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How Motherhood Made Me a More Successful Pro Athlete

For Chelsey Magness, motherhood helped up her game as a professional endurance athlete — here's how she balanced those lives and makes the best of both worlds.

Chelsey Magness, professional endurance athlete, gives her tips on motherhood(Photo/Chelsey Magness)
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From the time they were in my womb, both of my boys have been accustomed to lots of movement. At just 24 hours old, they felt the wind and sun on their skin. Now, at ages 6 and 4, being active outside is something that’s been ingrained in their lives.

My name is Chelsey Magness, and I’m a professional endurance athlete and mountain bike racer. My husband, Jason, is my adventure racing partner. And together with our two boys, as a family, we go outside every day. Whether biking around the block (or on a multiday bikepacking trip), heading up to the mountains to ski, trekking to our favorite climbing crag, or paddling down a river for days. Our family loves spending time together outdoors.

And the boys are very used to seeing Jason and I take turns training every day, often asking, “Which one of you is heading out now?” or saying, “It’s your turn, Mama! Go, Mama, go!!”

It’s one of the many aspects of being a mother that’s actually made me a better endurance athlete. It’s given me more motivation, helped me stay more present, pushed me to carve time out for myself, and taught me an awful lot about what it means to be a team.

Making a Family, Planning Our Training

At first, I was so scared of having kids. I thought that I would lose my sense of self and that all of my “me” time would be gone.

“How will I keep training and racing?” “If we have kids, will this be the end of our career?” “How will we do it all?” I asked my husband over and over again during our pre-kid talks.

Jason knew he wanted to have a family from a very young age, but I was not so sure. I saw the world in black and white. You either did something or didn’t; you either got something or didn’t — it was simple. But Jason saw many more shades.

After lots of talks and voicing each other’s fears, dreams, hopes, and worries about starting a family, we made some promises and a plan. Together we would support one another in all the ways we could to race, train, and adventure while growing a family. Adventure, adaptability, resiliency, and community would be our family cornerstones. 

And with that, we started to build our family piece by piece. It didn’t go exactly as planned. There was some trauma and broken hearts. But in the end, these things only made our family stronger. 

Racing Through Pregnancy

Chelsey Magness, professional endurance athlete, gives her tips on motherhood; (photo/Chelsey Magness)
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

As promised, Jason helped get me out the door throughout both pregnancies and after them. We both knew how much moving outside helped me emotionally, mentally, and physically. So making it a habit every single day helped me keep my sense of self throughout all of the many changes my body, mind, and heart went through.

Three months after Max and his twin brother (who is now a Spirit) were born, I entered my first race. It was both extremely hard and healing at the same time.

When Max was 6 months, I placed third at the Telluride 100 miler mountain bike race. I had to stop twice to feed Max out on the course, which only added to the excitement of it all. On Max’s first birthday, Jason, I, and our other two teammates (Jason’s twin brother and friend) lined up for Godzone, a prestigious 10-day expedition race in New Zealand. We took seventh place — the best finish by Americans ever.

And when Max was 2 months away from his second birthday, Jason, Alex Provost, Lars Bukehaven, and I won the Patagonian Expedition Race — a race our team had been trying to win for nearly 10 years.

As a beautiful bonus, it was in the middle of that race I also found out that I had been carrying an extra teammate. Revel Wilder, my youngest, was born 8½ months later. 

Becoming a Better Athlete and Mother

At first, these successes seemed like lucky coincidences. Maybe it’s because I had more red blood cells from having babies, I suggested to my husband.

“I don’t think so, Chelsey,” he said matter of factly. “It’s because our focus has narrowed down, and we have gotten so much smarter and better at both training and recovering. Isn’t it so cool!” he exclaimed. “Since having kids, you have become so much stronger and better as an athlete!” 

And he was 100% correct. In the years that followed, our adventure racing team (Team BendRacing) has become the top adventure racing team in North America. I’ve become the 24-hour mountain bike World Champion. And my husband, along with teammate Daniel Staudigel (who also has young kids), recently broke the world record on the Yukon 1,000 paddle race. 

Below are a few tips that I believe completely transformed my training and the way that I think about it. And while I could go on and on about how amazing having kids is, having them is not a requirement. You can apply these to your life and training with or without kids.

But mothers, in particular, will hopefully find some wisdom in these tips. Because they certainly helped me.

Tip #1: Make You and Your Time a Priority 

As mothers, it is often hard to justify taking time out for ourselves. There are always a million other things we could be doing instead. Playing with our kids, doing laundry, cooking dinner, picking up anything and everything around the house, the list is long and endless … and it will always be there. 

