Recent mum Barbara Murray ignored critics to complete Strathpuffer – a gruelling 24 hour MTB race held in Scotland back in January. We spoke to her to find out more and to highlight how motherhood and cycling can in fact be a perfect match..
By Cath Harris
Women are proving that motherhood need not rule out tough bike racing – including competition at the highest level.
Against the odds, women are shrugging off the effects of pregnancy and giving birth, and juggling the unceasing demands of a baby, to enjoy time on their bikes.
Setting the example was American Kristin Armstrong whose time trial gold in Rio was her third successive Olympic TT triumph.
Armstrong’s win in London 2012 came just 23 months after the birth of son Lucas.
Dame Sarah Storey was also back in top level action soon after giving birth in 2013, attempting to break the women’s world hour record in 2015 and winning a trio of golds in Rio.
The roll call offroad is no less impressive. American Willow Rockwell gave birth to daughter Raven Starr in December 2011 and within months was back racing professionally, albeit briefly before retiring.
Marie-Hélène Prémont also competed internationally for two years after giving birth. The six-time Canadian mtb champion had already won Olympic mtb silver in 2004 and 2006 Commonwealth gold.
Less ambitious but no less impressive was Barbara Murray’s participation in January’s Strathpuffer 24-hour mountain bike race.
Barbara, 35, was a regular road, mtb and cyclo-cross rider before falling pregnant last year. She’d heard that the fabled Strathpuffer was bleak, very hard and mostly in darkness. ‘I really liked the sound of it,’ she says.
With the support of Jon Entwistle a cycling coach and consultant also living in Deeside, north-east Scotland, Barbara took on the challenge.
Her daughter Lucy was born last October and before the month was out Barbara was back in the saddle.
‘Jon was the first person not to laugh when I said I wanted to do it. He was my sounding board and told me what I needed to be able to do.’
‘Easy stuff was fine and I built up the time to an hour which I thought would equate to one lap of the Strathpuffer course.
‘I couldn’t be out for any longer because I was breastfeeding Lucy. Sometimes I would ride from home and my husband, Ian, would bring her in the car. Then we’d swap round. That way we both got to ride.
‘I never worried about improving my skills. I just needed the fitness to be able to ride for a good hour at a time.’
That was the easy bit. Race-day planning was daunting and to look after Lucy a hotel room was booked in Strathpeffer village, three miles from the race’s start, a camper van was parked mid-way around the course and a room was set aside at the start.
Barbara and her three team-mates rode laps in succession giving Barbara time to return to the campervan, or the hotel during the night, to feed Lucy.
‘How to keep her warm and fed was the main issue. Ian had loads of food with him and I had the breast pumps.’
Barbara completed four tough laps in total despite the temperature falling to -11C. ‘Half the course turned into glass,’ she recalls.
Was it worth it? ‘It was a logistical nightmare but totally worth it. If Lucy had been unhappy, I wouldn’t have done it.’
Barbara says that cycling is making her a better mum and has determinedly defied the few doubters.
‘Having a baby causes a seismic shift in your life and especially in October it would have been easy to think that staying in would be best for me and for Lucy.
‘But getting out for an hour and meeting other people, and having normal conversations about what’s going on in the world, has been really important.
‘It’s a chance to clear my mind. It means I can retain some of my identity and gives Ian time to bond with Lucy.’
Many people laughed when Barbara told them she was doing the Strathpuffer. A few claimed she was putting her child second.
‘I wanted to prove them wrong. Who were they to tell me what I could do?
When I return home after a ride I’m a happier person having had a break and some exercise. Cycling is making me a happier mother which in turn is better for Lucy. It’s good for mental and physical health.
‘I’d urge other mums to do what they’re able to do and to do it for themselves and their babies. If you’re going to be happier for getting out on your bike you should do it.
‘You’ll then appreciate even more the time you have with your baby.’
Cath Harris is a freelance writer and proofreader specialising in cycling, environment and adventure travel. Read her work at www.cathharris.co.uk