Five-time national 800m champion Alysia Montaño memorably took to the start line at June’s US Championships while 34-weeks pregnant. She tells SPIKES why she chose to remain all-action during one of the most defining periods of her life.

Alysia Montaño and her husband Louis had always wanted to start a family, so when the then 27-year-old Olympic and world 800m finalist fell pregnant in late 2013, it was a dream come true.

“When I found out I was pregnant I was over the moon, ecstatic,” she explains. “With no global championship in 2014 we wanted a shot at starting a family and it worked out amazingly. We both wanted me to fall pregnant before the year's end because this would mean I would be in labour towards the end of the [track] season.

“This would mean the early weeks of the baby’s life would coincide with when other athletes have a break and I could restart training at a similar time to my competitors.”

Montaño sought the advice of other athletes who had experienced pregnancy. She spoke to marathon mums Kara Goucher, Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor, and former world 400m hurdles champion Lashinda Demus. The advice from each was the same.

“They all said, whatever you did before you were pregnant you can continue to do afterwards, as long as you have a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy,” she says.

Alysia Montano ()

None of this for Montaño during pregnancy

Montaño took the wisdom other mothers had offered on board and ran with it. Literally.

“I’m not the first pro athlete to get pregnant, but I wanted to make a stand; enlighten and educate people. So many people are ignorant on the subject. Some women believe that as a pregnant woman you should just put your feet up and eat for two. Some mums don’t realise you are starting a new life from the very beginning: that for mum and baby to be healthy you need to take on board good food and exercise regularly.” 

Adopting a sensible, commonsense approach to exercise was paramount for Montaño. Her body shape was changing and she needed to adapt her fitness programme accordingly.

“I didn’t really train seriously through pregnancy,” she insists. “I just ran to keep fit. It was good for me physically and mentally. It was not like I could draw up a nine-month training plan during pregnancy because nobody knew how I would feel from one day to the next.

“I set myself an initial goal to go out every day. Sometimes it was for 10 minutes and other days it was 30 minutes. I got so much energy from exercising. I would really advocate that for pregnant women who are feeling tired.

“In the second trimester I felt much more energetic and I returned to practise. Everything was modified. If the session was say a 400m at 70 seconds with a 100m walk/jog recovery, I would do the 400m at 70sec but rather than join in the next rep I might have a total rest lap skip a rep and then jump in on the next one. It was more about staying active.”

Alysia Montano ()

Celebrating after winning the US champs in 2013

Also careful to maintain as much strength as possible, the Californian carried out regular gym work, lunges and squats during pregnancy. In the third and final trimester and now at her biggest she sensibly cut back her exercise. However, she had one major goal ­– to defend her 800m title at the US Championships in Sacramento.

“I wanted to be an advocate of fitness during pregnancy,” she says. “I also wanted to be the voice for the working mum. It just so happened to be that being an athlete is my profession. What I wanted to do was show I was working by competing at my national championships. That was really important for me.” 

Before competing, the 34-week-pregnant athlete had one obstacle to overcome: what uniform to wear. Her kit sponsors came to the rescue.

“I told my representative at Asics that I would need a uniform and they were so excited,” she said. “They sent me a uniform a bit bigger than normal and a sports bra. I thought, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to wear the sports bra but I felt very happy to wear the uniform and be a voice for women across the board.”

Alysia Montano ()

Competing at nearly eight months pregnant attracted the attention of the world's media

At nearly eight months pregnant Montaño stopped the clock in heat three more than 120m behind the rest in a time of 2:32.13 – a little under 35 seconds shy of her lifetime best.  

Yet the desired impact had been made. She received a great reception from the public, and media requests rolled in from the UK, Japan Australia. Reporters even showed up at her parents’ house. 

And the US Championships were not the end of the story as Montaño continued to exercise throughout the final stages of pregnancy.

“I would maybe go out every couple of days for a run shuffle. On the days I didn’t exercise I felt horrible both physically and mentally. For someone who is used to moving and not getting that endorphin release was tough.”

 

 

On the due date of the birth of her first child she went out for a five-mile walk-run. Later that day her waters broke and after an eight-hour labour her baby daughter, Linnea, weighing 7lbs 15oz, was born at 2.30am on August 15.

Exercise has carefully been reintroduced into her schedule. She started some core work on week two, then the following week started a gradual training regimen. Six weeks ago she re-started what she terms “elite training”.

“I still have an extra recovery day more than I typically would. But I’m in great shape with my cardio and stamina,” she adds. “Even though we have been conservative and smart with my training, I’m really happy with my fitness.”