My results the last few years have been far below what I am capable of. In 2013 I raced half of a season just months after having a c-section, with very little training and almost no running. The fact that I finished those races was a victory. In 2014 I was able to run again, but struggled to find my form all year. I had some decent results, but my training was geared toward building a base and getting strong again, and not necessarily racing fast.
The reaction from most people was: you're a mom now. Things are different. In other words: just accept that you are slower now. You don't have the time to train as much as your competition.
They're right. Things are different for me. I very efficiently squeeze all of my training in between 9-5 each weekday and train 1 hour a day on the weekends. Instead of sitting around in NormaTec boots to recover, I sit on the floor and play dolls. Sometimes my post-workout meals consist of a few pouches of baby food chicken and rice. On my mornings off, I go with Amy to Budding Ballerina class or to Aqua Tots swim lessons.
At night, I go to bed wondering if Amy is eating enough or debating whether I should have read to her instead of letting her watch my phone while I made dinner.
But is all of this a detriment to my racing career? I think not. Here's why.
I stopped by the library today on my way to the pool to check in on Amy's storytime class. I was checking out all the strollers to see if she and Mamzie had arrived when I met the librarian. She said, "oh you're Amy's mom? We aren't supposed to say this, but Amy is my absolute favorite. She's just so bright…so so bright. We love having her." And then she flagged over the other librarian and the maintenance man and they continued to go on about my little Amy.
According to SJ, they say that to all the parents. Maybe they do, but it's the first time anyone has said something like that to me. It made me feel, for a second, that maybe I am doing something right as a mom.
I then headed over to the pool with a fierce I-can-do-anything attitude. I jumped in the water and swam as fast as I ever have. Halfway through practice my lanemates stopped and asked, "What got into you? How are you able to unleash a workout like that?" I just shrugged my shoulders and said, sometimes being a mom has it's advantages.
Although this blog is primarily focused on me as an “Athletemom” and my journey as a runner and triathlete, I’d thought I’d shift subjects a bit to my background as a freelance writer. Because balancing my career, parenting, and training is a constant juggle for me. Here’s how I (sort of) make it work.
More than six years ago, I walked away from a job at a top magazine to pursue a freelance writing career. I was in my late 20s, and disheartened that my passion—the passion that brought me to New York City with dreams of becoming a magazine writer–was being snuffed out with each passing day. The particular job, though not without its perks, was stifling me. I needed an out.
The seed of freelancing was planted in my head when I was just an intern. An editor whom I greatly admired would regale me with tales of her adventurous freelancing career—interviewing celebrities, traveling around the world, going on epic adventures and then getting to write about it all with a huge byline in a major magazine. It seemed so glamorous to me. So out of reach. Something I’d do much later in my career, once I’d taken the appropriate, expected path in the magazine industry.
But as the frustration with my job built, that seed began to take root. Suddenly, it seemed like a feasible career option. I’m sure I wouldn’t be so emboldened today to take a less conventional, more circuitous route to my goal. Now married and with kids, I am much more cautious about my decisions, for obvious reasons. But back then…back in the carefree, newly-married, kid-free days…I shrugged off the What Ifs. If things fell through, I told myself, I’d just get another staff job. But I never did. Instead, I soon picked up a different title all together: Mom.
Eamon was born about a year into my then-fledgling freelance career. The first thought I had when I found out I was pregnant was, No one will ever hire me to write knowing that I have a baby. I was nervous—absurdly so--to tell editors that I was expecting. I was still proving myself, taking on grunt work for little pay, afraid to say no. Although I was ecstatic to become a mom, I felt that being pregnant would put me at a disadvantage, somehow. That I would be shucked off of my editors’ list of go-to writers, that I wouldn’t get those amazing assignments because, all of a sudden, I had responsibilities that extended beyond myself.
Of course, I was wrong. My editors were thrilled for me. My work picked up, even after that hot, humid August afternoon when I gave birth to a 9 pound, eternally hungry baby born with a broken arm who screamed in pain for his first three weeks on earth. After he healed, after we figured each other out, after I’d emerged from that hazy new mom fog, we got into a groove: I’d pop him into his Baby Bjorn and rock and sway as I tapped on my computer on a countertop. Or, I’d pack up my laptop in the bottom of the stroller, take a long walk until he fell asleep, then roll into a coffee shop to snag a few minutes of writing time. I worked while he slept (though, admittedly, solid shuteye was a rarity for E), I worked while he swatted toys in his little play mat gym, while he sat, memorized, in front of the TV watching Sesame Street. I worked on the weekends, when Mark took him out, sitting by a window and wishing I could be out with them, my little family. But at the same time grateful to have some time to myself.
