machine/shrinking machine.  I knew right then that the next months and years were going to fly by… and I was going to want to hold on to each of these stages with all the strength I had.

I did it.  I made this little one thrive.  I created a human being, and we survived.  And you know what?  The pain of labor is worth it…breastfeeding can be beautiful… it’s amazing what you can do on so little sleep… I’m certainly not inadequate, and I am getting back in shape slowly.  I’m not so sad, or lonely… and only sometimes confused.  Maybe that amnesia is setting in after all…
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Mom Stuff

So, I’m a mom now.  It’s hard to describe what that means.  But I get it now guys.  Sorry childless people that I can’t explain it to… and that’s not sarcastic, I really am genuinely sorry.  I want to be able to explain it to you, because I wanted someone to explain it to me so badly a short year ago.  But I struggle when I try. You can’t really get it until you’re in it. At least I couldn’t.  So yeah, I am in it, and I get it.  I get that you can love something so much that sleep deprivation and poop everywhere and screaming at 2 in the morning seem like no big deal.  I get that something can be simultaneously the HARDEST and the BEST thing that you’ve ever done.  The closest parallel I can find to the first 8 weeks of motherhood for those who aren’t parents is the concept of type 2 fun.  You’re in pain, every moment is miserable, you’re tired and barely alive, but you are so fulfilled and rewarded in the end that it doesn’t matter.   Well, except not every moment is miserable. You also get those fleeting moments of pure bliss, when your baby smiles at you for the first time, or falls asleep in your arms.  Those things didn’t seem like enough before becoming a mom. I didn’t really understand that something as simple as a smile could give me so much joy that it would make up for the torture that is keeping a newborn baby alive, that the weight of a sleeping infant on my shoulder would be enough to keep me going no matter how hard it is.

I guess I have the same thing to say as all parents say about this: “Just trust us.  It’s worth it.”  So hard to believe before, so easy to understand after.

I also think I sort of get why people lead with the bad stuff when they talk to you about having a baby. I don’t condone it, but I understand now. It’s so much easier to articulate sleepless nights and less time to do your pre-baby activities than it is to articulate the immense emotional satisfaction that makes it all worth it.  It’s more conversational to talk about the very tangible hard parts than the much more abstract and esoteric intense bonds that you’ve developed.  And in all honesty, I’m having trouble remembering not to do this myself.  It’s easy for me to forget that you aren’t wearing my mom goggles, that I’m scaring you off unintentionally.  Please call me out on this.  Make me tell you the awesome parts.

In fact, many of the things that confused the heck out of me prior to having a baby, have come into clarity in the past 8 months, and I’ve developed more tolerance towards behaviours that used to drive me crazy.  However, the one thing I still take issue with is people talking about their lives being over after having children, or losing their old selves. I find that maddening. I’m new to this whole mom thing, but I want to assure you that the you that you know won’t go away, that life is not over. It will feel like it is sometimes, and you will likely feel a sense of loss as your identity goes through this drastic change, but all is not lost.  It’s more like you are finding so many more layers of yourself that that one bit of you that you thought was everything is just harder to pick out in the crowd, a bit like a Where’s Waldo puzzle with your old self in the striped sweater and hat.  But she’s still THERE and life is still happening around her, and she’s part of it, you just have to work a little harder to find her and keep her happy sometimes.

I got going on this topic again because I recently read this post about becoming a mother and the way it fundamentally changes you. While I loved many parts of it and thought it did a wonderful job explaining the change that takes place when you become a mother, I did take issue with the bit when she says that the person she used to be is “just dead” and that the woman she used to know is gone. I don’t think that she’s dead or gone, I think that she’s just a little buried under a few layers of life and laundry right now… She’s like that one sock you know you’ve seen somewhere around the house, but can’t seem to find when you’re actually looking for it.  No, I don’t think she’s dead under there, I think she’s just figuring her way back out from under a pile of new feelings and new experiences and new ways of looking at things.  I think she’s forever changed, has been loaded up with a lot of new dimensions and responsibilities  and substance.  Suddenly she’s made up of many pieces instead of just a few, but one of those pieces is still the woman from before she was a mom. I like to think that as mothers, we are not JUST the woman we once were, we are so much more.  And I think that’s what the author of that blog was getting at really, just in a different way than I would have put it.

Part of motherhood, for me at least, has been figuring out how to fulfill both the new needs of new me (because there is definitely a new me) and the old needs of old me, not to mention the needs of my little wonder woman in training. Those needs I fostered for 30 years aren’t gone magically one day because I had a baby, new needs have just been added to the list. As an example, now, when I’m home with my baby on a weekend, part of me longs to be out on my bike. But at the same time, when I’m out on my bike on the weekend, part of me longs to be home with my baby.  It’s about balancing that.  And I think it’s a different balance for everyone who experiences it, and that’s ok.  If you are more consumed with being a mom than anything else after having a baby, super.  If you’re just as invested in your career or other passions after you have a baby and are fitting your baby into that world, that’s great too.  If you’re somewhere in between, cool.  It’s your balance and you’re doing a good job.

