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Childbirth a barrier? Not when five of six top NYC Marathon winners are moms

November 1, 2009 – 6:47 PM

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By Laura Pappano

It has become a provocative theme: Marathons and motherhood. Five of the top six women to cross the finish line in the 2009 ING New York City Marathon are moms.

1.    Winner Derartu Tulu, 37, of Ethiopia – an two time Olympic gold medalist at 10,000 meters in 1992 and 2000 – was making a comeback to the sport after giving birth to her second daughter in 2006, and having adopted four orphaned children.
2.    Ludmila Petrova, 41, of Russia won the 2000 NYC Marathon, but had taken seven years off to raise daughters Inna and Sasha.
3.    Christelle Daunay, 34, of France. Not a mom (as best as research suggests).
4.    Paula Radcliffe, 35, of Great Britain, famously won the 2007 NYC Marathon 10 months after giving birth to her daughter and hinted in a pre-marathon press conference that she wanted to try to have a second child before the 2012 Olympics.
5.    Salina Kosgei, 32, of Kenya who won the 2009 Boston Marathon, has two children, Billy (born in 1996) and Ruth (born in 2001). Plus, she’s also employed in a job other than running: she and husband Barnabas Kinyor, both work as prison guards.
6.   Magdalena Lewy Boulet, 36, of the USA, is mother to four-year-old Owen and ran right up to the day before she gave birth.

The fact that five top finishers are mothers plainly challenges myths about the destructive effect of childbirth on athletic performance. This has been a recent theme in other sports – tennis, beach volleyball, basketball – and, we can hope, will fuel a broader revelation: Your body isn’t wrecked by pregnancy and childbirth.

The emphasis, however, has been on female physical resiliency. But interestingly, a more resonant message – one that has applications for women inside and outside of athletic contexts – was articulated by both Boulet and Radcliffe in press interviews surrounding today’s race.

Both stressed the psychological benefits of competing as a mother. Marathon running is challenging, both physically and mentally. And not just during the race, but in managing through intense training and setbacks. (Radcliffe has been recovering from bunion surgery.)

In a video clip you can watch here, Boulet observes that while “there’s plenty of bad workouts and bad races” that as a mother, “I don’t have time to think about that.”  Likewise, Radcliffe notes that motherhood has put into perspective the criticisms she’s faced in her racing career, allowing her to swiftly distance herself from critics and focus on her own career goals.

To parents, this reality may be obvious. But in the workplace, in competitive settings, there remains a view that motherhood is a distraction from tasks and career ascent, rather than what it is: Something that helps one clarify, prioritize, and — yes — get things done.

Those are skills useful in governing, managing, top-level decision-making, and — yes — marathon running.

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