Pro triathlete Sarah Haskins’ return to fitness post-baby has had its ups and downs, but she’s back—and as fast as ever. Editor’s note: This originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of
Pre-motherhood, pro triathlete Sarah Haskins’ typical recovery routine involved ice baths and lounging on the couch while watching TV. Now, with her 1.5-year-old daughter, Caroline, running around the house, she’s constantly on the go. “I call it my active recovery,” Haskins says. “But it’s so much more fun and rewarding at the same time.”
Having a child has affected Haskins’ time between workouts more than the workouts themselves, she says, since she got back to racing in early 2014. Her race results from the first half of the year look like she hasn’t lost an ounce of momentum since she took a break from the sport—she racked up six victories in a row, including Life Time Tri South Beach, St. Anthony’s, Capital of Texas and the competitive Escape from Alcatraz.
When she announced her pregnancy, she had been at the peak of her triathlon career. After racing in the 2008 Olympics, where she finished 11th, Haskins started dominating the Olympic-distance non-drafting scene, particularly the Life Time Tri Series. She had just won her third Life Time overall series title, and was unbeaten in the series races in both 2011 and 2012. She has dozens of race wins on her résumé since she went pro in 2004 following a collegiate running career in both cross country and track, and a background in competitive swimming as a child.
Haskins developed a reputation as a strong all-around triathlete, and her days in the ITU racing scene included a stint at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. It was there she met her now-husband Nate Kortuem, who was a fellow pro. The two married in 2006, and he’s been her training partner and coach since 2009.
Haskins and Kortuem traveled the world together, with her racing on both the ITU and Life Time circuits, but Haskins felt like there was something missing. “I just kind of felt like I needed more,” Haskins says. “I think for anyone at any point in their career, having a baby is a big step. It’s going to be life-changing. I knew that I wanted children, but I also wanted to keep racing, and I really felt that I could do both.” With at least a few more years of professional racing left in her career, Haskins, now 33, didn’t want to risk missing her opportunity to be a mother.
Thankfully, Haskins had a complication-free pregnancy, something that helped her post-baby return to fitness. “I was able to stay active during my pregnancy,” she says. “I pretty much maintained an hour to two hours a day of exercising. I learned early on—like after a couple months—I wasn’t training. I was just exercising.”
She was swimming and biking up until the day before she delivered, and shifted from running to the elliptical after the second trimester. She also timed the pregnancy well with the racing season—after Caroline was born in July, Haskins was back in shape right at the start of the off-season, giving her plenty of time to prep for her first race in March 2014. “My mom joked that I was really fast at the transition because we thought about trying, then two weeks later we knew it was happening,” she says.
The physical side of getting back to fitness was actually easier than Haskins expected, thanks mainly to being able to stay so active during the pregnancy. One addition to her post-baby training has been a Pilates class. “What I noticed afterward was that’s something that I should have been doing before pregnancy,” she says. “It just really helps not only the core, but all those little muscles that endurance athletes need to have strong to make it through races.”
However, the psychological component—and being patient as she got back to fitness—was challenging. “It’s important to not push too soon,” she says. “Little niggles will come up, and I know it can be tough if you get a little injury to stay positive.” Haskins dealt with that frustration first-hand when she developed an injury over the summer. She had a sacral insufficiency fracture, which is a stress fracture in the sacrum (part of the pelvis) that is caused by weakened bones. The fracture was related to breastfeeding for a full year without sufficiently supplementing with calcium and vitamin D.
In 19 years of running, Haskins had been lucky enough to never develop any type of stress fracture, a common running injury. “That wasn’t even on my radar, as far as an injury,” she says. “I didn’t know what it felt like or what was going on.” After starting to feel some pain, she did a hard treadmill workout and jarred her weak bone. It resulted in a solid three months off of running. “It was really, really hard—mentally, too, because things had been going well for me and I was excited for all these big races coming up, and then I couldn’t do the races,” she says. “It’s been tougher in some ways than getting back [to racing] post-baby.”
Having her husband around was a huge help, though, as were Haskins’ parents. A native of St. Louis, Haskins and her family made Missouri their base for the summer (they spend the cooler months in Clermont, Fla.).
Adding Caroline into the mix has also helped the couple’s coach-athlete dynamic. “Having Caroline around actually makes it very easy to turn off the coaching role—because we come home from a workout, and she’s there ready to play,” Haskins says.
It was a natural decision for the family in 2009, when the resident tri team at the Olympic Training Center dissolved, that Kortuem (who at that point had stopped racing as a pro) take over as Haskins’ coach, since the two were training together anyway. “He could see how I was feeling every day, and I think that’s one of the most important aspects for a coach—being able to read athletes,” she says.
