I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday for Mother’s Day, but I couldn’t skip this opportunity to call out some remarkable endurance mothers who managed to breastfeed while covering crazy mileage. Below is an excerpt from my new book, Daughters of Distance, dedicated to supporting and empowering women in endurance. You can purchase the entire book here.
There’s a photo of endurance trail runner Emma Roca with her three children at a cross-country ski resort in France that strikes me as a raw image of motherhood.
Emma is in full racing gear sitting in what appears to be the back of a car. She’s wearing a Buff company jersey, a buff on her head, sunglasses on top of her buff, and GPS strapped to her wrist. She is obviously ready to run.
Except…her shirt is halfway up her chest and her breasts are exposed with two beautiful half-asleep babies feeding on both sides. Peeking out underneath her cleavage is a heart rate monitor strap. Emma is wearing a huge, makeup-less smile with one more golden-haired, droopy-eyed toddler hanging contentedly off her neck. Emma’s husband, David, was out training when this photo was taken. Right after him, Emma trained.
As serene and iconic as Emma Roca’s photo is, the real story isn’t how easy she makes it look, but how hard it really is. When iRunFar asked Emma what the hardest and most fulfilling experiences in her athletic career were, she said it was training while breastfeeding.
Keep in mind: this is from a woman who has raced in extreme cold and extreme heat, pushing through hallucinations and severe sleep deprivation. She has suffered from a foot infection and has broken her wrist only to continue cycling (a teammate had to change the gears for her). She has raced duathlons, triathlons and adventure races. She has won world championships. She describes some of these experiences as difficult, and then puts breastfeeding at the top of the list.
To keep her production of milk going, Emma would pump her breasts during adventure races, then drink her own milk. She would tell her team it was her magic potion. Other women reported using fenugreek to maintain or increase milk production.
Some other examples of breastfeeding trail mamas include:
- Emily Baer
This ultrarunner was mentioned in Born to Run for her feat at the 2007 Hardrock 100: she completed the race while stopping at every aid station to breastfeed her infant son. Despite the delay, she still finished eighth overall, besting ninety other infant-less men and women.
- Jennifer Benna
For the entire running season of 2011, Jennifer had a tiny breast-seeking infant nearby. She ran the Way Too Cool 50K at five months post-partum, and during the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 she instructed her dad to meet her with a breast pump so she could race near the front of the pack. She remained competitive despite the sleep deprivation of being a new mom and the stress of moving to a new city. Jennifer found herself running faster so she could get home to her baby girl.
- Liza Howard
At the age of 42, Liza Howard set a course record at the Umstead 100 by running a 15:07 while stopping several times to use a breast pump on the floor of an outhouse. Liza stayed close to her baby during training by running up to 40 miles on a treadmill in her garage. She started her 40-miler at 9 p.m. and marked off every mile on a white board.
- Jennifer Pinarski
Jennifer Pinarski ran the Winnipeg Birds Hill Sprint Triathlon when her son was five months old. She nursed him ten minutes before the start, although trying to breastfeed in a wet suit was a challenge. By the end of her race, her breasts were sore from being crammed into racing gear but she managed to clock a personal record.
- Kelly Gould
Kelly Gould took on the challenge of Ragnar SoCal when her son was 17 months old. She covered a 200-mile relay with a team of 12 other mothers. They called themselves Team RIOT Moms. Kelly had to leave for her race before her baby was awake, so she pumped before she left. Her husband then met her at designated points along the course so she could nurse and she continued pumping in the team van. Team RIOT moms completed 200 miles from Huntington Beach to San Diego in 32 hours.
- Barbara Olmer
Barbara finished the Rocky Racoon 100 in 2013 while stopping to pump every 20 miles. She estimates she lost about 20 minutes of running time at every pump break. She struggled with nutrient depletion and a pulled groin, but when she finished she was presented with an award for “Most Miles Breastfed.” Her Rocky Raccoon finish now means more to her than her Hardrock buckle. Barbara writes, “All you new mothers—go run and fear not; the mind will take you places you never imagined and the body will follow suit.”
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