Careful observers tuning in to the live stream of the Stumptown Twilight on June 3 in Portland, Oregon, may have been surprised to see a familiar face winning the open section of the women’s 5,000 meters: Tara (Erdmann) Welling, the former Nike Oregon Project and, later, Skechers-sponsored distance runner who in 2016 won national titles in the half marathon and 15K.
It was nearly impossible for onlookers to tell, but when Welling stopped the clock at 17:03.72, she had nearly matched her goal of breaking 17 minutes at 17 weeks pregnant.
Though she’s stepped away from professional running, Welling, 31, hasn’t quit the sport at all. She co-owns an online coaching business called RunDoyen and trains with Bowerman Track Club elite group, which is a division of the BTC for post-collegiate, non-professional runners.
Welling, who along with her husband, Jordan Welling, is already a parent to daughter, Malia, talked with Women’s Running about her transition from professional athlete to training while pregnant and postpartum, and why she still loves the sport.
“I was very surprised to win,” she said of the Stumptown Twilight race. “My teammates in the race wanted to break 17 minutes, so I wanted to be a part of that and help them achieve their goals. We came in with a really controlled mindset, we just wanted to feel good about it and enjoy it and see what happened.”
That’s a pretty accurate description of Welling’s relationship to track and field these days. Her Skechers contract expired during her first pregnancy in 2018, and she says she knew at that point that she was ready to move on with her life.
“Running is still a big part of my life but I don’t stress over workouts or races, I see it as a way to stay in shape and be social,” she says. “I don’t want to say I don’t set goals for myself because I do and I want to do well, but I’m OK with not running a 1:10 half or a 15:30 5K. If I have a bad workout, life goes on, there will be another day—whereas if it’s your job, you feel a little defeated.”
Of course, a runner of Welling’s caliber has a pretty high bar for casual training. She qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in her debut at the 2019 California International Marathon, before setting a personal best of 2:40:10 in February for a top-50 performance at the notoriously hilly Trials course in Atlanta.
“My only outstanding goal, really, is I would love to run a faster marathon,” she says. “I’m pretty happy with everything I’ve accomplished on the track, but with the marathon, I feel like there’s a lot of unknowns.”
But right now, her foremost challenge is navigating the constant changes of her pregnant body—while parenting a two-and-a-half-year-old.
While preparing for the Stumptown Twilight 5,000 meters, Welling says she joked with her teammates that she just had to train her body to run three miles straight without needing a bathroom break.
“In the second trimester, the baby is bigger so you feel like there’s a lump in your stomach,” she says. “Not so much that you just ate a full meal, but just, there’s a mass in there, so you have to go to the bathroom a lot… you always feel like you have to go, from the weight of the baby.”
For the most part, Welling has been able to maintain her weekly volume of 40 to 50 miles per week with two hard workouts. She says the four- to six-week mark of her pregnancy is when she started noticing increased fatigue and recovery time, though she could still hit prescribed paces for workouts.
“When it comes to being pregnant, there’s a lot that’s out of control,” she says. “You really have to listen to your body, which can mean backing off more…That’s the most humbling thing, I’ve learned, you really do have to listen to your body. The best example I can think of is long runs. Long runs are harder when you’re pregnant, it feels like you’re running at altitude once you get to the second and third trimester because your baby is taking your blood and oxygen. You’re always working harder than you think.”
Welling couldn’t run much at all during her first pregnancy with Malia, which was considered high-risk.
“There were times when I couldn’t run and I could only bike because of the way the baby was hitting, it would hurt my pelvis and was thrown off,” she says. “I did a lot of walking.
“We had trouble getting pregnant, so we went through four rounds of fertility,” she says. “I also had a history of pelvic stress fractures, so they weren’t sure if my pelvis would hold up during labor. They were worried I had [a stress fracture] during the pregnancy. I started going into labor around 33 weeks and had to get an X-ray to confirm that I didn’t have a stress fracture…There were really no issues in the end, but there was a lot of buildup.”
Part of the stress about getting pregnant came from the fact that Welling didn’t have a period for the entirety of her collegiate and professional running career, after initially starting one in high school.
“When we decided to have a family, it seemed impossible—like it was never going to work,” she says. “I kept getting frustrated because [doctors’] answer was, ‘you need to stop running and gain a bunch of weight’ and I am still running at a high level now [and got pregnant]…There aren’t any good answers on how to get [your period] back. There’s no special secret.”
After giving birth to Malia in January of 2019, Welling was quickly able to resume running, including some challenging miles pushing a jogging stroller (“not something I recommend people to do all the time if you have the opportunity to leave them with dad”). But she and Jordan had always pictured themselves as parents to a larger brood.
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Typically, postpartum women’s periods don’t return until they stop breastfeeding. Would Welling have to go through the IVF process again?
“I had this worry of, ‘What happens if my period doesn’t come back,’ then what am I going to do? They tell you that after you get pregnant the first time, it jump-starts your system and makes it easier to get pregnant again or get your period back.
“I was definitely waiting, it takes some time for your hormones and stuff to level out. In a month, I got my period and I felt like a 16-year-old girl getting their period for the first time, [realizing] maybe having another kid is something I can do on my own and not have to go to the doctor every day. It was a big surprise and gives me hope for other people who are having difficulties.”
Looking ahead to a November 21 due date, Welling is enjoying a much easier pregnancy this go-round—as evidenced by her Stumptown Twilight win. She even has a few more races already lined up: a local Fourth of July race in her husband’s hometown, as well as an appearance later this summer at Hood to Coast with a team of her On Running colleagues (she works in customer service for the running brand).
Her own range of diverse experiences make it easier to coach pregnant or postpartum runners with RunDoyen.
It’s those new converts to running with simple goals like completing their first 5K that are the most inspiring, she says.
“To see their level of motivation and dedication to reaching their goals, it’s even more inspiring to me because it’s harder for them,” Welling says. “Running doesn’t come easy. They’re doing it for other reasons.”