As most of you know, Lauren Fleshman became part of the Oiselle family, as a runner and partner, as of January 1st. Before then, signing Lauren seemed like a crazy fantasy. As much as we wanted to, did we have a shot of working with such a huge running star? Of course, we were total superfans…we had followed her, cheered for her, and anxiously awaited each blog post…but we weren’t alone…as we learned at the 2012 Olympic Trials, pretty much everyone in Eugene casually indicated they were “a friend of Lauren’s” which is telling of her personality. Fast forward to the present, and three months into working together. Bottom line, the quality of the partnership is beyond anything we had imagined. And a big part of that has been an immediate feeling of kinship in which we’ve shared so much about each other…not just our histories, but our hopes and dreams for the future; for running, for the business of running, and for every aspect of the sport we love.
“Fireside with Fleshman” will be a series of interviews we do with Lauren, and the subjects will be varied. They might be written Q&A like this, or video, rapid fire tweets, who knows! So welcome to:
Episode 1: Pro Style Pregnancy, or…“We still make a baby in our body!”
Sally (SB): Let’s start with the basic deets. Your due date is…
Lauren (LF): June 7th .
June 7th. And I know you guys have decided not to know.
And what’s your philosophy there? Because I know that upsets a lot of people.
Yeah … it does. Haha. It’s a very divisive point. For us, we’re both not into traditional gender roles. We don’t get excited about girly baby stuff or boy baby stuff. There’s not a real pull for us to know.
And you don’t feel absolutely floored with curiosity?
I am really curious! Every time we go to the doctor it gets harder not to know. It’s become a challenge, to be honest. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any athletic goals at this particular moment, but having this delayed gratification is something I’m really familiar with in racing, and maybe that’s why I’m pulled towards it. Also, I like that not knowing lets me off the hook on planning. I’m not a planner, and I’ve got other stuff going on, and I’m sure once the baby comes I’ll be totally swamped and overwhelmed. So I’m sort of okay with having the lead-up be more ambiguous, not taking over my every thought.
You’ve spent most of your adult life thinking of your body as this tool for performance and running. What has it been like to shift away from that? Essentially it’s like a magnificent performance tool right now, but it’s doing something really different.
Yeah, it’s miraculous. There’ve been some moments especially in the first few months when it was messing with my confidence. I’d like to think I’m a stronger person than just needing that bodily affirmation that I’m fit. But when your body starts to change, you realize how much you do use visual cues as an affirmation that you’re fit and that you’re on track for something. You’re a put-together person. You start to feel that slipping away. It was a little hard to know that that was going to get more and more out of control for 9+ months before I could start turning things back the other direction. Then I started to see it more as a beautiful thing. Once I got obviously pregnant, and didn’t just look chubby, then it became more fun – I didn’t feel like I had to say, “Hey, I’m not just getting out of shape!”
“I’m taking a break!”
Haha, yeah, I’m taking a really long break!
Well, you did take a pretty significant traveling break after the Trials. Do you feel like that helped you, because you guys weren’t expecting to get pregnant as fast as you did? Do you feel like you had enough of that … different kind of downtime?
Yeah, I got my pure, party, non-athlete downtime. My season-letdown-downtime. Unrelated to pregnancy first. I’m really glad. I’m glad I did get a good release for the necessary time after a 4-year build to an Olympics. Get properly out of shape, not really treat myself that well. I guess when I got pregnant it was a little bit harder of an adjustment, because that was when I was motivated to get back to working out, get back on a strong nutrition plan. And then, actually, you’re going on a 9-month trip towards getting bigger and bigger!
So you were surprised about how fast it happened?
Totally. We got pregnant a lot quicker than we thought. It was only afterward that we learned how unusual that is. I feel really lucky, especially on an athlete’s timeline. Every month you miss of competition, it’s a big deal. It’s your job. I needed to get pregnant quickly, and I did! It was lucky.
A lot of people want to get pregnant quickly, but their reasons are usually that they just want to get started.
Yeah, all I could think about was “when will the baby be born? What races will I miss? What part of the training season will I be hopping back into?” It really was ideal.
Okay, so back to running. Obviously you’ve continued to run. How has it changed for you? Has it gone from a job to something else?
Yeah, it has. The whole experience of pregnancy has given me a good perspective on a more common relationship with running, which is that you do it for fitness. You don’t have these world-class goals to get you out the door. Hey, I want to get out the door and exercise because I want to be healthy and the doctor says I should exercise every day. That’s totally different. Getting it done is different. Everything is different, not having a plan, not having a coach. Other pro runners have trained hard through pregnancy, but I’m not into that.
