SPORT TEACHES RESILIENCE
Sport teaches resilience; an adapted mode of thinking that improves our capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Sport has also taught me to look after my body and mind by prioritising quality nutrition, consistent sleep, positive self-talk and open communication. Little did I realise just how helpful these skills would become as a Mother and when navigating the worldwide challenges that 2020 has presented.
5TH FEBRUARY 2020 - PREPARING FOR THE HAMBURN MARATHON
It was 5.50am. I frantically rolled over and threw my arm towards the vibrating phone on the floor to silence it; a series of movements that were becoming more refined with practice in the darkness of our room. I waited a moment to see whether our three-month-old, Billy would stir in the cot beside me.... safe! I smiled admiringly at the precious swaddled figure sleeping peacefully and snuck into the bathroom to pull on a pair of tights, singlet, Garmin and trusty Asics GT-4000’s that I had arranged on our vanity the night beforehand. After throwing my hair into some form of pony tail I raced downstairs to make two pieces of toast (topped with almond butter + sliced banana) and collected a sterilised bottle and breast pump parts - making sure I grabbed one of the bottles that I hadn’t melted a hole in during the sterilisation process! With my toast hanging out of my mouth, I connected the pump accessories and wound the two dials to maximum and checked the time on my watch. My training partner was due to arrive in nine minutes. My reason for expressing milk was to relieve some of the pressure and heaviness that had built up since Billy’s last feed a couple of hours earlier. Whilst I hoped this would be guzzled by the little guy later on, his interest in the bottle to this day remains low and sadly much of my expressed milk has ended up down the sink! At 6.15am on the dot I raced out the door to greet “Cav”, who is never a second late. We shared a chuckle upon realising that my singlet was inside out, a mistake he had made a few weeks earlier and set off towards the Linear Park trail. Cav has two boys of his own and provided the positive reassurance I needed to lower my adrenaline levels and ease into a relaxed midweek long run rhythm.
WHEN THE GOALPOSTS SHIFT....
I love to set goals and have since I was a young girl. I find the process of writing down a challenge that makes my eyes light up and then mapping out a plan to achieve it very motivating. More importantly though I love the sense of satisfaction that comes from ticking off the ‘small steps’ and seeing progress. The Wednesday morning routine described was one that I adopted in the months leading up to the Haspa Hamburg Marathon scheduled for April 19th 2020. My husband Dylan usually left for work at 6.30am, however had a later start on Wednesdays which meant that I could sneak in a training session before he left. Arriving home to find Dylan and Billy waiting for me at the front gate wearing grins from ear to ear would fill me with happiness. Despite broken sleep and a chaotic pre-run routine, running left me feeling satisfied, restored and excited to let Mum-mode take over. There’s nothing quite like a nappy change and a shower with your baby to move your thoughts away from training.
My goal in Hamburg was to ultimately sneak under the Tokyo Olympics qualifying standard of 2:29.30 before the May 31st qualifying deadline. Whilst four strong Australian Marathoners had already posted qualifying times, I still felt very inspired by my goal. This was important, as the process of preparing for a Marathon within six months of giving birth demanded a high level of trust, motivation, organisation and focus. My coach Adam and I had carefully crafted a plan, which involved gradual running progressions, the incorporation of cross training to reduce injury risk, a strong focus on fuelling and hydration to meet my higher than usual energy demands whilst breastfeeding, regular check-ups with health professionals, a network of delightful babysitters, consistent communication and of course, listening to my body. Patches of fatigue, signalled by brain fog and heavy eyelids were inevitable but my confidence in the positive role that running plays in my life enabled me to stay motivated. Importantly, I felt in control. That was until of course, Covid-19 changed the world as we knew it.