Before we had kids, Jason and I talked at length about how important it was that I got out and made time for myself. I knew that if I didn’t get outside daily to do my training, meditation, or walks, I would not be my best — and I really like being my best for my family. And it turns out they also like that version of me the best.

Early in parenthood, we found out the hard way what it looks like when I don’t get my time in. I had been putting the family and our needs before my personal needs for a few days, and I had what I call “an adult meltdown.” I became resentful and became what my oldest called “a mean Mommy.”

“Mama,” said Max, who was just 2½ at the time. “It’s time for you to go outside.” 

Even at that young age, he knew exactly what I needed, and to this day, he still reminds me when it’s time for one of us to take some space. Now he will say, “I need to go get some wiggles out.”

Taking time for yourself, whether it be for training, mental health, or recovery, is always a good thing for everyone in the family. I know it’s cliché, but I now know it to be true: “When Mama is happy, everyone is happy.”

Tip #2: Get a Coach and Trust the Process 

Chelsey Magness, professional endurance athlete, gives her tips on motherhood; (photo/Chelsey Magness)
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

I cannot tell you how much this has transformed my overall training and well-being. Having someone who I trust and who knows my lifestyle and goals is so amazing. Before getting Jason as my coach, I would wake up and guess at what I thought I should be doing. I found myself second-guessing my training, which led to not being confident when it came to racing.

After Jason came on as my coach, my whole mindset changed, and I found that I was able to let go of a lot of worry and anxiety. In its place came more energy and focus for my “training assignments.”  Having someone to check in with, talk to, and help track my progress helps me trust the process and get to the start line with a full bank of confidence — in both myself and my training.

If you are not into getting a coach for whatever reason, I can empathize with that as well. Try teaming up with a buddy, at the very least. Set some goals and tell them to each other, and then check in with them every day or a few times a week.

I love this, as my accountability partner also happens to be my husband, coach, and adventure racing teammate. So we check in daily and help get each other out the door to do our training. 

Tip #3: Stay Curious 

Your thoughts play a bigger role than you think. If you think something is going to be really hard, then it probably will be. However, if you imagine yourself having fun and being open to whatever comes your way, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.

I have a bad habit of thinking about everything that could go wrong. But luckily, my husband is the exact opposite. He’s an “eternal optimist,” and it’s his superpower. The night before the 24-hour mountain bike World Championships, I was having a bad case of imposter syndrome.

“What if I get my butt kicked and make an absolute fool of myself?” Jason looked at me and let me go on with a crooked half-smile. “What if my bike breaks? What if I break?!” 

“Oh babe, but what if you absolutely crush it?!” he countered. “Thinking about all of the what if’s is a waste of your energy. Just go out there and do what you know how to do. Ride your bike and have fun doing it.”

That night I did my best to breathe through all of the negative thoughts that came and went. Between the breaths, a mantra came to me: be curious.

“Let’s be curious about how you’ll feel during each lap,” I thought to myself. “About how well you’ll manage your power and nutrition, how the night laps will be,” and so on. 

Being curious about it all immediately took the expectation and the worry out of me. That was a year ago, and I ended up winning that race. To this day, I still use “be curious” in my everyday training and for my races. It keeps me thinking with an open mind which, for me, keeps the pressure and the negative thoughts at bay.  

Tip #4: Make Recovery Equally as Important as Your Training Days 

Chelsey Magness, professional endurance athlete, gives her tips on motherhood; (photo/Chelsey Magness)
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

Once I had kids, my time for training was cut in half, which meant that I also had more time off. I thought that would negatively affect my training and racing. However, the opposite happened. The more days off I had, the harder I could train on my “on” days. I noticed that I had more to give during my training. The sessions were shorter but more intense, and I was fully present for all of them.

Once I figured out that it was because I was getting more rest than usual, I got an Oura Ring. It tracks my sleep and heart rate variability to make sure I am working out on the days when my “readiness” is high. I started paying more attention to my stress levels and got an infrared sauna and Marc Pro to double down on my recovery days even more.

I’m prone to overtraining. So it’s been a long process to get to this place of loving recovery days. However, I am finding that as I age, recovery days help me recharge and give me more power to push harder on my training days. 

Gifts of Motherhood: The Final Word

Motherhood has been an amazing journey full of ups and downs. Never in a million years could I have told you that I would be a better athlete after having kids. But it is the truth.

And not only do I think I am a better athlete, but I am also a better partner, friend, daughter, sister, and human since becoming a mother as well. The gifts from all of my boys are endless, and I am eternally grateful and humble.

For more reflections on motherhood and professional athleticism, check out Magness’ website, www.endurancemama.com — and to follow Team BendRacing, check out their website.

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