Athletes Corner: Julia Webb (runner, mother, wife, coach)

Screen-Shot-2015-04-08-at-10.33.19-AM.jpg

I am very pleased to present a second person in my series of inspiring women. Julia Webb wears many hats, she is an accomplished runner, mother to Joanie, wife to Alan Webb (American record holder in the mile), and running coach. I first saw her pictures with hilarious captions on there Instagram account (@runteamwebb) and then read her blog posts on her website which center on topics such as exercise, nutrition, pregnancy and much more. I love how sincere Julia describes the ups and downs of being an active mom, before, during and post pregnancy. In the interview below, you can read more in-depth what her thoughts are on making time for exercise, fueling during pregnancy, scheduling a busy day and keeping motivation high even on days that feel 'off'. After speaking to Jessica in the last interviews, Julia is another example of how amazingly women deal with the added responsibilities of motherhood and how the physical demands of pregnancy can sometimes make you a stronger athlete postpartum. Thank you, Julia! 

How did you become a runner and what is your favorite distance?

I started running as a last resort to participating in a sport as a senior in high school. I never thought i’d ever become a “runner” as I saw it as boring, unathletic and something my mom likes to do. (she was never competitive, but always jogging throughout my childhood- my dad the stud basketball player and good at any sport he tried was my role model). My first “race” my mom successfully convinced me to run in was a local 5K the weekend before school started in fall 2000. Wearing a baggy sweatshirt, basketball shoes and no warm up, I got 2nd (21:15) to a coach who asked who I ran for. I explained this might have been my first 3 miles ever run in a row. My previous training was all geared toward basketball - lots of time on the court, regular time in the weight room and the occasional mile on the treadmill or around the school block to warm up for my lift. I had a miserable experience my sophomore and junior years playing basketball -despite my love for the sport and strong dedication, I had some major clashing with the coaches and lacked the power to be on our starting line up. We were a powerhouse but I didn’t have what it took, along with my lack of confidence, spiralling me into depression. I decided to quit before senior year but was desperately seeking a new athletic opportunity.

After the race, I decided to show up for cross country practice. My first day I was amazed at how fun and easy the 5 mile run went by. A few weeks later at my first race, I put all my frustration from my basketball days into that competition, proving that I was good at something and gutted out a 7th place finish at a big invite. In complete agony, dying the final straight when everyone was kicking it in.. I ran a 15:40 4K time, beating my teammates by over 2 minutes. I found my sport. Something I was good at. I had never experienced anything to that degree, the nerves, pushing through the pain, being in complete control of my result. All I had to do was run hard and get from start to finish and the post-race high made it all worth the mid-race struggle. Not only the races, but the miles our team put into practice was the highlight of my day. From there I went on to run in college and have never lost my passion for the sport 15 years later. My favorite distance remains the 3000m steeplechase on the track. I love that its not as brutally long as a 5K on the track, but just 10 minutes of grinding and pain. The barriers add another challenge that favour my long legs and remind me of cross country, my second favourite event. I was fortunate to run it my freshman year (at UW-La Crosse)and with some great guidance in early steeple drill training, I was able to place 3rd at the national meet with a PR of 10:50. I finished 1st and 3rd, three more times at NCAAs and ended my college career with a 10:22 PR. Post collegiately I’ve run at three USATF Outdoor Championships (including a top 10 finish), a PR of 9:55 set when my daughter was 10 months old. I can’t wait to race it again, with my goal being- get on the 2016 Olympic Trials starting line with a 9 month old (currently pregnant).

Julia Alan Webb
Julia Alan Webb

You race quite a bit and not even a pregnancy (or two) can stop you? What is special about racing vs “just running to stay fit"?

I am addicted to racing! Some people like to go out with friends, others go out and dance... I get my high from racing! You can’t duplicate the energy and adrenaline the race environment provides. No matter what stage of fitness I am in (or condition - as in being pregnant), I don’t shy away from opportunities. I love testing to see where I’m at, using a competitive setting to push me to get the best out of myself. If I just ran to stay fit, I would definitely get bored fast. I need to mix up my training every 2-3 days with some form of speedwork. If I’m not sore a couple times a week, I better have a good reason! While I’m at it, why not reap the rewards of your fitness by doing a race.

You are also a mother, wife and coach. Could you walk us through a day in the life?

