Swiss triathlete Caroline Steffen, 40, returned to racing last year after the birth of her son, Xander, now 11 months, and took a course record in her first full Ironman distance triathlon since Kona in 2015 – Ironman Western Australia. Impressive enough without considering she was still breastfeeding at the time.
So how does the On ambassador do it? Caroline very kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to chat Kona qualification, her journey back to fitness, and how she’s loving her newest and most important role yet – as mum to her ‘little mate’.
Congratulations on becoming a mum! How old is Xander now, and how are you finding motherhood?
Xander just turned one year old at Christmas. He started walking when he was 11 months old, so at the moment he is exploring the world and keeps mum on the go all day long. Motherhood is tough and challenging but I am loving it so much! Previously my life revolved around the sport and everything else had to wait. Now I am a mother and the sport has taken second place.
Did you find you’d lost much fitness during your pregnancy?
Oh yes, definitely, and I thought I will never ever get back to my full fitness and shape I had before… but I did. It took a little longer then I had in mind but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t rush it and took my time. Now with Xander being a year old, I am racing better and stronger than ever.
How old was Xander when you started training again and do you remember how you felt the first time you ran, cycled or swam after having him?
I had my first swim about six weeks after giving birth. Riding took probably eight weeks and running 10 weeks. Yes, it was a massive shock to the system but at the same time it felt good to move again and lose some pregnancy weight.
How have you found the journey to full fitness after giving birth?
My comeback was only possible thanks to Brett Sutton, my former and now current trainer again. He is the one who knows me best and knows how to coach me in order to achieve the world-class level. I wouldn’t have made it back to full shape without him. It was a very slow and perfectly-built journey.
Did you ever think that you might not get back to top level triathlon form, or maybe not want to, after having Xander?
I never really had a set plan in mind. I was open to either – racing at the top level or being a full-time mum. There was a time, especially in the early weeks, where I struggled to get out and do my own thing without Xander. After carrying him for such a long time in my belly it felt strange and somehow wrong to get out of the house without him. I had to learn to let go a little and trust he’s in good hands without his mum.
A pro triathlete’s day usually revolves around training and the odd nap – how has your training schedule changed since having Xander?
Yeah the nap, it’s not happening anymore … except I have two sessions on the program when I have a nap together with Xander at lunchtime, which is nice. Love the baby snuggles. But I guess the biggest change has been riding 90% of my sessions on an indoor trainer now. I also got myself a treadmill, so I can do some runs at home while Xander is asleep. Efficiency is the key these days.
What does a typical day look like as a mum and pro triathlete?
I love to be home in the morning when he wakes up, so that means I start my swim session a little later than usual while my partner Pete is looking after my little mate. Then back home from the pool, it’s playtime. We go to the playground or go and feed our friends the ducks. Around 11am, Xander has his midday nap which means I start my second session of the day, mostly indoors so I can hop off if needed. As I said before, I am doing most of my training indoors now. I think this way I am more efficient and can guide my training much better than being out on the road. If there is a third set, I do that before dinner. Otherwise, [the] afternoon is all about Xander and I am a normal ‘full-time’ mum.
I am in a very lucky position with a lot of family and friends who give me a hand and look after Xander while I am out training (working). He is a very social little boy.
You completed IM70.3 Vietnam five months after having Xander – was it a challenge racing so soon after or did it feel natural to be competing again?
Vietnam was way too early for me to race, but I felt the pressure to satisfy some sponsor obligations. Looking back, this was probably a little silly of me but lesson learned.
What does a typical week of training currently look like for you?
It’s around 25-28 hours of work, depending which week we are in and what race we race next. Much less hours then what I used to train but we make them count.
Your record-breaking win at Ironman Western Australia qualified you for Kona 2019. Will this be a focus for you?
Yes, Hawaii qualification came early which is awesome and gives me a little head start in 2019. Kona will definitely be my focus.
Do you ever chat with the other new mums in the pro triathlete community?
There’s definitely a lot of chatting and exchange happening between all the new pro mummies. Triathlon is a very small and tight community. Even though we race each other hard when the gun is going off, outside the race course we’re friends and with that new mummy thing sitting in the same boat.
What are your off-season plans?
Off season this year was all about Xander of course. He had a massive few weeks with his first Christmas, birthday and New Year’s celebrations. All fun and giggles for everyone.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
I have been training and racing in Ons (Caroline’s On running shoes) for more than 8 years now and haven’t missed one single session through injuries in that time. Consistency in my training is a very important factor of my success. The ‘Clouds’ on my shoes absorb a lot of the nasty pressure you get while running. The shoes feel kind on my legs which means I need less recovery and can run more often than I did before. It’s a win-win situation I would say.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
- ALASKA Milk
- Cervélo – Bike
- TYR – Swimming
- RYD – Bike gear
- On – Running shoes and clothing
- Shimano – Bike components
- Xlab – Bike hydration system
- Shotz – Nutrition