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How Alysia Montaño Went From Expectant Mom To U.S. Champ

The US Indoor Champ opens up about her pregnancy, running and life with daughter Linnea.

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Last spring, elite track athlete Alysia Montaño used her stomach to make a statement—but now she lets her speed do the talking. 

When Olympian Alysia Montaño hit the track for the 800-meter race at USA Track & Field Out-door Championships last June, the crowd was shocked. The stands buzzed at the sight of her eight-months-pregnant belly spilling out from underneath her bright pink singlet. Twitter exploded with shout-outs of support for Montaño’s decision to enjoy the race in her third trimester, while a few skeptics raised concern at her choice to run so late in her pregnancy. This March, Montaño turned heads again after winning the indoor national title in the 600 meters only six and a half months after giving birth to her first child, Linnea.

While a carefully regimented return to running contributed to Montaño’s quick success on the national stage, the new mom says her little “number one training partner” was her true secret for success. Montaño believes the journey a mother and daughter share begins before birth, and the ASICS-sponsored runner gave us a peek at just how she nurtured that pregnant runner belly for nine months—and why it matters for her baby.

Why she ran in the 800 meters right before popping:
“I knew I had a platform as an elite runner. I wanted to be an advocate for those mothers who knew they were doing something good for their babies by continuing to exercise during their pregnancy and maybe were experiencing ridicule for doing so. I wanted to show people that, hey, the best thing for mom and for baby is to continue to be healthy individuals.”

Why she believes exercise endorphins are key while expecting:
“Pregnancy is not a death sentence. We’re not sick. We are creating life and doing something so amazing. Look now—my daughter is amazing. She started army- crawling at five and a half months, got it down by six months, and she was sitting up at three and a half months.

“A lot of stuff was ahead of the developmental sliding scale, and I really think it has to do with a good blood flow and the strength that she got from training with me. She got to experience those vibes and those rhythms of what being healthy feels like.

“Ultimately, you’re the vessel for this person who’s not in the world yet. I was her vehicle for goodness. For all those moms who are doing that for their baby now, that’s what they are doing—being a vessel of goodness.”

Related: Retired Marathoner Paula Radcliffe On Being A Mom

How everything went down on Linnea’s first day:
“The morning I delivered, I ran 5 miles, but it took me 80 minutes to do it. Usually that takes me, like, 35 minutes—so it was just a little bit longer! My due date had just passed—40 weeks is a full gestation period, and 37 is considered full term—so I was 40 weeks and 1 day, and I’m just thinking, Come on.

“I texted all my friends and asked what they did the day they delivered, and one told me to eat chili. Another walked 5 miles, so that’s why I ran 5. I went to my midwife after my run and asked if I was anywhere near, and she said, “I think this is going to happen this weekend.”

“So I went home to shower and was getting ready to take a nap, and my water broke—like a full-on fire hydrant gushing water. You don’t think you have all that water! Louie [her husband] came in and we were both just dying laughing.

“I turned on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—I wanted to laugh and be in a calm mind for a drug-free birth. I read a lot about it, about being calm and Zen, so I thought, Okay, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” that’s how I get my Zen. We got through an episode and a half before it started to get annoying! Then I started eating chili. When you’re working out, you need to eat, so I didn’t have a problem eating in between contractions. Some people warned me about chili, but it didn’t end up on the bed!”

How running and pregnancy jibed:
“I really wanted to stay fit because it was good for me and good for the baby. Your baby picks up on your rhythms, so if you wake up at a reasonable hour, your baby is doing that with you. When you go to sleep at a good time, you’re keeping that rhythm.

“I think it certainly helped to have the natural birth that I wanted. But it wasn’t just the physical exercise I was doing to prepare; I did a lot of mental work. I was imagining, Okay, this is an interval, so I’m working a little bit, like in labor. I’m going to have to work through labor, so I was practicing taking a little bit of breath for the contractions.

“It’s funny that everything on the list to prepare for a baby is like being an athlete. When you get your recommendations from your doctor, she or he is really just giving you tools to be healthy. It’s not necessarily because you’re carrying a baby—I mean, it is, be smart!—but it’s the same tips to live a healthy life. Some people think it’s better to sit and eat pizza and not work out. Eating for two doesn’t mean eating two portions; eating for two means think about what you’re eating.”

Why she’s never peed her pants:
“I’m 100 percent. Whatever the recommendation is, I’m going to do it all the way. So if they say do Kegels—seriously!—I’m going to work them into my workout routine. At the end of my hill workout when I was pregnant, I would just add 3×20 Kegel exercises. I think that helped me so I didn’t have to pee my pants.”

How awkward running felt after having a baby:
“Everything had recently just opened up to allow a person to come through. I felt kind of funny running—like a baby deer. I just felt wonky, like, Wait, right, left, how do I do this? It was funny having to think about how to run. Some women run the next day, but I didn’t really want to. My progression back just felt natural. I just had to wait for things to settle, even the thought that I had a kid now. Sometimes Lou and I would say, Hey, is that our baby?”

Related: Alysia Keep It Real At Our Cover Shoot

Why post-delivery was pleasantly shocking:
“I was super surprised how strong I felt so quickly after. My endurance was through the roof. I felt amazing.

“When you’re pregnant, you get 60 percent more of your blood volume because you’re carrying another person. So I don’t know if it was because of that, or because I got a nine-month break from the going-to-the-well training. It was surprising seeing my belly the way it was after giving birth and watching it shrink back. It was like I had a weight vest on for nine months—my legs felt so strong after it was over.”

Why Linnea was the most important spectator during her recent 600m victory:
“I thought, Okay, this is my first big race. I believe I’m going to run fast and going to win. But more than that was, Where is she in the stands?! That’s not something I normally think about—my parents come, but I don’t think about where they are.

“Then I knew in the finals where she was sitting. I thought, We got this. We got through an awesome nine months together training, so I feel like she’s always with me. It was amazing to have this visual affirmation. Having her there and me winning my first national championships back from my pregnancy was just more than anything I could have ever asked for. It just made me know that everything I want and fight for is for her.”