While Haskins was in the midst of coping with her injury, an opportunity arose with USA Triathlon. Rather than race the high-paying ($500,000 pro prize purse) Hy-Vee Elite Cup, which she would have difficulty even finishing with her injury, USAT came to her with a proposition: to race the ITU World Championship Series Grand Final in Edmonton the same weekend. She would be racing not for the win, but as a domestique to help fellow American and rock-star runner Gwen Jorgensen get into a strong enough position after the swim and draft-legal bike to be able to win the race on the run.
In Edmonton, Haskins was ahead of Jorgensen on the swim, but (due to her injury) had a slower T1. After catching up to Jorgensen and the chase pack on the bike, Haskins took the lead and pulled the group for the final few laps, cutting into the leaders’ time, before she dropped out on the run. Jorgensen used a 33:24 10K to take the victory and gold in the ITU series. “That was awesome that I just had the opportunity to be able to help USA Triathlon and help Gwen in any way I could,” Haskins says. “Those few weeks gave me some motivation for training because, when you don’t know exactly when you’re going to get back into it [after an injury], it’s hard to really motivate yourself.”
The domestique role is something USA Triathlon is considering pursuing for the 2016 Olympics—as long as it’s a combination of athletes who’ve worked well together in previous competitive ITU races, such as Edmonton. Going back to the Olympics, after missing out on a slot in 2012, is something Haskins would love to go for, but the door is also wide open for her future racing career. “My mind changes every day—I want to do a long-course race,” she says. “But then I think, ‘Oh man, but I love the non-draft short-course racing.’ But then what about ITU?”
Right now she’s focused on getting her running back to 100 percent. She was able to return to racing at the end of 2014 with a third-place finish at Life Time Tri Oceanside. As far as 2015, she’s still building the schedule. With her race seasons split between Clermont and Missouri, she’ll be taking advantage of local races such as St. Anthony’s and Hy-Vee. But beyond that, “I want to explore my options,” she says. “Careers are short … and when I look back, I want to definitely have tried a 70.3, and seen how I liked it, and then made the decision about which route I want to go.”
Until then, she’s working to maintain a balance between motherhood and sport. “My priorities definitely have shifted,” she says. “My most important job is to be a mom, but I want to excel at my job and excel at my passion, which is triathlon.”
Haskins, a 2008 Olympian, raced the 2014 ITU World Championship Series Grand Final in Edmonton as a domestique, helping fellow American Gwen Jorgensen win the race. USA Triathlon is considering offering Haskins the chance to work as a domestique in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Sarah Haskins’ Advice for Overcoming Injury
Ever been sidelined by injury? Here’s what Sarah Haskins learned about getting back to peak racing form.
“I’ve been coming back from an injury [a pelvic stress fracture] that’s really tough, and I think you have to stay positive because mentally, it’s hard. Just running a mile or two feels hard, and you think, ‘How in the world did I run 6, 10, 13 miles?’ But just trust your body and know that it will get back to fitness.”
Do what you can do.
“If you can’t run or bike due to an injury, focus on what you can do. With my injury, I could swim, but I couldn’t push off the walls, so for two months, I had to just do the no-wall, open flip-turns. I just focused on what I could do as far as staying in shape and helping my body get back to where it needed to be.”
Put a race on the schedule.
“I find I really need races to motivate myself, especially now with [a child]—if I don’t have a set race goal in mind, it’s really hard to push myself in training.”
“I kind of set my schedule—I have a plan, but it’s adjustable day to day, depending on if [my daughter] gets sick or I get sick. Because the main thing is if you start to feel run-down and you still push through a training session, then [your condition is] just going to kind of snowball from there. I just try to be flexible and know that I’m going to get those key sessions in when my body is ready.”
Don’t push your body too soon.
“Sometimes a week or two will feel like forever, but in the scheme of things—in two, three, four months—you can get back to where you were, as long as you’re not rushing anything and being too anxious.”
Race Like Sarah
Pro Sarah Haskins has spent the last several years of her career racing the Olympic-distance non-drafting style of racing, mainly in the Life Time Tri Series, owned by Minneapolis-based Life Time Fitness. The series includes some of the largest triathlons in the nation—Chicago Triathlon and New York City Triathlon—as well as other urban races around the country in cities such as Minneapolis, Miami and Austin. “The Life Time Series is just such a well-run, professional race series, and I also love the non-drafting Olympic-distance format, and I figured, coming back, especially coming back this year after a baby, I’ll stick to what I’ve known,” Haskins says. “I also like just doing the races in the Midwest, and doing the races in Florida. So I enjoy the short one- or two-hour flights.”