Bikes and Babies: New Mom Jane Marshall’s Return to Training and Winning!

By Mara Abbott
Olympian and CTS Contributing Editor

It may have been the opening for my entire cycling career – a super-cool upperclassman invited me to go mountain biking with her in my first weeks as an impressionable freshman still identifying as a swimmer. She said I should join Whitman College’s cycling team. Jane Rynbrandt (now Jane Marshall) quickly became my teammate and one of my best friends. When she began her career as a coach with CTS, I managed to tag along and become a CTS athlete. Last August, Jane and her husband Brad had their first baby, Finley David Marshall. This June, Jane entered her first race post-baby, the Bailey Hundito. She won the women’s Pro-Open category, and followed that with another victory the very next weekend in the marathon category at Battle at the Bear.  Suffice to say, Finn is getting some practice smiling and waving from the top of the podium.

I got to chat with Jane this week about her experience returning to fitness and competition after having a baby. We talked about guilt, weight loss, breastfeeding, nutritional challenges, what came easily and what didn’t. Any athlete who is pregnant, has an infant, or is considering having a baby will appreciate Jane’s insights into perseverance, patience, listening to our bodies, committing to goals and remaining flexible in the face of physical changes and shifts in life circumstances. Mama Marshall has wisdom for us all.

Mara: After you had Finn, what was your plan for getting back into shape? Did you have specific goals?

Jane: First thing – Doctors don’t clear you to ride for six weeks after you give birth, and I didn’t really want to ride my bike immediately. After about five or five-and-a-half weeks, I was ready to get back on the bike saddle. My goal coming back was to race Breck Epic this year, which is in August – so, one year after having Finn. I was looking for a fun comeback mountain bike stage race, getting to go ride all the trails in Breckenridge all week long, with aid stations and course markings, and not having to stop that much to look at maps.

My other plan was, after taking so much time off and kind of starting from scratch, to rebuild and do it right. I know more about training than I did when I first started riding, so I took this as an opportunity to hit the reset button. I did more strength, core work, and yoga than I had done before. In part because, you know, your body changes when you have a kid, so I spent a lot of time strengthening during the first couple months.

Ready for the first ride after having Finn.

At what point were you able to feel like you were really riding, and training and gaining fitness again?

Probably January, so four or five months after, I finally felt better on the bike. Part of that was my power output coming back up and the other part was getting my weight back down.

What was that like for you? Did you struggle to get your weight back down?

No, it’s interesting because mothers who breastfeed seem to fall into two groups – women who breastfeed and cannot lose an ounce of weight, and those who breastfeed and lose weight really easily. I was in the second category, so by maintaining a healthy diet, breastfeeding Finn, and riding six to ten hours a week I lost everything and then some.

Is that a different challenge, then, to keep on top of calories now that you are riding again?

It’s a little different. As an athlete, you listen to what your body craves. I eat whole fat yogurt, I eat avocados, and my fat intake is probably a lot higher than it has ever been. I eat a [big container of] Noosa yogurt every day, and I look forward to it every single day – and I realize I may not want to do that once I’m done breastfeeding. But for now I’m listening [to my body] and making sure I eat enough, although there have been times I have gone on rides and come back and been starving, or gone on rides without enough food.

Making sure you’re hydrating really well [is important], because in the beginning I was producing forty fluid ounces of milk per day – so that’s forty ounces of fluid I have to drink in addition to what I normally need, before taking sweat losses into account. Those were kind of all interesting things to learn and there aren’t a lot of resources out there for women athletes. [Triathlon Olympic gold medalist] Gwen Jorgensen had her baby at around the same time I did, as did [Ironman champion] Mirinda Carfrae. So, I followed them on social media and they were sharing similar experiences, like the increase in hydration. They were obviously training a whole lot more than I was, but seeing what they were doing along the way was helpful.

What do you think was the most helpful tip you picked up from them?

Probably being OK with the amount of food I was eating. It seemed like a lot. I’d heard from other moms it was normal, but in cycling you kind of have this… it’s always a battle. Also, seeing other moms struggle to lose weight while I was losing it somewhat quickly – especially after the first three or four months – [I wondered] “Is there something wrong? Am I doing something wrong? Am I providing enough for Finn?” There’s kind of the stigma, too. You exercise and milk production drops, and then feeling kind of guilty about going out, but I found I had more energy and I was happier, especially to come back and see him if I got even an hour ride in.

So you felt guilt about exercising because maybe that meant your body couldn’t provide as well for your baby?

Provide, yeah, and about the time away. Especially at first, and with your first kid, you leave him with someone else and you’re out exercising and you feel like you should be back to take care of him. Or you’re worried something is going to go wrong. But every time I would walk in the door he would be completely happy and fine, and excited to see me when I came home. So, it got better and better and easier to feel OK taking that time for myself.

It seems like it helped make you a better mom, too.

