Hi, I’m Roisin (more commonly known as Ro). I'm an Olympian and co-author of the Believe Training Journal. More importantly, I'm the mother of two girls: Hope, 4, and Ava, 1-1/2.
When I was gearing up for the Olympics, it took over my whole life. Aspiring to be a world-class runner, I tinkered with nearly everything in order to maximize my performance: nutrition, sleep, extra-curricular activity, socializing, training, reading materials, you name it. Being a pro athlete isn’t something you do from 9-5. It encompasses your entire life. (If you think I’m exaggerating, just ask my husband!)
When I found out I was expecting my first baby, I anticipated that my athlete-lifestyle would be turned upside down. I assumed that since I wouldn’t be training as hard, and I wouldn’t be racing, that I would loosen the reins and enjoy the luxuries (lots of ice cream!) and the more lax lifestyle of the non-pro-athlete population.
Not so quick. As my belly grew, I soon realized that my “new normal” was in some weird ways more of the same lifestyle I’d be leading.
From the gate, I was advised to eat like an athlete: lots of iron, protein, greens, etc. and to avoid ice-cream (what??). I was supposed to plenty of rest and catch naps if I could. And, of course, the whole experience was a big buildup to (excuse the pun) the crowning event of the year. Instead of a major global championship, though, it was birth.
Those nine months were just the beginning of the similarities I was to discover between my two life experiences.
What I have found is that the life of a pro-athlete is is uncannily similar to the life of a little babe. Athletes (As) and Babies (Bs) have quite a bit in common—and Bs, to my surprise, are little gurus that we can all learn a thing or two from
Here are five of the most important things I learned from my baby about improving as an athlete. I hope that they’ll inspire you to improve too!
ONE: EAT LIKE A BABY
As and Bs are always hungry. When I was in serious training, I actually wondered if there was something wrong with me because I thought about food all day long. It’s only when I was around people not in training that I realized not everyone is ravenous at all times. Nobody wants to be around hungry athletes or babies waiting too long when eating out. Hanger is real! Needless to say I was well in tune with my baby’s need to eat every three hours.
As and Bs need to eat warm, nutritious, and easily absorbed food for their respective delicate and sensitive digestive system. I’ve heard of triathletes that eat baby food, and many of the top sports drink companies have attempted to create the same nutritional formula as breastmilk (check out the picture of my Muscle Milk tub!).
As a pro-athlete I was always trying to improve my recovery between workouts, and nutrition was a huge part of that. Milk (in whatever form suits you best) is best for As and Bs as it has the ideal carbohydrate, protein and fat ratios.
So if you’re ramping up your mileage for your first half/marathon and wondering how to fuel right, think like a baby and get your milk and easily absorbed foods in right after training. Something like a Picky Bar is ideal for babies and athletes alike!
TWO: SLEEP LIKE A BABY
A regular day in the life of a baby is as follows: sleep, eat, move (play/dance/crawl/climb), repeat. A day in the life of many top pro-athletes follows the same cycle.
A couple of hours of activity for my little one, and she is soon ready for her nap. Similarly, when I was at training camps with my sisters-in-sport in preparation for our race season, our routines were purposefully simple: sleep, eat, run, repeat!
When training at a high level, the recovery between training is just as important as the training itself. Sleep is where the muscles regenerate, and where recovery, growth and fitness gains are made. I’d need 10+ hours at night and a solid 90-minute nap during the day--a sleep schedule that very closely resembles my youngsters.
If you’re increasing your miles and feeling like you need more sleep than usual, catch it if you can. The rule of thumb is that you need an extra hour of sleep for every hour of training you do.
These days I don’t have the luxury of those mid-day naps, nor do I get near 10 hours of sleep, but I don’t need them as I no longer in training for any major races. But on those rare weekends when I get to join my pro-athlete friends, such as Molly Huddle, 17-time US Champ, and Kim Smith, for a longish run, you’ll find this weekend warrior crawling back into bed or snoozing on the couch for a nap.
