Lizzie Deignan: ‘Becoming a mum has made me stronger’

Last March, Lizzie Deignan and husband Phil announced they were expecting their first child. Fast-forward almost a year, their daughter Orla is now five months old and Lizzie is back training again.

We caught up with Lizzie to find out how she’s balancing being a mother with her gruelling training schedule.

First of all, how is motherhood treating you so far?

I’m really enjoying being a mum. Of course, there are times when it can be overwhelming and tiring, but Orla’s laugh and developing character fill me with happiness.

How did your training change as you got closer to the due date?

I refer to the time I spent riding whilst pregnant as exercising rather than training. I cut back completely on intervals and any kind of weight training. My bike rides at the start were still consistently 3 hours but very easy, then tapered towards the end of my pregnancy to just 20 minutes on the Wattbike.

I would have days or weeks where I was unable to do anything and then days where I would feel incredibly strong. During pregnancy, you go through so much change that it is really important to rest when tired.

Did you have to alter your diet in any way during or after the pregnancy?

I altered my diet like any expectant mother does, and avoided the foods that doctors told me not to eat – I definitely missed soft cheeses! I also made sure I was taking a folic acid and iron supplement and that I had more calories than normal.

Did you have to make any adjustments to your bike as your body started to change?

Towards the very end of my pregnancy, I moved my handlebars up to accommodate my growing bump.

Have there been any challenges you’ve faced since becoming a mother that you weren’t expecting?

As a first-time parent, I don’t think it’s possible to anticipate how life-changing becoming a mother is. I didn’t anticipate just how exhausting that first new-born phase can be.

How are you finding balancing training with parenting so far? What’s the main difference in how you were training before?

Balancing training and parenting is difficult, but manageable. Philip is now balancing his new coaching business alongside being a full-time dad after retiring from professional cycling at the end of last season. We’ve settled into a routine with training and childcare. Although we don’t have much time for anything else at the moment, we are really enjoying it.

My training has not really changed since before pregnancy. I’m spending more time on building my base mileage than I normally would at this point in the season, but I’m going to start racing later than normal.

Do you think being a mother has given you any advantages that you weren’t expecting?

Without a doubt, becoming a mum has made me stronger. I can tolerate more training than I envisaged, considering I had nine months off from training. My fitness has returned far quicker than I expected it to. My approach to cycling has changed significantly: every time I’m out on the bike away from Orla, I’m making every pedal stroke count. I have so much more determination than before.

Is there anything that was a regular part of your training routine before pregnancy that you’ve not been able to do since becoming a mother?

Since becoming a mum, my recovery in-between sessions has obviously not been the same. I’m still breastfeeding, so as soon as I get in from training I have to feed Orla before I can feed myself. This isn’t ideal but I’ve made small changes, such as always having a recovery shake as soon as I get in the door.

I don’t get 10 hours sleep like I used to either, but I’ve been surprised with how well I’m coping with this!

How’s training going at the moment? Are you optimistic for the season ahead?

Training is going far better than I had hoped, I’m ahead of the schedule I had envisaged so my confidence for the season is high. I’m really excited to race again.

As a cyclist who’s always been vocal about sexism in cycling and recently backing British Cycling’s #OneInAMillion campaign, has the motivation to push for change become even greater now you have a daughter?

Whether I had a daughter or a son, my motivation to challenge sexism would be the same. We hope to bring our children up in a house where their gender is not a precursor to the sport, career or lifestyle they choose. Since becoming a parent, I feel more comfortable and happier to push for change, which Orla will hopefully benefit from.

What advice would you give to other women about riding during pregnancy and then postpartum?

There is a lot of conflicting advice available to expectant mothers about exercise. I would suggest doing your own research and certainly don’t listen to any old wives’ tales.

I was surprised by my body at almost every stage of pregnancy, but my greatest challenge came in the postpartum period where the demands of looking after a new-born far outweighed my desire to exercise. Ultimately, I would advise caution, patience and medical advice.