I’m not saying it’s easy or that I’ve figured it out, not by a long shot. It’s a way more complicated puzzle that I live in now, and I’m still working on figuring out the best ways to connect the dots. I’m still weebling and wobbling and trying not to fall down. But I can see that there is a balance point out there, a right way for the dots to connect to form the picture I want, and I am confident I will find it.

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Months 4-6: A Common Sense Approach

I need to preface this post with a disclaimer.  Prior to becoming pregnant, if you remember, I was racing as an Elite level mountain biker.  I had been riding daily, and was comfortable with almost anything you could throw underneath my tires.  I have a very good understanding of the terrain I can handle with little risk, and a very good handle on my body and how it is behaving.  So, with that being said, yes, my doctor did tell me I shouldn’t continue with mountain biking after week 12, and yes, I took this advice seriously. However, after weighing the different factors involved in the decision to ride or not, talking to other mountain bike moms, and consulting another doctor who happened to also be a cyclist, I decided that a common sense approach to riding throughout my pregnancy was the way I wanted to go.  Rather than completely forgoing the activity I love the most for 6 months or more, I decided I would continue on with my passion.

So, I guess my disclaimer is this.  If you’re not a confident rider, or if you have trouble reading your body or the trails you’re riding and assessing risk, I don’t necessarily recommend riding as much or as far into pregnancy as me.  However, I do believe that common sense is worth a lot.  If you want to ride (or do whatever it is you do!), and you feel like you can, confidently, comfortably, and safely, there are a ton of benefits to staying active and continuing on with an activity you love during pregnancy.  I said straight from the beginning that as soon as I felt uncomfortable or off balance or just not well,  I would stop. Funny thing was, I think riding throughout my entire pregnancy has actually helped me feel more comfortable, balanced, and well, both physically and mentally.

The plan?  Keep my heart rate somewhat low, and stick to trails that I knew I could ride safely.  Conversational paced rides, and mostly fire roads or smooth trails I’d ridden hundreds of times.

Early in month 4 I was still feeling kind of tired, and it was nice to go on some easy rides.  I enjoyed stopping and resting at benches along the way and noticing the flowers and the small beauties of the trail that I’m normally not paying attention to.  I started to mix things up with some hiking.  We got some yak traks and I did some hiking in the snow in the mountains, which was a great way to keep things fresh when I got tired of the same trails. I genuinely enjoyed the hiking and the chance to get up in the trees.

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Snow Hike up San Bernardino Peak Trail

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More snow hiking near Jenks Lake to mix things up.

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Chill morning Crafton Rides

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Looking down on Russell while taking the easy way around

 

However, by the end of that month, the tiredness from my first trimester had somewhat subsided, and I wasn’t feeling as many changes in my body as I was expecting. I got out of breath a bit more easily, and I had to wear my shorts with the buttons undone, but otherwise I just felt like my same old (slightly fatter) self.  So my body was constantly querying my brain: “why shouldn’t I ride all the fun stuff and shred like normal?”  It took some effort to remember that even though it didn’t feel like it, there was another human growing inside me that I was now responsible for, and there was a new risk/reward ratio.  From a mental and physical standpoint, it was hard to slow down, and I was starting to miss rides with Russell and my other riding friends.

I think I found it doubly tough because my default way of dealing with stress and sadness and anger, is to go hammer out a really long or hard ride.  So I’d find myself sad or mad that I was missing out on a ride, or stressed about work or some other thing, and then not knowing how to deal with that.  I had to learn how to handle these situations in different ways when I came across them.  I learned a lot about myself in month 4 and 5.

Thankfully, Russell and my other riding friends were all super supportive, and by the end of month 5, I was in a great place mentally.  Russell would do rides with me at least once every week at my slow pace, and others would join from time to time, or wait without complaining as I chugged along in the back of a ride, splitting off to take the easy way down and meeting them at the bottom.  I also got the chance to ride with some folks that I didn’t normally ride with as much, which was really nice.  I definitely got some “you’re crazy” looks and comments when people found out I was still riding, but it was nice that the core group of people I rode with understood that I was doing what was right for me, and that I was being smart about it.

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Team Brennan Ride even though I was slow

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Pie Ride with Janice – so good

In addition to awesome friends, I think it started to get easier because  I was noticing the benefits that continued exercise was having on my pregnancy.  For one, I was gaining weight at the appropriate pace without having to worry too much about calories consumed.  The baby was growing appropriately too, and I was pretty much able to eat as I normally did before getting pregnant – which was already a bit more than the typical person probably.  Turns out eating like an athlete is pretty similar to eating like a pregnant person.  I also continued to feel physically well.   I wasn’t experiencing any of the negative symptoms I’d read about online, and my mood in general was still really good.  I had a few grumpy moments as I watched the boys pedal away from me down a fun trail and I’d take the flat road home, but even then, once they were out of sight, I found myself enjoying going my own pace and feeling proud of myself for still being on the bike.   As in the first trimester, the weeks where I rode less, I was moodier, the weeks I rode more, I would feel better.

