Here on Its Mostly Okay, something I like to talk about, other than myself (JOKES), is sport. Hockey is my first love but running is was what got my bottom into shape, quite literally, in my late twenties. Hockey now, is incredibly important to me, it keeps me going both mentally and physically. It gives me time away from the never-ending Olivia questions and gives me head space where I’m not thinking about ‘not being pregnant’. It’s my life-line at times. Because both my husband and I play, our Saturday match times often clash, but luckily for me there is a crèche at my club, so when I play a home game on a Saturday, I can have Olivia there with me. She’s often bought out to watch me and cheers wildly from the side-lines. If her dad is there with her, he gets her to shout embarrassing things at me like, ‘why aren’t you moving mummy!’ and other such helpful comments. It’s important to me as a mother of a daughter, that she see’s her mummy running about (and regularly falling over) on the pitch, sweating it out and being part of a team. Sport in our family is important. I digress, back to this post. As I said, I’m always keen to talk about sport and also how it can be combined with having a family, so when Moire O’Sullivan contacted me and asked me to share her story – ahead of her book launch – about combining being a mother and sportsperson, I was more than happy to help.
Who is Moire exactly and what is her story? Well, in brief, she’s an accomplished mountain runner and adventure racer. In 2009, she became the first person to complete the Wicklow Round, a 100km circuit of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, run within twenty-four hours. She is married to Pete and is the proud mother of their two young sons, Aran and Cahal. While busy adapting to and learning about motherhood, Moire won Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series three times in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Her (soon to be released) book Bump, Bike and Baby is about this personal journey. Moire charts her journey from ‘happy, carefree mountain runner to reluctant, stay-at-home mother of two. With her sights set on winning Ireland’s National Adventure Racing Series, she manages to maintain her post-natal sanity, and slowly learns to become a loving and occasionally functioning mum’. Here is my Q&A with her:
Hi Moire! Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Derry, Northern Ireland, but now live south of Belfast, in Rostrevor, close to the Mourne Mountains. When I’m not looking after my two young boys, who two and four, I mountain run and adventure race. I’m married to Pete, who I met when we both worked for an overseas development charity. Before we had kids, we lived and worked for many years in Asia, moving between Vietnam, Nepal and Cambodia, before coming back home to settle in Northern Ireland.
Where did the idea of ‘Bump, Bike and Baby’ come?
Early last year, during a catch-up call with my coach Eamonn, he asked me if I could chat with one of his other athletes. I was surprised by his request. Eamonn never divulges the identities of those he trains, let alone providing me with their names and phone numbers. I agreed, feeling like I owed him a favour after all the support he has given me over the years, asking him what it was all about. He told me that the athlete had just found out that she was pregnant, he explained that he thought it would be useful if she spoke to someone like me. It was while talking with Eamonn’s athlete, that I realised my experience of motherhood, though personal and bespoke, might provide some insight for others. I figured there must be other women in similar situations, learning how to parent while still keeping a semblance of their old identity. I thought they might benefit from reading what happened to me.
Do you have a favourite section of the book?
My favourite section has to be the morning after I’ve given birth to my first baby, Aran. I’d consider myself quite un-maternal, having initially resisted the idea of starting a family. In this part of the book, I try to understand the exact nature of my feelings now that I am suddenly a mother. Writing this section helped me come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to have feelings that might be considered slightly different from the accepted maternal stereotypes: ‘I open my eyes the next morning to see Aran in a cot by my bed. He is fast asleep, the rigours of childbirth having exhausted him the previous night. I watch him breathe in and out, trying to make sense of it all. Is this love at first sight? Am I totally elated? Have I achieved my purpose in life? No. I don’t think or feel any of these things. What I do feel is guilt that I am not awash with endearing, warm emotions. I wish I loved babies and dreamed of smothering him in cuddles for hours. Whether I like it or not, that is unfortunately not who I am. What I do feel is fiercely protective. This child beside me looks so small, and so terribly helpless. I want to hold him when he cries, feed him when he’s hungry, pick him up when he falls. I want to make sure he comes to no harm. I am the one who has brought him into the world. I am responsible for him.’
