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As due date nears, Olympic skier Randall maintains fitness, anticipates future

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 6, 2016

The International Ski Federation's status report for Anchorage's Kikkan Randall didn't quite hit the mark this ski season.

It says she's injured.

True, the nation's most successful cross-country skier missed the entire 2015-16 season. But not because she is injured.

Randall is pregnant. And while that kept her on the World Cup sidelines this winter, it didn't keep her from maintaining a high level of fitness throughout her pregnancy, and it isn't keeping her from making plans to return to world-class competition and chasing what would be an unprecedented fifth Olympic appearance for an American cross-country skier.

Randall, 33, is due to deliver her first baby any day now -- labor will be induced April 14 if she doesn't have the baby sooner.

In the meantime, she continues to make regular visits to the gym.

"It's kind of like training with a weight vest on," Randall said.

Randall has stayed fit with twice-weekly interval training, a twice-weekly strength program focused on maintaining what she developed in 14 years as a member of the U.S. Ski Team, and a couple of hours of daily activity -- skiing, snow biking, swimming, running.

She's gained 27 pounds, which she thinks is mostly baby weight and muscle.

"I did a couple of tests in the first half of my pregnancy, and I gained muscle mass and got a little leaner while getting perfect ratings on the baby's growth," Randall said.

"... I'm surprised at the amount of training I've been able to handle. I ran up until three weeks ago. I started having a little (pelvic) discomfort after so I scaled back. I want to come back to training and have a long, active life, so I don't want to push it too hard now.

"I want to make sure I'm smart when I come back and not rush it."

Listen to your body

Early in her pregnancy, Randall spoke with doctors about her desire to stay fit.

The ultimate goal, she said, is a healthy baby. But she also wanted to maintain as much of her off-the-charts fitness as she could.

"We did get advice from doctors that I could continue with the level of activity I was used to," Randall said.

She read whatever she could find about other world-class athletes who remained world-class after pregnancy. She spoke to a handful of Olympic-level athletes who returned to competition after giving birth.

She found inspiration in France's Marie Dorin Habert, an Olympic biathlete who had a baby in September 2014 and less than six months later collected two gold medals and two silver medals at the 2015 World Championships -- and then picked up three golds, two silvers and a bronze at this year's World Championships.

Closer to home, she saw how UAA runner Joyce Chelimo registered personal-best times when she returned to competition after having a baby.

"I heard the positive stories, and that was exciting for me," Randall said. "I know there's gonna be some big challenges coming back, but there could also be some big benefits.

"I'm very optimistic this could be a nice boost."

Asked what advice she'd give to other women expecting a baby, she provided a reasoned response.

"I would definitely tell her to be confident and to keep doing what she's doing," Randall said. "The advice I was given, and what I found in my experience, is it's not the time to increase what you're doing, and to let your body be the guide. I'm amazed at how my body has told me it's good to go forward and when it's time to step back.

"Some opinions are still to be cautious when you're pregnant. But women who were working in the fields couldn't just take nine months off.

"Our bodies are incredibly resilient. As long as you're smart about it, you can keep going, because it'll most likely let your pregnancy go smoother and let you be more sane."

Nordic baby boom

When Randall returns to competition next winter, she won't be the only World Cup skier with a baby on board.

Norway's Marit Bjorgen, a six-time Olympic champion, had her first baby on Christmas and has already done some racing. Finland's Aino-Kaisa Saarinen is due next month and intends to be racing when the World Championships come to her homeland in 2017. Slovenia's Katja Visnar had a baby last year and is also expected back on the World Cup tour.

It's worth noting that Bjorgen returned to racing within weeks of giving birth – and perhaps did too much too soon. She competed in a 42.5-kilometer race prior to last month's Norwegian national championships, which she was forced to drop out of because of a hip injury.

"They're claiming it had nothing to do with her pregnancy," Randall said, "but I wonder if a 42.5-K race was too much."

Randall said that after she has her baby, she'll take the rest of April off and resume training in May.

"I'm hoping to be in good enough shape to start the World Cup season in October," she said. "My real season is the (World Championships) in February."