THREE: SET GOALS LIKE A BABY
When my baby was ready to crawl, the best incentive to get her moving was to put her favorite rattle on top of a stack of blocks, just out of reach. Her eyes would light up as she would zone in, determined. Then she would reach, stretch out and finally move towards her goal.
When setting goals for yourself, the first and most important criteria is that it must excite you. In order to work hard for something you must really desire the prize--whether it’s a rattle, a record or a medal.
When you really want a goal, you will endure whatever it takes to get there. I've seen my baby bump her head/face/bum so many times in order to pull herself up to the table so she can reach for the TV remote--her ultimate prize at one stage. Nothing fazes her when she’s in pursuit of getting her paws on what she really wants.
This reminds me of my years of running with tired legs, overused muscles, and my heart on my sleeve in order to achieve my goals. Logging more than 80 miles per week didn’t faze me when my desire was to be the best athlete I could be. But nowadays I wouldn’t even attempt it as it as my goals and desires have changed.
It’s important to note that if we put the remote too far away, my daughter wouldn’t even attempt to go after it. The goal had to be ever so slightly out of reach. So your goal must also be attainable, as unrealistic objectives aren’t motivating.
Before we knew it that little baby was onto her next milestone, and in what feels like a blink of an eye she is running all over the place. Once you’ve chosen your goal, break it down into doable steps. Once you start achieving and feeling successful, you’ll gain momentum, which will propel you to go after more and more goals.
FOUR: BOUNCE BACK LIKE A BABY
Athletes can mull over a miserable workout or a disappointing race for days, weeks, even months. Dwelling on the past not only takes up too much time and energy, it can deter us from trying again. Babies are free from their yet-to-develop egos that can cause us adults to over-analyze or self-criticize. Babies don't think, “The last time I tried to walk I fell. Therefore I suck and should never try to walk again.” They fall on their butts again and again, often laughing along the way. Then they get back up and try again, usually with a smile still on their face.
If you don’t get your goal on the first attempt, so what? Stand up, and try again...and again...and again. Don't quit at the first feeling of frustration. Frustration is a normal part of the process. See it as a litmus test of how badly you want to achieve your goal. Do your best, fall down, take a break, and then try again. You’ll get there.
Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a stepping stone.
FIVE: SOOTHE LIKE A BABY
When babies have to endure unpleasant things--diaper changes, bumped heads, long car journeys--singing or playing a little game can be the distraction they need to get through the undesirable situations. Distractions take the focus off the pain signals and let you do your thing!
When you have to do uncomfortable things--a long run in freezing temperatures or a daunting workout--it’s helpful to ease the discomfort by running with friends or listening to music.
Everyone knows that when a baby hurts herself, she cries. The wails and tears communicate that she is hurt, and it triggers instinctual responses from others to help. By crying, the baby releases and rids her body of toxic stress hormones. And if you know babies, most times a little cry is followed immediately by smiles and resuming play.
So if crying is so therapeutic, why are adults so afraid to cry when we are hurting? Sometimes having a good cry is the best thing to help us deal with a big disappointment. Studies show that allowing ourselves to cry helps us get over the pain and feel better. So cry baby, cry! Then, move on. Even the world record holder in the marathon, the amazing legendary Paula Radcliffe is quoted in our Believe Journal talking about how crying helps her move on from disappointments:
“I’ve always been good at putting things behind me- I fall apart, do my crying big, and then put it away and move on”-Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder + world champion.
If one of the toughest athletes of all time isn’t afraid to have a cry now and again, why are the rest of us so afraid of crying?
Soothe the small; distract by focusing on fun. Grieve the big; cry and move on.
For 6 MORE ways your baby can be your running coach, hop on over to Ro’s blog!
How is your baby/toddler/child teaching you lessons that you can apply to running?
Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, is an Olympian, sports psychology coach and co-author of Believe Training Journal (VeloPress), now available in two new colors!
P.S. Interested in research on the topic of athletes and motherhood? Check out the research Ro’s invovled in at www.eliterunnerpregnancystudy.com