Bump, Bike & Baby: Endurance Woman Author

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Mum to Aran four, and Cahal two, Moire O’Sullivan, 42 is author of Bump, Bike & Baby. She lives in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland and is married to Pete Power, 48. Fiona Bugler met her to talk about being an endurance woman, an author and mum of two.

Tell us about youR life pre kids?

‘I’ve always been an advendurer. Before having children, I worked in the charity sector, and lived and worked full-time in Kenya for seven years before picking up employment in Vietnam, Nepal, and Cambodia. Even when I was technically living at home in Ireland, I ended up travelling on assignment to places as far flung as Afghanistan, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and East Timor.

‘I took up mountain running at the age of 30. As well as winning Ireland’s Mountain Running Championship in 2007 and 2008, in 2009 I became the first person to complete the Wicklow Round (after a failed attempt in 2008), a 100K circuit of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains covering twenty-six summits to be completed within 24 hours. I subsequently wrote about my Wicklow Round battles in the book, ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears – An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery.’

And then you had kids… how does the story progress?

‘When Pete, my husband, and I suggested to others that we wanted to start a family, everyone was sceptical that we could pull it off. We had such busy lives already that no one could figure out how we would find the time to fit in kids also.

‘Having children changed life. In three small words – an awful lot.  Though initially I thought I would go back to work, I didn’t in the end. My husband and I did the sums, we discussed how we ultimately wanted to raise our two children, and in the end we decided that I would stay at home to mind our two boys. I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mum, but I must admit it’s worked out well in the end.

‘Because I have a lot less free time on my hands now with two boys to take care of, I am much more focused when it comes to training and racing. Before I might hear about a Saturday event during the week and decide spontaneously to do it. Now I plan all my races at the beginning of the year for the coming 12 months.

‘Straight after my first child, Aran, was born, I also started working with a coach, Eamonn Tilley, to help me get back in shape. Having a coach means that all my training now has a specific purpose and is designed to reach my racing goals. Gone are the days when I go for a run or a bike just for a bit of fun and a wander.’

How did you manage sport through pregnancy?

‘During my first pregnancy, I forced myself to keep going as long as I could. I bought a new road bike when I was 12 weeks pregnant and joined a new cycling club. I competed in a five-hour adventure race when I was nearly five months gone. I kept running until my third trimester when I got a horrible stitch and gave myself a scare. I even went orienteering when I had only a month left. I was effectively in denial, desperate to do as much as I could before the baby came along.

‘Second time around I was much more sensible. I listened to my coach Eamonn and did the gentler sessions he suggested. The most racing I did this time around was a 5k at 25  weeks. I was also far too tired to be doing any crazy training or racing. I was too busy running after Aran, who was by then an active toddler. Having a toddler in the house while pregnant can sometimes feel like competing in an arduous endurance race!’

You clearly love the great outdoors – what is it you most enjoy?

‘I love the solitude that I only seem to find in the mountains, the fact that I can have the whole place to myself within a few minutes of leaving the nearest car park. I love the challenge of being in the wilderness, of finding my way using just a map and compass so that I end up in places few frequent. I also enjoy the chance to learn humility when the great outdoors decide that they don’t want me around, chasing me away with bad weather or inclement terrain.’

What are your sporting-career highlights?

‘I am really proud of winning Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series three times. My two children, Aran and Cahal, were born in 2013 and 2015, and I won the series in the intervening years, in 2014 and 2016, while I was still breastfeeding both of them. Curious to see how fast I could go when not breastfeeding, I lined up again in 2017 and managed to retain the title, winning four races out of four in the process.’

What’s been your biggest challenge in sport?

‘Self-belief was an issue for years. When I saw how long a race was, or the type of elite athletes who had registered, I often told myself that I wasn’t good enough to participate. I was very lucky, however, in that I had friends who, at critical junctures, told me to stop being ridiculous and encouraged me to at least have a go. Of course, there were times I crashed and burned, but I learned a lot from turning up and giving it my best.

‘I’ve been mountain running now for over a decade, so self-belief is less of an issue. Now it’s more a case of battling with the fact that I know how much a race is going to hurt. I realize that, back when I started mountain running, ignorance was actually bliss.’

