What does an astronomer do in California? Well, she works at NASA and runs while pushing a triple stroller carrying her triplets!
From Sunnyvale (California) here is the story of a tough and funny woman, the 37 years old Ann Marie Cody, and of her “Triple Viking Clan”, that is her three 22 months old children and how they set the current Guinness World Record running while pushing a triple stroller in a marathon.
She is an American record with a hint of European. Indeed, Ann Marie is half Portuguese since her mother’s side of the family emigrated from Portugal to U.S. in the early 1900; meanwhile, her husband Tommy moved to the U.S. from Norway in 2006. That is also the origin of the “Triple Viking Clan” nickname.
And for the record: her resting heart rate is 32 bpm… wow!
Ann Marie, you are almost an “iron mom”: how did it all start?
I have been an athlete for most of my life, starting out with cross country running at age 12, later moving on to rowing, and eventually trail races. When I became pregnant with triplets in 2016, I was doing a lot of orienteering, which is a cross country navigation sport using map and compass (it is a bit obscure in the U.S. but more popular in Europe). I didn’t think I’d be able to continue that once I had the babies, and frankly I was wondering how I would stay in shape at all.
About a month before they were born, I read a news article announcing the establishment of a triple stroller half marathon record by Suzy Goodwin of North Carolina. I didn’t even know that triple strollers existed, so this feat was amazing to me! And of course the idea got planted in my head. Her time of just over two hours seemed doable, so I told myself that I would try to get back into running after the birth and take it from there.
What about your pregnancy? Did you still play sport, and in particular running?
Having triplets is difficult and the hormone levels are very high, so it was certainly not an easy pregnancy. But compared to many women with triplets, I faired well and did not have any complications until the very end. In the first trimester, I went running up until 6 weeks, after which point I was quite sick. I lost about 20 lbs/9kg and did not have much energy to even walk.
Once the second trimester began, I felt better, started to eat more, and resumed a bit of running. That lasted for about a month until it became too uncomfortable. However, throughout most of the pregnancy, I was able to ride my bicycle to and from work (a 20 minute journey). This surprised my doctors!
During the later parts of the second trimester and the early third trimester, I went hiking on the weekends. This was a nice way to get outdoors and experience the fresh air without exerting myself too much. I think the exercise also helped my body make it through pregnancy without hurting much– I carried three babies without any back pain. After 7 months, I was hospitalized with high blood pressure, which is very common in triplet pregnancies. I stayed in the hospital for one week until the babies were born, and thanks to my good condition, I was allowed to get out of my bed and roam around (unusual for someone in that situation).
Then your children were born and you started running with all of them. How did you come up with this idea?
As mentioned above, prior to the birth, I had found out about Suzy Goodwin’s record half marathon run and was inspired and motivated by it. But in the first month or two of my childrens’ life, I was too tired and uncomfortable to do any exercise beyond walking. I had become very anemic and it took a couple weeks just to be able to stand up for prolongued periods.
When you have three babies in you for that long, muscles and ligaments stretch out, and joints move around more than they should. This caused a lot of pain in my pelvis. I got permission from my doctor to try running at 6 weeks postpartum, but it hurt too much. This persisted for a couple of months, and so I started a physical therapy program. It took six months before I was able to run pain-free. I was upset that I could barely exercise, but at the same time I was so focused on the amazing experience of having three new family members. I realized that I could keep myself motivated to get through these hard times by looking for triple strollers (they are hard to find!) and planning how I would start pushing the babies once they could sit up a bit.
Meanwhile, we had a double stroller (not suitable for running) and noticed that the babies relaxed when taken for rides (the third baby would go into a carrier). They found it calming to be outside in the fresh air, feeling the vibrations of the wheels. When they were five months old, I finally managed to find a triple jogging stroller. I met a woman online who lived down by Los Angeles, and she had one that she wanted to sell to me. The only problem was that these strollers are too big to send in the mail. As luck would have it, my husband wanted to attend a search and rescue event (his hobby) in that area during April 2017. So I took care of the babies myself for a weekend while he went down and returned with our now-beloved stroller. We joke that he drove 1500+ km for that stroller, but it has been well worth it!
