03 Jun 2009

Runners (Moms) on the Hill

Christianne Phillips running with her two year-old twins. Photo by E. Festa

Christianne Phillips running with her two year-old twins. Photo by Elizabeth Festa

Hilary Cairns, 38, is a mom of three kids under 10. She is also ranked 31st nationally among triathaletes in her age group, 3rd in the Washington area. Cairns, who hasn’t missed one day of working out since her four year-old was two days old, swims in the pre-dawn hours at the Eastern Market natatorium with fellow triathlete and training group partner Mayor Fenty.

So starts a day that segues back to the family as it gets ready for the day, then to clients as a family services lawyer in the court system, where she works part-time, aiding families, teen mothers and abuse victims. Then it’s time to pick-up of her youngest from preschool, and later, dinner with the family.

If you’re a mom, or not, how do you find time to exercise?

Cairns says being a mom has helped her focus on quality workouts in the time she has, and even says her pregnancies have helped with oxygen and lung capacity. Like many triathletes she began as a runner, and didn’t become a triathlete until after she had had two children.

If she had to do it over again, she says, Cairns says she would be a triathlete from the start. She has a swimming and biking background, and has always been competitive.

“I do believe in running, I am over my peak, but with triathlon, I have room to improve … in biking and swimming,” Cairn says. Over her peak? Cairns finished 4th among all females in the recent Capitol Hill Classic, behind three professional runners, at a pace of 6:16 per minute.

“There are times when I question how much time I spend doing it,” says Cairns, who estimates training takes 12-15 hours per week.  She does morning workouts before the rest of the family is awake, and slow trains while the children are in school.  She, like other moms who excel at competitive sports, credits a supportive husband (a fellow top-notch runner and a high school lacrosse coach).

Like Cairns, Christianne Phillips, who has two and a-half-year-old twin boys, is quick to point out that she has an admiring husband and that being a mom has also helped her workout more efficiently.

“Quite honestly—I don’t think I would be able to do it if I didn’t have a couple of resources—babysitting at the gym, our own babysitter—Karla—three mornings a week, and a supportive husband,” says Phillips, 34, a former dancer who adds her passion for music and performance to the spinning classes she teaches at Results Gym. Phillips is an aspiring triathlete, a former dancer and a runner who casually signed up for the Capitol Hill Classic. She then finished 15th overall among women, second for her age group, and ran a 6:59 minute pace.

Phillips, who works out six days a week, was on bedrest while carrying her twins. The boys were born nine weeks premature, and the early months of their lives were devoted to hospital vigils and nurturing them to health. Phillips didn’t start running again until the twins were eight months, when she stopped nursing. She returned to spinning a couple months after that.

“I have gone without any physical activity— I didn’t miss it at all. I was so focused on watching my boys and making sure they got well. They were ill when they were born. It was terrifying. Not exercising for that amount of time was not even an issue,” she says. “Even when I went to the gym, I would be so nervous, I would rush back and nurse them. It took me a full year after they were born to get myself back to where I was before,” says Phillips.

Twice a week Phillips runs up Capitol Hill returning from the Lincoln Memorial, pushing a big stroller weighed down with two toddlers. (See photo)

“I am now stronger and in better shape than before they were born. Because of what I went through and because I am now a stay-at-home with a really great support network—before that I had a job  (as video producer) that was extremely demanding,” Phillips says.

“Being a mom has made me more efficient, (and) has made my workouts more efficient. If I only have 45 minutes, not a lot of time, I am going to get a freaking awesome workout in the time that I have,” Phillips adds.

Kathy Pugh, a mother of a five year-old girl, can be found on Fridays sprinting up the Constitution Avenue flank of Capitol Hill. In 2003, Pugh was a Las Vegas mom who used to run with her girlfriends in the morning heat; she ran a 10-minute mile. Since then, Pugh has transformed herself. She is now a running coach who pushes herself and other women to run 10Ks in an under an 8 minute pace. She is a certified coach of an EZ8 training group, part of a franchise operation. Like Cairns’ husband and Phillips’ former boxer husband, Pugh’s husband of 14 years is also an athlete. She used to watch him run, schlep over to the finish line to snap a photo, and then go home. Now she’s the one out on the Capitol three days a week from 5:45 a.m. training others; she gets back in time to get her daughter up for school.

Pugh, who will be 40 in September and is training for the New York City marathon in November, recommends speed intervals as fast as one can (fartleks), and running up that beast of Capitol Hill once a week to increase running times.

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