Mothers in Motion
By Lisa Unger
Recently there has been more and more information available about elite women runners and their pregnancy experiences. As the concept of running through pregnancy becomes more prevalent, these women are coming forward with their stories. Just because they are Olympic athletes or national champions doesn’t make them better parents than the average recreational runner. But their status does make them more visible and therefore more notable by the media. This is actually good news for novice runners because it provides more information to help them make better decisions about if it is appropriate to continue running or not. Ceci St. Geme was the 1994 USATF National champion for 5000 meters, has four children and is expecting her fifth. She says, ” As an elite athlete, not only as a mother, you have a responsibility because people are looking at you, seeing how you do it.” While it is not suggested that a recreational runner to try to compare herself to an elite athlete, it can be reassuring to learn how some of the “famous feet” handled their pregnancies. Not all of the elite athletes continued running through their pregnancies. Many of them stopped all together or switched to cross-training activities such as stationary biking or swimming. Each pregnant woman needs to make decisions about what is best for her and her baby. Hopefully learning that an elite athlete made a similar choice will help to ease the burden of making those decisions all alone.
PattiSue Plumer is a two time 1500-meter and 5000-meter Olympian. It is her best guess that her 4-year old daughter was conceived soon after she returned from the Barcelona, Spain Olympic Games. Plumer recalls running consistently through her pregnancy from 10 weeks all the way up to the day before delivery, but she modified her routine into a conservative schedule of 20-minute to 45-minute runs. “I just tried to stay healthy and do what I would do if I wasn’t an Olympic athlete,” she said. Patti Gray Bellan of Boise, Idaho, a three time NCAA Division II track and field champion, ran moderately during her first seven months then stopped due to discomfort and dangerous road conditions (ice). Instead of running she exercised for 30 minutes a day on a stationary bike, in a pool or on a stairmaster. “I’ve been running all my life so I feel my body would have felt more out of balance if I hadn’t exercised,” she said. Vicki Huber, who also is a two- time Olympian, ran moderately through her pregnancy. It would be great to think that exercise during pregnancy always results in easy labor, but it just isn’t true. All three of these women suffered back labors. (The baby emerges face up instead of the usual face down, which puts tremendous pressure on the mother’s spine.) “Even the nurse in the hospital felt bad for me and you know she’s seen a lot,” said Plumer. Vicki Huber said, “I felt like I had two people on each side of me, pounding my joints with sledge hammers.”
Libby Hickman, 2000 US Olympian in the 10,000-meters, ran throughout her pregnancy but not at her normal training pace. Ireland’s Sonia O`Sullivan also ran during both of her pregnancies. She was third in the 2002 World Cross Country 4k Championships only three months after the birth of her second child. However, Kenya’s Catherine “The Great” Ndereba stopped running completely during her pregnancy in 1997. She decided that it was better for the health of her baby and also very likely felt pressured from Kenya’s society, which does not particularly accept women running in the first place. After the birth of her child, however, Catherine came back in 1998 to win 13 of the 14 races she entered. Gordon Bakoulis, the 6th American woman finisher in the 2001 NYC Marathon says, “Don’t compare yourself to other people. If you can do track workouts during your third trimester, that’s okay, as long as the baby is growing normally, you’re not spotting, there are no problems. But if you have to give up running, that’s fine, too.” Gordon ran during both of her pregnancies and now has two sons, Joey (5) and Sam (3).