In the last weeks and months there has been much interest in how many of Triathlons top female athletes have opted for motherhood at the peak of their careers.
2016 Olympians From the ITU, post Olympics, we have Nicola Spirig, Helen Jenkins, Nicky Samuels, Gwen Jorgensen, Yuliya Yelistratova, Alexandra Razarenova and Melissa Stockwell. At the end of the Olympic cycle, it is only natural to re-assess priorities and I believe women have a much better reality detector than men.
The number of women taking this path may be helped in some small way by the successful 4 years that the 2012 Olympic champion has produced after having a son in 2013. By any measure Nicola is a better athlete at the end of the 2016 Olympic cycle than in 2012. While most won’t have the same tools at their disposal to deal with the obvious complications of their new reality, Nicola has shown a path that can be followed in the future. Having a family can be a positive on ones athletic career.
Long Course Recently ‘The Honey Badger’ Mary Beth Ellis also retired from racing to follow her life long dream of a family. We are very happy for her, however we also recognise that Iron Ladies have a more perplexing decision. Most (not all) are already on their second triathlon career having started racing in ITU prior to embarking on Ironman which is a second phase to their sporting life.
Here are the list of recent publicised pregnancies: Mary Beth Ellis, Sarah Haskins, Liz Blatchford, Mirinda Carfare...
Ignoring the separate debate of what is the best age to do Ironman, instead let’s focus on how does an Ironman decide when family priority is more important than a performance level? Given the demands of training for an Ironman, these women have less of an opportunity to resume racing both because of age, but also because of time constraints the new arrival places.
I know first hand Nicola trained less and made compromises during her 3 years comeback after her first child. It has been pointed out to me that many runners have returned from having children. However runners don’t do as much training volume when compared to Ironman training – in fact at least 70% less. They don’t swim or ride prodigious hour sapping schedules, with twice weekly ‘long’ runs of 90 minutes or if preparing for a marathon 2 hours. Other runs between 45 minutes to one hour. Most females in Africa don’t run more than 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes for their big runs.
So we have to understand the time factor in preparing for an Ironman is a huge differential when comparing to other sports.
‘Champion Cycles’ Just as we have Olympic cycles, Ironman has its cycles to – if you observe the records. I call these ‘Champion Cycles’. Great champions come and go, but while they are on form they dominate. Paula Newby-Fraser, Natascha Badmann and of course the great Chrissie Wellington flew in and out of triathlon like the hurricane she is, leaving athletic devastation in her wake. The fireball running of Mirinda Carfrae blow torching the fields and now as the wave builds Daniela Ryf looks to be a tsunami in the making. Like Chrissie she might only be here for a short time, but while she is here, we are seeing an athlete with no weakness in any of the disciplines.
Thus, the Ironman athletes have their own cycle to deal with. Do I put off having a family while I look for that last 2% in performance? Or do I attempt a post child comeback with it’s challenges?
Conclusion Women in high level sport have, or have placed upon them, much more societal responsibility. At Trisutto we always discuss life and sporting goals with our professional female athletes. It is their right to decide what path they want to pursue when it comes to having a family. However, sometimes the quest of chasing athletic goals can blind an individual to what their life goals were, and part of coaching is to remind the athlete of these.
At Trisutto we celebrate all the pregnancies and the happiness they will bring. If debating the pluses and minuses of an athletes decision, we should remember that it is the most personal of life decisions and those on the outside looking in should respect what a difficult decision it can be.
At Trisutto we wish every one happiness and health and applaud their decisions.