THE PATH ISN’T ALWAYS LINEAR
In my early goal-setting days I would envisage an uninterrupted, linear route to my destination. Any unplanned events that caused me to deviate from that path were met with personal resistance and frustration, for example when I sustained a metatarsal stress fracture in the lead up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Over the years, I have worked on my ability to ride these little bumps along the way without letting them faze me. I now know that if I maintain a positive attitude, adapt and focus on the daily processes required to move forward, challenges will make me stronger.
Navigating setbacks on the journey to your destination is one thing - adjusting to your destination shifting is another. Weeks after Billy’s passport featuring a very cute mug shot arrived in the mail, news of an unfamiliar respiratory virus running rampant overseas was starting to flood the media. Dylan and I were concerned about the health and safety of the people affected and the risks associated with travel. In March we learned that the April Hamburg Marathon would no longer be taking place. Within weeks of this announcement Ian Chesterman announced the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games. The goal I had been working towards was stripped away but more significantly, people all over the world were experiencing unprecedented challenges.
SO HOW DO WE RESPOND?
People’s grand plans for 2020 have been removed from under their feet. The feeling is not unlike running frantically in thin air like a Coyote scene out of Loony Tunes. In some way, everyone has had to adjust to a new way of life.
Now more than ever, resilience is key. When a vision we have for the future is suddenly clouded, it is important to step outside of the chaos to gain a clearer picture. Seek the facts and if ‘unknowns’ exist, we should give ourselves time to process what is happening before making any rash decisions. When learning that the Olympics had been postponed, I chose to take a couple of weeks off from structured training to let my body and mind recover. The physical and mental build-up of Marathon preparation had been intense and watching the global health pandemic unfold was emotionally consuming. Never in my life have I lost my phone and keys, forgotten people’s names, left loads of wet washing in the machine and mixed up my sentences as much as I have in the past nine months. Mum brain, training fatigue and the added stress of Covid-19 created the perfect forgetful storm!
Despite not having a specific running goal in sight, I made an extra effort to look after my health as I would when in Marathon-mode. Listening to uplifting Podcasts, focusing on happy moments in every day, painting, smiling at people whether you know them or not, chatting openly with family and friends, expressing gratitude and continuing to soak up every precious moment with Billy and Dylan were helpful strategies for maintaining a healthy mind.
Dylan and I were very thankful to maintain income streams but have experienced anxiety associated with knowing that some individuals and businesses didn’t have that same opportunity. Since the devastating bushfires earlier this year, we have enjoyed making a concerted effort to support local businesses where possible when buying groceries, gifts, coffees, meals and the like. This process alone helps to boost our spirits during daily transactions. Focusing on the positives and searching for opportunities are crucial during times like these. Our pantry has never been tidier and for the first time in years we have a thriving garden. Dylan ripped up our spiky Buffalo lawn and planted a softer variety for Billy.... these are projects that we jumped on when weekends became available as a result of cancelled races. The extra time we have been able to spend as a family this year due to work and sport situations changing is something that we have cherished. Our perspectives have been shaped by this experience and like many, we look at every opportunity as a privilege now rather than an expectation.
At the beginning of April, I met with my coach to discuss plans going forward. Given that my running load had been minimal throughout 2019, we decided to use this opportunity to build a consistent base and improve my efficiency at speed. The program included jogs on most days and two high quality running sessions per week, as well two to three home gym sessions. When the opportunity presented itself to race, I would be able to use this base as a leverage. We were fortunate in South Australia to reach a point in May where races could resume. The South Australian 10km Road State Championships were put on the scheduled for late June and I decided to make it my target. That first 10km race as a Mum and as a Stenson was very special for many reasons and I dug very deep, knowing that it was a privilege to be out there.
Like many I have found goal setting and forward planning a challenge this year. Focusing on one day at a time and soaking up every moment is the key. Looking after ourselves, spending quality time with our loved ones, speaking up when we need help, recognising the positives in every moment and continuing to use the strategies that have helped us to this point will help us to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances.
2020 will be seen as the year of resilience.
Whatever your current situation, stay strong and remember to smile : ).
All the best!