By month 6, I had gotten used to the change in pace.  I was also feeling significantly more pregnant.  I felt genuinely different. I had a belly, and I could feel the shift in weight distribution in my body, the pressure on my lungs, and the extra weight I had to push up the hills.  This made it easier for my brain to tell my body to chill out when I needed to.  I didn’t have to try to remember I was pregnant anymore, it was obvious.  I started to really appreciate every minute I had on the bike, even if it was on what I would normally consider a boring old fire road.  Rides became a bit less frequent, as I was running out of places I could go without getting my heart rate high, but I was still out 3 times a week or so, depending on what was happening at work and with life in general.  Sometimes I’d go into a ride thinking it wasn’t going to be fun anymore, or that maybe this would be the last one, but then I’d always end up smiling and feeling good at the end.  So I rode on.

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Beautiful ride in San Luis Obispo recommended by a friend as safe for a preggo

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Photo from my last trip up Jedi. Sad to give this trail up, but the risk of running into someone became too great.

Riding and Yawning through Months 1-3

We sort of took the attitude of let’s just stop trying not to have a baby, and see what happens.  Who knows? those 8 million hours on a bicycle seat could have done one of us some damage.  We’re not spring chickens anymore, and they say it takes a few months for everything to start working the way it was designed again.  Well… not for us.   I suppose we were lucky in that way, but it was a pretty big surprise when found out we were pregnant almost immediately.  Panic struck a bit: We’re actually doing this!!

One of the first things I did was to buy a book about being pregnant as an athlete.  This helped me tremendously, since one of the first thoughts I had (after the initial holy crap we’re having a baby excitement wore off)  was whether I would be starting from ground zero with fitness again after the baby or if I’d be able to salvage any of the base fitness I’d worked so hard to build.  The book I bought took a pretty extreme approach to exercise during pregnancy, which was good, because it made me feel great about my not quite so extreme outlook.  The author’s expectations were to continue to improve her fitness throughout pregnancy… whereas mine were just not to let mine lapse to zero, which seemed easier.  I was also more interested in being reassured that I could still ride and work out without causing harm to the baby in any way, which as it happens, I could.  Especially in those first few months.  Turns out baby is pretty darn protected in there at first, and the only thing I really needed to be concerned about while the baby was really tiny was overheating/dehydration.  The idea from the book was that while you shouldn’t add any new sports to your regimen, and should probably steer clear from contact sports like rugby, you can pretty much do anything you were doing before getting pregnant, while pregnant.  We women aren’t so frail as everyone would have you believe.  Yes, I would want to pay more attention to things like hydration and nutrition. I would want to pay attention to how I was feeling physically while on the bike, and certainly as the baby grew, I would want to take the danger of crashing out of the picture. However, it was reassuring to read that at least for the first few months, keeping up with my riding was actually probably a great thing for me and for baby.

So, for the most part in month 1 and 2 I pretty much rode as I always have. We went to Sedona for a week, I rode all my usual gnarly trails at home, if perhaps with a bit more of an eye for caution than usual once we found out I had a new riding partner so to speak.  I generally took that time as an opportunity to enjoy the riding while I still REALLY could.  My doctor had told me mountain biking would be off the table starting at 12 weeks, so I figured I needed to get as much in as I could NOW.  As you’ll hear later, it turned out that mountain biking would only really go off the table at around 32 weeks when I found myself without a mountain bike to ride… but I did somewhat listen to my doctor in that what I consider REAL mountain biking stopped when I finished month 3, so I was glad I rode my butt off in November.  It sounds bad that I went against doctors orders, but I’ll talk more about that decision in the next post.  There is logic and common sense there, I promise.

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Shortly after finding out we were pregnant, riding in Sedona.

Thankfully I wasn’t feeling sick – which I genuinely believe has something to do with being healthy and fit to begin with, but scientifically probably has more to do with genetics.  What I did find, starting towards the end of month 2 however, was that I was TIRED.  We were in Nova Scotia for Christmas at this time, and had rented some cyclocross bikes from a cool little combination bike shop/candy shop near where I grew up.  We’d go out for rides and all I’d want to do was draft behind Russell, and would get  frustrated at how much harder I was having to work than normal to keep what I felt was a moderate pace.  Then I would get home and just crash out the couch for the afternoon, barely able to get through a 5 minute conversation, or 1 page of my book, without drifting off to sleep.  Something was definitely different, and I could tell at this point.  I had to keep reminding myself I was growing a human, and that that was pretty hard work for my body on it’s own, so it was no wonder that riding was making me more tired than usual.  I also had to try hard to remember that I shouldn’t push too hard, and just enjoy the fact that I was on my bike.  It was the beginning of a number of mental and physical adjustments I would have to make over the next few months.

