Jana Pitman, the interview

RMA is home to many Australian athletes and some of those come in the form of high profile runners, such as Jana Pitman who joined our network early this year. We are thankful for the advice, friendship and inspiration that she gives to other women in our network regarding running and motherhood. Jana kindly offered to give us an insight into her career, her passion for running and what it’s like to juggle motherhood at the same time on her road to the Rio Olympics next year.

141211 Jana Pittman (235)
Pretty much every household in Australia knows the name Jana Pitman. How long have you been running and when did you start?
I started running when I was 9 years old at my local little athletics club, so a very long time ago! 24 years!

What is your favourite distance and event to race?

Actually I love the bobsled best but that requires very short sprints. My best track distance is the 400m hurdles.

With two world titles and four commonwealth games titles, are you able to pick out what your greatest running achievement to is to date and why?

Probably a tie between the Melbourne Commonwealth games, as it was in front of an Aussie crowd, so when you are lucky enough to win, you get to do your victory lap in front of your own country. The other was the 2007 world champs which was 8 mths after the birth of my son, we thought it was completely impossible, so it was a wonderful surprise.
What has been the best strategy for you to have when leading into a race?
A belief that the training we did was the best we could do plus lots of mental race preparation- visualisation.

How do you train? What kind of training did you do when you were at the peak of your career and what does that look like now?

Lots of track sessions, pool sessions, weights, cross trainer and circuit sessions. As I have got older I have had to run less and do more ‘non-weightbearing’ activities to avoid injuries. So we still train as hard just are more smart about the amount of load through the ageing legs.
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You are mother to a gorgeous little boy and a little girl now, how do you manage to train, race and travel and still be a mum at the same time? Is there any advice that you can give to other mums out there that want to get the most out of their training?, and is it still possible to set goals and reach them when doing it all?

It is a challenge and when Cor was little I just took him with me everywhere (with my own mum), with school now I tend to travel a lot less. I do a lot of my training in and around my house for example I have converted my garage to a gym and I have hurdles in my garden 🙂 I think the advice I give to other mums is running and exercise helps keep us fit and well both physically and mentally, which in turn makes us more balanced mums. Also it is a good message for our children, so don’t feel guilty about setting exercise goals. I am lucky that it is my job, so when I go home I get to spend lots of time with my little people.

Would you want your children to be runners when they grow up?

I don’t mind what my children do sports wise and if they want to run, I look forward to helping them but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they chose something else.

Do you run with a club?

I have run with Hills Athletics club for many years but recently swapped to UTS Norths, unsure whom I will join this year.

You have a great relationship with your mum. What have you learned since becoming a mum about motherhood and what advice would you give to mothers to be?

So true, my respect for her has gone through the roof! She is a wonderful mother, so loving and supportive of me in all that I do! Reach out to your mum (or friends) and ask for advice and help, even if you don’t want to or feel you can’t, as 9/10 times they would love to help and it will be a great break or benefit for you.

How did you adjust to being a mum after being such a high profile athlete? Did you find it hard? What challenges did you face and what did you love most about entering motherhood?

I loved it, I certainly had to let go of some of my ideas about training and recovery as with the late nights, sicknesses and just general needs of a little one, your training takes a back seat. For me this was a good thing as I think I was to intense and having the babies reminds me what life is really about. The greatest challenge both times for me was my terrible run with breast feeding. I tried everything I could possibly to increase my supply, including medications, 2hrly pumping, lactation consultant visits, you name it. I even stopped training for 3 weeks to see if it helped. It was heart breaking when my daughter stopped gaining weight and I had to look at bottles. To this day when I see a breast feeding mum I struggle to hold back the tears. I love the cuddles, smiles, bath time.. in fact there is very little I don’t like about being a mum. It is greatest thing I have ever accomplished.

When not competing in high level competition, do you have a favourite event that you like to do and what keeps you going back?

I love running in grass pro races around Australia, I do lots of different distances all off different staggers.

Why do you think women are drawn to running, and mums in particular? What is it about running that you love?