Now, two children later, I’m still squeezing it all in. With each additional child, the challenges have increased, but so have the rewards. Freelancing has served me well: I’ve traveled, met some great people, and have been able to do what I love every single day. It’s also allows me to stay home with my children and to have flexibility to swim, bike, and run. But it’s not glamorous. There are late nights, early mornings. There are editors who stop responding; those who take jobs at new publications—and don’t take you with them. There are budget cuts (which cut freelancers out of the equation), there are monstrous assignments that are not worth their fee. I learn huge lessons every year about how much I can take on, how to work within my own limits so I can take steps toward striking that balance between being a working mom and being a stay-at-home mom.
I always tell people that the best thing about being a freelancer is not knowing what’s ahead of me. This time last year I didn’t know I’d be traveling to Alaska to cover a race or writing a children’s nonfiction book series. And I have no idea what’s around the next corner. That variable of the unknown excites me, while I’m sure it sends others into an anxiety-fueled panic. This life, this career, is not for everyone. But right now, it’s for me.
Have you ever taken a big risk with your career? Did it pay off?
Today Sarah checks in with just where she fits in on the Supermom scale. Her outlook is real and honest and I think a lot of the Athlete Moms out there can relate. Or are Sarah and I the only ones who go to bed each night asking ourselves, did I do enough today? --Bec
The other day, I wrote an email to a friend. We’ve been out of touch for a while, and I was updating her on my life. I found tapping the words on my iPhone: “being in mommy mode, working semi-fulltime (depending on the number of projects I take on), and training and racing (my sanity saver), it’s a good, fulfilling mix.”
Later, it struck me: Am I really fulfilled? That word has so much heft. Am I being dishonest telling a friend that I am truly satiated by every element in my life? In a way, yes. There are days when I feel like I am not doing enough: I’m not writing enough. I’m not training enough. And I’m certainly not enlightening and engaging my kids enough. I scroll through my Instagram feed every morning and see people out there doing so much more than me: Running more miles, baking more cookies with their little ones, achieving more with their career. And, often, I get that stomach-churning sense that I’m either settling or lacking ambition because I’m just not there.
This, I suppose, is the crux of the problem plaguing so many of Athletemoms. We want to do it all—and do it well. Better than well. Amazing. And make it all look effortless and seamless and oh so fun. We train before the sun rises, we shuttle kids back and forth, we volunteer at school, get on the floor and build Lego castles, cook healthy dinners, get everyone to bed by 7:30—and have an organized and clean house, too. Then we go and race a 70.3 or run a 10K PR on the weekend. There are women out there who fit all of these descriptions, and I tip my hat to you—the true Supermoms. But I am not one of them. My kids watch TV and movies and play endless games of Ninjago on my phone when I have to work. They eat fine, but mealtime is a struggle and chicken nuggets are a staple. They have meltdowns. They stay up too late some nights, but then so do I. Meaning, I rarely wake up before they do, so pre-dawn workouts just don’t happen, leaving me scrambling to fit training in during the afternoons and evenings. My days are a whir of car trips, of big messes, of tears (usually not mine!), of laughter. Of squeezing it all in. I do what I can, and on most days, it’s enough. Just enough.
I’ve never been an overachiever, despite my best efforts. I consciously (and, sometimes, subconsciously) cap my exertion at a level I can sustain--I am quick to see when I’m struggling and rein it in before I implode. Perhaps this approach has kept me from racing faster or rising quicker in my career, but because I don’t overdo things, burnout has never been an issue. Has this left me with that mindset that I’m somehow insufficient because I’m not constantly stretching myself thin? Of course.