There are two versions of what’s normal in my current life - when my husband Alan is traveling and when he is home. It can be as much as 50/50 being a single mom (although, we try to travel some too when convenient). Currently I’m in the middle of a 6 week stretch when Alan is overseas training and competing in triathlon. Here’s a normal week day - 6:00 wake up , light breakfast, check emails, etc 6:45 2.5 year old Joanie yells “I up! I up! I up!” - the only baby phrase she has not dropped out of habit from when she first learned to talk 7:30 drop off Joanie at her “school” - 3 days a week has part time care 7:45 - Run / follow up w/ core/strength 2-3x a week. Once during weekday do quality workout. 9:00-12:15 - follow up emails, coaching, etc… and eat :) 12:30 - pick up Joanie 1:00-3:00 naps for Joanie, I usually crash for an hour (only have been since pregnancy started, since 2nd trimester just began, feeling less the need for the nap!). Clean house, chores, more time on computer 3:30 snacks w/ Joanie and play or grocery shop- lately been swimming in our pool every afternoon, core/yoga session w/ Joanie if i skipped in AM. 5:30 cook dinner, eat 7:30 start bedtime routine for Joanie (bath, stories, jump around and sing) 8:30 - bed time for Joanie 8:45 - catch ⅙ of a movie I’ve started on netflix, call Alan 9:30 - bedtime

On days she is at home, I will either run with Joanie in the stroller, head to the gym for the treadmill/bike/pool (and utilize their childcare) or occasionally get up before dawn while its cool to run 1000m loops around our gated apartment complex with her monitor audible outside our apartment. If she wakes up mid-run, will let her watch a show in her crib while i finish up or drag the stroller out.

Julia Webb planking
Julia Webb planking

You choose to keep a running and fitness regimen that puts many of us to shame. How do you (re)fuel and do you use nutritional supplements?

I definitely take advantage of eating lots of calories! Especially during pregnancy, I feel like I can burn through anything, but have to be careful not to have a massive meal at once or I get severe indigestion. So my go-to strategy has been to have something light before an early morning run (lately just started trying the product UCAN - a form of carbs/energy that should sustain me through a run - but typically I am starving 20 minutes in if that’s all I used, so have been adding a half energy bar = favorite is regular old Powerbar vanilla/chocolate or a GU as well). I always have a little coffee pre-run (no more than a shot worth of espresso now that I’m pregnant). Since its so warm here in Arizona, I have been running w a water bottle/sometimes with NUUN added, carry it a mile into the run, drop it in the bushes to access at some point. I can’t stand having a water belt. I stash candy or GU in my shorts for any carb needing emergencies :)

Post run hydration is key with an immediate source of carbs/light protein. (apple and rest of my energy bar for example) to tie me over while I make breakfast.

Breakfast - my favorite meal of the day - usually a massive bowl of oatmeal made with milk, with berries, bananas and nut butter added as a dipping sauce. Lunch - varies (and have food on my mind w/ different cravings all the time being pregnant) - fruit, either sandwich, salad, chips ; or pasta/salad or burrito ... Snack - fruit, dark chocolate, nuts or small bar Dinner - varies - tons of veggies, more fruit, rice/pasta/potato base and meat - (beef, chicken, fish, pork…) - typically take my prenatal or Proferrin iron supplement. Favorite cusine - thai food!!! Snack - cereal w/ milk

Julia Webb Nike Track
Julia Webb Nike Track

If you don’t mind me asking, how much weight did you gain in your first pregnancy and what was it like during and then getting back in shape?

Initially in my pregnancy I gained a good 8 lbs my first trimester and up to a total of 25 lbs by the end of my second (started at same weight I was before second pregnancy). However, due to severe indigestion and extreme discomfort when I ate to any level of fullness, I gained 0 lbs during my 3rd trimester. Obviously the baby continued to grow, but I must have lost some body fat. She weighed 7 lbs, 15 oz, completely healthy, although my midwife had me checked a few times because I was “measuring small”. Getting back in shape postpartum was not much of an issue. When Joanie was one month old I was back to looking “normal” for me. I held onto 10 pounds for at least 2.5 months, but then I went through a very stressfu l cross country moving experience, and baby Joanie picked up some severe collic which made my life very difficult w/ lack of sleep and digestion issues-- from month 3-6 I dropped an additional 18 lbs (was at lightest post high school weight ever- while continuing to breast feed) - all due to stress. I was also very frustrated with a debilitating hip injury I sustained during the beginning of my 2nd trimester, still not healed and it had been going on for over 9 months, where I was unable to run without pain. I realized how unhealthy my weight was after friends began to comment, and got myself back into eating more and thankfully got some support in helping Joanie out. I got back to my former go-to race weight of 125lbs. By 6 months, with some physical therapy I was able to run painfree and got back into fitness very fast with the help of my coach. Only 3 months in of regular run training and intense workouts, I was back to PR shape, only to eventually be even better - with a  more relaxed race day attitude, an even greater level of toughness my natural childbird experience taught me, elevated blood levels from the pregnancy. So, during my 8th season competiting at in the steeplechase, I dropped 20 seconds off my PR and also a good 10 seconds with only one attempt at the 1500m.

Julia Webb pregnant
Julia Webb pregnant

Do you work out with a team or coach? If not how do you stay motivated day in and day out?