And sure enough, as soon as we started using it, the babies relaxed, leaned back into their seats, and fell asleep. Around and around the neighborhood we went. As we found out how difficult it is to get three babies to go to sleep at the same time indoors, the stroller quickly became the preferred solution to nap time, or just something to do when everyone needed to calm down.
After a nearly one year hiatus from running, I was finally able to take my first stroller run in June 2017, and boy was it fun! We went to the coast and found a paved trail along the ocean. I remember doing 10km that day, and the babies took their naps while I breathed in the sea air. Lots of people made positive comments, which was also encouraging.
You run with your children in the stroller also for a benefit purpose, could you tell us about it?
The children spent over three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or our local hospital, and they received great care there. It is a nerve-wracking experience having a premature baby (let alone three!). There are all sorts of scary alarms going off in the NICU, health difficulties to do with things like breathing, eating, and heart rate, and of course the difficulty of seeing your baby lying in a little incubator instead of being able to hold it all the time.
We nevertheless very lucky in that the hospital was close to home, and we could visit whenever we wanted. Some families deal with much more serious health problems than we did, and if they do not live near the hospital, they must either travel a great distance daily or find a new place to stay. This can be a financial, as well as emotional, burden. I wanted to do something to help those other families, and raise awareness for their cause.
In November 2017 you set the new world record for running a half marathon while pushing a triple stroller. Which are the memories of that glorious day?
That was actually my very first half marathon, so I was both excited and nervous about it. There were many things that could go wrong—the weather could be bad, I could get ill (I spent all of September 2017 sick with throat/nose viruses), or the babies could become upset. Luckily, none of those things happened! Perhaps the biggest challenge was that my husband had to go out of town for a conference that weekend and was unable to help! So I had to recruit some friends to accompany us to Fresno. I was alone with the babies for several days prior to the race, and it was challenging to get everything packed up and into the car, then out to Fresno (a 3-hour drive) by myself. But I did it and was quite proud of myself- perhaps even more so than for finishing the half marathon!
Meanwhile, I had also raised money and told many friends and family members that I wanted to break a world record—something that was certainly not guaranteed, given that I never even raced that distance before! I had planned the race under the assumption that I would be trying to beat Suzy Goodwin or Theresa Marie Pitts’ time of 2:01. But in the weeks leading up to my race, Guinness approved a 1:54 from another woman, and then KaLea Lehman ran a 1:51! I was no longer at all sure I could break the record.
So my first memory of the race was finishing the first few miles on target pace, realizing that everything was going well, and feeling a huge sense of relief! It was a cool autumn morning, and I enjoyed smiling at all the spectators as well as looking at the colors on the trees. The combination of the early time and the stroller’s motion soon put the babies to sleep. They were only 11 months old at the time, so I think they were mostly relaxed and probably do not remember much of the race. The event was quite far from home, so I didn’t really know anyone there. The spectators were nevertheless very excited to see us and provided a lot of encouragement by cheering for us and holding up signs. I had two pacers serving as witnesses for the Guinness attempt, and they also provided moral support by telling me my splits and offering general encouragement.
The strongest memory is perhaps when I rounded the second to last turn on the half marathon course, looked at my watch, and realized I was going to break the record without problem. It was at that point that I finally relaxed and enjoyed the crowds and music that was playing. I was taking video for evidence, and I still enjoy going back to that moment and replaying it.
Over the months the record has rebounded between you and two other moms, how did you live like this?
I enjoy all sorts of races, but to be honest I am much more competitive with myself than against other runners! So when I finished my first half marathon (with the stroller, no less), I felt a little bit of extra energy in my legs and suspected that I could have gone even faster. I had already been thinking about trying a marathon (see below), so I put this thought away for a while.
