How Nine Months Shaped a New Tired Mom
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
No, not the nine months when you grow and carry a baby in your belly. These nine months revealed a different kind of challenge, and delivered a brand new, mentally robust badass mom. This is a story of an exhausted mom of three who wanted to test the limits of her human endurance, and what she learned during the journey.
Wait a minute, can a busy mom with average fitness possibly get through swimming 3.8K, biking 180K and running a marathon 42.2K at the end? A mom that was never a swimmer or biker, and at best, an average runner? A mom that was beaten down by life?
I had struggled with a mountain of responsibilities for years, and I was bagged, read my previous post. I was anxious and tired of my life. Having babies is tough on your body, mind and soul, but raising them most of the time by yourself is gutting. For self-care, I had tried spa treatments, shopping, painting classes, going to movies alone at 2pm, hikes in the nature, even glass of wine at 4pm. Nothing had a lasting positive impact, until I found one thing that made me giggle inside.
Deep inside I knew the best way to deal with my anxiety was to do something that had a deep feeling of purpose to me, a reason I was put here on earth. Sports. Ever since I had quit skiing, I've felt this urge to challenge myself, to see what I am made of. Missing the opportunity to realize my dreams left a chip on my shoulder. I've dabbled in road running 5K, 10K, half marathons, but nothing seemed to challenge me in a deeper level. Snowboarding got my back royally fucked up. Surfing, I can't be bothered to chase the waves, and cross country skiing was out of the picture ever since we left proper snow lands over 12 years ago.
But the ultimate challenge of combining three endurance sports in one, none of which I am particularly excellent in. Make it a distance that challenges your endurance abilities to max.
I knew completing an Ironman would be a long day pushing your mental and physical limits. If I can do it, mom of three, tired as f#%!, anyone can do it! The challenge of mentally push through when your body has had enough. When you've run empty. What will your mind say, and how will you reply? That's the perfect challenge. If I've managed to bring kids to this earth and raised them in the middle of nowhere alone, and still see the living day light, I should be able to do an Ironman. YaMon, that's it! A dream of Ironman.
So what do I do? I needed help. I am an endurance coach, but I believe that even coaches need coaches. I didn't want to use my precious time thinking and rethinking my training plan. So I enlisted my dear friend Tenille Hoogland from Element Sports Coaching as my coach, and we made a war plan. We pulled up those sails and lost the sight of the shore for a while in search of the new promised land like bunch of badass vikings.
We talked about long term plan (5 years) and I told Tenille that someday I wanted to qualify for Kona, the world championships in Kona, HI. To qualify, I need to win an Ironman race. It's one of those goals that scare you when you think of it. And that's why I am glad Tenille say: "Someday? Heck, let's make it happen this year!". I knew immediately she is the right coach for me. We don't F#%!ing dilly dally around.
We got to work, and I got way out of my comfort zone. I worked harder than I have ever worked. Not even during my skiing days had I pushed my body as hard.
In the process, I had to lose some baggage that had been holding me back. I had to work hard to stop doubting myself, self-sabotaging my journey. One of the biggest bullshit stories I had been telling myself was was that my body type is too big and muscular (I am what they call "Persjalkainen", or "AssLegs"in Finnish. A stumpy, short-legged woman with a strength of a lumberjack. Don't ask, Finnish people have weird sayings!). I was definitely not a marathon runner.
I had to change the inner talk from "Can I do this? Do I have what it takes?" to "I can do this! I do have what it takes! I am strong and it will be for my benefit at the end of the run". Tired Mom Runs
We had a few speed bumps to get over along the journey. Ironman is a huge task in many ways and I had to to some prioritizing, like: Stay in the moment. Get the work done. Focus on essential. Cut negative people out of my life. Limit social media. Focus on getting better sleep. Stay curious. Learn how my pre-menopausal body works. Prioritize recovery. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Stay true to yourself. Did I mention sisu?
Sisu, pronounced as "see-soo" is something we Finns see as part of our inherent quality in our beings (personally I think it is not inherited, but rather cultivated, and in modern day Suomi (Finland) it is somewhat limited quality). It is explained by Aalto University as "extraordinary perseverance, in other words, an individual's ability to surpass preconceived limitations, either mentally or physically, by accessing stored-up energy reserves." In english, sisu could mean a stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness. If you are interested in learning more about sisu, I recommend you looking up Emilia Lahti's work.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson
As in any true growth process, you get tested. You cannot expect to meet only smooth sailing. Be prepared for storms like you've never seen before and meet them head on.
