Here’s the story behind my recent 1:22:57 Half Marathon (7th place female finisher) at Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago. Currently that is the World’s fastest time a WOMAN has ever run pushing their kid (or someone else’s) for that distance. Once I can gather all the evidence, I will submit my claim to Guinness. This story is all about babies, being creative, taking time to plan and applying determination so mom gets “me time” on the run. If you are a parent (or plan to have kids someday) and reading this, I hope to provide some insight on how to make fitness and fun racing happen! If you aren’t, then watch your back as someday you may get passed by a stroller in an upcoming race near you (ok – this HAS happened to me might I add – a 17:30 5K too… a 40 year old dad pushing a 3 year old flew by me on the home stretch) 😛
To have a successful stroller race it’s a little different than a solo effort- there are a few components to note including…
-No flat tires
-A healthy/happy baby
-Winds preferably under 10-15 mph
-(for the Chicago race) the forecast which called for possible severe storms to hold off
-a race that allows strollers (note Rock ‘n’ Roll bent their rule since I was chasing a record -I started near the front and quickly moved to the far side to avoid the crowd)
I knew given my current abilities this was what it would take to break the standing Half Marathon record (1:27:34). Until the night before race day, I actually thought the record was only 1:30:51 (set 2000 as Guinness states). A pre-race article discussing my record attempt informed me that a mom in Great Britain bettered that mark by 4 minutes only 1 month ago! Not to steal her thunder, my plans were set before I found out that fact.
To run MY ultimate fastest (which I anticipated was anything between 1:21-24) – these were the key factors…
-smooth travel (babies on laps can wreck your body)
-the willingness to endure the 13.1 distance (check)
-some spark in my legs (day off and extra cookies – check)
I had all the faith in the world in baby P. She had proved time and time again she was a willing and able passenger. Give me some race adrenaline, a little taper going into race day, I’ll be ready to fly. My second child Paula has been a fantastic training partner. We’ve logged over 500 miles and there have been only a few occasions of complaints- (when I slow to a stop or there’s that mandatory diaper change –both easy fixes). Being well fed is a state of being for Paula (that girl can EAT). She’s got the reserves to make it through an hour or so run. But I always pack a “bubba” just in case we’d ever get stranded.
Back in 2013-14, I had been in my groove of saving money on babysitting, boosting quality time exploring the outdoors and racking up the miles in my Mountain Buggy Terrain stroller with baby Joanie (now age 4). She had her moments. From age 3-6 months her stroller attention span was about 30 minutes. Once my running took full flight (6 months postpartum), she quickly took a love for her rides with mommy.
Then one day, running around Nike campus near my home, Galen Rupp passed by and I unknowingly upped my pace (that sort of thing happens when you are surrounded by elites). It could have been Lopez or Centro or Jordan Hasay – they all had the same effect. Watching fast runners makes you just suddenly want to go… But I definitely remember Galen with Alberto on the bike. Suddenly the 7 miles went by and I averaged just under 7 minute pace, definitely leaving some more effort to be given. It was then the idea of “I wonder if there is a record for stroller running” popped into my head. Sure enough, Google supplied the answers. The then 10K record was surprisingly about the same pace that I had just ran, for a mile less! All I needed to do was race.
I used to be awed back in my pre-baby days watching Dathan Ritzenhein’s wife Kalin pushing around her double stroller, sometimes around the wood chipped trail on the Nike campus, thinking “that mom is a beast”! (Runner-up inspiration definitely my friend from back East – Dorothy Beal – who raced with her triple). Once I had my own baby, with a little experience and practice, the stroller thing became an afterthought. Fellow runners and onlookers assume it is hella-hard and often on my easy days people will cheer me on. It’s all about coordinating baby schedules and putting in a little extra effort (typical weight around 55 lbs with supplies and child, but obviously it has wheels so it’s not like pushing around a cement block). As long as route doesn’t include extreme hills, altitude or wind, it’s not too tough (plan to add ~20 to 30 secs/mile to your pace). At first I was annoyed by it, but I eventually realized it could be more of an asset as a training weapon to make you stronger (see my previous post STROLLER RUNNING IS MY ALTITUDE).
The only downside- stroller running is tough to balance when you need to be recovering. This past spring I got a little too confident in my abilities, therefore leading me down the run down path (coupled with sleep deprivation).
October 2014, I found a race in town (after many denials to race with a stroller) and broke the 10K Guinness World Record by 5 minutes (a cold, rainy day- my friend’s baby Ruby was nice and cozy as I ran 38:15 for 10K). It still has not been changed (evidence still pending). Trust me GWR, I pushed it and it was a legit race. No drug testing though.. hmmm.
The twist was of course – I borrowed my friend’s lighter baby. My own daughter was going out of town to visit grandparents with my husband- I swear to you I didn’t try to time this. As a mom you NEVER would argue against a much needed break! That actually added more logistical stress. I went on practice runs with the then-7 month old lightweight Ruby. Fast forward 4 months later, another mom Maggie Yount went after it and broke my record by 40 seconds with her then 3 month old (props to her- I definitely was not upset as I know these records are all achievable by MANY moms – I actually only wish we could all come together to have a fun competition!!