Tell us about writing and your inspiration?

‘My first book, Mud, Sweat and Tearswas written in 2009, the same year that I did the Wicklow Round. Completing the Round taught so much about myself that I wanted others to know how amazing mountain running is and how much you can grow personally through the sport. As I said in the book, ‘I’m proud that I’m not someone who says, “I can’t do that.” I’m someone who says, “I won’t know until I try”… I hope that more women learn to believe in themselves, because when we dig deep, it’s amazing what lies inside.’ I looked for publishers for two years before finally deciding to self-publish in 2011.’

‘Six years on, when I decided to write Bump, Bike and Baby, I sent a submission to the Scottish publisher, Sandstone Press. By then, I had only written the first two chapters. On the basis of these six-thousand words, they gave me a contract and I finished the book within three months. Bump, Bike and Baby is the book I’d have liked to have read before becoming pregnant. It is a warts and all account of pregnancy and becoming a mum. In it, I admit that, though indeed becoming a parent is an incredible experience, the whole process can really test you to the core. For example, there is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique. Neither of my kids slept through the night until they were eighteen months old. Women athletes also need to know that they may suffer from various childbirth-related side effects such as stress incontinence and mastitis, both of which hit me hard while racing post-childbirth.’

Do you always have a goaL?

‘I’ve always got something I’m aiming for, whether it is to race or write a book or raise a family. Training-wise, I’m preparing to do the Denis Rankin Round this summer. This is a mountain running challenge like the Bob Graham Round or Wicklow Round but is set in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. It is a ninety-kilometer course with 6,500 metres of ascent covering 39 peaks that must be completed within 24 hours.

‘I’ve also written another book entitled the Asian Adventures of Tom the Dog that I’m currently submitting to publishers. It’s about our dog, Tom, who we rescued from certain death in Hanoi, Vietnam while my husband and I were working there. Tom then joined us on a whirlwind tour of Asia, where he dodged rabid street-dogs in Cambodia, blood sucking leeches in Nepal, and corrupt customs officials at various borders before finally returning home with us to Ireland in 2012.’

When do you find time to write/train – what’s a typical day like for Moire?

‘I get up when my youngest Cahal decides to get up, which can be anything from a 4am to a lie-in at 7am. Household duties fill my time until I drop Aran to playgroup and Cahal to a wonderful local childminder at 9am. I then have the rest of the morning to do my training, whether that is a bike ride, run, or time on the rowing machine. I collect the kids around noon and bring them home for lunch. By 2pm, we’re out again, this time to the beautiful nearby Kilbroney Park, which was the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There we walk Tom our dog while the boys ride their bikes. If there is time, we’ll pop into the playground for a while.

‘When we get home, Cahal might have dropped off to sleep, which gives me an hour or two to do some writing or marketing for my current book. Before I know it, it’s time to cook dinner and do the usual bath, book, and bed routine before we’re all in bed by 9 pm.’

Do you focus on nutrition/health in general – if so what do you do? 

‘It’s really important for me to eat properly if I want to train and race competitively. Occasionally my coach gets me to keep a full week’s food diary to make sure I’m getting enough calories, consuming the right kinds of food, and that I’m eating frequently (at least every three hours) throughout the day. I also make sure that I cook everything from scratch so I know exactly what I’m eating.

‘My other agenda is to create good healthy eating habits in the house so that my two boys eat well too. I don’t think there is a parent who isn’t worried about the current obesity crisis. I know, however, that if I want the boys to enjoy broccoli, sweet potatoes, and chicken, then they have to see me eating them as well. Of course, there is room for the occasional ice-cream, but that is definitely only an occasional treat!

Do you use any mental tricks for endurance?

‘For challenges like the 24 hour Rounds, it would wreck your head if you thought about the enormity of the course. Such a thought would probably prevent me from even attempting! It therefore becomes a case of breaking it down to each mountain top and getting into a rhythm of: one, go uphill; two, eat something while ascending; three, check the map and compass before the summit; four, hit the summit; five, run down other side in the right direction, and doing this over and over again until you’re finished.