Being tired, having overactive hormones, and being caught up in the emotion of breaking the news to our families sent me into a couple tailspins over Christmas break.  I  kept expecting to have those motherly feelings and get gushy over baby stuff, and I didn’t, and for some reason that was stressing me out.  I kept waiting to see some little baby socks and start bawling like you see on tv, but that didn’t happen, and then I was bawling because it didn’t.  I felt like I should be super excited, but I was still trying to process the whole thing so I was having a hard time reaching and sharing those excited emotions on demand.  Yeah… pregnancy makes you kinda crazy.  Riding kept me sane.  If I was feeling low, I knew I had to get out on the bike, or at least outside for some form of exercise.  I might fall asleep dead afterwards, but I would at least have come home smiling first.  My bike clothes started to feel tight at this point too, but I wasn’t sure whether that was just normal Christmas cookie weight or real baby weight.  I started to worry I was giving myself gestational diabetes gorging myself on my mom’s Christmas baking.  More crazy talk, that’s not how it works, but also another reason that being able to ride kept me sane, I could reason with myself that I was exercising enough that a few (a lot of??) cookies weren’t hurting me.

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Gravel grinding in Nova Scotia, around 10 weeks pregnant

On a non pregnancy-specific riding note, it was also pretty cool to have a bike in my home town.  I found myself really enjoying exploring the back roads and rail trails and linking up the different communities in the area using combinations of dirt and pavement.  I found myself discovering new bits of a place I thought I already knew incredibly well.  I also found out there is a little bit of legit mountain bike riding nearby… but unfortunately got snowed out of trying it out.  Next time.

In short, the trip to my hometown turned out to be the perfect transition for me. By hitting the roads and rail trails there, I was taking the intensity and technical riding down a notch without having to succumb to what I was anticipating as boring riding just yet.  I was still exploring, so the adventure factor was still there.  I didn’t feel like I necessarily had to make too many changes yet, but I was, simply due to the nature of the terrain and how tired I was feeling.  When we got back to California, I carefully planned a few fun rides in anticipation of the bigger changes I was about to make to my riding style. This allowed me a little boost in adrenaline and some fun times with my regular riding buddies before making the announcement that we were welcoming a new member to the team, and that I’d be skipping the steep and rocky trails for a while.

 

The Big Leap

When I got pregnant, I thought, this is great, I will have so much to write about!  But as you can see, I haven’t posted a damn thing anywhere.  I’ve thought about it many times, and I’ve written drafts. But to be honest, I was afraid.  Pregnancy and parenting blogging seemed to present a gauntlet of potential judgment and mis-steps.  I was afraid to post my opinions on things for fear of insulting or appalling other moms and mom-to-bes.  Writing about mountain biking is one thing: I have a fairly limited audience, and a limited number of people I can offend.  Not to mention that most of what I’m writing is pretty unoffensive in general.  I’m writing about experiences more so than opinions, and the people reading what I write are mostly like-minded individuals with the same passion for riding bikes that I have.

Motherhood however, is a much more broadly experienced part of life.  I know people of all walks of life that are moms or would like to be moms, and almost all of them have different styles and thoughts on how best to raise their kids – some of whom I agree with, some of whom I don’t.  With such a wide range of opinions, no matter what I write, someone is bound to disagree, possibly vehemently.  I also know women that wouldn’t dream of being moms, or maybe just have no real desire to do so, and I also fear judgement of my choices from them.  Am I perceived to be giving up on my ambitions by having a baby?  The audience that could potentially relate to my writing goes up tenfold with this new topic, and so, in turn, do the number of people lurking in the online ether waiting to place judgment on my thoughts and opinions.  It’s a scary world out there for a blogging mom to be.

So here I am, only 6 days remaining until my due date, and I’m writing, and maybe this time, I’ll let the world see.  I think I’m ready to tiptoe carefully into this world and see what people think.  Maybe it starts with linking life before to life now by talking about how I’ve kept my sanity through pregnancy using a bike.  And maybe that leads me to a pet peeve I have with many parents, and maybe that gets me in trouble right out of the gate.  I guess with this new adventure looming; with a small life form about to tip me headfirst into an abyss of complete unknown, survival has started to seem like the more pressing issue, rather than the opinions of others.  Maybe I want to find out if there are others out there who are like me.  Surely there are.  Maybe I’m feeling the need to connect.

I should start at the beginning.

Deciding to have a baby was not an easy decision for my husband and I.  I thought it would be, but it wasn’t.  If you had asked me at 25 if I wanted to be a mom, I would have said “Of Course!”. But then life happened, and babies didn’t, and I was having a lot of fun, and I became pretty comfortable with the life I had.  I had a career, and an amazing husband, I was achieving goals, and experiencing the world, following my athletic dreams,  why on earth would I want that to change?  Well, I’ll tell you what happened: All of a sudden, I’m 32 and I realize, shit… I’ve been following this one dream… but I forgot about that other dream I used to have, where I have a kid to share all of this amazing stuff with.  Crap, my brain says, can’t I have both?

Common sense says yes, but public opinion seems to say no.  The overwhelming majority of what I hear from other parents, is that “life as you know it is over” once you have kids .  Well, I have to be honest, I really don’t want this to be the end of life as I know it.  I fully expect change, and I’m ready to embrace it, but the end of life as I know it?  Doesn’t sound so great to me. Tip number one for parents: try telling people considering having a baby the good parts up front, not exclusively the bad parts.  You’ll never sleep, you’ll never have enough money, you’ll never get to ride anymore, travel will be impossible.  All of these statements from others, while meant to be perceived lightly and jokingly for the most part, weighed heavily on my mind, like boulders blocking the tunnel back to the time when I was sure having kids was right for me.  So it took some thinking.  It took a year of exploring, a year of sopping up all the experiences I could, and pondering whether this was enough, or if that dream I held of being a mom was still pinned back there, behind those rocks, at the back of my mind, waiting to resurface, maybe too late.  It would have been an easier decision if my husband was firmly in one camp or another, but he was in the same boat as me, having always imagined having kids, but a bit scared of the reality of actually doing it.  We both needed some time to figure it out, together. So we took it – traveling together, having lots of long conversations over meals and on chairlifts in different parts of the world, thoroughly appreciating what we had and carefully observing what our friends with kids had, in order to figure out what we wanted.

