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A First Marathon Four Months Post-Pregnancy

  • By Brian Metzler
  • Published Oct. 4, 2013
  • Updated Oct. 6, 2013 at 10:52 AM UTC
Carrie Tollefson high-fives her 3-year-old daughter, Ruby, at the end of a recent run. Photo: Charlie Peterson

Olympian Carrie Tollefson is running her first marathon four months after having a baby.

[Update: Carrie Tollefson finished the Twin-Cities Marathon on Oct. 6 in 3:02:47.]

Given her background, Carrie Tollefson will never be just another mother who loves to run. But she’s learning a lot about the millions of women who pound the pavement in a quest for postpartum fitness.

The 36-year-old former Olympic runner is a working mother of two who’s training to finish her first marathon this weekend. And, honestly, she says, there are aspects of that lifestyle that are much harder than training to be a world-class competitor.

Tollefson, a former NCAA champion runner for Villanova and a 2004 U.S. Olympian in the 1500-meter run, is running the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 6 in Minneapolis-St.Paul only four months after giving birth to her new son, Everett. She and her husband, Charlie Peterson, also have a 3-year-old daughter, Ruby, and with each parent working full-time, she’s found that life has become a non-stop juggling act.

“I am like everyone else right now,” says Tollefson, a native Minnesotan. “I’m not an elite athlete training for a marathon. I’m a mom, I work full-time and I’m trying as best possible to train to run my first marathon. For once in my life, I’m realizing how hard it is to get it all in.”

The Twin Cities Marathon is doubling as the 2013 U.S. Marathon Championships. Although she used to train at a high level with fellow elite runners in the Twin Cities area, now she patches together long runs with other friends who are mothers, solo runs during the week when she can fit them in and, once in a blue moon, a run with Charlie.

Tollefson produces a weekly video blog, is a Reebok ambassador and will be part of the ESPN2 broadcast team for next month’s New York City Marathon. She’s been averaging about 45 miles of week of training with a long run of 17 to 21 miles on weekends. However, like any busy mom, she’s also missed plenty of training days, too. If Everett doesn’t sleep through the night, neither does she. When Ruby recently had the flu, mommy was there to take care of her.

RELATED: Can Women Come Back Faster After Pregnancy?

“It’s not just about me and my running anymore,” says Tollefson, who admits she’s still breastfeeding Everett. “My running used to be No. 1, but in my house, I’m about fifth on the list now. Life is what’s happening now, and that’s good.

“Being this close to having a baby and being this out of shape, I know I just have to enjoy the ride, and that’s what I’m doing. Things have come around and I’ve gotten pretty fit pretty fast. But I’m still looking at it as if it’s a journey and not a race.”

To say the least, that journey will be a family affair. In all, 15 family members will be taking part in the wide range of family-oriented events during the Twin Cities Marathon weekend.

Tollefson’s husband, Charlie, will also be running the marathon along with Tollefson’s oldest sister, Stacey. Tollefson’s mom and dad, Ginger and John Tollefson, will be running in the TC 5K on Saturday, along with her middle sister, Kammie, brother-in-law, Dan, niece, Justine and nephews Joey and Jake. Another niece, Tollie, will be running the mile event, while another niece, Layla, and another nephew, Shay, will be running in the half-mile run.

And, last but certainly not least, Ruby is entered in the Toddler Trot on Saturday, while Everett is registered for the Diaper Dash. (They’ll each be accompanied by a grandparent.)

“My in-laws offered to take the kids on the night before the race, but I would rather have them near me,” Tollefson says. “If Everett gets up four times the night before the marathon, well, that’s what happens, and I’ll deal with it. That might backfire, but, oh well, that’s life.”

Although Tollefson hasn’t raced with the elite ranks for several years, she kept up her running during each of her pregnancies. In each case, she ran as up to 8-10 miles during the first two trimesters but backed off to about 3-5 miles about five days a week during the final three months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says running can be a great way to maintain aerobic exercise and strength during pregnancy, as long as a woman gets approval from her doctor first. While pregnant, Tollefson made sure to continually check in with her doctor, stay hydrated during runs and maintain a normal body temperature.

Just as important as running, she says, was her regular strength training. She hit the gym three times a week during each of her pregnancies, doing an all-body routine aimed at maintaining length muscle in her legs, arms, back and core. That included weights, agility work and a lot of cross-training exercises.

Although she gained 30 pounds to her typically slender frame during each pregnancy, she believes her consistent running and strength work helped her bounce back relatively quickly. After Everett was born early June, she took about 3½ weeks off before she started running again.

RELATED: Exercise Dos and Don’ts For Expecting Mothers

“It’s hard to get fit again after you’re pregnant,” she admits. “I put 30 pounds with each of my pregnancies, and that’s hard for any woman to do. That’s a lot of weight and it changes your body. But for me, running is a huge part of my life. I think it makes me a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better person when I get to run a little bit every day.”

Tollefson plans to run conservatively in the marathon, but she’s hoping to break the 3-hour barrier. Although she only has 10 weeks of training under her belt, her fitness is coming around. She averaged 6:30-mile pace and placed eighth at the Jeff Winter City of Lakes 25K (15.5-mile) race in Minneapolis on Sept. 8.

Tollefson points to Joan Benoit Samuelson, Deena Kastor and Kara Goucher as inspiring examples of women who have continued running strong after having children.

Samuelson, 56, the 1984 Olympic champion, has continued to run fast marathons into her 50s; Kastor, 40, who has a 2-year-old daughter, placed ninth in the world championships marathon in Moscow in August; Goucher, 35, who has a 3-year-old son, ran a 1:14 half marathon in January 2011 (just four months after giving birth), set a new marathon PR (2:24:52) at the 2011 Boston Marathon and also earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

Tollefson never really retired, and those runners have helped keep a glimmer in her mind that she’s not done yet. She’s recently done workouts with elite runner and fellow Minnesotan Michelle Frey, who finished 22nd at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials and placed ninth at this summer’s U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Duluth, Minn.

“After a recent run, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting fit again,’” Tollefson says. “There are times when I get glimpses of hope, but then there are times where I think ‘I don’t want to work that hard.’ It’s a lot of work and I don’t know if I want to take time away from my family anymore. But we’ll see. I never say never. I’m just kind of living for the moment right now.”

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Brian Metzler

Brian Metzler

Brian Metzler is the editor-in-chief of Competitor magazine. He has raced every distance from 50 yards to 100 miles and run in more than 700 pairs of running shoes in the past 25 years. You can reach him at bmetzler@competitorgroup.com.

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