Lots of things, the feeling of the wind in your hair, the freedom of a full body movement, how it gets your heart rate pumping quickly. I think as women it is an easy exercise that doesn’t require anything other than a pair of sneakers and can be fit in around my ‘motherly’ schedules- plus you can push a pram!!
How far do you run every week?
No where near as far as some mums, mine is all at high pace and intensity. On average each session is about 4km but my heart rate will spike over 180 in multiple repetitions.
If someone told you that you would never run again what would your first thoughts be?
Heart broken… find a way or something that feels as good- maybe horse riding.
What is the hardest thing about your training when you are training for competition?
Simply fitting in enough sessions and staying injury free.
What is the one moment in your running career that you will never ever forget?
The day I raced and managed to squeeze in front of my idol Cathy Freeman over 400m… she is amazing.
How do you deal with injury? You have had your fair share in your career. What advice would you give to those that are injured but still have goals?
Don’t learn from me…. I did it all wrong, trained to hard, stressed to much, dieted to hard… then not enough. The biggest lesson I can pass on is your bodies are remarkable and if you have to miss a session don’t try and catch it up, let it go as recovery is as important as the session.

Have there been any obstacles/challenges in your running career? How do you deal with the highs and lows of running and also being an athlete in the spotlight.?

I had many highs, so I was very lucky and I am not a party girl, I just love celebrating with my team and family. I have a big team of coaches, therapists and training partners. We get the accolades but its a real team approach. I have 7 in my Rio campaign currently. The lowes are certainly the injuries and the media criticism. As a kid I looked up to many amazing aussie athletes and they helped shape my career through their triumphs and failures, so when I started becoming well known, I decided I would be honest and show other young people that if you try hard and fight for what you want, anything is possible. My honesty and belief that people are genuinely good often got me in trouble, as I was to trusting with journo’s and it was their job to get a story. Lets be honest the interesting stuff you read isn’t the fluffy ‘I go to many schools and talk to kids’, its the marriage and body image issues you have been through that sells the papers. It took a long time to grow a thick skin.

There had been talk in the media about your running when pregnant, what advice to you have to mums out there that still want to run?

ALWAYS consult your doctor and really educate yourself on what is considered acceptable. There is a lot of conflicting advice out there though so for me if you have any doubt don’t! I backed off heaps compared to my normal program but I did manage some good training, I wore a heart rate monitor and ok I will tell you I took my temperature rectally (as its closest to internal temp) every 30 min during sessions. I wore a pregnancy belt and I definitely had days where I got to the track, jogged 100m and went home as it didn’t feel right. Bub comes first.

As a track racer, have you ever considered longer distance events? If so, what distance? What is the furthest distance that you have ever run, either competitive or non-competitive?

I just love to run do yes once I am done, it will be fun runs for me 🙂
Do you have any funny running moments/stories from your life that you want to share?
Lets go with a real life one that I am sure many of us will sympathise with, but as usual I probably should keep to myself but my honesty doesn’t allow it. In 2007 at the world championships, 8mths after the birth of my son, I ran over the last hurdle in front, about to claim my second World Title when the effort of labour and pregnancy got the better of my poor old pelvic floor… thank goodness it was exceedingly hot so I had splashed my lower body with water, hiding my embarrassment!

As well as being a busy mum, runner, and public speaker, you also are studying as a medical student have jut welcomed your second child. How do you manage training amongst this hectic schedule and what made you want to be a doctor? 

I have always wanted to be a doctor, long before I dreamed of the Olympics.. I want to be an obstetrician and help people with things like exercise and pregnancy. In terms of fitting it in, I deferred a year this year to be with my daughter and my wonderful mum helps me with many things… like washing and cleaning to allow me more quality time with the kids!
Whats next for Jana Pitman?
Hopefully the olympic games next year in Rio… fingers crossed!
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What do you love most about RMA and what have you learned from being a part of our community?

I love being part of a big community of supportive, healthy mums. I also love spotting the shirt and logo out and about (often at the track) and feeling part of something big. I have the alert on my FB so I can follow the many posts online and often get inspired by someones story, a few times its had me in tears too, when someone openly shares a challenge they are going through. I have made friends with some ladies and been reached out and touched by others through their kind words. Its awesome 🙂

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