Marathon Mom: Running After Pregnancy

By: Sheri Matthews

MarathonMomA successful doctor. A full-time mother. A sub-three-hour marathoner.

Anyone who can lay claim to being even one of those things can attest to the time and commitment it requires. But to take on all three at once? That’s a feat reserved for a special few, one of whom is Dr. Angela Lanning. Above all else, Lanning, an ophthalmologist in Southern California, is a mother to her 1-year-old son, Graham, and she’s obviously a serious career woman. But that hasn’t stopped her from setting her sights on the Olympic Trials.

Growing up in the northern peninsula of Michigan, Angela participated in her high school’s track and field program, describing herself as “a decent runner,” filling in here and there on the relay team and loathing any run more than a mile long. But slowly, distance running began to grow on her. While in medical school at Fort Wayne State in Detroit, she would run an occasional 5k without much training. During her intern year of 2003, she decided, almost out of the clear blue, to take on the Detroit Marathon.

“I had no idea if I could even run 26.2 miles, but I just wanted to see,” Angela says. “I ran a 3:47:00, not too bad for just giving it a go.”

From there, she was in love with marathons, and became intent on improving her times. Her post-residency work landed her in Southern California in 2008, where she crossed paths with many competitive triathletes, including her husband, Gavin.

“Everyone is active (in Southern California). It’s normal, so I really got into the training,” says Lanning.

Over the next few years, Angela ran 3:25:00 at the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, and then improved that time to 3:12:00 at the San Francisco Nike Women’s Marathon. Determined to get even better, she hooked up with James Sheremeta, a decorated San Diego run coach (Sheremeta Speed Consulting), who began overseeing her training. It worked. On a hilly course in Big Sur, Calif., she ran 3:13:00 (good enough for fourth place, her highest finish ever at a major marathon), and she followed that with a personal-best 3:09:00 in Chicago.

Along the line, she had qualified for the Boston Marathon, and a sub-three-hour time seemed right around the corner.

But then, while running a short local race, the Carlsbad 5000, she found that she couldn’t muster any speed. She felt awful, and figured maybe it was because of all the marathon training she was doing.

But it wasn’t the training.

She was pregnant.

And oh by the way, she had the Boston Marathon in two weeks.

“I have a good capacity to suffer,” Angela laughs.

Indeed, Angela went to Boston, pregnant and all, and in extremely hot conditions, she ran an amazing 3:12:00.

Coach Sheremeta describes Angela as an “extremely motivated athlete with the  brilliant ability to suffer through her training and racing.” To that point, after Boston, she continued to train during her pregnancy, running with “careful, general maintenance” to ensure she remained strong and fit both on a cardiovascular and muscular level.

On Dec. 5, 2012, baby Graham arrived at 6 lbs, 12 oz by way of a C-section, and it would seem that the road back to running, after a procedure like that, would be a tough one. But anyone who knows Angela, and certainly anyone who has run with her, knows that she makes difficult things look easy. She’s an effortless athlete. A blond bombshell in running shoes.

MarathonRunnerTrue to form, she jumped back in the game with a 5k. Then she did a half-marathon. And just like that, less than five months after having her baby boy, she was on the start line for the 2013 Boston Marathon. Knowing the struggle that was ahead of her, she told herself to “just go for it,” and incredibly, despite having to stop for a bathroom break at mile 14, she broke three hours for the first time in her life. Now, on her refrigerator at home, right next to photos of baby Graham, is the finishers certificate to prove it.

2:59:49.

It was no doubt an incredible moment for Angela, but like everyone else that day, the race she had run, and the accomplishment she should’ve been celebrating, was quickly forgotten in the aftermath of what will forever be remembered as the Boston Marathon bombing. People had lost limbs. Some had lost their lives. Everyone was scared. Crying. Screaming. For Angela, the memory of finishing that race in under three hours will always conjure mixed emotions, but she is proud of her accomplishment. As she should be.

There is a theory that women are capable of running faster times following a pregnancy due to the increased oxygen in their blood, and perhaps there is something to that. But more likely, mothers and runners like Angela are simply a resilient breed. Nothing gets in the way of the things they love.

Angela still meets with James once a week for focused, high-intensity interval workouts, and he outlines her daily training schedule program for the week ahead. James noted that the addition of Graham to her family has added even more motivation.

“I always remind her that if she achieves what I know she is capable of achieving in the next couple years of competing, she will have such an incredible collection of athletic accomplishments and a wonderful journey to pass along to her son,” he says.

Angela’s next goal is set on a marathon time of 2:40:00, which is the A standard to qualify for the Olympic Trials. At this point, given what she’s already proved to herself and everyone else, why not?

Local San Diegans know that when Angela’s registered for a race, the competition just got faster. I know from personal experience, because I see her from the back at finish lines quite often. Running with women like Angela, even when they’re beating you, is what makes running the experience that it is. There’s a special camaraderie amongst runners, specifically women, as we understand the sacrifice and dedication it takes to compete at a high level, and be a wife, and a mom, and balance a career, and do it all with a smile. And we admire one another for it.