How one Hongkonger juggles motherhood, marathons and school

When she discovered she was pregnant, former corporate lawyer and triathlete Jane Richards decided to focus exclusively on running - with inspiring results

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2015, 6:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2015, 6:18am

This month we meet three mothers running their way to better health and greater confidence and ultimately boosting the lives of their children.

Jane Richards holds a personal best marathon time of two hours, 53 minutes and 13 seconds. She attributes her time to hard work, persistence and - most importantly - being a mother to her four-year-old son, Henry.

"Being a mum, I appreciate the time I get when I'm running so much more, I want to make it count," says 34-year-old Richards, originally from Australia. "And of course - there's no pain like labour. You just remember those moments during a hard run and nothing compares."

Richards, a former triathlete, had just competed at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii when she discovered she was pregnant. At the height of her fitness, and no longer feeling comfortable swimming or cycling, she embraced running instead.

"Being fit had been such a big part of my identity before I became pregnant, so I found running gave me something that was still 'me' through so much change; it helped me feel good about myself through all the raging hormones," she says.

"Plus, more and more research is showing the beneficial impact regular fitness has on a growing baby."

Richards ran the "whole way" through her pregnancy - even fitting in a 20 minute dash the morning before she went into labour. "I thought I would stop when it felt uncomfortable," she says. "But even though I slowed down, I continued to feel good so I kept running."

Being fit had been such a big part of my identity before I became pregnant, so I found running gave me something that was still 'me' through so much change
Jane Richards, marathon woman

She also believes being strong and fit helped her recover from labour more quickly.

And now, four years on, the ex-corporate lawyer is using running to give her the confidence to re-enter the workplace. For the past year Richards has been studying a master's in human rights law at Hong Kong University and is planning to embark on her PhD in disability rights next year.

"Running gives me confidence in everything I do and helps me beat doubt. I know from my running, if I put in the effort I get results. Running, like life, is a direct correlation of what you put in."

I feel like my life has really begun since I've started running. The last few years have had many changes; I moved from Australia to Shanghai to Hong Kong; I got married, had a son and got divorced. But things just keep getting better, and a lot of that is due to running.

I think running is so important for everyone, but especially mums. It's so important for mums to feel fit and good about themselves, and I believe this can be achieved through running. With running, women have a chance to be an inspiration - to themselves, their families and their friends.

I want to be a good role model for my son. I don't mind whether or not he runs, as long as he is fit and healthy. I think it's especially important for mothers to be active so their children see them being strong and having their own identity.

I got a lot of criticism for exercising while pregnant. One day I was in the gym and this man came up to me and shouted, "You shouldn't do this to your baby." I was so angry. I asked him: "Do you know anything about me? Are you a doctor? No? Mind your own business." It's important for women to know their own bodies.

There's a lot of information on pregnant women exercising. But unfortunately not enough for women like me who already had a high level of fitness before pregnancy - and I always knew I was doing the right thing on every level, for my health, physically and mentally, and for my soul. Every woman is different, and every pregnancy is different. But being pregnant and being able to run are not - and should not be - mutually exclusive.

When I run, I try not to think. I find I can be my own biggest enemy; the thoughts in my head saying "it's too hard" or to "slow down". I try instead to focus on being in the moment. It sounds cheesy, but I'll think about a word or two and keep repeating them in my head. Or sometimes I just think of Henry and his smiley face and it makes everything seem easier.

As a mum, the truth is you can't do it all. You can't always do everything to the standard you want to. It's a matter of prioritising. Something's always got to give. Often I'm faced with having to study, run or take care of my child and, of course, I chose him, every time.

My major goal is a sub-2:50 marathon. But I know that if I want to do something that I've never done before, it is going to require a new level of dedication. Right now, with my responsibilities to Henry and my studies, the timing's not quite right. Instead, my focus for the rest of the year is to run a half marathon in under 80 minutes. But eventually, when I am ready, I will definitely go for it.