Back to sports eight weeks after delivery – serious cycling on the Nockalm Road

By Spinning Mum:

Wohooo! I am back on track :) And a lot has happened during the past few weeks, so let me share my plans and experiences with you.

After a bunch of early morning sessions and several long rides on the weekends I am now officially back in the saddle and my new playmate – the oh so racy BMC RM01 I got late last year – won’t collect any more dust hanging on our bedroom wall. Instead it will be seen in it’s natural habitat a lot these days since I giddily signed up for my first cycle marathons ever after I came home from my first 100+ km tour this season.

Shortly after the endorphins wore off I was close to admitting myself to a mental institution for making such a lightheaded decision. But by then the admission fee was already paid for and I told myself that if I can run a mountain marathon with only two weeks of half-assed training on the treadmill, I might as well survive the ~60km routes of the Carinthia Cycle Marathon this month and the Garmin Velothon in June.

With only a few days left, I am currently using every minute I can spare to prepare myself for these ordeals. So let’s see if my plan works out…

The good thing about the baby alarm which by now goes off almost precisely at 04:30 a.m. is, that I am all geared up and ready to hit the road for two hours around fivish which surprisingly does not bother me all too much. In fact, I really enjoy the peace and quiet knowing that Kai is dealing with the daily morning madness of getting both kids dressed and fed. If you have young kids too, you know that this could be a bigger challenge than riding a Dutch bicycle with two flat tires. Especially now that Konstantin is walking and enjoying his newfound independence, the difficulty level of putting him into fresh nappies is comparable to catching a salmon with bare hands.

But seriously, taking turns in using the early morning hours to work out enables both of us to squeeze in some training no matter what the day will bring, e.g. long office hours (5 out of 7 nights); the feeling of being at the edge of a nervous breakdown due to a cranky toddler who is trying to use his new teeth on your big toe whilst you are comforting a querulous newborn and thus almost accidentally prepare the family hamster for dinner (2 out of 7 nights) or simply the fact that it is raining cats and dogs outdoors and the bad weather bike is locked miiiiiles away in the basement (luckily a less frequent sensation)… ;)

So, what shall I say… heading towards the sunrise on top of a high-class racer, iPod in ear, just feels awesome and allows me to gather the energy I need in order to take care of the kids, manage the household, get a bit of freelance work done and – if I am lucky – write a blog post in the hours to come.

On the weekends Kai and I usually have to split up if we want to get some serious training. While one of us is holding the fort (or playground) the other can go for a long ride. Unfortunately, family time is therefore limited to the mealtimes and evenings but we will certainly put our Chariot to use regularly for trips at a lower intensity like we did the other day.

Another idea to spend quality time together in the future would be to define a nice destination for a day or weekend trip, mount the bike rack, pack the kids and take turns riding and driving along the way. We did not actually try this yet, but I believe that the Live Track function of my Garmin Edge 810 will ensure that that the rest of the family has an instant update about when to leave home in order to arrive at the designated venue roughly at the same time or where to pick up a totally exhausted spinning mum :)

So, as you can see you do not necessarily have to be a superhero to control the catch-22 situation of spending time with your family and participating in a time consuming sport. However, being with a supportive partner who (ideally shares your interests) helps you to check the tire pressure and to prepare the kids’ breakfast the night before, helps tremendously ;)

Initially, I wanted to write about my first training sessions and improvements throughout the my first four weeks of training at this point, but as usual, it took me almost a decade to finish this article and I do not want to bore you with endless statistics, while I have a much more interesting story to share:

Currently we are staying in the region where the Carinthia Cycle Marathon is going to take place next weekend, which enables us to get used to the altitude and to check out the routes. On this account I had the chance to ride the renowned Nockalm Road, which is part of the long marathon route, Kai is about to master.

Actually, I did not plan to engage in some serious climbing lunacy when we got here, as I wanted to save my power for the actual race on Sunday, but after Kai went for a training ride along this legendary pass road and came home totally exhausted but also loaded with endorphins I couldn’t resist trying to tackle it myself.

As mentioned, the Live Track function of my Garmin would enable Kai to come to my rescue anytime in case my legs would explode, so I had nothing to loose and started my epic journey early this morning in rainy weather from our holiday home close to the Turracher Höhe.