But then, I take a beat to look at my world: At what I do with my time, at the parameters I must operate within while keeping my three small children as the ultimate priority. At my level of happiness. And I realize that the fulfillment is there. Yes, I will always aspire to do more—even after I reach that yet-to-be-determined pinnacle of accomplishment. But I need to remind myself that just because I haven’t scaled that illusive tier of success doesn’t mean I’m settling. I may be hanging on the middle rung of a towering ladder, but I’m still climbing. --Sarah Wassner Flynn
2014: A look back - Sarah Wassner Flynn
525,600 minutes: To quote one of the greatest songs from one of the greatest musicals, one year can be measured in so many ways: In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. So, how do you measure a year in the life of an #athletemom? Let me count the ways.
In longer distances. A huge triumph for me this year was breaking out of the 5K box. I’m comfortable running (and training for) that distance, and never loved racing much more than 3.1 In 2014, I learned to embrace longer races, like 8Ks, 10-milers, and the half-marathon. Finally, I’m able to run strong from start to finish without burning out or falling apart halfway through. I have a long way to go before I actually see the results I really want in these races, but I’m heading in the right direction.
In adventures. In 2014, I laced up my running shoes in Panama City, Panama, Charleston, SC, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Vancouver, BC, Corolla, NC, Skagway, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory. I did my first live TV interview in Roanoke, VA (before running up the town’s highest mountain); appeared on the cover of the sports section of the Wheeling, WV Intelligencer (small town, big press), and spent two days with eight strangers in an RV taking turns running the 110-mile journey tracing the route taken by the prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Running has taken me to so many beautiful corners of the globe—and on so many fun adventures—and I am so grateful for that.
In podiums. My grand tally for 2014: 21 races, 21 age-group top 3 finishes, and six top 3 overall finishes. Granted, some of those races were on the small side, but consistency has never been my thing. Hoping to even out that age-group/overall count more in 2015…
In track workouts. After years away from the oval, I returned in earnest this past June with Team LUNAChixDC. What used to completely intimidate me (mile repeats, 1600-400 ladders) suddenly excited me. I learned to embrace the pain, show up ready to work hard, and walk away feeling completely obliterated…in a good way. Nothing—I mean nothing—gets you faster than tough track workouts. Totally worth the pain.
In running (and non-running) friends. I can’t say enough about how motivated and inspired I am on a constant basis by the women in my life. Whether it was randomly meeting Julie at her neighborhood pool and quickly realizing we shared so many similar goals, to racing back-to-back triathlons with Kristen, to being buoyed by the support of my sisters, parents, and close friends, I would have spent many mornings in bed if I wasn’t constantly surrounded by ambitious, inspiring people. So, thank you.
In heart-melting moments. When times get tough in a workout or on the race course, I think about my little family. About how they may be waiting for me at the finish line, or how their bright eyes light up when I come home from a race, always ready with hugs and kisses no matter how I do. How Nellie, now nearly 2, asks me, “You go running, mommy?” when she sees me in my workout gear. How Eamon is always there to high-five me at the finish line, and how Nora is always so excited to wear my shiny new “necklaces” (medals). And, of course, I owe so much to Mark, who is so, so supportive and hardly even gripes when I take off for hours at a time on a weekend morning to go race or train. As my little ones grow older, I have even more reason to work hard and race well. Having these amazingly enthusiastic cheerleaders in my corners the best support system I could ever ask for.