Based on the fact that I just told you I’m 6 days away from my due date, you can probably guess the route that this self reflection took us down.  It still doesn’t feel quite real, but here we are.  While I’m still nervous about being a good mom, and unsure how I’m going to handle the initial sleep deprivation and the constant dependency our little one will have on us, I’m also excited.  Excited to meet the little munchkin we created and watch them grow. Excited to learn about being a parent, and see how that changes or doesn’t change us as people and as a couple.  Excited to try to merge Margaret the mountain biker with Margaret the Mom and prove that it is possible to be both.  And maybe most of all, excited to introduce this new human being to this wonderful albeit sometimes frightening world.  We are ready for a new adventure, and this certainly seems like the beginning of a  good one.

Trail Moods 3: The Train

It’s a Thursday evening.  All the usual suspects have assembled at the trailhead.  My favorite kind of ride awaits, I can feel it.  The kind that starts out innocently enough, with a mellow pedal up the same old boring hill, but ends with a rowdy, raucous pursuit and dirt on my teeth.

I go high, while someone else goes low.  Each rider selects their favorite lines as we charge down the trail, faster than is normally deemed acceptable.  We criss-cross each others paths, breaking apart and melding back together seamlessly.   Yips and whoops escape from our lips as we soar over the same jump in succession.  The person in front of me zigs as I zag.  There is an unspoken trust between us all.  We’ve ridden together as a pack for so long we can predict each others movements. Until we can’t, and someone’s tire is buzzed, someone nearly crashes in spectacular fashion, we skid to a halt.  Laughter.  Someone new takes the lead.  Our speed and bravery are dictated by the  rider at the front.  If they turn on the gas, we all follow suit.  A plume of dust billows behind us as we drift and slide around the turns. The person at the back of the cloud blindly follows, barely able to see the terrain in front of their tires.  Someone goes for the pass, more laughter.

These are the rides where I’m more out of breath after the downhill than I was after the climb. They end with immense, dust covered smiles and lengthy parking lot banter about that close call on the trail and whose bikes need which new parts.  They are rides that remind me of skidding contests in my grandmothers driveway, and of racing friends around my neighborhood on every sort of second hand bicycle known to mankind.  And I can’t help but feel supremely happy, knowing that even now, as an adult, thanks to my mountain bike, I can still have fun chasing my friends down a hill.

Daylight savings ride.

On Taking a Break

I pretty much only ride my bike.  If I’m not working, eating or partaking in that necessary evil called housework, I’m riding my bike.  It’s what I do.  So usually, when I am asked to take a week off from my bike due to injury, a work trip, a visitor who doesn’t ride etc., I start to feel a little panicked.  I immediately start analyzing how many days I can go without losing fitness and what I’ll need to do to make up time once I’m back to my normal routine.  I try to play it cool, and I’m pretty good at pretending, like, no big deal, I’m totally flexible, I can workout in the mornings before anyone is awake… or I can work out a little less and it will be FINE… but underneath that facade I’m totally freaking out.  So when I found out I was going to have 3 weeks in April/May with non biking visitors, my first instinct was to start to scheme and plot how I was going to fit in rides, or get in cross training. I was excited to see my family and friends, but I began to start worrying about losing precious time on the bike and eating less healthy, and not staying on top of my strength or mobility training.

I know what you’re thinking… ‘you just told us you were taking the year off racing, why are you training still?’  Well, apparently it’s a hard habit to break.  I didn’t even realize I was still in this frame of mind until it happened.  I think my anxiety was actually even worse than normal because I knew I DIDN’T have a race schedule, and one of the bigger fears I had related to taking the year off racing was losing all that fitness I’d worked so hard for.

Then I remembered a story my coach had related to me last year. She mentioned that at the end of her season, her coach told her she had to quit biking for a week.  So she took an entire 5 days off the bike, and it ended up being good for her.  You can read about her experience here, as I did.

While my situation was different than hers – I wasn’t overtrained or particularly tired physically at this point – I found myself taking her advice and reflecting on how I’d really been feeling on the bike lately.  After some thought, the conclusion I came to was that I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was tired, mentally rather than physically, of riding my bike.  I still wanted to ride if we were going somewhere cool or riding somewhere new and exciting, but those daily rides on the same old trails had started to feel a little more like work and a little less like freedom.  I still did the daily rides, because, as I said, I’m pretty afraid of not being fit, but it was more like “ughhhh I guess I’ll go ride now…” instead of “Let’s go ride!!“, and that’s not good.

