Sam Harrington – a mom back in training
03 November 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. It’s quite funny that this podcast almost follows on from the last one we did where we chatted to Letshego Zulu about what she’s got on the cards as a brand new mother. We’re joined by another fairly new mother on today’s show as well, Samantha Harrington. Samantha, welcome, nice to touch base.
Samantha Harrington: Thank you, it’s good to be chatting to you again.
BB: Sam, it’s incredible, I’m not even sure if you know Letshego, but you’ve got a little one who is almost six months now. Letshego’s little one is eight months, she’s training for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Ultra, she’s also training for half Ironman in Durban, which you’re training for as well. Your little one is just six months old, so you’re also back into the swing of things straight after having a baby, it’s incredible.
You can generally still be active when pregnant
SH: Ja, it’s been good and I think coming from an active background, I was very active throughout, pretty much until D-day. Just wanted to get back into training afterwards. It was a lot harder to get back into training than I thought it would be. But once I got going, it was just a matter of ticking off every single day and just keeping it up and a bit of consistency.
BB: Sam, how active were you during your pregnancy?
SH: I pretty much, cycling is obviously not allowed, just purely from a safety perspective. So I did a few indoor bike sessions, but I kept up the running up until 5-6 months. Then swimming right through and then the good old Orbitrack at the gym became my substitute for running, which was interesting. It was just a matter of finding different ways to train, but I pretty much stayed active right throughout. Started tapered off at about 6-7 months.
BB: You took a little bit of a break after she was born, but you were pretty much back into the swing of things as soon as you could. What was the process after you gave birth?
Starting up again…slowly
SH: I gave it a few weeks, just to see how I felt. Then just started slowly. I gave myself, as long as I could run 2-4 times a week, and see how it went. I started on about a 4-5km loop that I run from home. Then gave myself a distance and a time to run and I just built it up from there.
As I felt stronger, I sort of increased the mileage. I didn’t go and do stupid things and start on 10-15km runs, I just started within reach and started on a 5km run. Then just increased that weekly and did quite a few runs in December and then started cycling again in January.
BB: Coming from someone who has got a pretty serious endurance background, was it frustrating to have to start slowly?
SH: Very! Even now, my mind is saying one thing, which was the old speed that I was running. But my body is telling me the real speed. It has been quite frustrating to get back into it. But it’s definitely getting there and again, it’s just a bit of consistency.
I keep having to tell myself to slow down because I always start too fast and then end up exploding at the end. The last two weeks I’ve been good with myself, telling myself to just back off a little bit, but I’ve actually managed to finish like our track sessions and all of those. Finish the sessions well instead of blowing halfway, so it’s been good, getting there.
Consistency is so important
BB: You mentioned the word ‘consistency’, you coach as well and that’s probably something that you try and hammer into your athletes. That’s the word essentially, is just to make sure you’re consistent and build up slowly.
SH: So that’s my biggest, as you said, I always use it with my athletes and with myself, is just a consistent training. A lot of guys, they’ll miss a couple of sessions and try and make them up and then they’ll get sick. So they’ll have a bad week.
But the best thing for me is just to have a consistent week and slowly increase your mileage weekly as opposed to kind of going from zero to hero and then up injured and sick and all the rest. The best word I still use for everyone is definitely the word ‘consistency.’
BB: As far as performance goes, you mentioned that you tried to pick up from where you left off and run at the pace you were used to. For people who don’t know you, you come from a pretty competitive background as well. You’ve qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, you’ve raced there as well.
So from an athletic ability point of view, you’re a pretty decent athlete. Has that been a really tough thing to wrap your head around? That not only do you need to build up slowly from a distance perspective, but also from a pacing perspective.
SH: It’s just, as I said, with your mind saying one thing and your body saying the other. I’ve just been kind of trying to figure out my pace as of now and will build on that with our track sessions and do similar run routes to sort of see where I am. Various fitness and time trial routes and tests and stuff, just to sort of see and have a base to work off.
I think that’s the biggest thing getting back into training; is to make sure that you kind of start where you should be starting. Not start where you left off possibly before pregnancy and that’s been the biggest thing, just make sure. I’ve done a bit of a programme for myself to make sure I do it properly and go about it properly. So I don’t end up injured and that I can start, get to the Durban 70.3 start line with no injuries and as strong as I can be.
Swim, cycle, run…baby
BB: Sam, talk to me about the juggle and it’s one thing if you’re just running, it’s difficult enough to steal time away to go and run. But you’re training for three disciplines essentially; swim, bike and run. How have you managed that from taking care of the little one? Obviously you’re married as well, so you’ve got a husband to make sure that he’s taken care of. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Was it a difficult thing to get all those balls in the air and keep them in the air?
