Now that I’m a mom, I must give a huge shout-out to all of the moms out there (and dads, too!) for the dedication it takes to be a parent. My life as a professional obstacle course racer has taken me running up mountains to swim in freezing lakes and flying off trampolines to reach for swinging ropes, but nothing, and I mean nothing can truly prepare one for the endurance, focus, and overall toughness needed for parenting (not to mention the nine months of pregnancy plus the wild ride of labor and delivery). Though I may be a “Professional Ninja,” I’m also just another busy parent trying to stay as fit and healthy as possible, while juggling an on-the-go lifestyle. For me, life as an athlete and coach got turned up a few notches when I gave birth to my first child nine months ago and them moved with my husband, Tim, to Boulder, Colorado, and while I certainly haven’t found a perfect way to juggle parenthood with a healthy, fit lifestyle, I focus on doing the best I can each day, knowing tomorrow is an opportunity for a fresh start.
Finding time and energy to work out well, eat healthy food, and get the sleep needed to recover well while parenting (and nursing) feels like a big Jenga game, where if one piece gets tinkered with, the whole thing can fall apart.
Rose on the the Jenga game of life
Whenever possible, I find ways to work out with my baby, so I can spend time with her and instill in her a positive association with exercise. As for nutrition, I’ve got my go-to balanced, healthy-yet-tasty meals and snacks I enjoy, and I stick with them!
Before the craziness of the day begins, I find a way to start with a slow-cooked bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal, as I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Tim (my husband) started making this for me most mornings so I could focus on nursing Baby Taylor first thing in the morning. Nursing plus endurance training leaves me with a heightened metabolism and a voracious appetite, so even though I add chia seeds, flax seeds, almond milk, and occasional nuts and berries to my oatmeal, I eat again within an hour or so, being mindful of adding in a source of protein.
Before my fantastic, exhausting, and wonderful little baby came along, I rarely drank coffee, but now after months of waking up multiple times a night to nurse, I can barely function without it! I get some protein from the milk in my coffee, but I like to have a mid-morning meal of peanut butter and honey on a rice cake because it’s filling, yet easy to digest before a run. I can eat it with one hand while holding Taylor or playing with her. She’s extra energized and playful in the morning, so after a diaper change and a bit of a fight getting her to let either of us get her dressed (somedays we figure it’s not worth it and just keep her in pjs all day!), we like to go for a walk and look for wild bunnies or stay inside if it’s freezing out and sing/dance/roll over/play peek-a-boo. Then I pump milk out while Tim entertains her, so that she has milk when I’m gone for my run. After we put her down for her first nap, I get ready to run, doing my foam-rolling, glute-activating, BeetElite drinking, dynamic-stretching routine that lasts about twenty minutes. Tim is job searching here in Boulder right now and able to be home much of the day, so when I leave to work out, I know she is in excellent hands.
Sometimes Tim catches me stalling to leave for my run, and he can tell it’s when I know Taylor’s about to wake up soon. I want to grab one last hug before I go, so I bumble around, looking for a different shirt or foam rolling more than I need to. “Don’t worry,” Tim teases, with a smile. “She’ll be here when you get back.”
Wise words from Tim when Rose starts to stall
As for my run, it varies greatly. Most of my races take 1-2 hours, though I’m also training for the short, intense American Ninja Warrior competition, so I try to work in a bit of everything, from long mountain runs to short sprints. I like to have “peaks and valleys” so I generally go hard effort one day, medium effort the next day, and easy effort the third day, with a long, slow distance run worked in at some point. The hard effort day is key for me: Each week, I’ll do hill repeats or track intervals, and then a tempo or fartlek run on trail, often adding in strength training, such burpees, lunges, and heavy carries.
Once in awhile, I’ll put Baby Taylor in a bucket as my weight, and she loves it! I try to include her whenever I can, even if it’s just letting her crawl on me while I do core work. My coach, Yancy Culp, makes creative workouts for me that are OCR-specific, challenging, and varied enough to keep my physically and mentally stimulated. Grip strength is key for both Spartan and Tough Mudder-type obstacle races, but also for American Ninja Warrior. One of my grip strength staples is the Yancy Camp gold standard pullup workout, where I do a pullup, followed by a ten second hang, repeating for ten pullups’ worth or as many/long as I can. I often do these on my pull-up bar at home while entertaining Baby Taylor since she loves to watch me swing around, and hearing her giggle makes the time pass quicker.
On a good day, Tim and I do some baby handoffs, (while I work out and Tim goes to job interviews), but we generally get to spend most of the day as a family, sharing tasks and finding entertainment in Baby Taylor’s personality, which shines brighter each day. On other days, though, I feel overwhelmed with exhaustion and sometimes I simply start crying, which causes Taylor, a happy baby, to start laughing, which then causes me to laugh and remember that everything’s going to be alright.
There was one day where I was sitting around on a cold, winter day, surrounded by boxes, (feeling bummed after leaving my friends and family in Seattle to train in Boulder, yet not able to get into my full training groove yet), where I caught myself mired in negative thoughts, so I sprung into action; I put Taylor in a big, warm baby bunting and headed outside to visit the nursing home I had spotted next door. Of course, babies are a total hit at the nursing home, so I felt much better, watching the faces of a few dozen old people light up as I walked around with my giggling baby, realizing how unbelievably fortunate I am to have her, not to mention my health, and, hopefully, many more decades to enjoy life – not things to ever be taken for granted!
After long, wonderful, stressful, fantastic, action-packed days, I lie in bed (often chowing down a CLIF bar from my nightstand stash), my head spinning about all of the things to do for work (such as emails, videos, blog posts), baby care (such as laundry before we run out of non-poopy pajamas), self care (such as schedule much-needed physical therapy and chiropractic care so nagging parts don’t turn into injuries) and even though I’m incredibly tired and I’m trying to fall asleep before it’s night nursing time, it can sometimes take me an hour to fall asleep! I wish I had an amazing meditation and/or breathing routine to insert at this time (someday I’ll get to that!), but what usually seems to get my mind to chill and allow me to fall asleep is stepping back from the details of everyday life and looking at things with a greater perspective – Baby Taylor is healthy and happy, Tim and I are, too – life is good.
As a mama athlete, will I ever make it up the warped wall on American Ninja Warrior or become an obstacle course race world champion? I don’t knows for sure, but I do know one thing – when shooting for goals, there is beauty in the pursuit and growth in the struggle. And on days I sink down into the couch, bury my face in my hands, and feel like quitting, I look up to see a little pair of eyes watching me and I feel motivated to continue chasing my dreams in order to be a model of the best human I can be, one that never gives up, for my baby.