Motherhood can change a woman in many ways, but can it make you a faster runner? Countless studies have been done to see if motherhood makes you stronger. Afterall, Paula Radcliffe, the women’s marathon world record holder, won the 2007 New York City Marathon nine months postpartum while Colleen DeReuck, a four-time Olympian enjoyed a surge of personal bests and big wins in 1996 following the birth of her first daughter. Kara Goucher ran a personal best in the 2011 Boston marathon just seven months after giving birth and Ingrid Kristinasen won the 1984 Houston Marathon five months post partum.
These are elite runners, but these same effects seem to ring true for other mothers as well. Amanda Messenger, Wichita triathlete and runner, became faster and fitter after each of her two children were born. She went from a 5:42:16 half Ironman time 6 months after baby #1 to a 5:18:24 half Ironman 10 months after baby #2.
Messenger states, “I think having babies has definitely made me a stronger runner... I'm not sure that it physically made much stronger other than having the extra weight while pregnant and running and working out. It changed me more mentally than anything else. Before I got pregnant with my first baby, I just worked out whenever I felt like it and had no real plan… The pregnancies and giving up my body for 10 months just made me work very hard and become extremely determined to have that body back...which turned into me loving the sport of running/triathlon in a whole new competitive way. Before my babies I never had that same mental drive, I was just happy to finish and beat my time. The new competitiveness was born because I had these 2 precious babies! There is no comparison mentally who I was before the babies and who I am now... They mentally developed me which turned my whole physical state in a whole new place I'd never imagined being!
Houston runner, Sara Cherry, a mother of three says, “I think training through pregnancies really helped my fitness level. Running with all the additional weight and through discomforts of pregnancy helped strengthen me, both physically and mentally. “ Her marathon times dropped from a 4hrs and 20min before motherhood to a 4 hours after baby #1. Sixteen months after baby #2, she dropped her time to 3 hrs and 40 minutes before having baby #3. Nine months after having baby #3, she dropped another minute off her time and smashed her half marathon personal record by over 9 minutes.
Many mothers would contend that if motherhood didn’t make them physiologically stronger, it made them psychologically stronger. In any case, just because you become a mother doesn’t mean you need to hang up those running shoes. In fact, you may just want to get a new pair of racing flats and enjoy some new speed.
There are a few theories as to why many women become stronger runners after giving birth. Here are a few:
Increased red blood cells. When you’re pregnant, your blood volume doubles. According to a sports illustrated article, a 1991 study at the University of Vermont found that non-athlete women were still pumping slightly more blood than usual three months after giving birth.
Increased Motivation. After months of weight gain and not being able to run as much, you realize how much you miss running. You want to regain your fitness and body and may become more committed.
Making each workout count. No more lollygagging at the gym. You only have limited time now and you are going to make the most of it especially if it’s at 5am and you need to get home for a 6am feeding.
New mother, Kim Yates, says, “ I have to schedule in my workouts, and gone are the days of a leisurely two hour gym session. I am really efficient at squeezing in exercise. 15 minutes of pilates core work between putting baby down and eating dinner and 45 minutes of intervals on the treadmill… I don’t waste time on junk miles or long rests between sets lifting anymore.”
Moms have a mental balance. Mothers have a new appreciation for running. They know a bad performance or bad race isn’t the end of the world. They have a much more relaxed attitude and laid back attitude and appreciate running for what it is. In the end, they know that the only thing that really matters is their baby. Running relaxed is a key to a great performance.
Carrying Extra Weight provides strength. Much like a weighed vest helps elite runners gain strength on long runs, pregnancy weight helps build strength too as you go about your daily chores increasing your weight each week. Also, pushing a stroller will build strength after baby is born and provide good resistance training.
Forced time off to heal niggles. Many type A personalities have a hard time taking time off from running unless forced to do so. Although many women run through pregnancy, intensity and volume are decreased as the due date approaches and many stop running altogether. This may give women a much needed chance to recharge batteries and heal any nagging injuries. When a mother returns to running, she can return to the sport fresh and motivated and free of most of the aches and pains of hard running.