Before she gave birth to 7-pound, 8-ounce Lucy Kelleher on June 30, 2014, the fastest Lizzie Lee had run a half marathon was 1 hour, 14 minutes, 48 seconds at the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon, claiming first place.
Less than eight months after becoming a mother, Lee, the pride of Cork, Ireland, put the eraser to her 13.1-mile personal best, running 1:14:05 at the eDreams Mitja Marato’ de Barcelona in February.
At 35, Lee is faster than ever. She’s confident motherhood is a factor.
“You have perspective and total happiness,” says Lee, who, as part of her juggling act, works as a project manager for Apple. “If you get injured you know it’s not the end of the world. Before, you would panic about everything. Now, you don’t sweat the small stuff. You’re definitely happier and calmer.”
Lee will be back at the starting line for Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon, which doubles as the AAI National Half Marathon Championships at the distance.
The sporting life is filled with stories of women who have continued outstanding athletic careers after becoming mothers.
In 2009, barely seven weeks after giving birth, Candace Parker returned to the court for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and went on to average 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds. Later that same year, Kim Clijsters won the U.S. Open, becoming the first mother to win one of tennis’ Grand Slams since Evonne Goolagong in 1980.
In running, Paula Radcliffe became a mother in January 2007. Less than 11 months later she won the New York City Marathon.
As for Lee, her improvement hasn’t been confined to the half marathon. In June she lowered her personal best in the 10K from 34:08 to 33:13. She insists one of the reasons for her success is a supportive family.
“I have a superb husband who is supportive and understanding,” she says. “And our parents are brilliant with my daughter. They want to see her all the time. They live near, so there’s constant support there.”
However, she does admit her routine is more regimented after having a child.
“I have no life,” she jokes. “I don’t see anybody during the week. Everything is baby, training, work. My baby is the priority. My whole schedule is around her. I don’t do anything that’s major fun, except for my baby, and that, to me, is the most fun.
Lee’s path to athletic success is one seldom traveled. She was active in high school, playing basketball and soccer. “But I wasn’t very good at anything,” she says.
In college, she stayed fit by hitting the gym and spinning. She was 26 before entering her first triathlon, an Olympic distance race of a 1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run. Three years later she won a 10K in 36:52. A year later, in 2010, she represented Ireland, for the first time, at the European Cross Country Championships.
There are, of course, advantages to beginning an athletic career on the late side. One, the legs have not been hammered. Secondly, the mind is fresh.
“At the age of 35, I’m still running PRs, which keeps me motivated and enthusiastic,” she says.
Her bests in the 10K and half marathon rank second among Irish women this year. But whatever you do, do not ask her if she’s dreaming of representing her country in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m not talking about the ‘O’ word,” she says. “You can draw your conclusions. I’m just down in Cork, training away, doing my own thing. I’m not tempting fate.”
A woman who didn’t seriously pursue running until she was almost 30. Then, to one day qualify for the Olympics? That would be the mother of all stories.