Firstly, the universe is testing your commitment. Second, your previous coach potato self is screaming her head of "What are you doing disturbing my comfortable, safe, sorry ass life? I was perfectly comfortable eating chips and binge watching Netflix, wasting my life away!". Your subconscious is feeling mighty insecure and wanting to return back to normal. It is telling you that the first sign of resistance is a sign that things are about to go wrong and that you should not be doing whatever you are set to do. You get scared and start talking yourself out of it. Ignore all that bullshit. You are right where you are meant to be. The universe is just testing whether or not you really WANT this thing and whether you are going to run home to mama your tail between your legs.
Too many people bail at the first sign of resistance and never truly discover their glorious selves. This applies to so many things in life, including school, business, relationships, sports! Shut the little pussy on your shoulder and keep a steady course to your dreams. You are a badass- act like one!
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt
Here are few examples how I got tested, I think a less badass woman would have thrown in a towel.
This was my first Ironman, I had only done two Olympic distance triathlons and one half Ironman. These are a lot shorter races. Ironman is a badass challenge. The real deal. I would be lying if I said the lack of experience didn't bother me. I hadn't even ran a marathon before I got into Ironman training in September 2018. Well, that is not entirely true. In July 2018, I walked/run a marathon in my hometown Rovaniemi. We were in the middle of moving from Canada to Dubai, and my training was minimal. I walked every 10. mins for 30-45 sec and kept the pace low. This saved my legs and at 30 KM I started giving my all, still anticipating to hit for the wall. The marathon wall never showed up and I sprinted to the finish. First marathon done and dusted, third place.
Due to very little run training going into this challenge, my left calf and knee were bugging me, so we had to keep running volume low. I knew I needed more experience in running a marathon before my Ironman, especially when first marathon was not fast (4:18). I set out to blast the record in my second marathon attempt, in Dubai Marathon January 2019. I ran a solid race, keeping my pace even and again, NO WALL after 30 km! I finished 4th in my age group at 3:46. Missed Boston Qualifier, but happy with the effort. Now I knew that I can run a sub 4hr marathon.
Second, I didn't have a triathlon bike. I had bought clip on aerobars to my slightly big roadie. Turns out, 180 km on poorly fitting bike, was impossible. I was in agonizing pain after 90 minutes. Finally, 3 months before my race, I got a proper triathlon bike and it made a huge difference. In Dubai, the weather starts to heat up in April, and I mean really heating up. We are looking at plus 40 C until September/October. I would have to do my longest rides 3-4 months before the race. I needed more bike experience. Since I hadn't ever raced on a bike and only trained on a roadie when in my teens, I didn't feel especially capable of racing it. Add TT bike (triathlon bike where you lean on the handlebar with your elbows on special elbow pads) and my confidence took a plunge. It takes some time for your body and mind to adjust to this more aerodynamic position it is supposed to stay in for 180 km.
By April, I was already adapted mental playfulness of "Doing Things Tired Mom Has Never Done Before", like racing in open water swimming, racing bike with UAE's semi-professional female cyclists up the country's highest Mountain, Jebel Jais. Yes, it has been a kinda scary, but in the same time exhilarating experience to throw myself into situations I have never been before and emerge on the other side feeling like a champion!
My confidence is partly depending on success (somewhat patriarcal quality) but also experience, knowing that I CAN do things (a female quality). I was boosting with confidence in April, after winning some running races, podiumed in open water swimming and my medal stack was growing. Shameless statement: I still like to bring home hardware from races.
But then in April, I was slapped in the face with bad news. I got diagnosed with Exercise Induced Asthma after feeling chest constriction, and during hard efforts my breathing felt like I was breathing through a straw. I suspect this has already been an issue ever since skiing days as I clearly remember hacking and coughing my lungs out after every hard effort and race. And now the air quality and hardest training I've ever done was leaving its mark. I stressed about it for few weeks, then needed to let it go mentally. Too much stress is too much stress and your body doesn't know what the source is.
Fourth, the heat. It gets stinking hot in here. My last long ride outside was April 26th, 180 km and at the end it was 38 degrees C. And I am a 'polar bear'! Although I have lived in tropical countries the last decade +, I feel like I have never really acclimatized to the heat, at least not mentally. I don't enjoy the heat at all. I'd much rather be bundling up. So how do you train in this heat? You get up before the rooster even thinks of it, at 3 or 4 am. You need to get up and get going for swims, rides and runs. So I did the early mornings during the weekend, and rest of the time I run and biked inside. That meant a lot of running on the treadmill, and long hours on the bike on my trainer inside.
Which brings me to my next point about mental toughness. I used treadmill running as mental training. I had to turn the monotony into something positive. If I could run on treadmill without music, podcast etc. for entertaining, I will be mentally unbeatable on the race day. My longest day on treadmill was 28 km in the morning and 10 km in the evening. I still remember that day, almost a year later.