Meanwhile, the winter hit, and the entire family was constantly sick with viruses. As soon as we recovered from one, another one would hit. This is how it is when children are in their first year of attending daycare. But the few times that I felt well and was able to go running, it felt great to get out! The stroller was a great way to keep the kids calm and let them nap (they stopped wanting to nap in their cribs), so running became an escape from the hard work of everyday life. I was not racing “continuously” at all, but rather trying to get a lot of rest.
I used the thought of future races to motivate and distract myself from the difficult times of having triplets. Thus I was not really chasing after any titles, but rather trying to survive the winter with some health and fitness! Once I did the full marathon (details below), spring with its warmer weather was approaching and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The week after I finished my marathon, someone told me that my half marathon record had been broken, and I was intrigued. The thought of “could I go faster??” once again entered my head. Despite the babies’ heavier weights, I thought I could do it again. And as luck would have it, a brand new half marathon was being held in mid-April, this time in San Jose, only 15 minutes’ drive from my home! Being self competitive, I could not resist the chance to try and break my own time (while Ashlee Eskelsen had run faster, her time was not yet approved by Guinness). Even more fun, running close to home meant that I could finally invite friends to cheer us on! Unlike Fresno and Modesto, I had many people that knew us cheering us on from the sidelines. And this time my husband could come as well. In the end, I ran hard and left no “gas in the tank,” which made me happy.
I ran each of these races in California, while the other stroller running moms were running on other states of the U.S. Thus we never met in person or ran against each other– though I met Theresa Marie, Suzy, and KaLea online and found them to be lovely people. I always felt like I was running against myself for a specific time, which is something that excites me.
In the end, my latest half marathon record (1:46:10, which is in fact still not approved due to a problem with the course certification) fell to Cynthia Lauren Arnold, who is clearly a much faster runner. But I remain happy because I know that I ran as fast as I could in my own race, and that’s all that matters to me. As of now, I am focused on some new personal goals, such as racing a marathon alone, without the stroller. I aim to return to Fresno in November 2018 to do just that. The children will cheer me on from the finish line this time.
And what about becoming the Guinnes World Record holder of running a marathon with the triple stroller too?
I enjoy all kinds of races, and so when I finished my first half marathon, I was already thinking about trying a full as well. I thought that I could break Theresa Marie Pitts’ record, and that it would be another great experience to try out a new distance. I had been trying to get admitted with the stroller to a marathon taking place at the end of December, but ultimately they did not give us permission. So I asked the race directors of the Modesto (California) Marathon if we could come out there in March 2018 instead, and they agreed. I had been training as if I was going to run a marathon at the end of December, so I had done some good distance taking the stroller up to 14 miles and going alone up to 20 miles. But then the winter came and everyone started to get sick. I told the Modesto directors that I was not sure if I would be able to run. January came and went, and then February. I was sick with sore throats, stomach flu, and other problems for some 7 weeks and started to lose fitness.
Less than one week before the Modesto Marathon, I had yet to even sign up for the race. I had done a single 16-mile run 6 weeks earlier, and hardly anything since then. I didn’t think I would do it, but suddenly I felt all right. My sore throat went away and my legs were well rested. I decided that I didn’t have anything to lose, and so I registered for my first marathon! The kids were over their latest round of illness as well, having been on antibiotics for ear infections (they catch a lot of germs at their daycare, especially in winter). So with the whole family happy, we drove to Modesto on March 10, 2018 and set up in a local hotel with portable cribs. The kids thought it was a fun adventure running around in a new place (at Fresno, they were only able to crawl).
Because it was my first marathon and I had heard about other runners “hitting the wall” and feeling terrible toward the end of the race, I decided that I had better take it fairly easy. Plus, I had been sick so much that it didn’t feel wise to try to run hard. I thought I could take a slower pace and still break the triple stroller marathon record, but this time I did not announce the attempt to any friends- it was almost a secret! Therefore I was fairly relaxed for the marathon and not nervous about the outcome like I was for the half record attempt. My focus was on keeping the kids happy, since I didn’t know how they would tolerate 4 hours in the stroller.