Yeah, a lot of pro women I’ve read or heard about have rigorous workout schedules through pregnancy. They really try to maximize each day so that they can return to racing optimally and extremely soon. But that kind of approach wasn’t realistic for me. Partly because my personality isn’t that extreme. But also I really just needed a break. After the Olympic Trials experience and having been hurt, having spent a year hurt, pregnancy was this opportunity for me to run for fun, take the pressure off, not have a rigid schedule. Just listen to my body, enjoy running in a more common way. There are challenges to it. You find your motivation in different ways. Not having an immediate goal can make the day-to-day not as interesting.
So every run is just an easy run, and you’re varying the distance?
Yes. The only thing I’m still doing that’s elite athlete style is my strength and conditioning program. It was created by Maximum Mobility and John Ball in Phoenix. I stay in touch with him. I’m doing all the things I can to strengthen the weaknesses that have led to my injuries in the past so that, after birth, I can give myself the best chance to come back without any problems.
What are those areas for you? The ITB, Achilles?
Yeah, the IT band, things that have led to the problems, so I’m doing a lot of glute strengthening work, and a lot of neuromuscular chain-coordinating things between upper body and lower body, trying to increase the mobility of my thoracic spine, to improve my arm carriage, which has always been a weakness for me. I lose a lot of power through upper body inefficiencies. Those kinds of things are really time consuming to address. When you’re in a full elite training program, you tend to let those things go. You say, “Eh, they’re my weaknesses, there are bigger things to work on.” But right now there aren’t bigger things to work on, so I can give them the time they deserve and it opens up new performance possibilities for the next four years.
Kind of resetting your body.
Okay, what have you liked least about being pregnant?
Haha, oh boy. I’d say there’re a couple things. I miss my abs.
They’re more forward in the world now!
They’re really in people’s face! Haha. I guess a weakness that is exposed in me is that I’m a socially dependent runner. Like, if someone else isn’t going for a run, I might just not go for a run. That wasn’t something I realized about myself. That’s something that when I’m done being a professional runner I have to address. When I’m in season I have this other motivation: Worlds, or the Olympics or whatever. Now, it’s like, “is anyone going to go running with me?” Haha.
Welcome to the rest of the world, Lauren Fleshman!
Yeah, I’m a little worried about that! It means I’ll always have to have a group. Better to work that out now though. Anyway, I don’t really like the loss of control over my body. Thing is, now, I can’t really have a goal. I can’t say, “I want to go run 6 miles” and be rigid to that. Like today. I might get sore, or feel weird, and need to be flexible and stop. I don’t like that part of it that much. But there are a lot more things that I like about it.
That’s my next question! What do you like about it?
I’ve loved having this kind of universally female experience that crosses generations, crosses centuries. There’s so much about what we do in our culture that is specific to cultural advances, technology, things like that. But there’s still this one thing that we do the same way we’ve always done it from the beginning of time. We still make a baby in our body.
That’s gonna be the headline for this.
Together: “WE STILL MAKE A BABY IN OUR BODY.”
Hahaha, we always have! And so I feel this connection to women in a way I never have before. In a lot of things I don’t feel that. In the job I have, in the gender roles in my relationship, all these things make me feel disconnected from a history of women. I think the reconnection is beautiful. It’s across culture and nations. It’s spectacular. It’s also brought a lot of people back into my life, from college, high school, who I lost touch with, because I’m one of the last people of my friends to have kids. You know, they start a family, they start talking to other people who have families. It’s bringing them back. That’s beautiful too. And I think just knowing that your body can do something that’s so miraculous… that’s such a cliché term but it’s true. Just knowing that is crazy. It’s mind-blowing. It makes everything I thought was impressive not that impressive. What’s a 15-minute 5k anymore? That’s crap.
It is pretty exciting actually…
Haha, yes, yes. I also like how it’s brought out different qualities in my partner. It’s super fun to see him adapt and change with this new life on the way. It’s reinvigorating our relationship. I’m excited to see what kind of dad Jesse’s going to be. I look at this kid and see a whole new stimulus in our life. It’s like opening a present for him, not just the baby’s life but his life and my life. Jesse surprises me every week with some new reaction to it, something new he’s worried about he never would have worried about before. I just sort of look at him and think, “Whoa, I never would have predicted that.” And I do love the break from the grind. I needed it. It feels like a purposeful break.
Okay, do you have anxiety about the big day or do you feel more in the moment?