‘If things get tough I just think that, if I keep going, at least I’ll be closer to the finish and one step closer to home. The idea of going home, having a cup of tea and hanging out with the family is enough to keep me going.

What does a typical training week look like?

‘My coach thankfully takes all the thinking out of my training. He develops plans based on my suggested races and then uploads them to a shared spreadsheet that I fill in on a daily basis. I typically train two hours in the morning with fifteen to thirty minutes of strength and conditioning in the evening. I rest on Saturdays, and on Sundays I’ll do a maximum of three hours. I very rarely skip training unless I have an injury or no one to mind the kids. Having a coach who’s checking up on my Garmin data means I daren’t skip a session!’

Ironman Triathlete Lucy Charles shares her top training tips

Red Bull athlete & double-world champion Lucy Charles shares her bike/run triathlon tips.

The bike

No one discipline in triathlon is more important than the other. But out of swimming, cycling and running, it’s on the bike where competitors really have to put in the long hours. In an Ironman-distance triathlon, the sport’s most extreme format, competitors swim 3.8km, run 42km… but bike a massive 180km.

Cycling requires skill, balance, strength and determination in order to power through and get it done well.

PREPARATION Knowing and trusting your kit is important especially when you have fast descents and tough climbs. One of the things I swear by is a power meter in my cranks which gives me feedback on power. It means I can make sure I am not going too hard on the climbs or free wheeling too much on the descents.

For long rides, you need to make sure you are comfortable and aerodynamic. I use pads on my handlebars which help me with both of those things. Padding in your shorts is crucial… otherwise you are in for uncomfortable ride.

TECHNIQUE You want the bike to be an extension of yourself so that you can control the power you are putting through the bike. If you are new to cycling, like I was in 2014, it may take a lot of hours in the saddle to feel comfortable. Every week I will do at least one long ride which is a minimum of three hours but it is good to mix up your training with a spin class and a group ride as well. I absolutely love group rides, they make a really long session go a lot quicker.

Using turbo trainers – a stationary bike – can help with your cycling strength and if you throw in things like Zwift to the mix, you can make training more exciting by racing in a virtual world. Time spent in the gym is time shaved off your bike split.

BIKE FITNESS You want to make sure you are supplementing your riding with specific gym work that will help you see improvements when you are out on the bike. I typically spend one to two hours in the gym solely dedicated to cycling. These exercises include leg extensions, hamstring curls, squats. The other key is single leg work because you need to have a good left-right balance.

OPTIMISING PERFORMANCE

In order to get the right output, you need to get the right input. Nutrition is key – and entirely unique to each person. It is a case of trying something, seeing if it works for you and then sticking to that formula. I typically have 60-90g of carbs per hour during a ride which makes sure m energy levels are topped up and I don’t have any flat points at any stage during a ride. If I do feel like I need that little bit extra then I top up with caffeine.

Once you have found that perfect balance of what works for you nutritionally, it is great to focus on other parts of your training like max interval training between 10-60 seconds. It is also good to find a nice loop and really perfect your cornering skills, doing time trial races can really see what you are capable of and put down your max power output. There is always a  percentage to be gained.

RECOVERY Riding on the road is really gruelling, particularly if you out on the saddle for up to six hours exposed to the elements. It is really important to get that relaxation and recovery going straight away after a ride. You need to stretch out the leg muscles and your back so that you do not stiffen up. Get your nutrition on board within the magic 30-minute window to replace all that you have spent on the bike.

It is not enough to go out and ust train, you need to reflect on the data that you have collected and review what you have done to learn from it for the next session

THE RUN

PREPARATION Ensure you are wearing the correct shoes for your run. If you are running of- road, trail shoes will give you that stability and grip that you need on the more uneven terrain.



The other shoes that I have are race flats. They have not got as much support in them or as much cushioning but they are a lot faster, so when I am racing, road running or on the track, I wear the flats. You don’t have too much other kit to think about in running but you might as well be comfortable. So make sure you are wearing breathable layers, you don’t want to be damp when you are running.

