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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 18 April, 2019
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'My body doesn't know what's hit it, core muscles that drifted apart in pregnancy are being forcibly reunited'

Moire O’Sullivan wasn’t ready to give up her love for adventure racing after pregnancy.

The following is an extract from Bump, Bike and Baby: Mummy’s gone adventure racing, by Moire O’Sullivan.

TIME FLIES WHEN you’re ridiculously sleep-deprived.

I try to recall what I’ve done for the last month and a half. All I can remember are feeds, nappy changes and frequent nap interruptions.

The occasional hour-long walks or cycles have served well to break the monotony of it all. The baby blues were a minor hiccup on what has been, in general, a well-managed upheaval in my life.

The six-week check takes a lot less time to complete than expected. I have healed up pretty well. And I appear somewhat emotionally stable and generally happy enough. So, in less than 15 minutes, I am given the all-clear.

I pick up the phone as soon as I get home and call my new coach, Eamonn Tilley.

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‘All good to go,’ I tell him.

‘Great stuff,’ he says. ‘So let’s get started and set ourselves a few ground rules.’

Eamonn tells me that, from now, I’ll keep a training diary that is accessible online.

‘I’ll work out what you need to do each day,’ he says, ‘your job is to get the sessions done.’

I am relieved. My brain has become a little fuzzy since childbirth and I struggle to make decisions. When I get a chance to train, it takes me forever to work out if I want to bike or run. Then I can’t decide how far or for how long I will go.

When it comes to training, Eamonn will do all this taxing thinking for me.

“You’ll need to use a GPS and heart-rate monitor during all of your workouts,” Eamonn continues.

If you upload the data, I can then review it and give you feedback every couple of days.”

“So you’ll be checking up on me to see if I’ve done the session or not?” I say, unsure if I like this new level of scrutiny.

“Listen, it’s up to you if you want to do the training or not,” Eamonn says. I know what it’s like when you have young children.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” I say, “I want to do all the sessions. I’m just not sure how feasible it will be.”

I’m still not convinced my childminding strategy at the creche will pan out, that I’ll be free to do all of Eamonn’s proposed sessions. And I’m wondering if I’ll be physically able to train, what with the surprises post-natal bodies can unexpectedly spring.

But even with all these doubts buzzing through my mind, there is part of me that knows that I have no choice but to prepare to race again. Racing is something I enjoy, and was once good at before all this baby stuff. This reality I cling to more than ever, especially now that I’m faced with dealing with parenthood, an activity that I am proud of. I cannot abandon it right now. Eamonn and I agree to take it along, see how it goes, and revise the training plan when required.

The first week of training with Eamonn is mild-mannered enough. He gives me a paltry 20-minute run to do at barely jogging speed, with instructions not to exceed a heart rate of 130. Although painfully slow, it is nevertheless marvellous to run without carting around a bump.

Eamonn then gives me an hour’s bike session to do, but it is still at a snail’s pace. And though the biking and running training is easy, he kills me with strength and conditioning. Not once, not twice, but three times a week I am now doing squats, lunges, press-ups, skips and planks.

My poor body doesn’t know what’s hit it. My core muscles that drifted apart during pregnancy are now being forcibly reunited.

My glutes, quads, and hamstrings scream when I even look at a flight of stairs. I do a bit of yoga to try and relieve the pain. Everything just about folds and stretches like before, but it is a very creaky affair.

Painful though the training is, it gives me something very definite to look forward to each day. I now have a clear break marked into my daily schedule when I can totally forget about crying, feeding and nappy-changing.

Sea2Summit Prizegiving with 4 month Aran 2013 3rd place at 2013 Westport Sea2Summit with 4 month old Aran.

Pete, my husband, is now back at work and I leave Aran at the creche for my bike sessions. It takes me a while, but I eventually figure out the most efficient sequencing. I rock up to the creche’s front door all kitted out in helmet, clip-in shoes and padded shorts. Aran is strapped to my body, while I wheel Bike inside with my free hand.

I bring Aran into the creche, and undo my top. I push Aran under my sports bra that is holding my udders in place. It is a bit of a squeeze, as the bras I have to wear these days have to be super tight; if not, there could be trouble with my boobs jiggling about while I exercise. Aran is still less than eight weeks old, so a bottle is not yet an option. So I have to fill him up as much as possible, directly from the source.

I don’t want him crying with hunger and bothering the creche staff while I’m away. All he needs is 90 minutes’ worth of breast milk so that I can do my session in peace.

I come back from my bike ride, buzzing with adrenaline.

“How was he,” I ask.

“Great,” the creche staff tell me. Aran is bouncing about on one of their laps. I am genuinely happy to see him. I take him into my arms and give him a quick top-up. This training and motherhood combination might just work out all right.

Pete sees how hard I’m working to get this combo going.

“Can I get you a birthing present?’ He says. I look at him slightly bewildered.