For the actual birth, I’m looking forward to it. I don’t feel scared for that. I do have anxiety for how being a mom is going to change my life. I’ve always been a person who just does what I want when I want to. A lot of that is going to change. I have a lot of different mom examples in my life, though. I don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to give up your entire life when you become a mom. I’ve seen people in action doing a great job as a mom and having careers and other passions, and I think that’s more in line with where I will fall on that scale, but you just don’t know. It’s not just a baby, it’s a person, so how will that person fit in?
What about mom/runner role models, in terms of the pro runner world – are there some you look to?
I don’t hang out with that many pro runner moms, but I do know many. Paula Radcliffe is a good one. Paula seems like she is still really into her athletic goals, but she is committed and excited about her kids’ lives. It’s good to see that dual excitement coexisting in a healthy way. It’s exciting to see people like Kara Goucher able to have an intense racing regimen, and be able to be with her kid and have her family present. And Bernard Lagat – he gives the impression that his racing life isn’t eclipsed by his kids. They’re part of his power now. I really want that for myself too.
Do you plan to baby jog or are you going to get out there on your own?
Well I would prefer a babysitter…
I’ll be there!
Haha, I’m sure baby jogging will be a necessary part of my regimen. Jesse has his own training plan, too. It’s just not realistic that we’ll never need to bring a kid along. We do have a good baby jogger so we’re set there. We live on a monster hill in Bend so we actually have a Mountain Buggy, which is very fitting since we’ll be lugging that thing up the hill.
That’s a brand?
Yes, that’s one a lot of the pro runners use.
I think we kind of covered this, and you’ve written about it on your blog, but the difficulty stepping back form competition; has that been easy or hard or welcome or…?
It was necessary. I recognize that as the only way I was going to keep doing this was going to be to take a break and recharge. Once I allowed myself to do that I could get really excited about the future again. Sometimes you have to let things go. But I was nervous that the amount of disappointment and letdown – not everything about the Olympic Trials was disappointment and letdown, there was excitement too – but after it was done, I was left at home. I was bummed out. You have to get yourself amped for another 4-year push with no guarantees, yet again, so that takes a lot of thinking, and a lot of heart, and a lot of passion to get in that position again. I was a little worried that if I stepped away I wouldn’t get that back. I’d step away and think, “I’m done. I like this better.” But I’m really super excited and relieved that I am still passionate, still driven, the competitive drive is still there. I just went for a run with these kids at South Eugene High School – even being seven months pregnant, I was basically killing myself to stay with them up the hills because I felt that competitive drive! I could just as easily have been like, “F it.”
Yeah, I just be joggin’ back here!
Haha! But little moments like that, where these flashes of competitiveness come out, I just smirk to myself, like, “All right. Cool, I’m glad that’s not going anywhere.”
I still got it.
Back to baby land for just a minute. You don’t have to share your name ideas because those are often top secret, but do you have a short-list of names?
Yeah, I won’t share my top faves, but Jesse and I have a Google doc.
Ooh, a Google doc exists…
We do, we have a private Google doc where we put our name ideas as they come up. We’re at the stage now where we can’t see a movie without the characters’ names being potential options, or scanning the credits of our favorite TV shows for name ideas.
And in this compilation, have you found there are types of names you gravitate towards? Hippie names? Old-fashioned names?
I would say we like the idea of having an uncommon name, but not something you have to repeat to the listener multiple times for them to get it. We want the name to be meaningful to us in some way. It might be a historical figure we really like. But probably not anything as crazy as “Leaf” or “Stick.”
Hahaha! Don’t be surprised if it’s not something you’ve heard every day!
Not Lima Bean Thomas?
We have ruled out Lima Bean!
People like to talk about your and Jesse’s because you both are insanely talented, so there’s this notion that you’re going to produce a superbaby, this Secretariat! Considering that, and then watching first hand what’s currently happening with new talent (like Mary Cain), what’s your philosophy on that? In other words, if you found your child was insanely talented, would you support testing the waters at a high level at an early age, or would you counsel them to be more measured?
I am not a big believer in rushing into high-level performance. Both Jesse and I had very traditional high school experiences. We went to public high schools, we competed on public high school teams, and we didn’t have professional coaches until we became professional athletes post-college. We’ve had really great careers so far, and I don’t feel like we missed any part of the American adolescent experience. It just depends on what you value. Some people place a lot of value on winning an Olympic gold medal or placing a world record, and it has more importance than experiencing American cultural adolescence. That’s just not how we look at it. That being said, we are also aware that we had success in the public school environment because we went to schools that had good programs. And we will be aware of that in whatever sport or activity that our kid chooses, is passionate about, and shows talent for. We’ll make sure we live in the right area to go to a school that gives them a shot to do that well and have the most fun doing that. I was on a team of over 100 kids in Canyon High School. Jesse was on a team like that at Mountain View High School in Bend. If we hadn’t been, that talent would have gone unnoticed and undeveloped. We both know enough about sports, too, to know that physical talent isn’t enough. The things that have made us successful have more to do with our character and, I guess, obsession with competition. You need both: you need physical talent and these intangibles to be really great. If our kid doesn’t have the latter, it’s just fine. They’ll just do what they want to do. Jesse jokes that he doesn’t care if our kid is a total chess geek – he just wants him to be passionate about something. We want to try to instill that passion. And hard work. And see where the chips fall.
In terms of after-baby, do you have a plan for how you’d like to return to running, or could there be, like, five plans, depending on how you feel, and you’ll just need to be in tune with yourself?
Yeah, I have a loose plan, with an expectation that the plan is going to get screwed up. What’s that saying … “planning is crucial, but plans are useless”? Yeah. My plan is to give myself a few weeks off after the baby is born to just survive. And heal. And be present and bond. And then I want to build back into just doing mileage. Trail runs… I live in an absolutely serene place that has all of the ingredients that made me fall in love with running in the first place. Trails where you can lose yourself and be alone. I don’t have a first race planned, but I have a plan to get ridiculously strong. That’s all I think about. It’s going to be my mantra. Get STRONG. Obviously the kind of things I can do in the gym are going to be limited in the last few months – with balance issues, protection, not going into early labor – so once the baby’s born I’ll get back into the gym and start doing more challenging sessions. And as soon as I start training I’m going to get back on weekly massage and get myself back into a professional athlete lifestyle. Realistically it won’t be until the winter that I’ll start doing workouts, adding any kind of real structure into my training. More just playing and getting strong for several months first. Ironically, I’ve gotten in better shape through pregnancy than I was in beforehand. Before, the most I could run was, like a mile, other than the Olympic Trials when I ran a 5k. Now, I’ve run 13 miles once! I can run 6 miles on a stretch while weighing 150+ pounds, so in some ways I’m better off than when I was training for the Trials. That’s exciting! I do feel this sense of untapped potential since I’ve hit the reset button on my running career. To be 31, and have been a pro for 10 years, and feel untapped potential is a great thing. That’s a rare gift I’ve been given this year.
How about you and Jesse and your calendars? Do you plan to stagger them at all in terms of family? Bring in more support so you both can be goin’ at it?
Yeah, Jesse and I are going to need support!
Well, he has more of a set calendar, right? For this year? And you probably won’t be thinking about any serious calendar until next year. I guess, do you plan to hold back while he’s going at it? Will you just both get after it and get help when you need it?
I think it will mostly be stumbling into a workable plan. It’s hard for us to plan in advance because we really just don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into. I do know that Jesse’s athletic career, schedule-wise, is going to take priority this year, and probably for the next 12 months it’s safe to say that I’m the one who will be flexing around Jesse. He’s the one who’s at an absolutely critical point in his professional athlete development. He’s the one making the money. It’s his time, and I need to be in a support role there. But come next spring, we’ll have to figure it out. I estimate we’re going to need to budget to travel with a nanny or a family member at all events. We want to make our family complement our athletic lives, not make it a conflict. And if that requires investing money to do that, we’ll do that. I’ll make an effort to go to his training camps, and he’ll make an effort to be at mine. We’ll try to overlap the construction of our year in a way that makes sense for the family, but we obviously know that we can’t do everything together and there’s going to be times when we’re apart. We have great family, though, and friends, so I think it’s gonna be good. I’m a big believer, too, that America is a rare place where people are doing things alone, raising kids alone, when in other parts of the world it’s done by big groups and families. So we’ll try to suck our families into that as much as we can too.
What traits of yours do you hope Lima Bean will have? What traits of Jesse’s?
I really hope Lima Bean gets my gut.
Hahaha, I hope Lima Bean gets my abs!
No, no, my good intuition.
Your strength of mind?
Yeah, I also mean intuitive, gut feelings. I don’t know what’s the right word for it. Not being a complete slave to logic. Sometimes you have to go with what feels right. I think that’s been something that I treasure about my life. It’s created amazing relationships and opportunities. I can’t imagine my life without it. I really hope Lima Bean gets some of that, but I also hope that Lima gets Jesse’s ability to use Excel.
Jesse’s logic has a place. Jesse’s logic and my intuition would make a killer combo. I hope Lima Bean gets our passion for sports and obsession with exercise, since it’s just led to so many cool experiences and relationships. Let’s see, if Lima Bean ends up being a man, it would be cool if he got Jesse’s looks.
And your abs.
And my abs. Jesse’s going to be, like, “What about my abs?!” Just kidding, he knows I have better abs.
Oh he knows, don’t worry! He won’t be hurt.
I hope that we can raise our kid to be a scrapper, and feel this sense that this is my life, I have to make my life what I want it to be. I have nightmares about a kid that’s entitled. That’s one of my few anxieties: that my kids are going to be raised in a very different environment than he and I were raised in. How do you create the right environment for a kid? I guess that’s what every parent worries about. You only have so much control over it anyway. Jesse is so smart. If our kid got his brain, oh my gosh.
You’re not too shabby yourself.
Do you guys have a plan for how many kids you want to have? Or are you just going to wait and see?
Yeah. I think we probably want to have at least two, but we’ll wait another four years before trying for another one. We’ll either stop at two or we’ll go on a crank-em-out-fest!
These kids are rad! We’ll have one every year!
3 more years!
And we’re done.
Yeah, it’s possible, both of us were excited about having big families when we got married at 26. Then, you know, career or whatever, has prevented that form happening so far. I think as we get older we realize that even one or two would be plenty. We’re both pretty selfish though.
That’s why you have a lot of kids, so they can take care of you when you’re older.
That’s right! Maybe we should go back to Jesse’s original idea … a JV and a Varsity squad. I’m only 31… we still have time to have quite a few!
Quintuplets! Hah! My last question is about Bend. It sounds so ominous… is Bend your final destination?
Bend has been the Promise Land for us since 2000! We are moving there with a finality we’ve never approached any other place with. We’re both getting involved with a local community in ways we have been hesitant to in the past. It definitely changes the way you view a move. That being said, both of us would love to have an opportunity at some point, Jesse in particular, to work overseas for a year or two, maybe in London or Australia, and bring the family along. But that would be a temporary change. That does say that, while we’re moving to Bend, it doesn’t say that we never ever want to leave for any reason.
When are you supposed to not fly anymore?
It varies a lot. I’ve been calling my friends who have done it. Some of them did it up to 3 weeks before. I will probably not travel after the Boston Marathon, by plane at least.
You’ll be at Boston? Give me your dates again?
I leave the 13th and get back the 15th, which is the day of the race. Saturday to Monday. Leaving Monday afternoon after the race. I won’t be there for the after party, which is probably okay with Lima Bean.
Just a bunch of drunk marathon fools.
So if someone wanted to celebrity-stalk you while you’re in Boston, what would be their best opportunity?
Their best opportunity would be to come to the expo, at the 110% Compression booth on Sunday. Potentially to join the Oiselle group run on Sunday morning. Or to come cheer at the section I’ll be cheering in, which is outside a great store called GettiGear in Wellesley at 8:30 am on race day. (RSVP HERE)
Which is right next to Wellesley College, the fun spot with all the women. At least that’s what I hear…the hot spot.
Oh cool, I need to do my Boston research so I know what I’m getting into. I’ll be watching it with a runner’s eye, so I’ll be scoping out the course, and the pained expressions, and asking athletes I know how they felt after. I’ll be cheering on Steph Rothstein, my Picky Bars partner in crime. And the other American women doing it. It’s a good field.
Do you want to do another marathon?
Yes! I would like to do another marathon. Not in the next 12 months. I left New York feeling like I did not master the marathon but I had the potential to be good at it, so it scratches at me now and then. The marathon has not seen the last of me! I would think I want to do one where I can go for a fast time, a flatter course maybe.
Do you have one in mind? Thinking about the marathons out there, is there one that tugs at your heartstrings?
I would probably like to do Boston, Chicago, London or New York. Those are the ones that capture my imagination. Even though New York is not flat, I loved the race. I think I can improve my performance. I’d love to go to New York for that reason. The other ones, I haven’t done them yet. It’s a new challenge, maybe I’ll run a faster time.
Chicago is fast. That’s what I hear. Yeah. Thank you! Anything you want to add?
I think… I’ve been really appreciative of all the support online throughout my pregnancy, ever since the Trials. It’s meant a lot to me to have people stay as my support crew, and I know that’s played a role in my excitement about returning to the sport. How lucky I am, to have Oiselle. Honestly, to be entering the next phase of my career with such a supportive group of women. A lifestyle, whole-woman minded company. It couldn’t feel more different than what I’m used to. I couldn’t picture a more fertile ground for personal development and athletic development.
Awesome. Cool, babe. Well shoot, it’s mutual!