Note: This article was first published in 2019 but we like to bring it up from time to time to celebrate the incredible moms we see every day on the course!
To celebrate Mother’s Day we talked to two of our most loved female athletes: two incredible women with very different journeys into OCR, but with one big thing in common, being a Mom who races.
Natalie Miano is an Elite racer, and mother of two boys, and Rose Wetzel also an Elite female, and mother to one girl. Both hail from the USA and started racing in 2014.
What was your journey into OCR like?
Looking back, my first two years of training for and traveling to OCR races may have been more about affirming my athletic ability and lifestyle I had prior to having kids. My mental and physical state at the time was largely affected by severe sleep deprivation, a stressful and unsupportive work environment, and a late onset of postpartum depression.
Training for OCR gave me small goals to work on every day. There was great sense of accomplishment with each and every little success. It was new and exciting. It got me out of my funk because I didn’t or couldn’t compare my stats to pre-pregnancy abilities. It was incredibly empowering to prove to myself that I could lift heavy things and climb, jump, and crawl like a beast! And it was something I could train for with my babies- at playgrounds and parks and in my backyard. I was the “fun mom” at the park! It was exactly what I needed at a challenging time.
Before OCR, I ran middle distance track in high school and college, then dabbled in triathlons and endurance bike rides before settling on track again (and road races, mainly 5ks plus a few half and full marathons) for many years. Once I stumbled into OCR, I got totally hooked!
What were your goals in OCR when you started?
I wanted to race Elite- like not just register Elite… I wanted to be in the hunt for a top ten spot every race. Early goals like being able to do monkey bars, climb a rope, and get through a rig with hanging ropes were really fun to conquer. I still get hung up on difficult rigs, so there is still so much to work on!
The first time I raced, I had no idea what to expect. My friend Chad Trammel suggested I try an obstacle course race after I failed to make the U.S. Olympics Trials, so I thought, “Sure, why not?” without any idea of what I was getting into, both race-wise on that day, and life-wise, in how it changed the entire course of my athletic career.
What difficulties did you face when you first began running OCR?
Well, for one, I was failing every grip or heavy obstacle. And I wasn’t only getting beat up by the obstacles- often the rugged terrain roughed me up pretty bad. There were a lot of “why am I doing this to my body” moments. But for some reason, they didn’t stop me from getting excited for my next race.
The first time I raced OCR, nobody was in front of me the first half of the race, so I had no idea what to do on some of the obstacles. I remember running up to a big pile of wood next to a pile of cement blocks with chains in them and looking at the volunteer, anxiously asking, “What do I do?!” with fierce competition hot on my heels.
How did pregnancy and childbirth affect your participation in OCR, and sport in general?
I was active before I became pregnant, and I knew I’d be active after. Fitness is a behavior I intend to keep through my lifetime. After becoming a mother, I found that negative body image thoughts that would occasionally creep into my mind and definitely hinder my growth and improvement, were at bay. I rarely look in the mirror and see something I’m not happy with. I’m much more confident in my body and able to be much more performance-driven rather than trying to look a certain way. I am a mom of two- it is what it is- little mom bulges and a softer body are more than welcome after the gift I was given to become a mother!
Throughout my pregnancy, I got lucky in that I didn’t have much morning sickness and I ended up being able to run my entire pregnancy. My pace was much slower, of course, but I found ways to stay motivated and stay involved in the community. While I did race an all-out 13 mile OCR while pregnant, I was only a few weeks pregnant and I didn’t know it (though I sure felt extra tired)!
Once I found out I was pregnant, I did one 5 mile OCR at four months pregnant, staying well-hydrated, jogging with a friend, skipping a couple obstacles that just didn’t seem like they would feel good to do. I watched races whenever I could and enjoying cheering on others. I was sidelined, true, but because I always wanted a baby, it was much easier than being sidelined from an injury.
I ran/jogged/walked a half marathon at seven months and did a 200m run the week I was due, partly because I needed goals to stay motivated to work out while pregnant, but partly because I loved getting to line up on a start line with a big smile, feel the wind on my face, and enjoy the community after the race, when people are generally feeling pretty happy and proud of themselves.