“Aren’t husbands meant to buy their wives something,” he asks, “to thank them for giving birth to their kid?”

“Buy me something? Like what?”

“I don’t know, diamonds?”

Diamonds are not for me. I don’t even wear my engagement ring, as it just tends to get in the way.

No. I’ve got a way better idea.

“Why don’t you buy me a set of bike rollers as a thank-you present?”

And so, to thank me for all those months of pregnancy, my husband pays for a set of rollers that let me ride Bike inside the house.

It is a genuinely romantic gesture.

But even when the rollers arrive, Pete is still confused. ‘How exactly are you meant to use these things?”

He is examining the three long metallic cylinders that are connected together by industrial rods. He spins them around with a push of his hand. They don’t look safe at all.

“Well, you put your bike on top of the rollers, then pedal,” I say, as if I know it all.

“All right then,” Pete says, “show me.”

I’ve never used rollers before but I am determined not to lose face in front of Pete. I balance my back wheel on the two rear cylinders and my front wheel on the remaining one. Holding on to Pete’s shoulder, I hoist myself on to the saddle and press my foot down. My bike rolls one way, I roll the other and Pete catches me as I fall.

Killarney AR Bike 2014 O'Sullivan cycling at the Killarney Adventure Race 2014. Source: Marek Hajdasz

“I think I need a little practice,” I say, trying to hide my shame.

“I soon discover that the way to use rollers initially is to park them in a doorway, Then if you lurch left or right there’s a wooden beam on either side to break your immediate fall. I spend weeks practicing on my rollers. At the start, I cling for dear life to both sides of the doorway. Eventually, one hand moves to the handlebars, then the others. It takes me nearly a month to perfect the balancing act.

In my mind, Bike and I are ploughing up highways together, careering down hills at breakneck speeds. but to all around us, I am pedalling frantically in my living room, going absolutely nowhere.

Roller sessions are perfect for minding Aran. I put him in his chair in front of me so I can watch his every move. I put Bike on the rollers, and I spin away, doing my sessions without leaving my front door.

Buoyed by the success of my indoor cycling, I try different ways to solve the ‘training with Aran’ conundrum. One day I have no creche arranged and Pete is away for work. I have a 30-minute run to do, so decide to hit the treadmill. I bring Aran to a local gym I know will be quiet and welcoming. I lie Aran down inside a Moses basket and place it right beside me. I start the treadmill and slowly quicken my stride. But Aran is unsettled.

He might need a little drink, I stop the treadmill and pick baby Aran up. Squatting on the stationary running belt, I give him a quick feed. It seems to do the trick, and he slowly closes his eyes. But as soon as I place him back in the basket, he starts to grimace and whine.

The sound of the treadmill. Does that lull a baby to sleep? I ignore the growing sounds of his cries as I increase the pace of the track. With the surge in speed, the whirring noises rise, but so do Aran’s squeals.

There is nothing more distressing for a parent than hearing their baby endlessly scream. After less than a minute, I can’t take it any more and hit the emergency stop button. I dismount the belt and pick Aran up to calm his angry tears. But as his tears are soothed, mine begin to torrent down my cheeks out of sheer frustration. I am forced to give up on the treadmill idea for the foreseeable future.

It’s becoming painfully obvious that, although I may have given birth to Aran, when it comes to child-rearing, I know about as much as Pete.

Finally, Aran passes the eight-week mark, and I extract my milk with glee. I hand a milk-filled bottle and the baby to Pete, and go for my scheduled hour-long run. I come back home, refreshed by my brief break. Aran is fast asleep on Pete’s shoulder, but Pete is not looking happy at all.

“How did it go?” I ask, unsure if I really want to know.

“He cried for the full hour and literally just fell asleep,” Pete says, “he totally refused the bottle.”

The happiness I felt coming in the door rapidly dissipates.

“Did you warm the milk?”

“Yes”

“And did you try another teat? I heard that could make a difference.’

“YESSSSS,” Pete says. I am lucky he is busy holding Aran or else he would get up and throttle me.

MOSullivan_QuestGlendalough01 O'Sullivan running through Wicklow on Quest Glendalough. Source: CLEARSKIESAHEAD.COM

Before I had children, I could disappear for hours, even days on end and run through the mountains without a care. Now even leaving the house for 60 minutes causes immense stress and upheaval. I had no idea how much I would have to sacrifice when a baby arrived on the scene. I am sure I was told, but could never fully understand the time and effort required to look after one.

I am so close to promising Pete that I won’t leave him alone ever again with Aran. That I’ll stop all this silly training, that I’ll make sure I’m around all the time to look after our child. It would be so easy for me to just give up right now. The problem is, I always finish what I start. It is something my parents ingrained in me from an early age.

And I’ve just started this road back to fitness. If I give in now, not only will I lose all the benefits that exercise promises, but I will also consider myself an abject failure for forsaking something that is so fundamental to my identity.

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