Also, you know, a lot of women struggle with postpartum depression. Similar to doing a big race or event, it’s like the big culmination. You’ve been working toward this thing for nine months or longer and it happened, and there’s kind of the big let down, hormones and all of that. And then you throw in sleep deprivation… I know a lot of women who struggle with postpartum and I was expecting it, but getting out helped, just walking and exercising felt fine early on. I didn’t struggle with it as badly as I thought I might.

What made you decide you were ready to race again?

A couple things – getting back out there and having fun riding my mountain bike. The cool part was the technical stuff came back faster than the fitness. The fitness, my threshold was probably down fifty watts or more when I started back, but the technical riding came back faster, so that made it fun riding my mountain bike. Having sat out for a year-and-a-half, almost two years, and seeing all the athletes I work with go through their events and race and compete and train… I was excited to get back out there and experience all the things I talk about with them on a daily basis. I wanted to get out and be able to challenge myself, but being a mom also changed my perspective on racing. I get to go and have “me time” for five hours… it was a total treat, just to go out and ride my bike and have it be selfish fun time. It’s still kind of part of the job; I think it makes me a better coach.

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Was it hard to watch other people while you were pregnant, knowing that you couldn’t participate at that level?

It was harder last summer. We moved back to Colorado in the fall [of 2016] and then I got pregnant. Last summer everyone was out mountain biking and road riding in all these beautiful places and I couldn’t really partake in any of that – you can only hike so far when you are eight months pregnant.

Did you ever worry, before or during the pregnancy, that you weren’t going to be able to get back up to your physical level?

Pregnancy is something I had never put my body through. You see some women who come back and they’re super strong and everyone talks about “mom strength”, but you take almost a year-and-a-half off from hard training and serious riding. I was riding and hiking… but you know your fitness is going down and down and down. Yeah, I was definitely nervous, but [it was] also motivating to come back and work hard… towards the end, the last couple months when it’s really hard being pregnant, everything hurts and you’re huge and you waddle around… it’s something to look forward to, to work hard and get back into shape.

What did it feel like to get back to the place where you were ready to go and race again?

My first race was awesome, I had a big ass smile on my face the entire time. I am kind of glad Bailey ended up being my first race. It’s small, a fun atmosphere, and just great trails. Going out and racing after having gone through labor… nothing is as hard as that. I kind of reminded myself a couple times when things started to get hard that this is nothing compared to what I went through when I had Finn. It doesn’t hurt, not even a fraction of it, so I had a new appreciation for riding and racing. Having Finn and Brad waiting for me at the finish was pretty special, too. It was great knowing they were going to be there, especially for the last couple miles when things started to hurt really bad.

I did notice you managed to get that classic baby-on-the-podium picture…

It was fun. People say, “It looks like you won a baby!” It’s also kind of, not bragging, but “I have a nine-month-old baby and look at what I did!” and feeling really proud of that.

Are you comfortable seeing yourself as a role model, able to hold that space for people who are pregnant or looking to have a baby?

I think so. Things have changed a lot in the last 5 to 10 years in terms of what doctors will let you do while you are pregnant. Obviously every woman and pregnancy is different. I was fit and active before I got pregnant and biked, hiked and walked as much as I comfortably could during my pregnancy. Seeing other athletes, like Serena Williams, Gwen and Rinny going through pregnancy and postpartum recovery at the same time was motivating for me. I wanted to rebuild my fitness to be able to ride with my athletes, do camps and race again. I hated getting passed by everyone (and I mean everyone) riding my road bike up Deer Creek and that just added fuel to the fire. I saw it as a challenge to come back. Finn is an easy baby, but getting him on a good schedule was a game changer for me and being able to plan my workout time around my coaching and his feeding and naps allowed me to get workouts done. It wasn’t always pretty, I’ve fed him in my bike kit post rides more times than I can count. It’s hard, just like everyone tells you, Brad and I reminisce about going for long rides and then laying on the couch for hours after to recover, but I can’t imagine life without Finn.

What was the most different for you coming back compared to your expectations?

For me, I thought the weight loss part was going to be harder and I thought rebuilding the fitness was going to be easier, and it ended up being the opposite.

Would you put anything to practice as a coach?

For parents with young kids, absolutely. Communicate with your coach about how tired you are from stuff off the bike. The sleep deprivation thing is a real big deal. If you try to deal with that and train hard and do your real job and take care of your family, it’s really tough. I remember something Dean [CTS coach Dean Golich] told me when I first started at CTS, that you could do two things really well. It was at a time when I was thinking about coaching, going back to school, and racing my mountain bike. He was like, “You can do two things really well but not three, as far as where your energy goes.” That stuck with me for a long time and it does ring very true. If I didn’t have good help with Finn, there’s no way I could take care of him, coach, and train. There’s a difference between riding and training. It’s very true, and I understand that more now.

So… are you on track for Breck Epic?

Yeah. We’re just doing three days of the Epic, but it’s still three big fun days of mountain biking in Breck.

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Comments 1

  1. Great job, Jane and congrats on the wins and the baby! Sorry we missed you in Aspen, but look forward to seeing you sometime again thru CTS!

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