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What’s My Workout: Carrie Tollefson

Even though elite middle-distance runner and soon-to-be mom-of-three Carrie Tollefson isn’t currently training at world-class levels, she is still putting in the miles. “It’s my mental health,” says the Reebok global running ambassador, who is due in January, of her workouts. “I feel like my babies like it. Every time I’ve gotten a checkup after a run they’re just dancing away and happy.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that the 2004 Olympian ran a 3:02 marathon just four months after having her second child in 2013 and ran the 5K at this past weekend’s Twin Cities Marathon at a more than respectable pace. Tollefson—who lives in her native Minnesota with her husband, Charlie Peterson, and their two kids, five-year-old Ruby and two-year-old Everett—is a fixture in the running world. She hosts a weekly video series called C Tolle Run, which features workouts (like this barbell circuit), training advice (like this clip on yoga for endurance athletes) and interviews with other elites. She also does TV and webcast work for USA Track & Field, broadcasts from major road races and track meets throughout the year and leads a summer youth running camp. We chatted with her here about family, fitness and how we, in her own words, can "Get after it!"

Q: How have you been feeling so far?

A: I feel great. I’ve been pretty lucky with my pregnancies. I’ve been able to do everything I want to do, but just scaled back a bit. This is our third pregnancy; however, we had a miscarriage on Thanksgiving last year and I kind of struggled until about March this year. This time around we’re just so thankful things are going so well. You take for granted when you have two easy pregnancies and then you have something like that happen. Now I’m maybe a little more cautious.

Q: As a highly trained athlete, how are you approaching your training now?

A: Last fall, when we found out I was pregnant, I was getting pretty fit. I wasn’t as fit as I was while training for the Olympics, but I was running pretty fast and I was able to do some longer runs like 13, 14 miles and intervals in the middle. I just didn’t have that in me this time around. Am I working out more than the average person who works hard during their pregnancy? Probably. I’m still a professional athlete in my mind. But I did scale it back a bit.

Q: What does scaling back look like for you?

A: I’d say running six days a week right now. I usually take Sunday or one of the weekend days off so I can sleep in or hang out with the family. I run anywhere from as low as a three-mile run up to a ten-mile run for 20- or 30-mile weeks on average. That seems really low when you’re an 80-mile-per-week girl. I try to do a little bit of an up-tempo workout once or twice a week and some of those runs end up being a normal easy run with friends. But that to me is almost a workout now. If I go and run with my girlfriends, that’s my workout day.

Q: And cross training?

A: One of my big things throughout all my pregnancies is that I’ve never gotten too far away from my strength training. I think that gets me in shape more than being a runner. So many people talk about running, running, running and doing all this cardio. Running is great if your body allows when you’re pregnant. But I tell people, don’t worry about running all the time.

Q: How did you approach getting back at it after your first two babies?

A: I felt pretty good. With Everett, our second child, I waited three and a half weeks. With Ruby I waited four weeks. I walked and I didn’t do any form of real exercise. I did go to the gym and walk on the treadmill and I did go for three-mile walks. If your body is still physically showing signs of birth, you don’t push it too hard. So I was a mommy for four weeks. I didn’t work out and just enjoyed my newborns. I plan to do the same this time around.

Q: You’re about to have three kids. How are you anticipating that change as far as your fitness goes?

A: I’m a little nervous. My husband is such a team player and he knows that my workouts are my love of life besides my family. A lot of people think if you don’t have an hour, why do it? But for me, if I have only 20 minutes that’s the perfect amount of time to get some sweat going. I’m a happy girl after that. I can get 3 miles in in 20 minutes. Not a lot of people can do that, but there’s something about that 20-minute mark.

Q: Something is better than nothing, right?

A: I can get that little me time to myself. But I’m also not going to sacrifice time with my family anymore. I sacrificed a lot when I was training for the Olympics. And I waited and pushed babies off and now I have them. I want to enjoy them. I’m not that girl who needs two hours [of training] every day. There are some athletes that need it and they get it done. But that’s just not me right now.

Q: You were still competing when you were pregnant with your daughter, correct?

A: I had aspirations of coming back for the 2012 Olympics and, to be honest, when I had her everything changed. I was 33 and I thought that was old in the running world and now you see all these runners come back and compete. But for me, it just wasn’t in my heart. I would go for some good runs after she was born, but I just didn’t have it in me to train twice a day.

Q: And now?

A: I’ve sometimes thrown around the idea of getting back in there and giving it a go when I’m 40, but I’ll have another baby to just love to pieces so I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave them either. It doesn’t get any easier when they’re so dang cute. My babies like to snuggle in the morning. They come to bed and I need to go for a morning run, but I’m like, “Nope. I’m just going to snuggle and skip it.”

Do you think your level of fitness helped you during your birth experiences?

A: I think being fit totally helps you in the delivery room and during pregnancy and after you give birth. During delivery I had a hard time relaxing and I had a hard time dilating. They thought it might’ve had to do with how strong my pelvic wall is from being an athlete. I labored a long time, like 17 hours, and I hadn’t moved anywhere. So they gave me an epidural. I tried really hard to do it the natural way and it didn’t work for me. Everett came ten days late and they again advised the epidural.

Q: Anything can happen in there...

A: A lot of people have a hard time coming back from an epidural, but I was up and walking within an hour. [The staff] kind of laughed and said, we’re not quite sure, but it might be because you’re an athlete. I was very happy with the results of the epidural. But there was a time when I tried so hard to be strong and not do it and finally my husband was the one that said, “Give it to her!”

Q: What advice do you give pregnant woman who want to keep enjoying the workouts they love for as long as they can?

A: If you have a plan you’ve loved over the years, keep your normal plan—you just have to be very flexible. With Ruby, I got on the underwater treadmill. If you can get on something non-impact, where you can take a little bit of that body weight off, I think you’ll feel better and you might be able to run more throughout the pregnancy. Hit the elliptical. One of the greatest machines I’ve been on is called the Zero Runner from Octane Fitness. It’s zero impact on your body and you feel very light on it. I’ll be using that this time around.

Q: How often do you race now?

A: After Everett, I ran the [2013] Twin Cities Marathon and—yes, this sounds crazy—I did it when he turned four months. But I came back really slow. I ran with my sister and my husband and everyone I don’t get to train with when I’m competing. I came back really fast, but I think I did it the right way. It was really fun. The marathon didn’t go exactly the way I wanted it to. I ended up running 3:02 and I wanted to break three hours. It was great, I’m not saying it wasn’t, but I didn’t quite get that goal. But it’s fun to think back like, “Whoa, I did some cool things after Everett.”

Q: What is your pregnancy fitness philosophy in three words?

A: Get after it!

Q: Any last words of wisdom?

A: It’s basically up to how you want to come back after a pregnancy. Whether it’s four days later or three years later, it will come back. You just need to be happy and enjoy every minute of it because it goes by fast. Not every day is peachy keen. I’m like everyone else. But you have to try to keep that in perspective.



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