A heart rate monitor will link up to your watch and let you see your pace as well as your heart rate. This is crucial to make sure that you are not surging on climbs or slowing down but keeping a nice, even pace.

REFINING TECHNIQUE Running is really pure and simple – but when you start to explore it there is a lot going on.

Working on things like stride length (EW says: improve stride length and frequency by running on the hills), cadence, body position and breathing will make your running easier and more efficient.

Stay relaxed by focusing on breathing properly, don’t exhaust yourself by taking shallow breaths. Stay nice a relaxed and get the oxygen.

Build up your running mileage gradually by setting goals and targets and ticking them off – this keeps you motivated to keep getting better.

Mix up the terrain – choose from road, trail or treadmill, I find this changes things up nicely and also helps to keep me motivated.

 STRENGTH TRAINING There are loads of things you can do in the gym that are going to complement your running without having to go and smashout loads of miles. But, don’t worry a gym membership isn’t required, bodyweight squats and lunges are all going to help with your running.

The key things that will see you notice improvements when you are running are core strength, stability, leg strength and plyometrics (aka explosive movement).

Working on box jumps, planks, side planks and flutter kicks will help you build your core strength. Make sure you do not neglect your glutes, they’re the key to stability while running.

ACCELERATE PERFORMANCE GAINS The key thing is to stay dedicated to your plan, work up your training gradually and you’ll begin to notice the gains. If you get sued to a regular routine of runs, try adding in extra workouts that can give you a performance boost. Incorporating a tempo run – running at near-race pace – into your training can also help get the competitive juices flowing.

Doing at least one long run a week helps build endurance. This might be the run where you are likely to be bored, try running with music or with a friend to give you some distractions and extra motivation. But if you are struggling with the regularity of your breathing, forget the music and focus on the rhythm of your breathing.If you’re running for more than an hour, carry water with you, ideally in something like a Camelbak to spread the weight around evenly.

RECOVERY As soon as your run is finished, focus on rehydrating, stretching, controlling your heart rate with proper breathing and getting warm.

Stretch for 10-15 minutes at the end of the run, holding the stretches for 15-30 seconds for each muscle group.

If you’ve got a heart rate monitor, use the stretching time to begin analysing your running data. Get some protein on board within 30 minutes of the run – ideally, prep what you’ll need for your post-run meal before you head out.



Spartan Obstacle Racing Empowers Women

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Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Emily LeRoux, is the driving force behind Spartan Women and the newly appointed global ambassador for Spartan Races. She talked to me about Spartan and how it helps empower women.

‘In my early 20s I was a rower. I trained with other women and we were empowered as we managed work and new careers with rowing and we pushed ourselves hard in Salford Keys in Manchester. By the time I met my husband, got married and had children (I’ve got two boys who are now aged seven and four), I found rowing was too time consuming, work was demanding more of my time and of course I had young children to care for. I kept fit with mountain biking and some running.

‘Seven years ago work with a global recruitment company, Michael Page, gave me an opportunity to move to Japan. I launched a running club after work and it was a great way to socialise and break down cultural barriers, we had 120 members and organised two races a year. I’m passionate about empowering women and noticing a lack of support in business I also set up the networking circle, ‘Mums In Business Tokyo’. It whilst in Japan that I also discovered Cross Fit, going three or four times a week to keep fit, and it was there that I became immersed in a fantastic ex-pat community, including Joe De Senna, the current CEO of Spartan. Spartan came along at just the right time for me.

‘I’m now the driving force behind Spartan Women and I work on partnerships and sponsorships.  There’s no typical working week for me and I’m lucky enough to work at home as well as one day a week in the office. I also travel, for example, going to the Stade de France for a weekend of Spartan training.

‘Like a lot of busy women, I fit in exercise where I can, for example after dropping the boys to school going to the gym for an hour or two, and squeeze in my run. I prefer to get my training done in the morning and I always take two days off a week. It makes a big difference if I have a Spartan race ahead, a goal to aim for, as this means I have to train and every week and that make a plan.