Races provide such good energy to be around that even if I wasn’t competing while pregnant, I felt drawn to come out for the 27 OTHER reasons I love racing.
Have your goals changed since you became a mother?
Not really- I have new goals as I’m training for a new sport, but I have a similar zest for chasing down goals. I didn’t intend to water down my goals after becoming a mom. I do, however, put less pressure on myself in general as my priorities have definitely shifted… mom first always. Anything after that is icing on the cake in my mind.
My goals haven’t really changed a lot since becoming a mother. I’ve always taken good care of my body, and I truly enjoy racing, for a wide variety of reasons, so I don’t see physical or emotional burnout on my horizon.
I see my exercising and racing as a good example for my daughter. She has seen me persevere through some tough times, and these aren’t really lessons you learn in school – you learn them in life. In order to care for my daughter, I’m supplementing my income with personal training, so my goals are the same as before performance-wise, as long as I can find an efficient way to train, that allows me to spend lots of time with my daughter each day, while juggling a part-time job, too.
Have you faced any difficulties in OCR since you became pregnant/a mother?
I discovered OCR after having both kids, so all the difficulties I’ve experienced had more to do with gaining experience in the sport in general- nothing related to having kids…other than having a much more compromised training schedule!
My first year racing as a mother was rough, partly because I had a random post-delivery complication (my placenta didn’t come out) that left me with a lot of blood loss, putting me behind the 8-ball in terms of energy/training. I had to dig deep and ask myself how badly I wanted it every day before my run for about a year, when I finally felt strong and fast again.
Has anything changed in the way you run courses or train?
Since having kids, I am definitely tougher. I didn’t do OCR prior to having kids, but I’m tougher in general. There’s nothing more painful than labor!
I’m training differently now, with lower mileage and higher intensity. I don’t want to be gone from my daughter each day any longer than I have to, so I’m truly training with a purpose, making each workout count, and only racing when it matters.
How did you recover from pregnancy and childbirth and regain your fitness?
I was fortunate to have active pregnancies and few complications leading up to two textbook deliveries. With both children, my recovery and road back to physical activity was nothing short of miraculous- and I’m very aware how wonderful and remarkable that is. I didn’t take it for granted and still appreciate the way my body performed!
After my second baby, Nico, I was ready to get my fitness back- I was not even being able to pull my body weight one inch into a pull-up and struggled to do 3 pushups- needless to say it would be a long road for me to be ready to compete in OCR races! But it was training for OCR that motivated me and kept me accountable in my strength-type workouts.
I battled some post-partum depression after I gave birth (that stuff runs in my family) and running had always been a daily dose of therapy/exercise-induced endorphins for me, so I knew that even on days my goals felt incredibly far away and I had no energy to run, I still needed to go, for my mental health. I could slink out the door to go for a run and come back a better mother.
What key piece of advice would you give to new and prospective mothers who want to stay fit/take part in OCR?
Sign up for a race- something to be excited for and hold yourself accountable! But give yourself a good amount of time to prepare- I recommend 4-6 months. If you’re the type to lose focus quickly then 3-4 months. Build up slow and remember everybody has to start somewhere.
Every workout is like putting money in the bank- eventually your deposits will add up and you’ll reach your goal. The important thing is taking the right steps to achieve your goal.
Expect bumps in the road, tired training sessions from your unpredictable mom-schedule, missed workouts when you or your babies catch a cold or it’s just impossible to get a babysitter, and make training opportunities everywhere…even just small “deposits” add up- so a few pull ups or minutes of dead hangs at the park will add up and contribute something to your readiness for your race!
Don’t be bashful- ask lots of questions! Even the top pros in OCR will always take a minute to chat at a race or on social media. They might have a quick piece of advice or tips to help guide your training or execution on an obstacle.
I’ve had many moms say they would like to work out consistently and even do some OCR races, but they feel guilty spending time away from their kids, and I enjoy kindly encouraging them to take time to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally, by exercising – it will give them energy and confidence, making them a better person and a better parent.