When Jess Stenson (nee Trengove) became pregnant in 2019, her running career took a back seat.
The two-time Olympian’s family was about to become bigger.
Stenson and her husband Dylan welcomed a healthy baby boy, Billy, into the world in late 2019.
And while everything changed for the marathon runner, she never doubted she could get back to her best.
“Obviously your body goes through a lot of changes when you experience pregnancy and then childbirth and just the daily routine of being a mum,” she told the ABC.
“Your sleep is less predictable or controllable, you’re quite active during the day so your ability to absorb training can be compromised at times.
“But I can see so many positives to being a mum in terms of performance as well.”
Two years on, Stenson and her husband are now running around with an energetic toddler, but her Olympic hopes are well and truly back on track.
The 34-year-old South Australian ran in her first marathon in three years last weekend in Perth.
Amazingly, she clocked a new personal best time of 2 hours, 25 minutes and 13 seconds, smashing her previous record by 46s.
It was the fourth fastest of all time by an Australian, and the fastest ever by an Australian on Australian soil.
That achievement was made even more impressive by the fact that Stenson had been battling a bone stress injury in her lower back just eight weeks before the race.
“I feel like I’ve been preparing for a marathon for basically 18 months,” she said.
“I did hope to run a PB and my training had sort of been indicating earlier this year that I should be able to run a PB, but you just don’t know.
“It’s a feeling of satisfaction, it was really nice to get that marathon ticked off after quite a few false starts.”
Stenson had hoped to get back into competition much sooner, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of a number of events over the last two years.
She also missed out on qualification for the Tokyo Olympics due to injury in the lead-up to the event.
‘Making the most of every opportunity’
However, Stenson feels like she’s taken a step in the right direction after finally getting back into racing last weekend.
And she explained how being a mum helped her push herself even harder towards the finish line in Perth.
“It shifts your mindset for sure and gives you strength in other ways,” she said.
“Carrying a toddler around, while it’s probably caused some of my injuries, it also strengthens your legs up.
“I went into the race feeling really relaxed in knowing whatever the result, I wouldn’t be a different person when I came home and my toddler would be none the wiser that I had just ran a race.”
So, has becoming a mum made Stenson a better athlete?
She thinks so.
“Particularly given I’m in the marathon event, which is such a mental game.
“The perspective you gain, the freedom you sort of feel when you’re out exercising as a mum, it’s this moment to yourself to be free, and you really make the most of those times because it’s pretty hectic at home.
“I just think you learn to become very wise with your use of time and very efficient and you make the most of every opportunity.”
Paris Olympics in sight
Stenson will now take a couple of weeks off before brainstorming what comes next with her coach Adam Didyk.
Her result in Perth means she’s already qualified for next year’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon, while she could also race at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
But after missing out on Tokyo, her long-term goal is to be competing at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“I really did want to make my third Olympic team [in Tokyo] but I felt quite at peace with not being there and watching at home,” she said.
“It was such an incredible Olympic Games and I really enjoyed watching and following my friends and the Aussie athletes.
“Experiencing it from this perspective was incredible and if anything just fuelled my hunger to get back to a third Olympics.”Internet Explorer Channel Network