Sounds like a big head-to-the-wall banging session, right?! I loved every second of it. Mental toughness is like anything else, you can train it. And it is not like pulling teeth out. I promise. Granted, some people seem to be just tougher than others, but if you really want to become mentally more resilient, you can train it. Stop cushioning your every run, bike, workout session with happy-go-lucky jam in your ears. Leave your phone and ear buds at home and do it without distractions. See where your mind takes you. Have those conversations with yourself while working out. If anything, I recommend you to take with you pen and paper and write down the ideas and thoughts you get during your workout/run/bike. The best ideas are often born when you take a break and don't ponder that specific issue.
I would not say I am mentally tougher than most people. Not at all. I struggle with things like everyone else. Somedays I feel like sitting on a couch watching Netflix (I love Suits, Vikings, documentaries, nature shows) but I remind myself what is my goal and how good it feels after I've done something to reach my goals. Once you see your goal as achievable (and this is why SMART goal setting is crucial), and understand how it is the small things every day that matter, showing up is a non-issue. On days that I am feeling super fatigued and blah, I tell myself to "at least do the warm up". I bet ya, if you get yourself going for 20 minutes, you will finish the whole workout. Listen to your body AFTER it is warmed up, not when it is cold after sitting on your ass all day in your office. This 20 min warm up tool is a mental trick to fool your inner critic/lazy ass and once your nervous system is warmed up and delivering those feel good endorphins, you are good to go for the distance. You can take my word for it.
Mental toughness aside, I struggled with self confidence on the bike. Probably because I had nothing and no one to compare to as I did most of my training alone. I felt like I was completely in the dark. So I used tests and really hard intervals as a confidence boost when I could beat the previous record. Although in running and swimming especially, I was improving by heaps, the biking leg kept nagging at me. It was cracking my confidence. I needed to find away to shut my inner critic and find a new way to look at things. Something that my coach said during one of our calls was "Stay Curious. Don't let your mind decide anything before a workout, just let your body do its own thing. See where it takes you".
I had never thought of exercising this way. I always thought it is the mind that controls everything. And in some ways this is true. It's your brain that saves you from killing yourself by exercise. But my brain was hitting the breaks way too early. So shutting off negative thoughts and just staying open to possibilities helped me to stay curious, hindering that I was consciously self-sabotaging my performance.
Curiosity to see where I could go mentally, and how far or how hard I could go, was the key to unleashing my true potential. I will talk about this element later.
Sounds like it was a tough nine months? It was tough, but I grew as much as it was tough, and then some. There were some parts that were like walks in the park. Easiest part of this journey was to decide which race to do. I just listened to my heart which was screaming NORWAY! Norway, the land of fjords, trolls and incredibly beautiful people. The land of rain, wind and mountains so tall. And most of all, it is the land where my heart feels at home. Yup, sounded like the right venue for my first Ironman.
I may have chosen the most difficult race there is in the Ironman circuit. The contrast from my training elements to the race venue made it very difficult to prepare for the race. Water temperature: 15 degrees C in a lake in Haugesund, Norway, 31 degrees in the pool in Dubai. Air temperature in Haugesund, race city in Norway was 12 degrees, 35+ in Dubai. Rain in Haugesund, Sandstorms and pollution in Dubai. Eighteen hundred meters of elevation on bike course in Haugesund, 180 m in Dubai Al Qudra track (if you go back and forth on the sole uphill over the dunes).
How could I possible train for the elements of the race? It was clear I could not, but I prepared the best I could, mentally prepared to problem solve everything thrown at me. I prepped and prepped. I wrote race plans with all scenarios imaginable (except for the thunder and lightning that actually happened on the race day) and solutions to those scenarios. I was ready to problem solve everything without losing my calmness during the race.
And just like that, at the end of June 2018, we had transformed an anxious tired mom into a freakishly battle-ready, glorious viking. Ready to battle, not with fury and blind violence, but with calm confidence to battle whatever a tired mind would do, trying to stop me. I was equipped with a "tool box" full of battle axes and weapons. My best ones were in a ziplock baggie that I would tug into my race kit on the run. Note from each member of my family. I would read them on my run when things got "real" and my mind would tell me to stop torturing myself.
It's race week. I had tons of butterflies flying in formation. I felt strong, stronger than ever. I felt calm and confident. Mentally in a best place I've been in years. Physically rested, fit, vibrating with energy. I said goodbyes to family and set off to Norway. But my speed bumps were not in the past quite yet. You'll get to read about it on the next post "The Day Tired Mom Runs Becomes an Ironmom".
Yours in life, Marjaana A.K.A Tired Mom Runs
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