I was shortly considering to chicken out as I was not eager to ride steep descends and hairpin-bends on wet tarmac and was already peeing my pants anyways because I was scared of my weaker self. After all, I have never tried anything like this before. But in for a penny, in for a pound… Jaunty Spinning Mum had a mission to complete!

So, I left the warm and cozy cottage and had to start climbing right away in order to get to the beginning of the Nockalm Road. Getting there was already a little adventure itself since after a short 12% warm up climb a steep and winding descend of 24% led me to the actual starting point of today’s torture. What a dreadful but exciting experience! I couldn’t help but scream when the digits on my speedometer passed 75 km/h.

Luckily the rain stopped when I arrived at the actual starting point legs still shaking with fear. After a quick glance on the steep road in front me, I was literally asking myself what the hell I was doing. But since I was also shivering from the downhill airstream I thought it might be a good idea to brace up and start to sweat. And hey, I was really curious to find out why so many riders talk about the Nockalm Road in awe.

The first few kilometers were not as bad as I initially thought but once I passed the toll booth an average gradient of 10% led me up to the first summit and I was counting the serpentines to the top. I do not know how often I was screaming along these seemingly endless 12 km – at first because my legs were burning later because it started snowing shortly before I reached the first crest. WTF! Wearing shorts and leaving the leg warmers behind was not a good idea I suppose and suddenly it occured to me why the guy who came down the road wrapped up like an Eqyptian mummy gave me funny looks.

With chattering teeth I did not take the time to enjoy the scenery and just quickly gobbled up my first Squeezy Bar before I started my descend. A glance on my Garmin told me that the temperatures dropped to freezing 0 degrees Centigrade. Apparently these conditions were even too harsh for the marmots to leave their dens. Damn! Seeing some of these adorable little critters was one the main pull factors getting me up here.

Here’s a picture of what I did not see:

But only minutes later I had different things to worry about: the snow changed to hale (ouch!) and the airstream was numbing every uncovered bit of my body. Believe me, by now I was cursing and swearing aloud and I had to stop half way through the descend because I could not feel my fingers anymore and pulling the brakes became almost impossible. I can’t remember that I ever felt so cold before.

Thank god, the weather slowly improved and when I entered the second ascend I was feeling a bit less miserable. To my surprise I still wasn’t fully recovered when I reached the second summit though my heart rate went up to 175 bpm and the last few meters to the top were really challenging. But the Sufferfest decal saying ‘IWBMATTKYT’ (I will beat my ass today to kick yours tomorrow) I put on my top tube gave me the much needed motivation though my legs were burning and there was no lower gear left. And now guess what? Reaching the second last bend before the top, it started snowing again! As the marmots still were nowhere to be seen, I did not bother to sojourn at the top. Scared of slippery road conditions I quickly munched another energy bar trying not to look too jealous at two fellow maniacs with a support vehicle providing them with warm clothes. Lucky bastards!

Although the hailstorm failed to appear this time I had to pause the otherwise really nice descent again in order to defrost. And though I really wanted to complete the same route Kai finished the day before, I could not resist to ask him to pick me up. Freezing terribly and shaking like a leaf I continued my journey for another 10km after leaving the Nockalm Road until I hit the wall due to insufficient food intake. Thankfully Kai arrived just in time and found me the very same moment I decided to collapse on a bench on the wayside.

This is the point where I just did not want to go any further:

Looks as if Kai was speeding here a little too much before :)

Well, maybe I did not find out if I could have finished Kai’s route this time, but I am certain that I could have performed better if I would have watched my food intake and if I would have dressed wisely (lessons learned!), but I am extremely proud that I survived the Nockalm Road – which leaves me with a total of roughly 60km and a total altitude gain of 1,900m – just eight weeks after Johanna was born.

Guess, now that I know what I am capable of and survived all possible stages of freezing (freezing from anxiety, freezing from cold and freezing from exhaustion), I do not have to be scared of the upcoming events anymore… So, bring it on!

Exercising after childbirth – when to start and what to obey

By Spinning Mum:

At odd times I actually take my doctor’s advice serious and when I was showing signs of premature labour some weeks ago I really listened to him and forced myself to slow things down a bit. However, it was not until about 4 weeks ago that I totally paused my training for the upcoming weeks.