Baby’s first year

Randall really will have a baby on board when she returns to the World Cup.

Her husband, Jeff Ellis, works for the FIS and spends the ski season covering World Cup cross-country competition. Mom, dad and baby – the gender won't be known until Randall gives birth – will spend the winter together, mostly in Europe as Randall and Ellis go from race to race.

They've reserved an apartment in central Europe that will serve as their home base. Parents on both sides will take turns traveling abroad to help out, and by mid-season Randall expects to add a nanny to the mix.

And, she'll have the support of her American teammates.

"I want to be as much of a part of the team as possible, but I also don't want to be disruptive," Randall said. "I'm trying to strike a good balance. Sometimes I'll stay with the team, other times I'll be living more apartment-style nearby.

"Whatever (gender) the baby turns out to be, there's going to be a lot of great aunts and uncles."

Randall said the U.S. Ski Team has been supportive all along.

And no wonder – Randall has taken the team to heights never before realized. In 2007 she became the first American woman since 1978 to win a World Cup race, she was the first American woman to win a World Championship medal and she was the first American woman to win a World Cup crystal globe as an overall champion, something she did three times in sprint racing.

Her teammates look up to her, and this season when a number of them had breakthrough performances, they often credited Randall for inspiring them and leading the way.

"They traveled around with a Kikkan Barbie doll all season," Randall said.

The support, she said, has "already made this whole decision and process more enjoyable and less intimidating."

"If you are a female athlete (who becomes pregnant), you can lose your spot on the team, you could lose your health insurance, you could lose all your sponsors," she said. "But everybody has been so supportive."

When sponsor L.L. Bean learned Randall was pregnant, the company presented her with a pair of winter baby boots.

Family planning

The only thing lacking from Randall's racing resume is an Olympic medal.

She's been to four Olympics, and in both 2010 and 2014 she was considered a medal contender – especially the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, when she was the reigning World Cup sprint champion.

But things have yet to go right for Randall at the Olympics.

And so the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, were part of the equation when Randall and Ellis decided to start their family.

"After Sochi, I knew I wasn't ready to be done racing, but I also knew we weren't willing to wait another four years to start a family," Randall said. "I felt like I had really good momentum coming off those Olympics, and the World Championships were in Sweden the next year and I wanted to race through that.

"This year, there was no major championship, so if I had to miss a year, this was a good one to do it."

Once the baby comes, Randall will begin a two-year race plan that will culminate with the 2018 Olympics. By then, she'll be 35 – ready to try for another baby, ready to pursue a new career.

"I love what I'm doing," she said. "I feel like I still have the potential to improve. I'm really excited about the next two years to make a good push to another Olympics. Then there are some exciting things in life that are waiting."

The mommy track

Randall is all kinds of curious about life as a mother.

She's done research about car seats and chariot strollers and Ergobaby carriers. She has revisited movies like Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Junior" and she frequently visits the "WhatsUpMoms" YouTube channel.

"I'm getting really excited to meet this little creature and start the next adventure," she said.

She wonders about sleep. Randall loves to sleep, and decades of world-class training have turned her into a world-class napper. She expects her sleep patterns will have to change once the baby comes.

She thinks her time away from racing will make her excited and fresh for next season. And she thinks she may develop a new attitude about her workouts.

"I've heard from other moms that when your training time isn't a given, you really appreciate the time you get," Randall said. "You get a renewed focus. And you also have this thing in your life that's so important."

This week, as her baby kicks and moves around inside her belly, Randall knows a post-partum slowdown is coming.

"I hope to be able to get out and do some walks around the block, because I know I don't do well when I can't get out and do anything," she said. "That six-week period after the birth is my time to let my body recover and see if I can get my body ready to train again.

"I know my personality. I will want to get right back into it again. But I want to be smart and try to avoid injury. If it takes a couple more weeks to let my body get ready, I will."

Note: An early version of this story said Randall was the first American woman to win a World Cup race. In 1978, Alison Owen of Anchorage won the inaugural World Cup race for women.

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