And that’s a wrap for the year! Here’s a recap of my races:
FEB Empire State Building Run Up (2nd, media division)
MARCH Lucky Leprechaun 5K (13th OA; 1st AG; 21:21)
APRIL Holy Child Tiger Trot (4th OA/1st AG; 19:44)
APRIL Blue Ridge Marathon 10K (2nd overall, 1st AG; 46:39 (3,000 ft elevation gain)
MAY Run For The Animals 5K (4th OA/1st AG; 21:07)
MAY Ogden Downhill Mile (1st OA; 5:10)
MAY Ogden 5K (4th OA/1st AG; 20:21)
JULY Montgomery Village July 4 5K (1st OA (20:44))
JULY Midsummer’s Night Mile (4th OA/2nd AG; 5:47)
AUGUST Going Green 2 Mile (4th OA/2nd AG; 12:17)
AUGUST Outer Banks Run Swim Run (1st OA/ 34:50)
AUGUST Irongirl Columbia Sprint Triathlon (2nd OA/2nd AG; 1:37:12)
SEPTEMBER Eastern County 8K (4th OA/1st AG; 33:28)
SEPTEMBER Giant Acorn Sprint Triathlon (7th overall, 2nd non-collegiate, 1st AG; 1:24:05)
SEPTEMBER Frederick YMCA Women’s Sprint Triathlon (2nd overall, 2nd AG; 1:00:55)
OCTOBER Matthew Henson 5K (4th OA/3rd AG; 20:59)
NOVEMBER Candy Cane City 5K (2nd OA/2nd AG; 20:24)
NOVEMBER TCS Annapolis Half Marathon (10th OA/1st AG; 1:36:40)
NOVEMBER Fairfax Turkey Trot (4th OA/1st AG; 20:34)
DECEMBER Turkey Burnoff 10-Miler (7th OA/4th AG; 1:11:37)
DECEMBER Jingle Bell Jog 8K (3rd OA/2nd AG; 32:00)
Our younger sister Sarah (and mom of three) has been racing up a storm. Over the Thanksgiving week she braved three races in a seven day period. If that wasn't impressive enough, she ran fast and added a PR to her record books. Sarah is finishing out this year as a runner, but is going to transfer her leg speed and years as a competitive swimmer to triathlons in 2015. In the meantime, read Sarah's race recaps to see just how fast she ran and how she managed to do so.
-Laurel and Bec
Race Recap: TCS Annapolis Running Classic Half-Marathon by Sarah Wassner Flynn
“Head strong, heart strong, legs strong.” It’s funny the things you come up with while running. When my quads starting tightening up around mile 8 of the TCS Annapolis Running Classic Half-Marathon, I began repeating this mantra over and over in my mind. It worked: I willed those legs to power me over the next 5.1 miles to my second-fastest half ever—1:36:40.
I didn’t set out to run a PR. Given the both the cold outside (19 degrees at the 7:05 a.m. start. BRRR!) and the cold I caught earlier in the week, I gave myself a break and made a plan just to run smart. Start at an easy pace, build as I go, finish strong. I’ve had enough disastrous long runs to know exactly what plagues me: Going out too fast and falling apart around mile 10.
So I started about a minute back in the pack with my training partner, Julie, taking the first mile super comfortably. I even worried a little when I saw my split (7:31), as I thought perhaps that was too quick. I didn’t really have a goal time, just a goal: To run evenly and maybe even negative split, a feat I’ve never mastered. Soon, I spotted Colleen of Live Free and Run in the crowd, and we chatted for a bit. I’m usually not one to strike up a conversation in a race, but I felt really relaxed. It was a nice—and brief—distraction to touch base.
For the first four miles, the course winds around downtown Annapolis, which I loved despite the many turns. I thought about the weekend Mark and I spent there last summer, when we took a sunset cruise and sipped cocktails by the water. The only sipping I was doing was on the ice cold water, but again, I had a nice little distraction to get me through that initial part of the course.
Should I have been more focused on the race? To the people I should be passing? To the women passing me? Maybe. But for a while, I mentally checked out, lost in my thoughts as though I was on a solo run. I just let my legs do their thing and didn’t even look at my watch. Before I knew it, I was cresting up the Severn River Bridge (about an 80-foot stretch), one of the few major climbs on the course. I passed a few people, then tried to use the downhill to loosen up and shake out my tightening quads.
Which is when that mantra popped into my head. I did a quick head-to-toe inventory. I was feeling good everywhere else except for those darn quads. I was finally warming up after being bitter cold at the start. I had feeling in my fingers. So I knew I could take control of the situation if I just stayed in a positive mind space and didn’t let my legs bring me down. Head strong, heart strong, legs strong. After a series of rolling hills, we hit a turnaround near mile 8. I began counting the top women and cheering for them (another distraction…). As I got to number 9, I realized I was next! I had no clue I had made my way into the top ten…especially since we started pretty far back in the crowd.
