When she brought her newborn triplets home from the hospital in
July 2007, four-time marathoner Becca Farrell was sure her distance
running days were finished. After enduring a highly complicated
pregnancy, 20 weeks of bed rest and delivering "18 pounds of baby,"
she was so weak she could barely walk to the mailbox.
"I'd had patients who were in better shape than I was," says
Farrell, 35, a physical therapist with the Loyola University Health
System who lives in Glen Ellyn. "I remember thinking, 'I will never
run again. I don't know how I'm going to work again. I don't even
know how I'm going to take care of these three kids.'"
But that all changed when Farrell starting walking-then
running-pushing her trio of infants in a triple-wide jogging
stroller. "I would take them out and they would just love it," she
says. "It was a win-win for everybody."
As the triplets grew, so did Farrell's strength and confidence.
Soon she was running races with her babies, delighting spectators
as she powered the oversized stroller past the competition. And
within two years, she smashed through her final barrier-the finish
line of the Chicago Marathon.
Today, Farrell continues to race to show that parenting a little
one (or three) doesn't mean an end to fitness or even to
competitive athletics. Her advice for new moms: "Keep it simple.
You don't need a lofty goal like a marathon or triathlon. Just find
something you enjoy."
During Farrell's pregnancy, pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome
took a serious toll on her health and caused severe blood loss at
delivery. Six weeks after birth, doctors gave her the green light
to lace up her running shoes. But her first outing was nearly her
"I came home-I think I had run maybe a block-and I was
miserable," she says. "I was so out of shape, and I was nursing, so
I was so uncomfortable. And I thought, 'This is why people hate
But Farrell kept at it, grabbing 20 minute runs during the
babies' nap time. Her short but regular workouts slowly paid
"I began to feel like my old self again. I would feel very
empowered and strong," she says.
When the triplets were 10 weeks old, she slogged through three
miles to finish her first post-baby race. "I didn't care about the
time or anything. I was just excited I didn't walk."
By sheer luck, friends of the Farrells had a triple-wide jogging
stroller gathering dust in their garage. In the spring of 2008,
Farrell began pushing triplets Maeve, Owen and Jack in the
hand-me-down stroller on her training runs. The added resistance
ramped up her fitness level, improving her stamina and toning her
The outings were such a hit with both mom and babies, soon they
were racing short distances together.
"People would be cheering for their friends, and they'd be like,
'Hey! The lady with the triplets is beating you!'" says Farrell,
who maintained a brisk nine minute (per mile) pace behind the
stroller. "People were so encouraging, shouting 'Way to go,
"When the kids were about 10 months old, I did a 10-mile race,
and I remember my husband looking at me and saying, 'You're totally
gonna do the marathon next year, aren't you?'"
Farrell admitted that if her body held up in training, she would
Training for a marathon while mothering three toddlers was a
serious eye-opener for Farrell. "Before I had the kids, I would do
my program and my long run. And then I'd come home and take a nap,
and maybe I would take an ice bath." With 2-year-old triplets, "you
go for your long run. You come home. Maybe you'll get a shower, but
probably not. You change your clothes, and you're taking care of
the kids right away. There's no rest, no down time."
The "Leave Your Mark" ad campaign for the 2009 Bank of Chicago
Marathon featured athletes and spectators who touched Chicago
through inspiring acts or charity work. Farrell's likeness appeared
on promotional posters with the tagline: "Rebecca Farrell is
running to show that mothers of triplets can do anything."
Her story resonated with other moms struggling to balance
fitness with the rigors of parenting.
"I had a number of people from my triplet group email me and
say, 'I cut out that ad and I gave it to my kids,' or 'I cut out
that ad and I put it over my treadmill,'" she says. "That was such
an awesome feeling. For my job, I usually try to inspire people to
get themselves more independent and active, but this was in a
totally different way."
Though bolstered by the outpouring of public support, Farrell
struggled with the training.
On Oct. 11, 2009, however, she was one of 33,000 runners to
cross the finish line of the 32nd Chicago Marathon.
Today, Farrell is staging another comeback after a knee injury
sidelined her in 2010. She's set her sights on this year's Chicago
Marathon (half distance) and several longer triathlons.
These days, instead of pushing the triplets, Farrell's chasing
them. "That's half my fitness regimen," she says. "I had a student
ask me once, 'What do you do for your arms?' And I said, 'Come take
care of my kids for six weeks and I'll guarantee you, you'll have
good arms. Trust me!"
Sarah Maurer is a full-time freelance writer focusing on the outdoors, sports and health.
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