Even if you haven’t been watching the World Athletics Championships, you’ll have heard that Jess Ennis-Hill has won the World Championship Heptathlon, just 13 months after giving birth to her first child. It’s not so different from my post this time last year when Jo Pavey won the 10,000m at age 40, just 11 months after giving birth.
So what do these two phenomenal women have in common? Yes, they’re superb athletes and yes they have a team of people helping them but they’ve both been very open in how hard they found it coming back to training after giving birth. It’s one of those things you just can’t explain to somebody who hasn’t done it, your body doesn’t feel the same and you’re not quite sure how it’s going to work. I remember all too well going for my first run 8 weeks after giving birth – I wondered how my body would be and literally managed a jog around the block before I thought my insides were going to fall out (!) I kept at it though and run by run, week by week got back to previous fitness levels, culminating in my first marathon which I ran two years after having my 3rd child. Don’t worry, I’m not comparing myself to these great athletes, just making the point that even amateurs like me can get there with a slowly, slowly, catchy monkey type approach.
Jess started her training by getting on a stationary bike in her garage. She managed 15 minutes and wondered how on earth she was going to get back to full fitness. Even her coach doubted that she’d ever be as strong and fit. What Jo Pavey and Jess Ennis-Hill have both been very clear about is not only how hard it was to start with but also how strong their focus has been while they are training. As a Mum, they’ve had to juggle motherhood with training and both describe loving the fact that they completely switch off (from their training) while they’re with their baby, something neither of them had done previously. With set times when they could train, they both had the mindset of ‘give it everything as I can’t come back later’.
History tells us that retaining an Olympic title after having a baby is a seriously big ask. Only two women have ever done it – one back in 1956 (hurdles) and the other in 2008 (triple jump). Fantastic and impressive as those wins were, they were only one event. Ennis-Hill has 7 events to train for and the added pressure of having been the London 2012 poster girl so the worlds’ eyes will be on her in Rio. It’s a big ask, I wouldn’t want to bet against her though….