I think every athlete probably goes through phases of burnout from time to time, and in this case, lack of a concrete goal for the first time in years was probably compounding that lack of motivation.  We had our trip to Nepal planned, but after that, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I was going to be working towards.  Once I realized where my head was at, I suddenly realized I didn’t like it.  I was supposed to be having fun, enjoying not being constrained to a schedule, but I seemed to be trapped in a cycle of training for nothing yet still feeling guilty if I wasn’t training for something.  So I decided, that while I had visitors in town, I was going to take a break from the bike.  I just wasn’t going to worry about riding.

It was easier said than done at first, and I consciously had to tell the part of my brain in charge of biking to shut up.  But once I got into the idea, you know what?  I remembered I like other stuff.  I went for hikes, I went to hockey games, I went out for beers, I went to the beach, I did yoga, I sat on my patio, I slept in past 6.  I didn’t have to worry about getting up in time to get a ride in, or getting out of work in time to get a ride in, or eating just the right things at the right times, or counting up the miles or elevation for the week. It was totally refreshing. I can’t say I totally went off the riding, as I did get out a few times, but it was because I wanted to, not because I felt like I should.  In a matter of a few days, I had removed the guilt, and the monotony from my riding habit.

A secondary and happy by-product of this break was that by not worrying about any of this, I actually was able to fully and genuinely enjoy every minute I spent with my family and friends that were here to see me.  I hadn’t realized what I was missing.  It wasn’t that I don’t always enjoy seeing family and friends, it’s just that it had been a while since I had totally immersed myself mentally in just hanging out with them, just relishing in the awesomeness of having them around.  It reminded me, that while I do miss mountain biking terribly when I’m not able to do it at all, there are other things out there that are more important, and there are also other things I like to do.  It’s not going to kill me to hike or go skiing, or paddle-boarding, or just hang out and relax and spend quality time with my favorite people for a few days instead of ride my bike.  In fact, it might even be (definitely is) good for me.  My body was probably pretty stoked to be using different muscles, and my brain was able to break free of it’s pattern, which I’m pretty sure is good for it once in a while.   Not to mention, I got to have a lot of fun with people I love.photo-8photo-9

It wasn’t that long of a break, and if I’m honest, I think the reason I could do it at all was because I knew I could recover from a few weeks off the bike.  My thought process was probably something like ‘even if this sucks and makes me anxious the whole time, it’s only a few weeks’.  But it didn’t suck, and short as it was, it made a pretty big difference in my mental state on and off the bike.   Suddenly I was back to riding my bike because I really really like it and suddenly my brain refocused and remembered what is really important.

I’m back to the routine now, but it doesn’t seem as routine.  I have successfully (at least for now) managed to reset, and get excited about riding again.  I look forward to my rides, even the ones that are just workouts, and I’m calling people and saying “Let’s go ride!” instead of grumbling about having to go.  Russell and I have started training together, which is a nice change of pace on the training front, and if we feel like it, we just ride for fun together or with friends instead of whatever it is we’re “supposed” to be doing.   I’ve set some solid goals, and I feel like I have something I’m working towards now, but I also made some plans for time without my bike, and have made it a priority to enjoy those moments when I have the opportunity, and for that matter, to enjoy all the moments I have, whether on or off the bike.

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So, what’s the moral of this story? It’s kind of twofold:  1) We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and pressure can be good and help us to achieve our goals, but we shouldn’t be afraid to just chill out sometimes.  If there is some reason you are feeling stressed or unmotivated or tired, take a week and reset – and don’t feel guilty about it.  Chances are, a week off will re-motivate you and remind you that the real reason you ride (or do whatever activity you’re taking a break from) is because you love it.  2) If, as an athlete, or a human being, you have the luxury of not having much of a schedule or specific commitments related to your sport for a while, or if you’re in the unfortunate situation of forced time off, make the most of it.  There are lots of other things in life that are worth doing.  Try some new things, rediscover some things you used to do, call old friends, spend time with family, eat a cookie.

Thanks for listening.

Trail Moods 2: Work

It’s Tuesday.  I know whats coming.  My alarm goes off and I hit the snooze button.  My bed feels extra warm and cozy, but I know I have got to get up or I won’t make it to my day job by 9.  It’s dark. I reach deep into the depths of my mind, and find just enough motivation, hidden under a few layers of sleep and comfort to my drag my ass out of bed and get my gear on in a fog.  I know it will feel good at the end, but damn is it ever hard to get moving knowing the pain I’m about to inflict on myself.  I stuff some peanut butter and banana on toast into my mouth and grab some water.  I pull my bike off the stand and turn on my GPS.  Click, click, beep, as I clip into my pedals and start the timer.  Warm up starts now, and will end too quickly.  I spend the next 20 minutes going over the set in my head.  I know exactly how long I’ll be pushing, how long I’ll recover in between, I know my target heart rates, I know the cadence I’m trying to hit, I know how my legs and lungs are going to feel.  Today, the ride is very calculated, and heavily monitored.  There’s always a moment of procrastination, where I try to convince myself I should do 30 minutes of warm up instead of 20, but I know I only have a certain amount of time to get this done.  The countdown starts, I can feel butterflies in my stomach.  I don’t know why I get nervous before intervals, but I do.  3,2,1, deep breath, and go. I push hard. My heart rate accelerates along with my bike. The first one hurts the most, but I quickly find a rhythm and settle in.  I focus on my breathing, I focus on keeping pressure on the pedals.  I try my hardest not to watch the clock, but inevitably glance down again and again.  My legs burn, but my brain has been here before. It recognizes the pain and reminds me my body can handle it.  Shut up Legs. I keep the pressure on, knowing sweet recovery is coming soon.  I start the countdown to finish the interval with 30 seconds left.  Counting in my head keeps me moving for those last few seconds.  As the clock hits the mark, my thumb hits the shifter and my legs spin easily. 1 down, 4 to go. I relish in the moment I have to catch my breath before the clock starts ticking again.