When I heard the news, I was pregnant with baby 2, so one of my postpartum goals was to try to better that 10K record.
July 4, 2016. I was in Eugene at the Olympic Trials. I was actually enjoying my time and quite proud of that fact alone. (In 2008 I was livid watching the prelims on TV after I was only 3 people away from qualifying). Prelims for the women’s steeplechase. I had that date marked on my calendar way back in November when I had successfully resumed full-on training and racing. As mentioned I was not on that starting list. Coincidentally there was a 10K that morning – “Strollers are allowed” the Butte to Butte website boasted. What a great day to try to check off a different goal!
The gun blasted and I gave it my best shot. I got off the line hard. A half mile in we faced a brutal 250 foot climb- only to get steeper as you approached the top. My baby Paula also weighed double what Ruby had (22 vs 11)- even though they were only 2 months apart.
After hitting about 6:05 thru the mile, it turned a little ugly. 100m to the top, I had to walk (it felt like I had just attempted an all out 1500m) and about 50 runners flew by (my next split was 6:36 but included a downhill). One nice man actually started to grab hold the stroller saying “I’ll help!” Only to hear me yell “NO!!!”. Obviously he had no idea I was in the process of attempting a record! I ran up to my friend Crosby and he was content to running in front of me to try to block the wind. My teammate Anna was on her bike with her phone recording the entire race. End of story I averaged once again 6:10 pace (38:16), a second shy of my former stroller PR and no record to claim. Working all week at the Trials had left my legs a little flat; but really I would need a little easier course to conquer the feat.
Thursday, July 14. Weeks passed and I was talking to my husband about the workout I’d be doing the following day, texting my Bowerman teammates to try to coordinate a meet up. An hour later I was booking my flight to Chicago. Everything had suddenly fallen into place to make this happen.
My former college roommate Bekah and I were texting. We had worked together for Competitor Group. The recent stroller attempt came up and she encouraged me to think about trying the half at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose. It wasn’t til October. Wasn’t there an earlier race? I headed onto the Rock ‘n’ Roll website. Yes in fact, Chicago was this upcoming Sunday and the race directors were just about to have their operations meeting to see if it would be safe. I couldn’t pick a better place to do it. Rock ‘n’ Roll knows how to put on a race. The crowds, the energy and the fantastic race organization. Done.
Friday morning I skipped my K repeats. I finished packing and mid morning I was on my way. A day off from running (substitute restraining lap child on long flights as cross training) instead of a workout- I knew I would be ready! My mom was off work all weekend and made the trip up to see me. I ended up having a roommate – Zoila Gomez – and there is no way this was just coincidence. What other elite would be completely cool with a 9 month old sharing a room pre-race (even if I had promised she NEVER wakes up)? God works in mysterious ways. Zoila was more than accommodating (she had 13 siblings growing up!!)
Post Race – I got more than the attention it deserved – with articles from Runners World, Competitor, USA Today and more..
The above articles give more detail on how it went down, but basically it was a success! The wind became the only truly challenging factor as my first 3 miles were a fast 6:05 before turning into some decent headwind (~10-15 mph). The crowds were amazing, the other racers were inspiring and kept me going after it. Once I had passed through a couple miles, I set my sights on staying competitive with the top 4-8 women. No complaints – a 6:20 average for 13.1 miles and walking away unharmed – back to training as usual the following day! Neely Spence cruised solo to the win in 1:12. Post race I finally got to meet her and another amazing mom I follow on social media – 3rd place 10K finisher – Katy Hayes.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half (Female) Results
1. Neely Spence 1:12:26
2. Chirine Njeim 1:17:00
3. Jessica Watychowicz 1:18:03
4. Loryn Kromrey 1:21:11
5. Kati Snyder 1:21:46
6. Karen Lockyer 1:22:47
7. Julia/Paula Webb 1:22:57
8. Kelley Gallagher 1:24:01
I hope that by running this record, it can inspire moms and dads to see their fitness doesn’t have to suffer just because you have the added responsibility of the baby. It’s still possible to maintain fitness from your pre-parenting days if you find creative ways to involve your kids in your workouts. Stroller running is a safe option (starting as early as 1 week old if you get a car seat attachment) I would recommend the mom waits a full month before she attempts to get back into a running routine. Dads- week 1-5 is your time!
I also like to share that year round weather fluctuations should not hinder your stroller running abilities – it is possible to do it in almost any environment (OK heavy snowfall not the greatest- I’ve tried). But I have run in sub zero degree temps and heavy downpours; as well as high heat. You just come prepared either bundling kids up or bringing ice water to keep them cool or a rain cover to keep them protected. There really is no excuse – the main thing it’s fun to involve your fitness into an activity great for getting your kids outside!
Moving forward I’m excited to take on more running adventures in the near future. Next up for me- Bowerman 5K (6 days post half – so we’ll see if I can find any sort of turnover after a long week) with some solid competition of my BowermanTC Elite teammates. Then early August my first (non-pregnant) Spartan Race here in Portland! A mandatory break will be starting in mid-August so I can reset and get ready for Club XC in December. Stay tuned and follow my Instagram for much more frequent updates.