What motivates you to train and race now that you have children?
Before I got married or had children, I loved racing and keeping fit. It was such a fundamental part of who I am that I made my husband promise that he would help me find the time to train and race after I gave birth. Admittedly, it is a constant struggle to find the time and energy to keep fit now that I have two kids. I often have to remind myself that it is important that I take time out to do something I love, so that motherhood doesn’t totally usurp my identity. I also have the distinct advantage of having a coach who tells me what training I should do. Having someone who checks that I’m doing and gives me useful feedback is enough to keep me motivated.
What tips do you have for getting fit once you have kids?
Pete and I have had many conversations about how to help each other cope with parenthood. In particular, Pete knows how hugely important training is to my psyche. Having a supportive partner, who understands that I need a daily break from motherhood in order to train, is a major component in helping me strike that balance. However, I’m well aware that not everyone has the luxury of a flexible and supportive domestic arrangement, and indeed there are other ways to balance training and parenthood.
When my first born was four months old, I bought a Bob Revolution running buggy, an amazing contraption designed for high-speed, off and on-road running with a baby. This was the perfect way for me to get out for a jog without childcare. And more often than not, my first born Aran fell asleep on the run. If going outside isn’t feasible, a set of biker rollers is worth their weight in gold. In my case, they were a present from my husband for giving birth. I would put Aran in a jumperoo, or wait until he was having a nap, and then would do an indoor bike session, while keeping an eye on him. If a buggy or bike rollers are cost-prohibitive, strength and conditioning exercises at home are a brilliant way to get in shape again. Squats, lunges, press-ups, and skipping are great to keep fit and put a post-natal body back in some sort of shape. I feel the biggest parenting challenge is just being time-poor, and there are really no easy answers to this. My sincere belief though is that a happy parent makes a happy child, and if this means taking time out for yourself, even thirty minutes a day, then it will probably go a long way to creating some sort of household harmony.
What is the best advice you’ve been given / or have about being mum?
One of the issues I had after giving birth was that everyone had some opinion about child-rearing and felt it was their responsibility to give me their piece of advice, whether I’d asked for it or not. At times, it felt overwhelming being subjected to this onslaught of sometimes conflicting ideas. The irony is that it was my own mother who probably gave me the best piece of ‘guidance’. She assured me that I would be fine and that I would figure it all out in time. At the hospital and at home, my mum saw the level of support I had from the midwives and community health workers, and she genuinely felt she had nothing more to add. Instead, my mum felt that her role was to be a fun granny, and that she would leave me the space and freedom to figure out the mothering part in my own time. So in a weird way, the best advice was none, coupled with her faith that I would figure it out myself.
What do you hope people will get from reading this book?
Before having kids, I was petrified that my life would change forever. As far as I was concerned, having children would reduce my life to ‘milk and shite’. Now that I am the mother of two young boys, I’ve come to realise that breastfeeding and changing nappies isn’t all that bad. And if anything, though my life has changed beyond recognition, in some ways it has changed for the better. Hopefully this book will help readers see that, though parenthood has its many up and downs, we all manage to muddle through using a variety of coping strategies, mine being by competing in adventure races. I hope that readers see that we all eventually come out the other end, older, stronger, and a little wiser.
Have your kids started adventure racing too?
Though my main passions are mountain running and adventure racing, somehow my children prefer to go swimming and orienteering. Go figure! I think though that the fact that they see their mum so active encourages them to get involved too. And as I get older, and a little slower, I’m looking forward to supporting them in their own sporting goals.
About the book
Bump, Bike and Baby – Mummy’s Gone Adventure Racing. Sandstone Press. Format: Paperback. ISBN: 9781912240067. Publication Date: 15/03/2018. RRP: £8.99. Available from Amazon, Foyles, Easons, and Waterstones. Paperbacks can be purchased here and e-books can be purchased here.
Moire blogs at https://moireosullivan.com/