I am in the middle of week 40 now and miraculously survived 35 days without doing any sports but two sessions on the good old Tacx. Well, hardly survived I have to rephrase since I often feel fretful, ill-tempered and moody these days as I never had problems getting up from the couch or tying my shoes before. Plus, there is also the fact that I am super jealous that Kai has been admitted to Team Alpecin and my cool new BMC’s spot in the bedroom will most likely soon be taken by his S-Works Venge. Not to forget that due to Alpecin’s shampoos and tonics his hair could soon be looking much better than my fluffy postpartum mess. Grump! [Picture some comically drawn potty mouth font expressing my displeasure here.]^^

Come what may. If I might have to accept some hormone-induced hair loss again [Hey Dr. Kurt Wolff, this is your keyword... ;) ] it does not mean that I have to accept all other physical complaints, such as a weak pelvic floor, puppy fat and a flabby belly.

Being as vain as most other woman on the planet, getting my figure and fitness back as fast as possible was already my goal after having Konstantin. After leaving the hospital with our little rascal, I was virtually lacing up my running flats as soon as I closed the clinic door behind me in order to go for a run and test our Chariot on this occasion. Not caring much about postnatal gymnastic because as soon as I could see my feet again, I felt strong and ready to start where I had stopped before.

Big mistake…! Since my pelvic floor was still far too weak to keep up with high impact sports, I had to plan my jogging route around public toilets if I did not want to put one of Konsta’s nappies on. Luckily my ingenuousness did not cause any permanent damage and recovery yoga lessons paired with some cycling and low intensity training at the gym got me the results I was wishing for in no time. Nevertheless, this time around I did my homework and started some research about exercising after childbirth as I do not want to buy diapers for three family members in the future :)

So, here is what I learned from my doctor, midwife and various books and webpages.
However, please note that every pregnancy, delivery and body is different and the following advice and suggestions do not make up for an extensive consultation from a medical professional.

1. Being patient is the biggest challenge - Allow yourself the time to heal

Loosing weight and feeling at ease with their post baby bodies is on top of the mind of most young mums. But you have to remember that even if it is the most natural thing on earth to give birth, it is still very demanding and puts a lot of stress on the body – especially if perineal tear occurred or a C-section was unavoidable. The good news is, that does not mean you cannot start working on your abdomen soon after leaving the labour ward.
After you have been given green light from your doc, midwife or nurse, kick it off with doing regular Kegel exercises as they will support your recovery by strengthening your pelvic floor muscles which in turn influence many different body functions including a strong bladder and a good posture. Doing Kegels is fairly easy and you can do them anytime and anywhere, e.g. when nursing your baby or whilst taking a shower. Simply take a deep breath and when you exhale, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as if you want to stop the flow of urine and hold it for five seconds before you let go again as you inhale. Repeat these contractions about five to 10 times. After your lochia has stopped, you might want to try some pelvic floor trainers commonly known as Ben Wa or love balls. Don’t be embarrassed :) There are a couple of really sophisticated ones on the market, such as the pelvic weight set “Ami” by Je Joue or Fun Factory’s “Teneo” smartballs, which are carried at a lot of drug stores and respectable online shops.

2. Start with some light activities once you feel ready

…And I mean light. Though I know how hard it can be to stay patient, you will have to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Depending on whether you had a vaginal birth or a Cesarian, regular half-hourly to hourly walks with the pram, yoga and pilates are the most recommended post-partum activities and can be picked up right after your follow-up examination and consultation at your gynaecologist’s which normally will be scheduled about four to six weeks of your delivery. The good thing is, that a lot of hospitals and other institutions offer classes especially for mothers and babies, so that you can take your little squaller along and benefit from meeting and chatting to other mums. Moreover, you can include most of the exercises you will be taught to strengthen your core and abdominal muscles, such as pelvic tilts, glute bridges and leg slides, into your daily routine for even faster results.

