This shouldn’t come as a shock to you when I say at some point in the next four years I want to have a kid. Over 30, married five years, obsessed with your baby…it adds up. And since it’s after an Olympic year, any woman over 26 that you’ve seen running on TV is probably thinking it over right now as well. Since the day after her season ended, she’s been getting inundated with not-so-subtle questions from family and friends (and total strangers) about her baby plans, and trying to imagine a scenario that is not career destroying (and then feeling guilty for thinking about her career).
All women have their career complications, and I’d love to hear about them to be honest, but I only know about this one career, so I’ll tell you what I’ve learned over the past 10 years. Young people listen up…this could be your life one day.
Olympic Sport athletes think in four year cycles. Most put it off until around 30-35, but eventually if you want a family, you have to, well, do it. You can wait until you retire, and not worry about how it affects your running career at all, but if you still have the passion and the fast times in you, you need to strategize.
So that’s what I’m doing: strategizing. And in doing so, I’ve decided being a female distance runner is freaking weird.
Timing is Everything:
Us ladies can’t just have a baby all willy nilly. Forget the biological clock; if the Olympics is part of your dream, you have to consult with the boss first: the Olympic Calendar.
The majority of women do it in the “off year,” which is smack dab between Olympics. It comes once every four years, has lots of great races, but no major championship like a Worlds or Olympics. Option two is immediately after an Olympic Year (like this year). You miss a World Championships which has big financial ramifications, but get the next three years to build back. Either way you choose it, you better hope your pipes work in the first few months of your off season because the clock is a’ticking. Miss your window and you have to wait.
Four things you may not know about Pro Runners and Pregnancy (the truth):
Many (I’d estimate 85%) of sponsorship contracts get suspended for a year (read: no payment). The reasoning is, she can’t do her job (race/represent the brand) when she is pregnant. You don’t get prize money if you don’t race either. Now you are pregnant and poor! Yippee! Time to whip out that lengthy resume (not), slap on some Spanx, and start applying for jobs!
Runners are independent contractors, and are not “employees” of any company and therefore have no benefits. Maternity leave? Health insurance? Hahahahahahaha! Good one. Even if you pay for really good insurance yourself, you can still end up paying a couple G’s in bills.
From what I’ve heard from my runner friends, 10% body fat from track season isn’t exactly fertile ground. To have a baby you have to be less active, quickly grow some rolls, get pregnant (which can be difficult even for people who don’t have a history of ammennorhea,) spend 9.5 months pregnant, and then go on a crash course to get your body back. We’re talking 12-16 months of VLT (voluntary largeness time). A runner’s job is her body. Imagine if singers lost their voice when they were pregnant? Or painters went blind? You’d think pretty hard about it wouldn’t you? Keep in mind for a pro athlete, “getting your body back” means back to that already impossible form it was in beforehand. If people aren’t saying “Oh my God! You look like you never had a baby!” within 12 months of getting knocked up, you’re behind schedule.
4. No Man’s Land:
While one could fill the bottomless basement of Gringots Wizard Bank with research and books about training for performance, good luck finding ONE about “optimal training for pregnant professional runners that gets you back to work as fast as possible while optimally growing a human.” From what I’ve seen with my runner friends, your best bet is to just call another pro-runner and ask “So…I know we usually spit fire at one another at races and are barely acquaintances, but what did you do when you were pregnant? Can you help me out?”
So by now you’re probably saying “That sounds amazing, Lauren! You should totally think about having a baby!” I HEAR you, dear reader. With a profession so well suited to child rearing, it’s shocking I don’t have three already! Well, it’s either this year, next year, or after the next Olympics. Along with everyone else, I’ll be thinking it over.
Bonus Material: Sh*t Pro Runner Girls Say About Babies
When’s the best timing?
What if I can’t get pregnant?
Should I get fertility help right away to make sure I get pregnant quickly so I don’t waste valuable training time?
Will I lose my contract?
Do I have enough money saved?
Which job should I apply for at the mall?
What will I miss out on athletically?
Can I train through it?
Will the baby fall out?
Can I bounce back?
Will I get mommy super powers like Kara Goucher?
What’s the return policy?