In honor of Mother's Day, We talked to Cervélo Pro Triathlete Susie Cheetham about the ups and downs of maintaining a pro career while also navigating parenthood.
Words and Images by Susie Cheetham
1. How has training changed during and after having your first baby?
Training during pregnancy was pretty different to pre-pregnancy. I think being pregnant made me realize how as a professional athlete I’ve spent the last five years of my career being pretty robotic! By that I mean, I trained around 30 hours a week and I knew pretty much how my body would respond. I knew that if I trained in a certain way for a block of training, how fit I would be, and whether I’d be ready to race at the end of that block.
Then pregnancy changed everything, I had great days when I’d train and feel invincible but then I’d have other days that I was more tired or nauseous than I’ve ever been in my life!! I struggled to get off the sofa some days, but others I’d be riding for miles. From about 4 months into the pregnancy, I took training day by day, I wasn’t too hard on myself if I couldn’t achieve what I could pre-pregnancy (this was a big step, professional athletes are usually quite hard on themselves). I enjoyed the challenge of staying as active as possible, but let the bad days slide!
I’m now 3 months into post-partum training and I’m shocked by how amazing the body is. It goes through 9 months of changes and stress but treat it right and it heals up fairly fast. I’m back to 100% training load for swimming and biking and I’m building up my running again. It’s given me the chance to take a step back and look at some of my weaknesses and work on them as I build back to full training and racing.
2. What were your routine changes?
I’ve been really lucky as my husband is taking a year off work to support my training and racing. I’ve been able to get back into a fairly similar routine to pre-baby. The initial months were all about the baby and bonding with him, those months he was my 100% focus and I really enjoyed that. It’s been nice to bring back my training into our routine, but if I could change anything I’d add more hours to the day so I could train, spend more time with Henry and get some more sleep!!
3. did you have to work around mental and physiological changes?
The physiological changes of having a baby are huge. It’s such a big change for any women’s body, but when you add training into the mix there are more challenges to overcome. There are positive and negative changes. To start with the positive; there are believed to be a positive shift of hormones post-pregnancy which can be beneficial to endurance racing. I’m hoping that Covid restrictions lift so I can take advantage of this!! For performance, there are some areas that I’ve had to be particularly careful around. For example, after pregnancy until after you stop breastfeeding there is a high level of a hormone called relaxin which loosens all your ligaments. This makes you particularly susceptible to injury so we’ve pulled back on any heavy lifting in the gym.
I would say the mental shifts in the journey post-partum have been interesting. I’ve gone from “can’t imagine training right now”, to “can’t wait to be training” to euphoria being out there doing it again. But as I get back to close to my normal training levels, there’s definitely a feeling of split priorities. I really struggle leaving Henry at home, so for example we’ve introduced a weekly rest day where I only swim that day so I can have some proper quality time with him. Who knows, sometimes changes like this can have positive performance benefits!
4. Thoughts on parenthood and being a pro athlete?
Having a family truly does give you perspective. And while my career is still incredibly important to me, I can already feel my driving “self-talk” has changed from wanting to beat X or wanting to win Y, to wanting to make Henry and my family proud. It has shown me that your sporting achievements don’t last forever, and what really matters is what you and your family can learn and use from your journey. But don't get me wrong I still want to beat 'X' and win 'Y'!!
5. What do you wish to see more of as an athlete and mother within Triathlon? Was there any information you were looking for and was missing or hard to find?
I’ve been so lucky to be embarking on this journey just at the time the PTO is doing incredible work in supporting mums and parents. Never in a million years when I started this sport could I see a day where I am receiving payments, yearly bonuses, and a frozen world ranking during my time away from the sport! That, and the fortunate position we’re in as a 2-income family has certainly eased the burden for us, and I fully appreciate other mothers, parents, and athletes in general in our sport aren’t always so fortunate. In fact, it’s in part this appreciation during my time off which has led us to want to add value and give something back within a sport which can be daunting to break into. We have a little project we are working on which we hope to share more about soon!