3. Let’s get down to business

Depending on your prenatal fitness and your activity level throughout the past nine months, you are now prepared to work out several times a week at a moderate-intensity. Swimming, low-impact aerobics, a turn on the cross trainer and notably cycling are ideal for a smooth start. Start with 30 minutes sessions three times a week and extend your routine once you make progress. Make sure that you stay hydrated, allow for enough recovery and contact your physician if you experience abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding nausea or dizziness. Nowadays a lot of gyms offer child care solutions, so that you can enjoy some me-time without worrying about your little one.
If you are keen on cycling, cross-country skiing, walking or running, I can only recommend to invest in a Chariot instead of a regular stroller. They come with a lot of equipment, e.g. a special baby seat called the Infant Sling, which even allows you to use it as a pushchair for your newborn. [Read more about our experiences with the Chariot Cougar here.]

Last but no least keep in mind that you still have a certain level of the hormone relaxin in your body. During the past nine months its job was to loosen your joints and ligaments in preparation of giving birth. But it can cause the connective tissue to remain soft even months after giving birth. Thus, please be extra careful when you start sports again that put stress on your knees and ankles. Also take care if you were suffering from abdominal separation as it can take some time to heal properly. Crunches and sit-ups have to be avoided until you are fully cured.

This warning passed on there is only one thing left to say: Enjoy your workout and don’t forget to share your personal experiences in the comment section!

On the road with baby Konstantin

By Cycling Dad:

One part of the reason why this blog has got its name is due to the special baby pram we decided to get for Konstantin earlier this year - a Chariot Cougar. The Chariot enabled us to actually become Cycling Parents, without necessarily depending on a baby sitter. One thing you have to know about Chariots is that they come from the future and usually live in outer space. On earth, they are hiding in plain sight by being sold as Child Transport Systems and taking different shapes. Here are some mugshots from the manufacturer’s website:

Ours is a bicycle trailer with an occasional sideshow appearance as jogger. If we were asked about the best purchase we made in 2012, this would have to be it. The Chariot Cougar has allowed us to take Konstantin along anywhere, from cycling weekends in Styria and Lake Neusiedl to hiking tours on the Nassfeld and Zugspitze mountains to long strolls through Vienna and the Schoenbrunn Place park. We especially enjoyed the cycling tours we made as a family. Since we knew that Alex is pregant again, we have not had that much time to go out on rides together, but we have already started making plans for 2013. Hopefully, this blog will also become a collection of cycling stories with our children over time.

This past weekend provides me with the first story. As the regular visitor to this blog may know, I am following a three week training cycle, with one rest week between the cycles. This past week was a rest week, and as a result I only spent half an hour on the static trainer on Wednesday and went for shorter, slower one to two hour rides on Saturday and Sunday. For the first time since September, I loaded the Chariot with baby food, diapers, (polar-dressed) baby Konstantin and hit the road. I took Konstantin out on both days, but screwed up the first recording on the Garmin, so I can only show you the longer Sunday ride. Alex decided to stay at home and spent an hour on the static trainer, so it was Konstantin and me against the world.

There are a few dedicated long-distance cycling paths nearby, so chosing a route mainly off the main roads was quite easy. Not that there would be any problems in riding main roads – the Chariot comes with two bright tail lights, reflective stripes all around and a little flag raising from the tail end to ensure visibility. I always found motorists to be driving much more carefully when passing us with the baby carrier than on solo or group rides. Here are the details fresh from the Garmin (may take a few moments to load and appear on the page):

It was a beautiful winter ride on dry roads, with cold but crisp air and fully recovered legs. Konstantin enjoyed the ride, had a good look at the areas we were passing through and eventully fell asleep for about one hour. He woke up shortly before we got home and had a big lunch afterwards. Who was pulling the trailer again?? With so many new impressions, I am sure that we will again sleep well tonight.

Pulling a trailer is work. You notice not only when going uphill (check out my heart rate during the ride). The Chariot comes at 11kg, Kontantin has around 9kg and all the gear adds another 5-10kg. Still, hooked up to a decent bike you can easily sustain a 25k average speed in the flat and enjoy a good workout.

What I enjoyed most next to the ride was having the opportunity to spend some time with my son, while giving him some outdoor time in the fresh air and Alex a bit of a break from looking after our little bugger. He may still be too young to fully realize what is going on, but I hope that he will remember some of our rides and maybe learn to enjoy sports as part of a healthy lifestyle himself. I am planning to take Konstantin for more rides in the future, and am looking forward for Alex to join us again next summer.

Stay tuned for more stories from the Cycling Parents.