From the appropriate amount of weight to gain, to how much running (and how fast) is OK, to when women return to their workouts, there are no easy answers when it comes to pregnancy and running. As challenging as the endless criticizing is for moms who run for fitness, imagine what it’s like for professional runners who also give birth.
When peak physical fitness is a job requirement, some may wonder if it’s possible to have it all. The resounding answer is “Yes!” The key comes in paying attention to your body. Some women are able to run up until giving birth, and return to fitness with seeming ease. Other athletes look at being pregnant as a time to give their body a break from the rigors of training. Sara Slattery, Kellyn Taylor and Alysia Montaño took different approaches to pregnancies, but these three speedster moms are all on their way to the U.S. Olympic Trials which will be held July 1-10 in Eugene, Ore.
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Time to Reboot
Sara Slattery, 34, was a two-time NCAA champion while at the University of Colorado, before winning the Bolder Boulder 10K in 2006 (the last American woman to do so). After placing fourth in the 5,000m at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, Slattery began battling injuries and overtraining issues. She and her husband Steve, a former elite steeplechaser, eventually moved from Colorado back to Slattery’s hometown of Phoenix to start a family. Slattery now has two children, ages 1 and 3 and is a distance coach at Grand Canyon University. As it turns out, pregnancy was just what she needed to look at running in a new light—something she does for the joy of it, not just the job.
“I looked at my pregnancies as a mental and physical break from years of intense training,” says Slattery who ran through month four of each pregnancy, and walked or rode the ElliptiGO to stay active as her pregnancies progressed. “I also had two C-sections, so I had to wait an additional six weeks after each of my children were born before running.”
The break gave Slattery an opportunity to realize how much she loved running. Not only did she enjoy both of her pregnancies, she’s also enjoyed the process of coming back and seeing huge improvements each week. Running is Slattery’s “me time.” Instead of putting so much pressure on individual workouts, she now looks at her training as more of an accumulation.
“I take advantage of the time I have to run. I no longer have the time to overthink things,” says Slattery who credits her coaching job as helping her to rediscover her passion for the sport. “I’m still very competitive, but after a run, I put on my mom hat or coach hat. It’s not the only thing in my life anymore and it takes the stress off a bit.”
According to husband Steve Slattery, who is also Sara’s coach, the biggest shift for her since having children is that she now trains because she wants to and is having fun. It’s almost as if she’s returned to having a high school mentality about her running.
“I give her the workouts, she gets them done and she moves on to the next thing,” Slattery says. “She’s a high achiever and such a talented athlete, but she isn’t worried about it. She wants to win as much as the next person, but she’s turned off so much of the pressure she used to put on herself.”
Day by Day
Kellyn Taylor finished third in the mile at the 2009 NCAA indoor championships when she was running for Wichita State. In 2012, she ran the 10,000m and 5,000m at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing tenth and fourteenth respectively. During the intervening years between being a college athlete and an elite runner, Taylor had a daughter.
“I was fresh out of college and wasn’t training for anything so I just took it day by day,” says Taylor, a personal trainer at the time, of her pregnancy.
Her casual attitude towards running meant she did it just for her, and she ended up running four to six, easy to moderate miles on most days of her pregnancy. “I had a very easy pregnancy and birth but I still took my time getting back into shape.’
The new mom had the added challenge of her husband being deployed to Afghanistan for the first six months after their daughter was born. Managing motherhood, running and now training to become a firefighter has forced Taylor to become more organized.
“I like to get my stuff done and go,” says Taylor, who often logs her second workout of the day at night on the treadmill. “After workouts my teammates like to go to brunch, coffee, or just hang out a bit longer but I like to get home so that I have more time with my daughter.”
Taylor also noticed she’s become a faster runner since having her daughter, something she thinks, in part, stemmed from the extra strength training of hauling a 10-pound baby around all day.
“Once I started training again I saw significant improvements,” says Taylor whose daughter is now 6. “I race to prove to myself and my daughter that anything is possible with hard work.”
But the Olympic contender, who ran a personal best of 31:40 in the 10,000m in May, says it’s impossible to balance it all. And while she tries to make family her first priority, sometimes she misses “a game, field trip or quality time” due to training schedules and races.
“I’m just trying to keep my head above water and be the best mother and runner I can be.”
Running (and Racing) Through
When pregnant with her daughter, Olympian and six-time U.S. 800m champion Alysia Montaño, 30, had the obvious goals of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. She also believed that staying active was key to making both of those goals realities and decided to run as long as she could without pushing it.
She listened to her body and took the different phases in stride, managing four runs a week during the first trimester, daily runs during the second, and about two runs a week for the final stretch. One of those runs just happened to be at the 2014 U.S. Championships, which she ran while 34 weeks pregnant. She finished last, but wanted to show what it meant for a professional runner to be a working mom. Montaño even went on a 5-mile run the same day she had her baby.
“I breastfed my daughter for the first year of her life,” Montaño says. “My running wasn’t snappy, but it was quick enough and I was careful about loading and speed because my ligaments and joints were still loose.”
Even while breastfeeding, Montaño had impressive finishes, including silver in the 800m and gold in the 4x400m relay at the 2015 Pan American Games, and earning the 2015 U.S. titles for indoor 600m and outdoor 800m. She says returning to full strength has been a metaphorical rebirth of her “fire and desire” for hard work.
“For me sports, life and family all tie in together, with one teaching you something about the next,” says Montaño, who wants to show her daughter the importance of working towards goals. “Being competitive is personality-based for me, but you have to recognize the purpose and enjoy your life.”
The takeaway from these three is that they are moms and they are professional runners. And, when it comes to the upcoming Trials, they have a job to do.
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