At the starting line of last year’s TCS New York City Marathon, Mary Keitany was feeling nervous, unsure about how her body would react to the 26.2 miles ahead.
Sure, she was a two-time winner of the London Marathon, her 2012 time of 2:18:37 making her the second-fastest woman in history behind only the great Paula Radcliffe. And yes, she had already run New York twice, finishing third both times. But this would be her first marathon in more than two years: in April 2013, she gave birth to her second child, Samantha, who joined her older brother Jared, born in June 2008. Was she ready?
Just 2:25:07 later, her body had answered with an emphatic “yes,” as Keitany held off not only a brutal wind but also her Kenyan compatriot, Jemima Jelagat Sumgong, for a three-second victory.
Keitany, who at 33 will return to defend her TCS New York City Marathon title on November 1, shares her story with us via email.
Q: Did you run at all while you were pregnant? After you gave birth, how long did you take completely off before you started running again?
Mary Keitany: Both Jared and Samantha meant for me a one-year stop from training and any sport activity. I stopped at the third month of pregnancy and I resumed when the kids were six months old.
Q: Did you miss running while you were taking your time off? Or were you glad for the break?
MK: During my “maternity leave” I really missed running, because to me it is not just a job but a real passion.
Q: How did your first run back feel?
MK: When I started running again after giving birth to Jared, I went through a really hard time. I felt heavy, and even slow paces felt very difficult to follow. I was really down physically and morally. I even thought of quitting this job. Fortunately after some time my body and mind reacted better and I stopped worrying.
After my second pregnancy, everything was less hard. The previous experience gave me more confidence. Despite this, I still found it physically hard because I had put more weight on compared to the first pregnancy.
Q: Some women have found that they run even better after having a baby. What is your experience?
MK: Maternity is a fantastic experience that changes your life. It makes you more responsible and mature. The new attitude also reflects on the dedication you put into training, because you realize you are not just running for money or for glory, but for giving your children a better future by improving your performances.
Q: What did it feel like to win the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon?
MK: From a technical point of view, winning London 2012 in 2:18:37 was the biggest satisfaction, but New York in 2014 was definitely the most thrilling day of my life. I clearly remember the deep pre-race anxiety for returning to 42K, the expectation to do well to give my little Samantha a special present, but also the strong will to erase from my memory the two disappointments previously experienced in New York. When I crossed the finish line and lifted my arms after a great challenge against Jemima Sumgong, I felt like the happiest person in the world. I could take home the trophy to my daughter.
Q: How does it make you feel that you had to miss several years of your career to have your babies and then recover? Do you ever wonder if your outstanding career would have been even greater if you had not missed those years?
MK: Becoming a mother is the most important thing that happened in my life, I don’t regret having given up on some races in order to accomplish this. I cannot say if these years that I have missed would have made my legs stronger than now, but I can guarantee that without maternity I wouldn’t have the same motivation that I have now. This motivation pushes me and makes me train hard; it makes me want to improve myself day by day.
Q: What is the hardest part about having children and being a top professional runner?
MK: Being a wife, a mother, and a top athlete at the same time makes your daily routine very hectic and pushes you to focus on finding a good balance between your duties. Your human priorities are your children, but at the same time you cannot put at risk your performance quality by not giving 100 percent in your training, and this also goes for recovering after physical strain.
Q: Has Jared ever come to a marathon with you? What does he say about your running success?
MK: Jared came with me on three occasions: London 2012, Olympic Games 2012, and London 2015, while little Samantha made her “debut” just last spring in London. Thinking about Jared’s reactions, I can still clearly picture these nice memories: In London 2012 my husband told me that while Jared watched me on the screen showing the race, he kept on screaming, “Go, Mum! Run, Mum!” as if he was trying to push me to run faster in the last kilometers. Maybe it was that “special” energy that made me run the last 10K in 31:33!
Concerning the unlucky 2012 Olympic Games, I remember his watery eyes asking me why I did not win even one medal. [Keitany finished fourth in the marathon.] When I explained to him that it was a tough race and that you cannot always win, he said, “I understand this, it’s OK for today. But next time you must bring home a medal!” I will do my best to make his wish come true in Rio 2016.
Q: What advice would you give other women runners about coming back to form after childbirth?
MK: My message for all the mothers who start running again after a maternity stop is this:
Don’t be scared about the many family commitments, don’t let them make you unable to train at best. The weariness that builds up looking after your family is weaker than the inner strength that your children will give you. You will be stronger and will perform better than before!
By Barbara Huebner
Watch the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1 on WABC-TV, Channel 7, in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. EST and watch it across the country on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST.
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