By NATALIA HAWK
Last month, Alysia Montano – a 28-year-old professional runner in the USA – took part in the 800m race at the national running championships.
She was also 34 weeks pregnant at the time. Which is quite far along in a pregnancy – as evidenced by the big bump that you could see through her bright pink singlet.
The reactions have been mixed. Some thought that she was doing the right thing – after all, Alysia ran in the 2012 Olympics and has competed in many championships on both national and international levels.
Others were shocked by her actions; it’s one thing to see a heavily pregnant woman – it’s quite another to see her competing in a professional athletic race. In fact, this is the first time that an athlete has competed at national championships while so heavily pregnant.
It’s important to note that Alysia, who is due in August, consulted her doctors before the race. They confirmed that it was fine for her to compete. She also had medical staff check the baby’s wellbeing directly after the race was done, and all was well.
The other important thing to note? Alysia took a very relaxed pace during the race (which is still ridiculously fast for us normal non-runners, but slow for her). She came in last place. And the crowd gave her a standing ovation as she crossed the finish line, clapping and cheering for both her and the baby.
So the question remains: is it really okay to run at such a level when you’re pregnant? And why did Alysia even choose to run in the national championships in the first place?
Sports journalist Paul Cochrane did an interview with Alysia to find out the answers to both of the above questions. Here is some of that interview below, originally published at Athlete’s Talk and republished here with full permission:
Alysia, thanks for taking the time to have a chat. I guess the question everyone is going to ask you immediately is: ‘Why did you do it’?
It was about raising awareness. It was about raising awareness about how good fitness in pregnancy is. And second of all, whatever you did before the pregnancy, you can continue to do during pregnancy. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to continue unless you’re having a complicated pregnancy, or an unhealthy pregnancy.
And I wanted people to recognise that pregnancy is not an ailment, it’s not a sickness and this is what the female body can do. We’re strong, we’re not fragile, we’re not going to fall apart. We were made to do this.
I guess women train right up until the moment they give birth. But you took it to another level, by going elite. I guess that’s what it’s extraordinary about it and perhaps what drew more scrutiny to the process.
Yeah, I mean, this is what I do. This is what I’ve been conditioned to do. I’ve been a very active individual and competing in sports since I was five years old, not just athletics; soccer, basketball, all across sports – so this is my body’s condition, to you know, run, at a quicker pace than normal individual, especially the normal pregnant individual.
You said there were no rules that stopped you from running but there are some sports that have rules in place about pregnant women competing. Do you expect that this will come up for discussion now, that perhaps it may be reviewed?
Yeah, I mean I guess I can see a few different reasons why someone would put a limitation on a pregnant woman competing in their respective sport. Obviously, my sport is not necessarily a contact sport, especially if you saw the race from the gun, I was nowhere in sight. My race begins in a fashion where everybody has their own individual lane and then you cut in and by the time everybody cut in, I was by myself. Haha.
So, I really don’t see how that can be an issue. I understand people thinking, ‘oh you might fall’ and I always say this, I said ‘You know, you could fall getting out of bed, you can fall taking the stairs, you could fall, walking’ – you know what I mean. You could literary fall walking. And then in this point you can get in a car accident while driving; people get in their car every single day. There are so many things to fear. It doesn’t make or enhance your life by being fearful of every single small detail.
You sound like a woman that is trying to keep herself fit for another Olympic campaign. Is Rio in your sights?
Yes, absolutely. That’s it. Like I said – I’m not sick, I’m like every other professional woman in her career track that’s pregnant; doesn’t mean my life’s over; doesn’t mean my career is over. It’s just an amazing event that is happening during my career.
Whenever you run you wear a flower in your hair. What’s the purpose of the flower in the hair?
The flower in the hair is my symbol of strength and femininity. It’s exactly what I hope that me going out there and running and competing while pregnant shows. I hope it shows that we as women, we’re not fragile. We’re not going to fall apart.
So with everything we’ve talked about. With all the publicity. With all the questions asked of you. With everything your body has been through. Would you do it all again?
Absolutely, absolutely. I hadn’t anticipated how amazing it would be and how many letters and messages I would get from other runner mums. So many who have been like ‘I’m so thankful that you did this’, I mean – it’s put it to rest. Different friends and family that have thought that I shouldn’t be running in my pregnancy, it’s put that to rest and I just feel so grateful that I had to be the voice for all of those women.
There are so many women, you have no idea. There are so many women that are just so amazing in their own right and they all run and you know, they’re pursuing fitness in their pregnancy and they pursuing it intensely in whatever fashion that they’re doing it and there’s nothing that you’re doing that you can’t handle. You know, your body is equipped for this and if you think about pregnancy, in you know, the primitive days – women were moving, they were working, there was no; I mean we happen to be living in a society now where it’s easy to sit down and have everything brought to you.
And just because we are in a technological era I feel like, all of a sudden, it become this, basically, I want to be completely honest ‘lazy aura’ that has been surrounding pregnant woman; like it’s just been ‘now it’s time to sit down’ and it’s not the case at all. And again, you want to promote healthy blood flood to the placenta and the best way to do that is to remain active.
You can go to Athlete’s Talk to read the full interview with Alysia.
According to Australian guidelines, Alysia is pretty much spot-on with her thinking around pregnancy and fitness. This is from the Sports Medicine Australia fact-sheet: