RRW: Fifth Avenue Mile A Fun Test For Mother Alysia Montano

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
September 13, 2015

NEW YORK — To say the year 2015 has been a whirlwind may be an understatement for Alysia Montano. Far surpassing her expectations for her first season after giving birth to baby girl Linnea, Montano will conclude her summer racing schedule here at the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile today. For the six-time USA Outdoor 800m champion, the distance is a bit daunting.

“This is just going to be interesting, that’s all I’ve got to say,” she told Race Results Weekly yesterday with a big laugh. “The mile is a totally different beast!”

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In 2014, Montano captured headlines around the world after racing the USA Outdoor Championships 34 weeks pregnant with Linnea. After giving birth on August 15, 2014, Montano began slowly getting back into racing form. She entered this year’s USA Indoor Championships in February without an idea of how she’d fare, only six months out from her pregnancy. Montano shocked many by winning the 600m indoor national crown wire-to-wire in 1:26.59 in a race where pre-race favorite Ajee’ Wilson fell.

“I could not wait for this environment, to be not holding this 8-pound baby in the process [while racing],” Montano told RRW after her win, sporting her traditional flower in her hair. “I’m so happy to be here.”

Fast forward four months and Montano was on the start line in Eugene, Ore., for the national outdoor meet, still a bit skeptical that she’d finish in the top three and qualify for the IAAF World Championships. Entering the meet she’d only run 2:01.78 for two laps on the season (she did, however, split 1:58.90 for the winning 4x800m team at the IAAF World Relays).

Montano’s savvy tactics reigned supreme once again, prevailing unscathed out front in a tactical and aggressive final. She won in 1:59.15 and celebrated by holding baby Linnea on the awards podium.

Looking back over the last nine months, Montano laughs again and pauses for a moment. She was very surprised –but not shocked– by how 2015 panned out. While her racing performances were spot on, Montano had a very scaled back training regimen and entered the season without lofty expectations. She simply wanted to be competitive and do the most her body would allow without burning out. Traditionally mothers have a hard first season back after giving birth.

Montano’s one blemish to the season came at the IAAF World Championships, where she was tripped in her qualifying heat, wound up seventh and failed to advance. Still, she smiles while reflecting on the outdoor campaign as a whole.

“It was definitely one where I didn’t put crazy expectations on getting to a meet [like Worlds]. It was really just about having fun, and it was an amazing kick-starter to rejuvenating my career. I think having my daughter was the most amazing way to do that,” she said, speaking with passion. “I just came in this year and had goals of accomplishing as much as I could without overdoing it, recognizing that postpartum is a year you’re susceptible to injury… My body just adjusted so well.”

For all the reminiscing she did Saturday afternoon while speaking to Race Results Weekly at the New York Road Runners’ offices, the 29-year-old knows she has one race left — the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile. She also knows it’ll be the hardest of the season.

The half-mile specialist spoke of the mile as if it were a marathon distance — a true test of fitness that excites her. “This is definitely the cherry on top for an amazing season, a season that was definitely not a normal season for me.”

Montano said that she has raced two miles previously in her entire career: one was during her 5th grade Presidential Physical Fitness test, when she clocked 5:05 for the win. Second came here at the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile in 2011, a 4:34 14th place performance that left a strong impression on Montano. “I think my finishing words were ‘I’m never doing this again!’ But I had so much fun with everybody.”

Turning her attention to today’s race, Montano speaks with excitement. She knows that she isn’t a miler, and doesn’t quite possess the endurance that her more experienced competitors have (“We’ve got girls like Jenny Simpson in the race, Shannon Rowbury in the race; these girls are seasoned milers!”). Yet she isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. She vowed to race as competitively as possible, aiming to set a new personal best and end the year on a high.

“I’m just expecting to have fun out there,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be there the last 400 meters. We have some amazing milers that I am not going to downplay at all. I definitely just want to be there with these girls, put myself in a position where I can run a bit better than I did last time.”

When she crosses the finish line, Montano’s racing year –with all of its surprises, twists, and turns– will be over. She’ll celebrate with ice cream (“Real, true traditional ice cream, not frozen yogurt”) and karaoke (likely Journey’s 1981 chart topping hit “Don’t Stop Believing”).

She’ll celebrate a season that surpassed her expectations, and also begin the countdown clock for her next big test: qualifying for her first Olympic team in 2016.

“Coming to this road mile is an awesome way to close it out, have a good time, be with people that love running, and just celebrate my year,” she said. “I expect to finish the entire mile race running my very best and hardest.”