Having a baby hasn’t slowed these runners down at all.
Managing the balance between family, fitness and work is never easy, but it becomes all the more challenging when your job is being a professional athlete. Yet, more and more mom runners are coming back from pregnancy stronger than ever. On the mental and emotional front enduring labor or sleepless nights spent caring for a sick child can certainly help to put a race or hard training day into perspective. And good time management is critical to making everything fit in a day. For athletes, that might mean focusing more on the quality of workouts instead of the quantity.
“Becoming a mom has made me a better runner,” says Megan Lund-Lizotte, 30, mom to 1-year-old Maven. “I know I have to get as much out of my exercise time as possible.”
Lund-Lizotte made the 2013 U.S. team for the World Mountain Running Championships last September while she was still breast-feeding Maven, so she traveled to the race in Poland with her daughter, a breast pump and her mom. (She finished 32nd in the 9K race, helping the U.S. to a fifth-place team finish.)
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There is also the argument that being a mom can make a woman more physically fit. Just seven months after having her son, Colt, Kara Goucher ran the 2011 Boston Marathon in 2:24:52. Paula Radcliffe won the 2007 New York City Marathon less than a year after having her daughter, Isla. Deena Kastor gave birth to baby girl Piper Bloom in February 2011 and went for her first easy run less than three weeks later. She eased back into training, but saw her fitness return remarkably fast, so quickly that she raced again at the NYRR New York Mini 10K less than four months after giving birth.
While increased blood flow and the growth hormones associated with pregnancy could possibly give some benefits, the boost, if any, is typically short lived and doesn’t make up for a lack of sleep or endless diaper changing.
The time it takes to return to peak fitness has more to do with an athlete’s ability to maintain fitness while pregnant, how their bodies adapt postpartum, whether or not they are breastfeeding (Lund-Lizotte admits to dehydrating quickly when she was still nursing Maven) and how hard they are able to work to get back to top form. Maintaining core strength through pregnancy and immediately afterward to keep the pelvis and lumbar region stabilized is one of the key contributors to postpartum running performance and health.
It might be psychological or it might be something that can’t be measured or quantified.
“Running started out as something purely for me, my escape, my ‘me’ time,” says two-time U.S. 5,000-meter champion Lauren Fleshman, 32, mother to Jude, 11-months old. “It’s still my ‘me’ time, but what I didn’t expect was how whole I would feel when I cross a finish line and Jude is there.”
Darcy Africa, a mom, ultrarunner and two-time winner of Colorado’s grueling Hardrock 100 offers a similar observation.
“When I was running up towards the Hardrock finish line, a friend asked what I most wanted to see or do (after I finished),” she says. “All I wanted at that moment was to see Sophia.”