The efforts don’t get easier, but feel more manageable as I get into them. I’ve done one, I can do another, then I’m halfway through, then only a few more to go.  The suffering starts to feel satisfying.  I start to feel determined. I have a purpose, a goal. I push little bit harder than last time. If I feel the urge to quit, I remind myself I’m getting stronger, faster, that this is going to make riding and racing even more rewarding.  By the time I get to the last effort, I feel like I could keep going, so I lay it all out there.  During the countdown to the end this time, my muscles are screaming, and I can hear an audible groan escape my mouth, but I stand and hammer even harder for the last 10 seconds if I can. I collapse into the handlebars as my thumb hits the shifter hard one last time, and I take a huge breath in.  I made it.

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I should turn around, because I’m out of time, and I hurt, but I know if I go just a little farther, I can take the fun way down. So I keep the pedals moving.  I’m spent for the ride home, but it’s a good tired, not the groggy tired I woke up to. I feel grateful that I forced myself out of bed as I cruise down the singletrack.

By the time I get back to the garage, I’m red in the face, a little bit lightheaded, sweaty, and my legs ache.  It’s just how I knew I was going to feel, and a little secret part of me likes it.  20 miles of dirt for breakfast, any way you slice it, is not a bad way to wake up.

Trail Moods 1: The Soul-o Ride

It’s Friday morning. I slip out of bed and tiptoe past my sleeping husband to grab my riding clothes. Coffee, Oatmeal. It’s quiet in the house. The world is still sleeping. Shoes, helmet, gloves, camelbak. I grab a thermal shirt from the laundry to ward off the early morning chill. I step outside and quietly shut the door. Birds are waking, the air smells of orange blossoms. I grab my bike. I leave the heartrate monitor on the shelf, I leave my Garmin on the table. This morning it’s about me, only me, no waiting, no expectations, no gadgets. Just me and my bike. As I start to pedal, I feel the energy beginning to pulse through my veins. I fill my lungs with that orange blossom air, and pedal a little harder.   Pavement turns to dirt beneath my tires. Singletrack. Tall grass licks at my ankles. I climb. The stress from the week rolls off my body with my sweat. My emotions and my mind find focus and the only thing that matters right now is putting pressure on the pedals. I reach the top as the sun is cresting the horizon. The grass glows gold. Exhale. Inhale. I feel satisfied. I’ve earned the descent I’m about to savor. Calm changes to excitement, a determined stare turns to a broad smile.   This morning I’m not going to set any records. This morning it’s a ride for my soul, not my watch. I’ve ridden the trail countless times. I know each corner by heart, and each jump and each bump. There’s comfort in the repetition. I glide around the turns and pump over the terrain. I indulge in the slipperiness of the dirt. I giggle as I flick my wheel sideways even though nobody is there to see it. Dust flies. I fly.  I reach the bottom out of breath and feeling alive.

Sometimes riding is just about riding. Not about winning, not about socializing, not about getting fit. It’s about feeling the dirt under your tires, it’s about filling your lungs and pushing your legs, it’s about resurrecting those same feelings that you got the first time you rode your banana seat bike around the block. It’s about freedom. It’s about you, and your bike, and the trail, and happiness. photo-6

7 Lessons Learned From My First Race on Another Continent


It occurred to me as I was working on my last post, that I owe everyone a story from Italy.  I guess I was sort of sick of giving the play by play of all my races at the time, so rather than thinking of a more creative way to tell the story, I just didn’t.  Oops.

So I’ll try to make up for that now.  I still don’t want to give you a straight up boring race recap, so I thought I’d to take a look back on that trip and make a list. A list of lessons learned.  Everyone loves lists right?

But first, some preamble about Finale. Try to stay with me, the list at the end is your reward.

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As you’ve likely read in countless online articles if you follow the mountain bike race scene, there is something special about Finale Ligure, Italy.  There is something about the romantic language, about the cobblestone alleys and the medieval architecture, about the winding streets, and the hills dropping abruptly into the Mediterranean Sea.  Gelato, coffee, and fresh pasta tug at your senses from every corner, and everyone seems to be smiling and relaxed. It’s impossible not to be seduced by it’s charms.

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And then there are the trails….

