Michelle Vella Wood, 34, has a 5 year old daughter and is currently finishing off a PhD in Metamaterials focusing on bio mechanical properties of tendons. That isn’t the half of it though, this phenomenal woman is a triathlete and cyclist and has represented the Malta national team in both disciplines. Quite a CV right? Let’s find out more ….
Michelle, for those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about your sporting history?
I started running when I was 11 years old and was hooked from the start. Over the years I have competed in hundreds of races, from track, to running road races, open water swimming, cycling races and various triathlon distances, including a number of Ironman races. I have also notched up several national titles in the various disciplines over the past few years.
Five years ago you became a mother, did you do any sort of training during your pregnancy?
I did try. My intention had been to keep on training throughout but for some reason I used to suffer cramp like pains even when walking, let alone running. I kept up some swimming and cycling for the first half of my pregnancy then I had to reduce significantly. I hadn’t expected this, especially as I had read of many athletes who kept on training till the end.
What advice do you have for mothers that would like to keep fit during pregnancy?
Keep doing the sports you’ve already been doing (provided it’s not bungee jumping). It’s not the time to try anything new but also important to keep active. However, listen to your body. Different women react differently. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Did the fact that you couldn’t train or compete as you were used to have a negative effect on your state of mind?
Yes, I missed it. Sports is a significant part of my life. I made up for it somewhat by volunteering as a Marshall or timekeeper at triathlon and cycling races. This helped especially to keep me in the loop. I really missed my friends, the ones who I met every day to train with. I missed the camaraderie and company.
Did your break in training effect your level of race performance after pregnancy?
There was first a negative effect. I had lost a lot of confidence on the bike and in the swim. It took me some time to regain my feel for them. But then, it turned into a positive effect. There’s something about pregnancy and going through labour that gives a mum so much pain tolerance. That same tolerance that helps you take on sleepless nights and endless hours of carrying the baby…that turned out to be a blessing for sports. All my best performances came in the first 2 years after having my daughter.
I understand you are currently among the top triathletes in Malta, how do you balance your time between your training and being a mum?
Well, to my family, my training is as big a necessity as going to work is for anyone else. Therefore the same arrangements apply. I am truly grateful for the help I get from my husband, sibling, parents, in-laws and my best friends. At the same time, I make it a point to have her with me as often as possible, because that is important for us as a mother-daughter team. I often cycle indoors while watching her, and she sometimes comes to watch my swim session, sitting near my coach (and ‘helping’ him). We stretch together regularly too. Sports is her way of life too and I’m glad to say that so far, she seems to be eager to participate herself.
In your experience what are the biggest challenges mummies face with re-introducing exercise into their lives?
The sheer biggest challenge is the so-called mummy guilt. I suffer from it myself – especially when abroad to race. I do feel guilty because I’m not with her. The other challenge is struggling with body issues. Reality is that few of us come out of pregnancy with intact bodies. Squeezing mine into a trisuit in the first year was not exactly pleasant on the eye hehe. But I’m glad I did. My mummy tummy was on show…but it was worth it. There’s nothing as satisfying as getting back in. A lesser but nonetheless tough challenge is trying to run with bigger boobs…ouch!
Any tips or advice you have to offer for other mums who would like to get back into shape and/or continue to train/compete with children?
Stick with it through the first tough sessions. When I got back on the bike the first time I barely cycled 10 minutes before I died. I was so worried about that first Ironman I had optimistically signed up for 7 months back and that was looming in my future. But I took it one day at a time and I was able to complete that Ironman 6 months after giving birth!
Don’t test yourself, don’t try to do exactly what you could do before. Let your body adapt, and take the time to learn how you’ve changed.
Finally, involve the kids. Let them learn that this is ME time, even when they’re with you and that they have to be patient as you’re sweating your way through the next interval. It does them good.
Do you have any fitness goals for 2017?
I’ve qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World championships September 2017 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. I’m really looking forward to the challenge!