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Molly Huddle started her build up to Monday’s Boston Marathon in August, hoping that she’d get through the training without the hip and ankle pain that took her out of competing in July at the 2021 Olympic Track & Field Trials. But she had an alternative plan if her injury needed additional rest.
“I was hoping to get one more marathon opportunity in and I got through most of August training, but I was still kind of having the hip and ankle issues, so I just said, ‘Let’s see if we can start our family and if it takes a few months, I probably will just make it to the marathon start line,’” Huddle said during a phone interview on Thursday with Women’s Running. “Luckily things went smoothly. I’m still working on the injury but I’m definitely checking this off my life to-do list, so that’s a happy reason to take a little break.”
Huddle and her husband, Kurt Benninger, are expecting their firstborn around April 23, 2022—so she’ll miss the 2022 Boston Marathon on April 18, too. She’s just finished her first trimester of pregnancy and so far? So good.
“I’m training half as much as I was before—I guess I’m used to feeling pretty tired, so I actually don’t feel that bad. I have just kind of felt that marathon training was more tiring compared to this,” Huddle said. “It’s going OK I think.”
And next week they will find out the sex of the baby: “I’m the kind of person who wants to know everything possible thing you can know,” she added, laughing.
As Huddle, 37, progresses through her pregnancy, she has two goals when it comes to running: to continue doing it as long as she can, for her general health and well-being, but to also give her injury a chance to heal completely. She won’t have any pressure to return to competition on a deadline, so she wants to take the time she needs to come back with strength and good health.
“I see it as a good chance to rest all the things that have accumulated in the last year and a half that I’ve tried to plow through to get to the Olympic Trials or the Boston Marathon,” Huddle said. “But I still do want to train a little bit and I have a lot of friends who have trained through pregnancy and I’m asking all of them for anecdotal advice. Everyone is very willing to share, which is nice.”
It’s not lost on Huddle how much parental leave contract policies for pro runners have changed since she began her career in 2007. Her longtime sponsor, Saucony, has included a clause that guarantees her pay through maternity, but that wasn’t always the case. She credits friends like Alysia Montaño for making it possible to maintain financial stability through pregnancy as a pro athlete.
Montaño, Allyson Felix, and Kara Goucher came forward in 2019 in the New York Times to talk about how they were not protected in their contracts while having children. Nike, for one, suspended payment while Goucher, a 10,000-meter world championships silver medalist, was unable to compete, though she still made public appearances on behalf of the brand throughout her pregnancy.
Since then, many running brands, including Nike, have changed their contracts or publicly acknowledged how they support athletes who become pregnant during their careers. Huddle is grateful to the women who spoke out.
“Shout out to Alysia, because I think she really started this conversation,” Huddle said. “It’s just changed everything. You didn’t see a lot of women having babies in the middle of their careers—they waited until retirement. It was normal to basically get fired until you could run again. Most of us didn’t even consider doing it. It feels like a safer place and people see that there’s creative ways for athletes to interact and be part of the marketing team.”
When it was time to spill the news to her sponsor Saucony, Huddle felt comfortable talking to the president of the company, Anne Cavassa, who also has children and could empathize with how challenging it can be to have a child while still pursuing career goals.
“There was a lot less to explain and a lot of shared perspective there, so that was really comforting,” Huddle said. “It wasn’t always that way. She wasn’t always there. Our contracts didn’t always have the clauses in them that were sort of protective. That’s pretty recent, too, basically since Alysia spoke out. It’s something that I had always asked about, as long ago as 2012 and it just never made it to the table.”
Huddle, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, will still participate in the Boston Marathon festivities in various capacities this weekend, she said, serving the next year as a Boston Athletic Association ambassador and attending other races for appearances throughout her pregnancy. She had briefly considered still running (not racing) the marathon on Monday but quickly realized it wouldn’t be that fun for her.
“I just thought I’d be so far back, I didn’t think it’d be an empowering experience to try it,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d have anyone to run with.”
But make no mistake: After the baby is born, Huddle still has goals she wants to achieve before retirement. She’s a two-time Olympian (5,000 meters in 2012 and 10,000 meters in 2016), a 22-time national champion at various distances on the roads, and has six U.S. titles on the track. She still believes she has room for improvement at the marathon distance, however. Her fastest is 2:26:33 at the 2019 London Marathon.
“There’s still one or two marathons that I haven’t done yet that I’d like to do. I’ll start that timeline of marathon training after I have the baby,” Huddle said. “I have a lot of resources for advice on how to get back into training, but the timeline is flexible. Priorities will change—I’ll have to be creative with training camps, for example.”
In the meantime, she’s taking the advice of friends like Montaño, Aliphine Tuliamuk (who gave birth in January), Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, and others.
“There’s just a lot more known now about the pelvic floor rehab now and when you’re coming back—you can actually start doing that before you even give birth,” Huddle said. “But there’s not a lot of maternal health research out there in general, which is a little worrying, but hopefully in the next 10 to 20 years we can focus on that for sports and general maternal health.”
And, maybe most importantly, how will Rusty, Huddle and Benninger’s rescue Yorkie mix, feel about sharing the limelight with a new member of the family? Huddle isn’t sure, but he seems to like her friends’ children, which she takes as a promising sign.
“I don’t know if he’ll be jealous, though,” Huddle said, laughing. “Will he feel the lack of attention?”
Stay tuned—we’ll know more in April.