Don’t Call It A Come Back: 4-Questions With Coach Joy About Getting Back To Training Following The Birth Of Baby Seamus
Building fitness back to previous heights following an injury, setback, illness, life event, or even an extended offseason is not for the faint of heart.
That’s because in Endurance Sport it can be nothing short of humbling to start from “square one” given the many layers that need to be developed to create “top-shelf” fitness.
So it is with a healthy respect for the size of this challenge, gathered through our years’ of working with driven Athletes that have experienced setbacks of every variety, that we consult Coach Joy as she works to rebuild her fitness following the birth of Baby Seamus.
Through her story as well as perspective being both a Coach and an Athlete we conducted the following interview to help Athletes of all levels get back on track as they work to resurrect their fitness. Enjoy!
"I don't call it a comeback, it's just about getting back to riding with my friends!" Coach Joy is working to regain her fitness following childbirth.Photo Credit: Kathi Stewart
Question #1: OK, it’s not a comeback because you are not looking to prove anything, but you definitely want to regain your ability to “smash” the local group rides with the guys. What has the road to rebuilding your fitness looked like since the birth of Baby Seamus?
Coach Joy: Humbling, but luckily it keeps getting brighter and brighter!
Seamus is now 5-months old, which means my body has had 5-months to rebuild, recover, and realign.
I was fortunate to pedal my bike 15-days after he was born - riding my mountain bike in Big Bear on the road never felt so liberating!
From there, it was a slow road back to consistency though.
With temperatures over 100*F for days on-end, navigating life with a newborn, and digging through brain-fog as well as body roadblocks I didn’t really get into a rhythm with riding and exercise until Labor Day, when Seamus was 2-months old.
For the first few weeks, my goal was to squeeze into a kit and get out the door to pedal for 60-minutes, several times a week.
My cadence had tanked, threshold power was abysmal, and my body felt like leftover birthday cake looks!
I used these rides mostly to clear my head and breathe - being a Mom can be hard!
Gathering data, I could see improvements in average cadence, distance covered with less physical and emotional effort, and my overall sensations began to feel more like the sensations of old.
Coach Brian and I have a great routine so I can get up and feed Seamus, kit up, and head out the door with time to spare before it’s time to feed the little man again.
Once I established a baseline, I began tackling the Oak Glen climb behind our house once a week.
My goal was to get to the top in my 90-minute ride window, and being a 7-mile climb I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way up there and back!
I surprised myself by making it - and not needing a nap afterwards!
This soon became my weekly pilgrimage, each time working to take time off the Strava segments along the route, while improving my cadence, and climbing at a lower heart rate.
Doing efforts within the rides has made the workouts super fun, and I come home with a sense of accomplishment, but mostly rebooted by being back to the roads and fresh air that have become a staple for me.
Recently, I added in the gravel bike for variety, and even my mountain bike with the goal to make it up to the top of Pisgah Peak - a local dirt climb - in my 90-minute window. So I have my work cut out for me!
A few weeks ago, Coach Brian was trying to convince me to go to our local Saturday group ride, and I finally caved, since I knew I needed to re-hone my group riding skills prior to a charity ride with our Athletes.
I rode from home, which makes the ride 70-miles total and over four-hours… I had forgotten how long the ride was!
Up to that point, my longest ride had been 26-miles…
The ride was a blast, and I found myself shaking my head thinking, how did I use to do this so easily in the past!
Although my threshold power has tanked and my weight isn’t nearly what it has been before childbirth, I found myself navigating the group with confidence, even taking a few “pulls” at the front, as well as adding my special “spice” to the trash talking.
It was great to be back, but I can only handle that kind of training-load once a month - 3+hrs on the bike packs a HUGE punch now!
Question #2: Although you rode deep into your pregnancy, it was not “training”, per se, as much as it was just getting moving. Since the birth, how have you balanced your desire to train for a goal with your need to get some fresh air?
Coach Joy: I enjoyed riding, hiking, and doing yoga while pregnant.
I rode my mountain bike on my due-date which was fun, but so slow!
Since being back on the bike regularly, I have found that training for a goal matches perfectly with getting fresh air and ‘just riding.’
I have set my sights on doing the short route options at the Rock (Pebble) Cobbler, Redlands Strada Rosa, and the Belgian Waffle Ride (Wafer), so just getting the consistency in and riding daily will help me work toward those goals.
"It was humbling and ironic, but some of the only jerseys that fit following childbirth were my old winners/podium jerseys from years past." Note: These are often ordered by race organizers in large sizes because it is unknown what size the winner might need. Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
Question #3: Since giving birth you have mentioned numerous times that your ability to support and help Athletes who are trying to build back their fitness after a setback, injury, or life-event is improved. Can you elaborate on that and how becoming a Mom has helped you as a Coach?
Coach Joy: Through my years racing, I was fortunate to not have any major injuries or setbacks.
Now digging out of a deep drop in fitness has taught me so much, and I am excited to help our Athletes as they recover from surgery, injuries, or any of life’s obstacles.
Building fitness back from ground zero hurts on many levels, and I have had to employ some pretty creative tactics to keep my momentum.
I opted to ignore power data for several months, and ride off of ‘feel’ as well as perceived exertion, which I think will go a long way with my Athletes.
I have also had to be extremely productive with my time on the bike so that I can get the highest return on my investment with only 90-minutes of training time.
Additionally, I have also learned the important lesson that when grace is needed, I must heed the bodies request, as ignoring those signals could derail the train entirely.
I have always had a high level of empathy for the Athletes, but now I have the real-life experience and a deeper appreciation for their path.
Needless to say, I am excited to help them to the other side of any setback!
Question #4: What workouts have you found to be the most potent and useful in re-starting your fitness? Are you doing a traditional “base phase” of endurance work or are you adding intervals to help you sharpen-up your fitness?
Coach Joy: Base phase lasted about 2-weeks, so that I could feel like I was on top of the pedals.
It happened much faster than I thought it would, and I was pleasantly surprised to feel the positive sensations return so quickly, as I thought they might be dormant for some time.
I even had several “light-bulb” moments where I would say “Ah-ha! There it is,” in my head because I could feel the progress.
I really like structure and routine, so I have started doing intervals on the climb of Oak Glen.
I began with 3x 6 minutes at threshold, then 4x 6 minutes, and the last two weeks I have gone back to 3 efforts but increased the output by 20 watts.
I love this stuff and now that my base fitness is OK, I can handle a decent workload, so it’s exciting to see the numbers creep up.
I also added in a “sprint” day to help remind my body how to sprint, start going fast again, and regain confidence handling my bike at speed.
Who knows, I may line up for a criterium again one day, so I always have to be sprint ready!!!
Otherwise, I spend a lot of time riding “old-school” low heart rate to rebuild my aerobic economy, burn some KJ’s, and stay ‘on top’ of the pedals.
I have the Oak Glen climb on the road, Crafton Hills on the Gravel Bike, and Pisgah Peak on the MTB so I enjoy plenty of variety, stay away from traffic to clear my brain, and enjoy being outside.
Right now I have sore legs - which means fitness is right around the corner!
"It was hard to leave my little man to go ride, but Mama had to ride! It was always wonderful to hold him again once I returned." Photo Credit: Joy McCulloch
We hope that you have enjoyed reading a little bit about Coach Joy’s ongoing journey to rebuild her fitness following childbirth and that her experiences can help should you be confronted by a setback.
As Coach Joy can attest, there are no short-cuts to fitness.
Reaching your potential and otherwise developing fitness that will propel you to your goals takes time, energy, grit, and even a little grace…
But we know you are up for the task or you would not have read this whole article!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian & Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching
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