This fueled me further. I didn’t want to finish in 11th. I kept up the momentum as we summited the bridge yet again. It hurt. But I had just about three miles to go. So I worked. I passed a woman whose ponytail I’d been chasing since mile 5. I dug deep, running to the beat of DMB’s Ants Marching (it always puts me in a good mood, so it’s a great pick-me-up song). Without looking at my watch, I knew my pace had dropped. But…there was a short but significant hill leading into mile 12. I could no longer talk my legs out of being tired. They tightened up, and I could feel my body slumping. A woman passed me, and I tried to keep up, but I felt like I was standing still. I still had a little fight in me, though, and gave myself a quick peptalk. You are less than a mile away from the finish of a half-marathon. You. Can. Do. This. When I saw the stadium, I opened up my stride and sped into the finish line with a smile.
Turns out that the woman who passed me started at the front of the pack, so, based on chip time, I beat her by 4 seconds. I feel a lot less defeated about letting her go—plus I squeaked into the top 10 with as close to a negative split as I’ve ever ran. And it’s my first AG podium in a half-marathon! All in all, it was a really good day for both me and Julie, who PR’d with an impressive negative split finish. She’s tough. FINAL STATS: 10th/ 1614 overall women, 1st/327 for age-group
KINDA/SORTA SPLITS (Garmin was a little off…)
Mile 1: 7:31
Mile 2: 7:24
Mile 3: 7:13
Mile 4: 7:30
Mile 5: 7:14
Mile 6: 7:14
Mile 7: 7:20
Mile 8: 7:21
Mile 9: 7:24
Mile 10: 7:20
Mile 11: 7:15
Mile 12: 6:45
Mile 13: 7:27
Race Recap: Fairfax Turkey Trot and Turkey Burnoff 10-Miler by Sarah Wassner Flynn
What’s gotten in to me? I raced 26.2 miles this week, definitely an all-time high—minus that one marathon I did in 2000. After the Annapolis Half-Marathon, I tacked on a 5K five days later, and a 10-miler just three days after that. And I’m still standing!
The 5K—a Turkey Trot—was a given. It’s a tradition. We chose the Fairfax Turkey Trot, a new race, based on proximity and the fact that the Trot we’ve done for the past three years wasn’t being held this year. Off to downtown Fairfax we went (Maureen, Paul, Kristen and me), froze our butts off, and I raced a decent but unremarkable 5K. I decided to hold back a bit because I wasn’t warmed up and immediately felt short of breath as soon as the gun went off. My legs felt fine despite the fact I hadn’t run since the half-marathon. (Whoops.) But I didn’t like the way my upper body was reacting, and I even felt a little faint. So I cruised the entire thing, running 6:24, 6:29, 6:49 splits (that last mile was mostly uphill, but I also shut it down knowing I had my position locked in place), turning in a 20:34 finish. Not my best, not my worse. I let a woman I was running with go after mile 2.5 and regret that; but as it turns out I won my age-group (out of 131) and finished 4th/560 overall. I’ll take it.
On to the 10-miler. This was also a given since it’s part of MCRRC’s Low-Key Race Series. I had to do it collect points, so I didn’t give myself the option to back out. Plus, I knew I’d be ok with a 10-miler since the half felt so good just a week before. It was a two-loop course and the race director promised “plenty of hills to make sure you burn all of that turkey off.” Whatever, I can handle hills, right?! So, Julie and I chatted up until the gun and neither of us seemed very nervous (but we were cold). I took a quick glance around me at the start and spotted some speedy women in the bunch and figured I wasn’t going to be in it to win it. (Not the best attitude, but it helped solidify my laissez faire approach to the race). So, the gun goes off, and I hold back without holding too much back. I caught up to other women, passed them, they passed me back. This kind of back-and-forth used to drive me crazy. I couldn’t stand trading leads with people—once I passed them, I would be determined to drop them. But lately, I’ve been much more successful in attempting to run my own race and let the cards fall where they may.
So, I let my legs lead the way and kept my head completely out of it. In all honesty, I was trying to hit sub 7:30s. But after the first half holding closer to 7:10’s despite the hills, I decided to just go with it. I ran with another woman for a while, but it was clear she was running much harder than I was (I tried to chat with her at mile 5 and she spat out a one-word reply and then sped up.) I’m still not mentally comfortable running anything above 5 miles, and I find myself seeking out distractions: Looking for Julie at every out and back definitely helped—we passed each other three times, and I got a quick burst of energy each time (she was doing awesome, on her way to another PR and negative split!). Then, bonus: I realized that the woman who had been in front of me until mile 8 or so was actually an old high-school teammate. By that time, my face was frozen and I really couldn’t talk, but we did exchange a few words as I ran by—and it gave me something else to think about for the next couple of miles.
