Women have been running pregnant for years now.
But Alysia Montano took it to another level. Montano, who’s nearly eight months pregnant with her first child, competed in an 800-meter race at this year’s US track and field championships this past Thursday, June 26. While some were critical, many were inspired by her example of defying convention and pushing against perceived limits of what's "normal" for a pregnant women.
Granted, Montano's pace wasn't anywhere near her personal best (She's been the 800-meter national champion the past four years). But after consulting with her doctor, he recommended that she run.
"That took away any fear of what the outside world might think about a woman running during her pregnancy," Montano told the Associated Press. "What I found out mostly was that exercising during pregnancy is actually much better for the mom and the baby. ... I did all the things I normally do ... I just happened to be pregnant. This is my normal this year."
Before Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, there were many myths floating around about women and long distance running, including that they were "too fragile" to run that far. And not every Boston Marathon official was happy with her participation:
A man with an overcoat and felt hat was then in the middle of the road shaking his finger at me; he said something to me as I passed and reached out for my hand, catching my glove instead and pulling it off ...Moments later, I heard the scraping noise of leather shoes coming up fast behind me, an alien and alarming sound amid the muted thump thumping of rubber-soled running shoes. When a runner hears that kind of noise, it’s usually danger—like hearing a dog’s paws on the pavement. Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I’d ever seen. A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leapt backward from him.
This year, over 14,000 women competed in the Boston Marathon alongside nearly 18,000 men. And according to Running USA, in 2013 61 percent of the 2 million finishers in half marathons were women.
Not only are more women running today, but some are running for two – and loving it.
Back in 1987, while three months pregnant, elite runner Joan Benoit shattered expectations by running the Boston Marathon and finishing in 9th place. Just two years earlier, she had broken the women’s marathon world record in the Chicago Marathon, with a time of 2:21:21, and she wasn’t about to give up running just because she had a bun in the oven.
At this year’s Boston Marathon on April 22, some spectators reported seeing as many as five pregnant women running. Colleen Murphy Smith was six and a half months pregnant when she made her way through the Boston suburbs to downtown Boylston Street. She posted a photo on Twitter and Instagram that showed her grinning with her medal and sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with “FUTURE BOSTON MARATHONER ON BOARD.”
The caption read, “We are Boston Marathoners!!! 6:18 finish!!! #fitpregnancy #34weeks so many emotions feeling wonderful and blessed!!”
Sarah Mulcahy, who was also six and a half months pregnant on Boston Marathon day, also enjoyed participating and received nothing but supportive comments, she told WhatToExpect.com: “I wore a ‘running for two’ shirt during the race. Spectators loved it and were constantly cheering me on and rooting for me along the way. When other runners and spectators found out I was pregnant, they met me with astonishment, surprise, awe and complete support.”
Ms. Montano, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Malcahy show just how far perceptions have come about what pregnant woman can accomplish.
While I didn’t run during my pregnancy last year, just a week before my daughter was born, I hiked five miles in Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, Mass. It was one of those late-March days when Boston gets a reprieve from the cold and snow, if only for a day, and I was thrilled to be outside without having to wear a parka.
I got bewildered looks as I power walked over hills, my enormous belly protruding below my fleece sweater. A handful of people ventured, “Are you about to pop?”
Without stopping, I happily called over my shoulder, “Just one more week to go!”
Within reason, staying active during pregnancy is a beautiful – and normal – thing. For me, it helped clear my head, feel comfortable in my body with all the changes it was going through, and reconnect with my husband.
I’ll never forget how I held his hand and rubbed my belly as I weaved through the trails with the sun glinting through the bare trees. Motherhood was just around the corner, but just then, I was content to be moving freely.