This article originally appeared on Womens Running
Approximately 0.05 percent of the United States population completes a marathon in their lifetime. This statistic exemplifies how difficult it is to accomplish 26.2 miles, through grueling training, a large time commitment, attention to nutrition, and emphasis on sleep. Imagine doing it all as a single parent. Imagine doing it to break the marathon stroller record.
Enter, Alyssa Puttkammer.
On September 16, at the Pacific Northwest Marathon in Harrisburg, Oregon, Puttkammer broke the world record for the fastest female running a marathon while pushing a stroller. The single mother of 19-month-old Blair Puttkammer finished in 3:02:54, breaking the previous record (set by Dianna Chivakos) of 3:10:26.
While Puttkammer has always been an athlete-running eight stroller-free marathons in her lifetime-three months after giving birth to Blair, she was newly and unexpectedly divorced. The long hours needed to train for a marathon seemed unrealistic.
"I think the actual having a child was less impactful in terms of what I thought I could do," Puttkammer says. "It was when I fully realized that I'd be doing it alone that I wondered what life was going to look like."
If she was going to run a marathon, she decided, it would have to include Blair. On the occasional days her daughter attended daycare, Puttkammer could sneak in a run, but as a whole, most of the training was done together.
Three months after Puttkammer's C-section delivery, she started training slowly. Puttkammer was still recovering, and Blair wasn't up for super intense long runs. So the two went for the occasional 1-2 miles, with the newborn's neck safely packed and stabilized with lots of cushions.
"As she got older and we'd go on runs together, I'd talk to her and point out things that we saw along the way," Puttkammer says. "It seemed like she really liked it. She'd even bring me my running shoes and say, 'Running! Running!'"
Puttkammer's mom, Kirsten Fox, watched her daughter train for this seemingly impossible feat, supportive but wary.
"When she moved closer to home-as she was going through her divorce, starting a new job, and taking care of little Blair alone-she said she was going to start training to try to break a world record," Fox says. "I was worried about how much she was taking on all at once and told her so."
She adds that her daughter has always been determined, using challenges to raise herself to new levels of performance.
"When she played soccer, all the people watching called her the 'Tasmanian Devil" because she'd never stop," Fox says.
The Record-Breaking Jogging Stroller
As you might've guessed, the kind of stroller you use to run with is incredibly important not only for speed and durability, but for the safety and comfort of your child. Puttkammer had a few prerequisites for the stroller she used.
"I think it's easiest to use a three-wheel stroller, with the front wheel locked into place," she says. "If not, the stroller moves around too much and you can't keep it straight. You should have just enough mobility to do some turns, but still be able to, theoretically, let go and have the stroller keep going straight."
Puttkammer adds that a reclining seat is a plus, especially when your kid naps during your runs.
"What that, it's important that your stroller comes with a good shade cover," she says. "And, for me especially, when I was training in colder, rainy weather, having a cover that fit really well and was snug was super helpful."
When the weather was gloomy, Puttkammer wrapped Blair up in a stroller-sized sleeping bag, fit her with a hat and gloves, and put the cover on snug.
Puttkammer used a UPPAbaby Ridge stroller during her training and race. It's a 29-pound, performance-oriented running stroller with a hand-grip disc brake system, an adjustable handlebar with a wrist strap and a water bottle holder.
Training with Baby Blair
Even though she was pushing about 40 pounds (Blair's weight and the stroller's weight combined), Puttkammer says the UPPAbaby Ridge rolled so smoothly that it didn't slow her down much. What was more difficult, she says, was working with a little person she couldn't exactly negotiate with all the time.
"It really forced me to go with the flow, because there were times in the morning when I was dressed, had the stroller ready, and Blair just wasn't feeling it," Puttkammer says. "That's when I had to pivot and move my run to the afternoon, do hills or a shorter run later, or take a spin on the bike while she napped."
When times got tough, Blair became fussy, and the runs seemed just too long, Puttkammer thought of the John Wooden quote: "Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
She needed these motivational words after her trial half marathon, five weeks before the marathon, didn't go so well. She struggled to find a local race that would allow her to run with a stroller, so she mapped out her own 13 miles. Only, the course she picked was rough, hilly, and the windy weather wasn't ideal. After that day, she was discouraged and doubted whether she could accomplish what she set out to do.
"There are a lot of variables that go into a marathon, but with a child, there's another layer of variables," she says. "It was like running my first marathon all over again. I was so much more nervous because I didn't know what to expect, what pace to start out at, or how our nutrition was going to go."
Race Day Blues
Much like her half marathon, race day didn't go as planned. The morning of the race, Blair had a bit of an upset stomach and threw up.
"That wasn't fun for anyone," Puttkammer laughs. "I knew she was hungry for the first few miles, but because she didn't feel good, Blair wouldn't eat. Mile 2-9 was really rough-crying and fussing while I was reaching around the stroller trying to appease her with snacks and toys."
Thankfully, Blair took a nap and by mile 10, she was feeling much better-even hungry. She happily munched on snacks while Puttkammer zoned in for the rest of the race and finished strong. Fox was at the finish line, cognizant that this race was about more than just breaking a record.
"Watching your child go through the pain and anguish that Alyssa did immediately after she had Blair was awful," she says. "When she crossed that finish line, I knew how stunning it was as a victory as well as a new world record, but more so I knew what it meant to her, that she had a part of her soul back."
Pros and Cons of Running with a Stroller
"The storage is amazing," Puttkammer says. "I didn't stop at a single aid station. I had a water bottle and an electrolyte drink, plus all my gels lined up in the pockets."
She notes that, though it is extra weight to push, it was nice to rest both her hands on the stroller and just power through with her legs when the race got super rough. Not having to swing her arms was a plus.
"You lose momentum with your arms, but you gain so much by using two hands," Puttkammer says. "It steadies the stroller and you're not as lopsided compared to if you're running with one hand."
The hardest part of running with a stroller is being at the mercy of the course; any bumps feel bumpier, any wind feels stronger, and every hill feels ten times as steep. Something as simple as a small park bridge is a difficult task with a stroller. She adds that every turn and shift in the path takes more effort, so planning ahead and becoming familiar with the course is important.
Puttkammer is excited to take a break from racing, and looks forward to running just for fun.
"This has been something I've been thinking about since just after Blair was born," she says. "It's been a source of excitement, but also a source of stress. It's nice just to not have that looming overhead."
Whatever goal she aims for in the future, she's not sure Blair will be directly included. She acknowledges that, as her daughter gets older, it's a lot to ask of her to sit in a stroller for miles and miles. It's better, she says, to let running be something she wants to do with her mom, not something she has to do.
And even though she just broke the record, Puttkammer is eager for someone else to come along and beat her time. She hopes her story encourages others, specifically mothers, to continue doing the things they love even after having children.
"Hopefully someone breaks my record soon," she says. "If someone beat it tomorrow, I'd be like, 'Wow, we're doing it guys!'"
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