SH: Especially being a first time mom as well. The first couple of weeks was probably the most hectic, you have no idea what you’re doing from a mother perspective. Then you’re trying to get back into training and you’re tired and obviously the lack of sleep has been a massive thing for me.
Whereas you’re used to getting a good eight hours sleep, now you’re getting broken sleep of maybe three or four hours. From a timing perspective, I think the biggest thing is planning. Instead of just waking up in the morning or you can just wing a lot of stuff, you can go whatever time you want to train, maybe on the weekend. You end up having to do a lot more planning, and making sure that you’re getting the most of your training in, in the time you’ve got.
That’s the biggest thing, is kind of not doing junk miles. I’ve been focusing a lot on specific training and making sure that if I’ve got an hour, I do the most that I can. Or the most beneficial training I can within that hour or two hours etc. To make sure that I obviously get the right stuff in. It has been quite difficult.
BB: I think the thing I take out of that is the planning side of it. You say you’ve got the structure that you don’t just wake up in the morning and we’ll see how today goes, and see where we can put in a training session. You need to be deliberate about what you’re doing and essentially plan a week in advance. So that you know exactly what you’ve got available. Work around that and have a support system that can help you out as well. So that you can go out and get that training in.
SH: It’s definitely, as I said, I’m lucky because I’ve got a very supportive husband. He’s also very sporty as well. When I got back into training we sat and we chatted and we said, okay, what mornings and what evenings. We kind of have got our little training schedule on the fridge so that we know certain mornings are for me and certain mornings are for him.
Then as I said on the weekend, Saturday mornings I go and cycle and he looks after little one. Then Sunday mornings he can go and ride his bike and then I go run with the pram with her now. Which is great because she’s old enough and she’s kind of getting to the point where she loves the running pram. She just sort of sits there and looks out and it’s nice quality time with us as well. That’s been very cool.
Your fitness does take time to come back
BB: Sam, what’s been the biggest surprise to you about having to get back fit and training after having a baby? Something that’s really hit you out of the blue that you didn’t really expect?
SH: That’s a good question. I think probably again, going back to the fitness is, I think it’s sort of, I thought it would come back a lot quicker and it has been six months now. Obviously we had a bit of a rocky start with her and to get back to where I was. I think I did expect it to be a lot quicker than what it possibly has been. But now that I’ve backed off and I have been planning a lot more and really kind of sticking to really specific training; there has been a lot more, probably, improvement in the last 3-4 weeks than I did see in the beginning.
I think just mentally coming from a competitive background and obviously coaching and having my competitive athletes running around with me and cycling and stuff, it’s been quite a mental shift. To just slow now or not even necessarily slow down; you find yourself pushing and everyone is still riding away from you or running away from you. So that’s probably been the biggest mental thing.
BB: Sam, what advice would you give to other new moms who maybe are wanting to get back training or maybe wanting to start training or running? What advice would you give them, how should they go about it?
SH: The biggest thing is to not have expectations or big expectations and just start slowly and build it up slowly. If you miss a day, I find you end up panicking. But if you miss a day, you miss a day. At the end of the day, now I’ve got something that’s more important to me. So if she’s had a bit of an off night and I haven’t slept that much and I’m tired, I’m not going to go and train because I know that it’s not going to benefit me.
The biggest thing is to just take it one day at a time, specifically in the beginning and just get into a routine first with your child. Get to know them, get to know yourself, start slowly and build it up. Chat to your partner and get a bit of support as well. Because the support, I think if you have got that support, it makes a massive difference.
BB: That it does indeed. Sam, best of luck in the build up to that half Ironman in Durban, we look forward to seeing you out on the road and well done. I think you’re inspiring and your story is going to be inspiring to many people as well. I know you do train athletes and you’ve got a pretty big squad that you work with. If people want to find out more about you and what you do, where can they get more details?
SH: We’ve got a website which has got all the details, information etc, it’s www.exercisesolutions.co.za. We’ve also got a Twitter and a Facebook page as well, which is both Exercise Solutions. They’re more than welcome to pop me a mail, even if they’ve got some questions.
If there’s moms out there that need some help or advice and stuff on how I got back, I’m more than happy to help out. They can pop me an email or give me a call and I can give them some advice, anything to help out fellow moms. It’s not an easy road and I think a lot of people take advantage of it or they think it’s a lot easier than it actually is. But it’s been tough but it’s been good and it’s good to be back.
BB: Samantha Harrington, you are an inspiration, best of luck and well done. I think what you’ve done up until now is amazing and I can’t wait to see how you bounce back in the sport of triathlon. Can’t wait to see you on a podium again very, very soon.
SH: I hope so too, it was good to chat to you.
BB: No pressure.
SH: No pressure at all, it’s out there now.
BB: Excellent Sam, take care.