Currently I am living in Arizona due to my husband’s triathlon training group, so at the moment I have been doing 90% of my runs/workouts solo. I don’t mind that I have complete control of what I’m doing now that I’m pregnant - so I can really read my body and not be tempted to go too hard to keep up with someone. In Beaverton, Oregon (our home), I typically meet up with teammates/friends at least 3-4 times a week, typically at Nike headquarters right by my house. Two of those sessions include hard workouts. I run for Bowerman Track Club and work part time as a run coach at Nike campus Sports Center when I’m back in Oregon. If it wasn’t for my teammates (Kristen Rohde, Karlee Coffee, Anna Connor) and my coach Jon Marcus - I would NEVER be able to reach my potential and push myself to the degree that I do during these sessions. I have been trying to really grasp the concept of recovery and backing off big time on my easy days. If I’m not fully rested going into harder sessions, I will be dropped in an instant. My motivation rarely ever wanes, I love being an athlete and constantly testing my limits, with my only desire to reach a higher level so I can justify living my life the way I do :) My husband is the true professional athlete in the family, so I always ensure that my needs are second to support him first. Until I have the opportunity to make any money in the sport, I will continue to see it as a hobby.

What physical activities do you do on *gasp* rest days?

Typically reserve the rest days for spending energy in the sun or playing with Joanie. I definitely try to move around on those days so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. The worst thing to do is sit inside all day if you’re “resting”. I try to pretend I’m a normal mom who doesn’t like working out. I try to remember to save the energy for the next day. Typically I take a full day off every 2-3 weeks. Getting a massage is also a great way to splurge on a day off.

What is your favourite indulgence (food or other things)?

Running :) obviously.. but outside of that, I LOVE coffee. Thankfully with pregnancy and living in a hot dry climate, my cravings have dramatically dropped, but still look forward to a daily cup of pour-over or coffee shop Americano. With pregnancy I’ll make a full strength cup but rarely drink more than 6 oz of it.

Have you had to overcome (running related) injuries? How did you do it?

Yes. Aside from a month long hip injury I sustained during over-stretching in a yoga pose during track season in college, I have had one serious injury to date and it was during my last pregnancy. It was probably one of the toughest things mentally I’ve had to deal with. I was running some pretty quick workouts feeling very strong and getting respectable race times in my first trimester of pregnancy #1 until I started noticing my right hip started aching right when my belly first started growing. I ignored it, thinking “I get aches and pains all the time, but this couldn’t be anything serious”. Ignoring it and running through it proved to be a terrible decision. Despite stopping all run activity, the pain worsened as the pregnancy went on. It took 6 full months postpartum to be pain free. I got all kinds of wrong answers during pregnancy, with doctors suspecting a stress fracture, etc.. I only realized post pregnancy it had to be a ligament or possibly a labral tear in my hip. Back in Portland after 3 months of no successful healing, I got exercises from my coach and saw a local physical therapy place for rehab and eventually it cleared up as I resumed training.

What advice would you give someone who is a running novice or looking to get fit later in life and particularly if they are mothers with a set of responsibilities, tight schedules etc.?

Create a time to workout in your calendar. No excuses as if you have to attend, block out the hour each day! My saving grace has been joining a gym with a childcare option. I have up to 2 hours to workout/shower for a very reasonable rate. Get support from your spouse, and if they are gone, find other moms who could possibly swap care to workout. Get a jogging stroller! Also another savior and offering me complete freedom to workout when I am without my husband. Starting as early as 3 weeks you can run with your baby (forward facing attachment) and weather conditions don’t apply (I’ve ran in torrential downpours - with Joanie nice and cozy under the rain cover, to negative temperatures (bundled up nice and cozy again!) . There are no excuses. If you work full time, run during your lunch hour or get up an hour earlier to fit it in first thing in morning (with coffee ready to be made, clothes laid out). Find a local running group that meets regularly to find same-level training partners and new workout friends. Sign up for a race to keep you motivated in training!

Julia Webb Alexi Pappas
Julia Webb Alexi Pappas

How would you describe the emotional benefits of running, given that it is a sport that comes with a lot of highs and lows over time…

Aside from my year long injury, I have experienced much more of the upside on emotional benefits! Yes there are days which turn into complete disappointments, you just feel plain terrible, or go through a funk where you don’t want to get out there or complete the workout. But I always try to push through those bad times, knowing they will all be worth it. In my first trimester just recently, I felt absolutely terrible on most “easy runs”, especially if I didn’t get out when it was under 70 degrees in the desert sun . I would frequently look at the side of the trail and think, "wow that looks like a great place to lay down" and just have runs when I couldn’t wait to finish. But each of those runs, when I did finish, I would be so thankful I got it done, because my trusty runners high would set in, and make me feel I could take on anything the rest of the day (with a nap of course!). I am so thankful for this sport, but try to keep my perspective that it is a gift and can easily be taken away. I try not to get carried away in making it my all, and see my faith in God, family and overall health as #1.

Quick questions:

Athlete crush? Alan Webb - up and coming triathlete… American record holder in the mile ;)

Trail or Road? Trail! Have never done an official trail race, on my to-do list

Long runs or Speed Work? A combo of both - get the best of both worlds - I rarely do straight up long runs. Often my weekend long run is part of a grinding interval session!

Garmin or carefree? I have only run with a Garmin once during Hood to Coast and got made fun of by my old school coach. I prefer coaching athletes with a Garmin though, so i have a better sense of measure.

Solo or with company? With company!! I really miss my Oregon training partners !!