Early on the morning of March 11, we launched off the start line in semi-darkness. I was pleased with how my legs felt and cruised along for a while. After about an hour, one of the kids got a bit upset, which is unusual (typically they stay happy for two hours). I wasn’t sure what was going on and considered abandoning the race. My husband was riding his bicycle alongside us, carrying food and other supplies for the kids. Since it had been a very early morning, we eventually thought maybe they had not had enough to eat. So he took out some food pouches, handed them to me, and I dropped them down to the kids. They loved it and immediately went quiet- hooray! I was so relieved. Of course a while later when they were done with the food, one of them threw the container into the road and I had to stop to pick it up. I learned that I should always tie containers onto the stroller in advance! After that, everyone fell asleep and remained asleep for the rest of the race, not even waking at the finish line. I was able to focus on my running once my legs became tired around mile 14. It was cleared that I had minimal training for this marathon (very little distance), so I was quite pleased to cross the line in just over 4 hours.
I know that there are other moms out there capable of beating my marathon time, and that I myself could have run faster had I not been sick so much. But to this day, nobody has attempted the feat, so I am happy to remain the Guinness World Record holder.
You live in California: beside running or skating, do people run with the stroller by the sea as well?
Absolutely! Many places along the coast have paved pathways for people to walk/run/bike/roller blade, and they are also great for strollers because they are flat! I would say that single and double strollers are a very common sight along the sea. But triple strollers are incredibly rare anywhere, so when I go for a run with my kids on one of these paths, passersby find it amusing. We live inland and hence not too close to the coast, but whenever it becomes too hot to run here during the summer, we make the 45-minute drive to the coast. We let the kids play in the cooler air there, and then when it is time for naps, they go into the stroller for a long ride. I attach a photo of the stroller in one of our favorite places on a trail in the town of Half Moon Bay, California.
Running with other stroller parents is something that I do not do very often. It can be difficult to coordinate schedules, and it is nearly impossible to run side by side. So I mostly run by myself with the kids, though sometimes my husband joins us if he can. I do pass by other families as I run, and those parents often find it amusing to see a triple-wide stroller going by!
Above: Ann Marie pushing the triple stroller towards the finish line of the 2018 Silicon Valley Half Marathon, where she established her most recent record. Video by T. Karras
Tell us about a usual training with your children and what you’d like to teach your children by the means of running together.
I work full-time during the week and the children attend daycare, so we typically do not have time to do stroller rides until the weekend. Therefore my training during the week mostly consists of running alone to and from my office.
On the weekends, I usually take the kids in the stroller to one of our nearby paved bicycle trails, as those are the most convenient place to avoid traffic. The stroller is so large that it does not easily fit on sidewalks, which makes running anywhere else difficult.
We usually time the runs so that they take place during naptime. This means that the kids either fall asleep right away, or they calmly sit and watch the scenery go by. We go anywhere from 4 to 15 miles. Surprisingly, the kids have never really needed much entertainment! Lately as they have grown and developed, they enjoy occasionally looking out the back of their seats to smile at Mommy and say hi. They think it is fun to poke their fingers out the back and have me grab them as I run. But in general, they sit happily for quite a while and almost never complain! I am told that this is unusual, and feel very lucky that my children love stroller riding so much. I hope to take them back to a race oneday when they are more aware of what it means and more able to enjoy the crowds waving to them. They’ll be even heavier then, but I want to keep training with the stroller so that we can do this- I think they’ll have a lot of fun!
Ultimately I want to show my children that we can all be fit and healthy, and we can do it together! I think they will enjoy running too; in fact my tiny daughter is already so fast that it is hard for her teachers to catch her when she steals a toy at daycare. She is just always moving, except when she is napping in the stroller!
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