Journalist, broadcaster and cyclist Rebecca Charlton chats to Veloine rider Juli on her postpartum journey and asks how she’s found the key to juggling it all. Spoiler: There is a lesson for us all in the cycling community.
“How are you always so motivated to ride?” is a comment I’m so often asked on social media, usually after a particularly condensed flurry of full-kit-selfies. If you’re reading this, chances are you have already discovered the delicious merits of cycling, or at least you’ve had a taste. The wind in your helmet vents, the sun on your skin, dancing up the climbs with friends, alleviating life’s stresses with each pedal stroke - sound familiar yet?
Sorry to interrupt the idyllic image for a moment but the truth is I often have to stick a post it note somewhere to remind myself to get out of the door when I’ve had a long day, it’s potentially going to rain, I can’t find my right sock and, well, I’ve created a list of excuses as long as my arm to justify my position on the sofa.
Finding motivation when you have to
Perhaps it’s not a post it note these days as instead I wax lyrical about my positive experiences on-board the bike and plaster it on social media as a reminder, to myself and others, that it’s always worth it. I can’t recall many times when I haven’t returned from a ride beaming, or at least in a significantly better mood than when I left the house. But when you have the option, it can be easy to procrastinate because of course we all have good days and bad days on the bike. The double puncture experiences when you run out of tubes, and then the heavens open, oh and then you cut your finger on the flint sticking through your tyre and can’t get the new rubber back on the rim… OK, just me? But what if your window of opportunity to ride suddenly reduces for any number of reasons? You fast find that you have to be motivated to get out when you have the chance or your relationship with cycling can all too quickly wane. The longer you leave it the easier it is to forget how wonderful it can make you feel.
I recently took over the Instagram reins here at Veloine and sat down with Juli - you’ll be familiar with her from the beautiful Veloine imagery supporting the pregnancy range. She refused to put cycling on the back burner while she was pregnant and constantly found herself telling people “I am not sick, I am pregnant”. She is armed with a huge amount of advice and inspiration for those on the prenatal and postpartum journey but not only that, for people like myself who are just bloomin’ busy most of the time.
Juli is a vastly experienced multi-discipline rider but this wasn’t always the case, in fact she admits that at one point she pretty much hated cycling. But that all changed when her father got her into the sport, ‘rented’ a bike which in fact he later confessed he bought, threw her in the deep end and the rest was history. Juli continued to be active the whole way through the pregnancy but met criticism, she explains: “I had all of the judgments, ‘you can’t do that, you’re going to harm the unborn child, ’it’s too stressful so just stop it.’ Knowing I was going to have a child was the most freaking experience I ever had because it came like a shock but the moment I had the thought that I could do it my way, then I felt at peace.”
I think that regardless of your path it’s always useful to stop comparing yourself to others and garner a range of advice that works for you.
Should I, could I, would I? Rely on your intuition.
“You can talk to different doctors and if they’re into sport they’ll tell you that moving is a good thing and if not she or he will tell you to avoid it,” continues Juli. “ So at some point you have to decide ‘do I want to do it the way I feel it, or the way other people are telling me to do it?’ I did it my way and it felt the best way ever. For me being pregnant wasn’t that dreamy beautiful feeling. I felt a lot of the things I loved were taken away from me and I eventually had to get from my racing bike to my mountain bike and slow down. Being able to keep doing sports really helped me with that feeling because I was still doing something. In the end I think it’s your intuition that helps you the most. Don’t pressure yourself, you can be absolutely active but you may feel differently when you get pregnant. Your body limits you - you’re huge at the end and you will just adjust to what you are capable of doing.”
Again, I believe this is a lesson for us all in the cycling community. There’s a temptation to stop listening to your body when it’s limiting you, but this is the crucial time to pay attention. I’ve had many a time when I’ve prolonged an injury or illness through sheer stubbornness in not wanting to stop, slow down or miss out. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? It can work both ways I find. When you can’t get out due to life getting in the way you’re desperately full of the fear of missing out, so I try to remember this on my priority list.
Adapting to new circumstances
Juli is now adapting to ‘life with the mini human’ as she describes it and she found she wanted to return to the bike pretty quickly. Once again she urges people not to compare their journeys too much. Social media is great at showing a snapshot but everyone’s path has its own road-bumps.
"Listen to your body because it’s going to tell you. I had a c-section so I was able to get on my bike a lot earlier. Do not compare yourself, my story is not going to be the same as yours,” continues Juli. “I didn’t go cycling in the way I usually did until the second month, then I just did 20 minutes on the trainer, or one hour outside just to feel good and comfortable again in my own body and on the bike. I thought ‘Now I’m back!’” Juli jokes about finding someone to hold the baby while she goes out for a bike ride, “Find yourself some friends, family, whoever and give them the baby,” she laughs. But support is everything when you’re juggling life’s demands. Realistic plans are the answer in my mind. You may not get the five hour ride in, with a long lunch stop that some people are enjoying but you’ll find something that taps into those benefits we all fell in love with cycling for.
Plans not working out? Try again next day.
“At the beginning I used the indoor trainer,” continues Juli. “Babies sleep a lot at the beginning so I would put him in the maxi-cosi - and then I would sit there for 20 minutes on my roller and just look at the baby!”
I always turn to Zwift when I’m busy and finding it a challenge to reacquaint myself with cycling. Whack on ‘less than an hour to burn’ and you can really feel you’ve blown out the cobwebs. Of course we all have different reasons for riding and indoor life may not be for you but there are a great number of solutions to feeling active when you’re time poor and I think this is one of the best. Sometimes just doing something is enough.
“Even if I have expectations for myself, I don’t have to be disappointed if it’s not working out. It’s normal, I just try again the next day. Try to stay positive that there will be a day that you’re going to get back on your bike. There’s going to be a day when it’s going to be better - there’s always sh**ty days but you’ll get through it and that’s the biggest lesson you have from pregnancy,” says Juli.
Live in the moment, even when it's not perfect
I revisit the question I’m so frequently asked about unearthing the constant motivation to ride and Juli’s perspective is infectiously positive. “Usually I’m so excited, because I couldn’t do it on the other days so I just know it’s going to be a release of everything - that keeps me going out because I know afterwards I will feel so much better than before. Even if it’s raining and you’re tired. I went out and it was wet and I was covered in mud but I was so happy I’d done it. You have to just live the moment and love the way it is. It’s never perfect but it’s cool enough.”