All-round fitness

‘I’m not that keen on running, but that’s not a problem where Spartan is concerned. All you need is to be able to run 5K and have a decent all-round fitness, strength and flexibility (which you’ll get from going to the gym regularly or going to classes). The thing that makes Spartan great is that you will always be supported by others. Spartan courses offer a level playing field where  you can excel in different parts and there are no barriers; it’s open to all, old, young, able or not able bodied, male and female.

Strong from Spartan

‘Spartan can mean different things to different people. There are age group competitors who are super-fit and others who just join in for fun. I love the fact that I’m able to move quickly along the monkey bars. Before Spartan this was something I thought I’d left behind me in the playground.

‘I’ve found that racing Spartan is great for work too. As I said when you’re on the Spartan course, it’s a level playing field and hierarchy doesn’t play a part the way it does in the office.  And the nature of the sport is about supporting each other, for example helping each other over obstacles, on monkey bars, or jumping through fire, so it’s fantastic for building team bonds. On top of that there are the fitness, health and wellbeing benefits and there’s plenty of research to show that a healthier workforce is happier and there’s less absenteeism.

Spartan for Women

‘When one woman helps another, amazing things can happen, and that’s what Spartan is all about. It’s also a place where you can discover an inner strength, where you will push boundaries, using your power and agility, and finding your mental fortitude. We’re in the ‘Me Too’ era, we’re fighting inequalities and the gender pay gap and it’s the right time to give women a voice in all areas of their life which can start by building confidence out there on the course. The competitive, team-building disciplines of sport and the skills that women can harness to achieve career success work together. I’m proud that Spartan has its own community of women and a facebook group where women are supporting each other and being each other’s cheerleaders.

‘I really think that Spartan can be a mental and physical catalyst for transformation in all areas of your life.  As a member of the Spartan community you’ll get support, meet new people, and create a new network. Spartan races are held in 30 countries and around one million take part annually, and contrary to what many think, 40 per cent of our racers are women – and the number is growing. We find that women tend to take part in races and train together and women are helping to grow Spartan as a family sport. Joe, who set it all up is a family man and Spartan is now open to kids and families as a fantastically healthy way to spend your weekend with your children.’

Give Spartan a Go

April 7/8 sees the launch of Spartan Races in the UK at St Clere, which is 40 minutes by train from central London and within sight of the M25. Situated on the scenic North Downs and known for its rolling hills – this beautiful yet challenging course will be host to a Sprint and Kids distance. Plus, new for this year, we’ve added a Super to give you more opportunity to go for the hallowed Trifecta! Enter here.

 

The fire jump brings out the Spartan in everyone!

Fiona’s Spartan Day…

Back in 2013, I tried out a Spartan Training Day. You can read about my experience here.

 

Guest Blog: Seven Years to go from Zero To 100-mile Ultra Runner

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Victoria Fraser, a 42 year-old pharmacy technician and ultra runner from Oxfordshire  sent me her blog. She’s single and has one daughter, Heidi, age 15.  She started running with a five-mile race in 2010. Seven years later she’d completed a 100-mile off-road race. And her appetite for distance hasn’t waned…

“Did I find ultra running or did running find me?  It was like a calling, one of those things that fitted into my life, without me really trying to fit it in. Only twice before in my life has that happened. The first time, when I was a dancer, and the second, when I started my pharmacy career.

’And my introduction to running was accidental. I never planned to do it  Some people have a  bucket list in life often including running a marathon, I never had this and I really had no wish to run big distances, or even a Parkrun. It just happened!

‘It began at work when a colleague’s daughter was running a five-mile charity fun run at Blenheim Palace, I said I’d sponsor her. Then without thinking, I said I’d do it too. ‘What? Why did I say that?’ I hadn’t run since school. I certainly wasn’t unfit – I’d been a dancer up to the age of 20 and then did a lot of cycling to keep fit – but since becoming a mum I lived in a whirl of crazy activity and hadn’t followed a structured fitness regime.

