How to Train for MTB Racing with a Family

Managing Being a Mum, Wife and Mountain Bike Racer

with KATE ROSS, Trail Squad

I clearly remember my first thought when I opened Liv's email congratulating me on being selected in the Trail Squad. My excitement was quickly overwhelmed by a feeling of total panic when I saw we were off to the Cape Epic. “There's no way I can find the time to train for something that big!” I thought to myself. I'm a part-time working mother of three children aged 6, 4 and 1. Between work and family commitments, there's not much time left over!

But it turns out… while training is challenging, it's not impossible! By getting organized and making a plan, I’ve been able to keep everyone in the family happy while training for my Cape Epic goal. Here are some of my tips for training with children:

  1. Maintain a Weekly Training Schedule

First up is to prepare a standing weekly training schedule that outlines of when you'll train and for how long. Mine has allowed me to figure out exactly how much training I could do in a week. It has also meant I feel a bit more in control of the task that lies ahead. It factors in the differences between the days my partner, Joel, and I both work, the days I am home with the kids, and the weekends when we're both home. It also takes account of the fact that I am very much a morning person. One thing that hasn't changed since having children, in fact, it's only made it more pronounced, is I can never motivate myself to train in the evening.

  1. Communicate!

My training schedule has also proved to be a really important communication tool with my husband Joel. Knowing that he has to take on solo parenting responsibilities during those times, it was important that we both agreed to the training commitment I was making. We sat down and discussed training times and whether we thought they would work for us both – did it allow Joel enough time to do something for himself too? Where changes have needed to be made, we've made them.

As the primary caregiver in our family, most of the information to keep the family running smoothly was stored in my head. Carrying that mental load was exhausting and barely sustainable before I committed to doing the Cape Epic. So our pantry wall has now become our family's planning zone. A colour-coded rolling calendar sets out everyone's key commitments in the coming months. We also have a weekly planner for meals, food shopping and the list of homemade foods that need restocking. It may sound boring, but it provides me with much-needed respite from being the "knower of all things.”

  1. Be Flexible

Life happens. With little people, in particular, life has a way of interfering with our best-laid plans. So while a plan is important, being flexible is the key to success. 

For example, I've been managing to train pretty consistently but we've had a bad run of illness in our family and I've had to miss a few sessions here and there. I've also had to adapt some sessions to fit in around the increasingly busy social lives of our children. I don't try to make up any missed sessions. Instead, I just accept that I needed to prioritize someone else that day and I throw myself into the next session planned and make sure it counts. 

  1. The Indoor Trainer is your Friend

Getting out on my bike and riding sounds simple, but initially, it seemed impossible to get the kind of saddle time I needed. Living where I do, my access to mountain bike trails is limited (our closest trails are a 1.5 hour round trip away) and hills are non-existent (I can do a 50km ride with only 50m of climbing). Riding my roadie around flat roads for hours on end wasn't going to work for my family nor would it prepare me well for the Cape Epic. I need to train smart.

Although far from my preferred training strategy, much of my training is done on an indoor trainer. I find the sessions excruciating both physically and mentally! But I can already feel that these short but intense sessions are making a difference to my endurance on the bike.

There are so many great apps available to make indoor trainer sessions more effective and enjoyable. If you have access to an indoor trainer, I'd recommend doing the free trial periods of a few different apps to find something that works for you and keeps you engaged.

  1. Whenever Possible, Ride Dirt!

One thing is for sure though; riding so much on the indoor trainer certainly makes me value every opportunity I get to hit the dirt!

Most of my time on the MTB is getting out on my own very early in the morning. I love this time of solitude. But occasionally, we head out to the trails as a family. While it's quite an effort getting a family five, with four bikes and enough snacks to keep everyone from losing it out to the trails, I enjoy these "sessions" the most. They're not particularly effective training (Joel and I usually tag team so we can both get some solo time on the bike) but they're heaps of fun. Joel and I also try to get a babysitter every now and again so we can head out for a date ride (a bit of healthy Strava competition is good for a relationship, right?). And sometimes if I'm really lucky the stars might align and I'll get a ride in with friends who also have children. It's so lovely having a conversation (without children interrupting) while we push each other to try new things on the MTB.

  1. Maximize the Commute

My training also makes the best use of my commutes to work. Door to door, my commute to work takes the same time to ride as it does to take public transport. So it's a no-brainer for me to ride to work. Making those commutes an 'effective' training session has proved a little harder though – I tend to just get on and ride as fast I can to work or home. But over time, I hope to use them more effectively to work on things like a more efficient pedal stroke, sustaining a much higher cadence, etc.

  1. It’s OK to Have a Personal Goal

Maybe the most important thing I’ve noticed since I began training is that my spark is back. I think as a Mum it's easy for me to say, "I can't do that because my kids need me." While all this training feels totally selfish, I'm starting to realize there are benefits for the rest of the family, too. After a training session, I come back into the house feeling emotionally reenergized (even if physically I feel wrecked). By carving out a little bit of my day to work towards a personal goal I've set for myself outside of work and family, my patience with the tantrums, the whining, and just the general hard slog that parenting young children can be, has improved significantly.