Despite the cold, the hills, and my wandering mind, I truly enjoyed the entire race. But I wasn’t in race mode—it was more like a tempo run. Still, by the time I reached the crest of the hill before the final turn to the finish line, I was ready for it to end. I never really warmed up, and my legs had had enough of the hills. I noticed Mark and the kids standing there and gave them a half-hearted wave, then tried to power in to the end. I could barely hit the stop button on my Garmin with my numb fingers, but was pretty excited when I saw the results. Official time: 1:11:37 (5-mile split: 35:22)…A PR! 7th OA/121; 3rd/19 Age-group
6:50, 6:48,7:24, 6:53, 7:19 (loop 1)
6:53, 7:09,7:28,6:59,7:28 (loop 2)
Next up, the Jingle Bell Jog 8K on 12/14. Time to beat: 33:28.
Last weekend I competed in the Miami 70.3 triathlon. I'm just getting to my race report because the weekend/weeks before and after have been a bit of a blur of exhaustion! I learned a lesson in race prep, for sure, but also felt like I did what I could with what I have. That's always been my mantra: use what I HAVE (not what I want or what I think is perfect) and do my best with it. And, I know, I'm very fortunate to have a lot. Thank you family, friends and sponsors! Focusing on this and not what others are doing is sometimes hard but is really the only way to succeed. And, it brought me another top 5 finish.
I wanted to race in Miami for Kona points, experience, money, and a good result. I worked hard on my running to get in the kind of shape where I thought a win was possible, and a podium very likely if I had good luck. Looking at the travel expense was a bit depressing however, and what if I had bad luck... After much searching I found a cheap airfare, a discounted hotel room (thank you Citibank!), a free ride to the airport and decided to do the best with what I had - one night in Miami, a few very, very early mornings and late nights, and the possibility of having a great race.
I geared myself up for it, made it to the race meeting (barely), and put my head down and raced as hard as I could. I felt good in the water and had a solid swim. I got on my bike and by 8 miles had caught the lead pack. However, I was at the end of the pack and when a pro guy cut in front of me I sat up to avoid a penalty and subsequently lost the train. I worked so hard to catch but by then we had turned onto a highway with a massive headwind. All I could do was watch them pull away. Instead of giving up, I focused on minimizing the gap and at the turnaround I was suprised to see the group wasn't too far ahead. Unfortunately, that was short lived as a massive tailwind didn't play into my favor. I just didn't have a big gear on my bike to push hard and get the speed of the bigger athletes. The guys I had passed on the way out came screaming by me. Mentally, this was a very challenging bike ride. I was very happy to get off the highway and back onto the streets. I even caught back up to a guy who passed me on the one tiny hill in the race!
Getting off the bike to start the run, I had no idea how far back I was but I knew I had my work cut out for me if I wanted a good place. I went out hard but soon realized my legs weren't responding. I was trying hard but not running the paces that usually come easily. I was looking at my watch every five seconds thinking maybe it was wrong, but nope, still said closer to 7 minute pace. Ironman pace! Not going to win a race when girls were running 6. I wasn't my usual smiling self. I got a bit of a boost coming back into the city on the last lap - thank you crowds! - and was able to finish strong but was still 2 or so minutes from Leanda (4th) at the end.
I think this was the most difficult race from a mental standpoint this year. And physically, in hindsight the travel probably tired me out, but I really did not let myself think about that one bit. I was more impressed with myself for staying focused on the bike and using what I had - my determination - to minimize the damage. In the end, that is probably what secured a 5th place finish. In the past, I have had bike splits balloon out of control when things get rough or the course doesn't suit my strengths.
If it's one thing to takeaway from this race is use what you have. If it's an amazing run, or an unwavering focus, or a really fast bike set up. Use it and and use it hard!
Congrats to Magali, Lauren, Amanda and Leanda for their strong races and thank you Miami for the crazy atmosphere. Next time I'll stay for some food other than gel or powder based products!!
Next up some international travel - Queen of Bermuda Tri and Challenge Bahrain.
Thanks for reading and thank you for the support.
Smile- it's so much better that frowning through a triathlon, believe me!