Aliphine Tuliamuk Talks Motherhood and Running Ahead of the New York City Marathon

The professional long-distance runner was never interested in choosing between her career and being a mom.

Aliphine Tuliamuk NYC Marathon Interview
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Aliphine Tuliamuk describes winning the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February 2020 as "a blur," she tells Shape over the phone less than two months before she's set to run the TCS New York City Marathon on November 6, 2022. "I still feel like somebody else did that," she says.

It's not just Tuliamuk's impressive finish time of two hours, 27 minutes, and 23 seconds that makes the reality of her win difficult to grasp. It's also the fact that running that race was essentially the last "normal moment" she and so many others had before the COVID-19 pandemic altered everything, including her running career. "I never really got to celebrate that moment," she says. Tuliamuk also hasn't finished a marathon since.

Ahead, Tuliamuk opens up about pivoting from training for the Olympics to becoming a mother during the pandemic, and how she found her stride again after giving birth.

Starting a Family

Although the pandemic took her Olympic dreams off course, it did allow her to follow a different dream: starting a family. "I knew that I wanted a family so bad, and when the Olympics was postponed, I was like, I'm gonna have to wait for another year and a half to even try to have a family," she explains. "That timeline felt like a really long time for me, and I really struggled with that."

Tuliamuk's mindset around planning a family based on her running career is one fellow athletes know all too well. However, she thinks the professional running community is more supportive of athletes starting a family now than they were in the past when it was viewed as "an inconvenience," says Tuliamuk.

"I didn't want to choose between family and work. I wanted to be able to do both." — Aliphine Tuliamuk on fighting for breastfeeding mothers to bring their children to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021

She credits women who came before her, including Allyson Felix and Kara Goucher, for paving the way for athletes who are also moms. "I feel like they opened the door for me to actually have a really amazing experience," says Tuliamuk, who decided to try to get pregnant after the 2020 Olympics were postponed and the 2020 New York City Marathon was cancelled.

Adapting Training During and After Pregnancy

Although the timing made sense for her career, being pregnant during the first year of the pandemic came with its challenges. She wasn't able to see friends, have a traditional in-person baby shower, or have her then-fiancé Tim Gannon by her side during doctor's appointments due to COVID-19 safety protocols.

On top of that, Tuliamuk was training late into her pregnancy. "I continued to push myself," she says, acknowledging there were probably moments she should have taken it easier.

Knowing she'd have less than seven months until the Tokyo Olympics, which were rescheduled to July 2021, after giving birth, Tuliamuk returned to training just eight weeks after her daughter was born. "I obviously couldn't run right away," she says. "I literally felt like everything in my body was gonna fall out." But after two months, she felt ready to pick up the pace again, fueled by "that internal pressure" to perform her best at the Olympics.

Advocating for Athletes Who are Parents

However, there was yet another obstacle in her way. The International Olympic Committee announced COVID-19 protocols in March 2021 that would prevent breastfeeding moms from bringing their babies to the competition. Soon, Tuliamuk was at the center of a fight for herself and other mothers to bring their young children with them to the competition, a position she ended up in "by accident," she says. "All I was doing was what [I] felt was the best thing for me and my daughter."

"I didn't want to stop breastfeeding just because of my sport," continues Tuliamuk. "I didn't want to choose between family and work. I wanted to be able to do both."

After writing an impassioned letter to the president of the Olympic committee, she and other athletes with young children were allowed to bring their kids with them to Tokyo. And it turned out to mean so much more than simply keeping parents and kids together. Everyone was happy to see babies at the events, especially when so much felt incredibly bleak during the pandemic, says Tuliamuk. Her daughter Zoe "was literally an emotional support baby for every single person," she jokes.

As much as progress has been made for athletes who are parents, there's still more work to be done. Tuliamuk calls attention to an organization called &Mother, which works to remove barriers to mothers in sports by providing privacy tents for breastfeeding before and after races, for example. (They will have a private tent for nursing runners at this year's New York City Marathon for the first time.)

She also would like to see a special place for kids of runners to wait by the finish area of long races so athletes can quickly reunite with them after crossing the finish line. Having access to childcare when traveling to a big city marathon is important too, she notes. "We have single moms out there, or we have single dads who will want to participate in that competition," says Tuliamuk. "I think providing that support will go a long way...because you want parents to feel like they can do whatever they put their minds into doing."

Returning to the Starting Line

With plenty of support around her, Tuliamuk is looking forward to the 2022 New York City Marathon. After dropping out of the Tokyo Olympics women's marathon final at the 20K mark due to a hip injury, this is slated to be her first complete marathon since she came in first place during the 2020 Olympic trials.

"Oh my God," she says with a laugh at the mention of her return to the Staten Island starting line, which she last crossed in 2019. "I am very excited. I am very nervous," she continues. "Yes, I have had a couple of setbacks...but I've decided to focus on the fact that I am in a good place now...and I cannot wait to get to that start line."

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