Olympic Runner Melissa Bishop on How She Stays Motivated

After the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed, the elite runner recalibrated and learned to juggle motherhood, motivation and training during a pandemic.

Melissa Bishop is no stranger to training hard. The 32-year-old 800-metre runner is a two-time Olympian, world championship silver medalist and Canadian record holder who had high aspirations for the 2020 Tokyo summer Olympics. Then COVID-19 derailed her plans. In March 2020, when the IOC announced that the event was postponed until 2021, the big goal Bishop was working towards suddenly dissipated.

Now, a year later, Bishop has reinvented her routine with an eye on this summer’s rescheduled Olympics games. We spoke to her about motivation, motherhood and training during a pandemic.

(Related: COVID, One Year Later: How to Move Ahead When the Tank Feels Empty)

How did you keep going when everything — day-to-day life, the Olympics, all of it — was cancelled?

I was very unmotivated at first. I actually took a week and a half off just to collect myself to figure out how we’re going to make it work and try to work towards a goal that is no longer there, because at that point, the Olympics hadn’t been rescheduled, just postponed.

I did a lot of work with my sports psychologist, but it all went down to what I love to do, which is running and competing. I focused on what my goals were—and my goals are the same before the pandemic started, they’re just written in pencil now. I know it’s in the schedule, but it’s written in pencil and it can be erased, and I can plan for it when it works again.

And this is only going to help me. I had a baby two years ago and I’m still trying to figure out my body. The first year I came back, it was just injury after injury because my body had changed so much.

What strategies did you use to stay motivated?

One thing I tried to do was find the best thing out of the day. Like, what was one really good thing that happened? That helped get through those hard days. I learned to be kinder to myself knowing I wasn’t the only one going through this.

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What was your quarantine training routine like?

My weekly schedule consists of two runs in a day, weights and other big workouts. We go based on minutes and on a high week I do anywhere between 250 to 300 minutes per week.

I get my workouts from my coach every Sunday, so I know what’s coming up and I can plan. But if COVID has taught me anything, it’s how to adapt on the fly. So, if I wasn’t able to get my second run in or I was feeling really worn out, we wouldn’t try to fit it in somewhere else to meet a quota. It’s about quality.

The workload can also be very high, so recovery has to be high. So, a full night’s sleep, eating really well, taking care of your body. And nine times out of 10, I’m going to be really, really sore coming out of these workouts and that’s okay. It’s allowed to happen, but I’m also not afraid to take some Advil to try and curb those muscle pain and aches when they happen.

Is it hard to focus on life outside of training, especially when the goal has shifted?

It’s hard for athletes to identify as somebody else because so much of our life is spent training. What really helped me was having our daughter. It’s taught me that when I have bad days at work, it’s not the end of the world because I’m coming home to her. And she knows that I run but she has no idea if it’s a good day or a bad day. She sees me walk out the door every day to do what I love. It’s a source of inspiration, that hopefully one day Corinne [my daughter] will be able to find something she loves. I have so much more strength than I ever thought I could and that’s due in part to becoming a mother.

What do you mean by strength?

It’s hard to describe the strength that comes with the role as “Mom.” I carried her for nine months, birthed her, fed her from my own body. I had sleepless, sometimes tearful nights out of exhaustion. That makes you tough. I didn’t know I could do all of that until I had a child. Knowing I played a part in developing this small person that is telling me about her day at daycare is an incredible feeling.

The physical strength that comes from being a mom has been a huge benefit for my training. At first, I had a hard time finding my body again. I couldn’t go out onto the track and do what I used to. It took much longer than anticipated to be comfortable putting my body through the ringer again. I’m two-and-a-half years out from having Corinne, and just in this last year I’ve found myself physically again. Coupled with carrying my baby for last two-and-a-half years… my upper body has never been stronger!

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And how have you been balancing your training schedule with being a mother and other responsibilities?

It’s really frickin’ hard! [We rely on] daycare but when daycare shutdown with COVID… Oh man, it was hard juggling all of that. I feel like I’m a student athlete again where I had to manage all my studying and varsity and competition.

I’m fortunate enough to have been able to support my training without a job, but I’m enrolled at Queen’s University and doing my certificate in business. I found the transition back to student life a little rocky. My life got a lot busier with classes, training, parenting, and home life and my time management skills were really tested.

Do you ever bring your daughter with you when you train?

Yep, in a stroller. Usually, I don’t run with the stroller because that’s like bringing your kid to work, but there’s probably one or two times a week when I push the stroller. We do it because when she naps, I also want to nap—a huge part of my training routine is recovery. We just made it work and learned to be flexible. That’s another thing I learned through COVID, is how to be flexible.

What are your plans for after the Tokyo Olympics?

If I’ve learned anything, it’s not to plan ahead just yet because I don’t know what’s coming. I have very high hopes and high aspirations and goals for what will happen in Tokyo and I don’t want to rule anything out just yet. I’m just going to wait and see.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Next: Hayley Wickenheiser On What Working on the Frontlines of COVID-19 Has Been Like

Originally Published in Best Health Canada