‘So, the five-mile fun run day arrived April 2010 Because it was only five miles I didn’t train – no need right? Only five miles? Ouch!  No proper training and not wearing the right running shoes taught me the hard way. My lungs were screaming after the first mile, but I still finished in just over an hour and was buzzing that I’d done it. When I got home, still aching, I was looking for more…

‘The next step was to enter an off-road 10K, the Candleford Canter, organised by Alchester Running Club in Bicester. Every weekend I increased the mileage by just half to one mile usually running twice at weekends . I completed the 10k in just over an hour.  Without a great master plan I just started to run more. Gradually, as I ran further, and continued to refine my training, I felt confident to set bigger goals, and very soon , six months later  I ran  an off-road half marathon.

’I was becoming a runner, and it was now more part of my life. And soon I made running friends by joining Runners World online  community, and as runners do, chat about going further, and different races started. And it was in one of these chats the idea was planted to run a marathon. But I was quickly drawn to the ‘dark side’ of ultra running – it was like a magnet for me. My friend, Nick had talked about a 35-mile he had done and it captured my imagination. I knew I had to do it. I entered a marathon in January 2012, but only to use as a stepping stone to the world of ultras. I completed the marathon in January 2012, and was already looking ahead to the Northants Shires and Spires  35-mile race. With this done, the next goal, the Centurion North Downs Way 50 soon followed, it was taking place in August 2012.

‘I was gripped by distance, trails and hills. There was so much to take in, navigation, technical off-road running and nutrition but I was keen to learn and met the right people, asked the right questions and soon I’d become a fully fledged ultra runner.

‘As a mum,  fitting in training could be difficult. And the longer the races and the longer the training runs the more I needed to be organised. My daughter Heidi, who was just seven when I started running, and saw me going out for a short run and her being able to come and watch to mum going to an event and having to leave the night before and not re-appearing until Saturday night! Fitting in more miles has got easier as she’s got older  and early morning runs done before the day’s duties at weekends. Now she’s a teenager and having a mum that runs 100 miles is quite cool! I believe I’m teaching my daughter that there are no limits and if she really wants to do something then she can. Hard work, training, persistence and confidence in yourself will result in achievements.

‘I continued to race in 2013 and 2014 and my body grew stronger and confidently covered the distance. In 2015 I wanted to push it further and so I entered the 100K Race to the Stones. There was no time pressure and I just wanted to cover the distance,  and it felt good knowing I could still run further without injury or issue.

‘By this time I was getting good at knowing which kit worked for me, and how to get fuel,  hydration and pacing right. I’m not fast but I’m a consistent runner. I pace steadily and strongly. I was also learning to trust my mind,  and to respect the fine line between being blasé and thinking nothing will go wrong, and knowing how to push hard.

‘In 2016 I set myself my biggest goal to date, a grand slam of 50-mile races, adding up to 400 miles and 27,000 ft elevation in total. I had a step-by-step approach, and broke each race down into manageable chunks, not daring to think about the next race. It was an amazing year of running! And as I suspected once completed, my appetite to run further was still there.

‘So in 2017 I decide to reach for 100 miles in one go. This was another step up and now I had to consider crew, a pacer, and drop bags – I had to have a plan. I chose the South Downs Way 100 in June. Two months before I’d run the South Downs Way 50 and had knocked a lot of time off the previous race time, so I knew I was in good shape. The night run was fantastic. I knew the second half of the course which would be at night so this helped, and my trusted friend, James acted as my pacer and confidence builder, reminding me I could do it.

‘When it came to the night, it all went to plan. The weather was prefect, there was a full moon all night and I couldn’t have asked for more help than I had. There were tough moments – steep climbs and hallucinations – and there were beautiful moments – looking back over the hills at Southease to see tiny bobbing head torches in he distance!  I arrived in Eastbourne and crossed the line at 8am on Sunday morning, severely sleep-deprived but elated. Later, as I sat with my cup of tea in the sports hall, I smiled to myself as I looked at my 100-mile running buckle resting on my knee, and remembered it had all started with a five-mile run, and once again asked myself, did I find running, or did it find me?

‘As for what’s next. I want to keep seeing what I can do. I hope to complete the Centurion slam of four 100-mile races in 2018, and then I hope to progress into mountain ultras such as Tenerife Blue Trail or Transvulcania Ultra, both of which are on volcanic mountain terrain. The journey continues.’