There are some places, that no matter how accomplished you feel as a mountain biker, you will be humbled.  I think of Sedona as being one of these places, and Whistler, especially once you start venturing outside of the bike park.  Interestingly, these are also the places that pull me back into their grasp year after year.  They are the places I return to;  the ones that leave you with a sense of accomplishment, and at the same time a feeling of wanting more.  They bring forward conversations with phrases like “next time, I’ll get that one root section” or “next year, I’ll get up and over that ledge”.  The trails you ride in these places challenge your body and your spirit, but are nothing short of spectacular.

Finale is another one of these places.

Just when I thought I’d ridden on almost every type of terrain, and could handle myself on just about anything: Surprise! Finale throws me down a slick, steep cobblestone path that makes my bike feel like a plinko chip underneath my body, and then requests that I maneuver around countless rocky,awkward switchbacks that at first glance appear all but impossible.  Oh and by the way, Finale says with a smile, you’re not just riding these trails, you have to race them, AND you have to climb almost 9000 feet to get to them.  OK Finale! I get it! it’s going to be one of those weeks!

IMG_3311Insert emotions of shock, sadness, anger, confusion, denial and finally excitement as I finish my first trail ride in Italy.  I believe my quote to Russell was: “Holy Shit, that was hard, that can’t be what we’re racing.” And then Russell shrugged, and we laughed.  I’d been through it before; in Sedona, in Whistler, in all those places I’ve been humbled by the terrain.  So instead of having a breakdown, as I’m prone to do in such situations, I embraced the insanity.  That’s what I was here for.  I wanted technical, I got it.  Time to learn some new skills.

That particular trail didn’t end up being in the race, but the tracks that were did not disappoint.  It was a damn hard race, and the riding was unreal.  Each track had it’s own flavor. Some were tricky techy, requiring finesse, some steep and gnarly, requiring a bit (a lot?) of courage, and some fast, flowing and physical. All requiring complete focus and a well trained body and mind.  The transitions were tighter than I’d become accustomed to in North America, as were the switchbacks.  Four ridiculous days of riding ensued.  I have rarely been so tired.  I have rarely felt so alive.  I have rarely met so many strong, smiling women.photo (59)

Here’s where I start to feel myself falling back into my boring race play by play… So… Without further ado, on to my list.  Here are 7 lessons I learned from the Finale Ligure EWS:

1.  See above.  Learn to embrace the insanity.  Push your limits, and learn new skills, but be patient when you don’t master something as quickly as you’d like.  If you fail (and you will), smile at your mistake, and go back and get it next time. I was mostly successful at this in Finale, but I faltered a few times on race day, and still have some work to do in this space.

2.  If you’re racing in a drastically different time zone without adequate time to adjust, invest in sleep aids.  The night before the race, I was up almost all night, just not even tired.  Whether this was a little bit the 8 hour time difference and a lot of nervous energy, or vice versa, I don’t know, but either way, next time pass me the Ambien please!  Racing on no sleep is sure to have an affect both your mental and physical game.

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3.  If you’re traveling across the world, spend more time there.  I spent the whole time in Italy wishing I could stay longer.  Don’t rush the experience.  I know, I know, especially for those of us in the US with “real jobs”, vacation time is precious and you have lots you want to do.  Call in sick.  Nothing is worse than having to rush around after you’re done racing to pack up your bike and get on a train/plane/automobile and leave the most incredible place you’ve ever been.

4.  On protective Equipment: a) bring a spare helmet – if you smash your head in a foreign country, your sponsors/friends with spares are far far away b) invest in back protection that won’t add 15 pounds to your weight and turn your torso into a sweaty, achy mess come race day.

5. Find out what the shuttle situation is early and make shuttle plans if necessary!  Thankfully, the Gehrig sisters helped Russell and I get shuttle practice in. If it hadn’t been for their kindness, their van, and the fearless driver they recruited to drive us around on the teeny tiny winding mountain roads, our other options had included riding the 9000 ft of climbing needed to practice without shuttles, or renting a scooter for Russell to tow me up the hill with.photo (62)

6.  Eat more Gelato.  Drink more coffee.  Drink more wine. Enough said.

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7.  Smile like Nina.  I rode most of the transition stages with Nina Rupnik from Slovenia.  She was very fit, very fast, very humble, and had an infectious smile.  Her positive attitude was what got me through the last transition of the first day, and likely a major reason (in addition to her skill and fitness) she was able to keep her shit together and finish the 4th stage with a fast time, while my grumpy face rolled around on the ground in front of her.  It’s just riding bikes. Smile, relax, remember how rad the experience is, and what a fantastic place your bike has brought you to.

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Nina, if you’re out there, I’m sorry I snapped at you in a moment of panic, and I’m sorry I got in your way on that 4th stage.  Thank you for being so nice to me, and for reminding me it was about the experience.  I learned a lot from you that I will take on to other places and races and it was an absolute pleasure finishing the weekend with you.  Hopefully our paths will cross again.

 

So that’s my story, and my list.  The knowledge that I only scratched the surface of what this place has to offer, has made this one of the only races I’ve signed up for again this year – just in case.  We’ll see where I’m at by the fall and if the stars align to make it happen.

And next time I’ll get that switchback!!

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