By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(25-Apr) -- On March 18, when Katie Follett stepped on the track at the University of Colorado to run the 3000m at the Jerry Quiller Classic, she hadn't raced in exactly 566 days. Running against collegians in her yellow and black Brooks uniform, she finished third in 10:38.87, a time that was nearly two minutes off of her personal best of 8:43.15 from 2018.
"Man, I've missed racing but whew Saturday was tough!" she posted on her Instagram after the race. "And fun! And humbling!"
Follett, 34, who went back to using her birth name after her divorce from Brooks Beasts coach Danny Mackey in 2019, was racing that day in Boulder for the first time as a mother. Her son, Joshua, born on September 11, 2021, was at the track with her, and as hard as that race was she was excited to bust off some rust and feel the thrill of competition again.
"I've really missed racing," Follett said on a video conference last Thursday hosted by the Drake Relays. "I love competing and I'm just really looking forward to just sharing something that I love so much with Joshua. It's nice to start feeling strong again. Coming back from pregnancy, there were a lot of things jiggling and moving that weren't before. So the more I'm able to train harder as my body lets me, the more I'm starting to feel strong that I'm coming back."
Her journey back to competition has been a long one.
After separating from Mackey, Follett moved back to her home state of Colorado in 2019 to make a fresh start (she grew up in Fort Collins). Over the years she had gotten advice from Coach Dan Pfaff, and Pfaff helped her connect with a training group called Elevated Performance in Longmont headed by one of Pfaff's confidants, Jeff Boelé.
Follett quickly felt at home, and before the pandemic struck in March, 2020, she did a full indoor season, taking fifth at the USATF Indoor Championships in the 1500m. After the pandemic shutdown, she only did two races in the outdoor season in 2020, running a 4:16.40 in the 1500m at the Music City Distance Carnival, and taking fifth in the USATF Road Mile Championships at Drake University in 4:36.0. Little did she realize that those would be her last races until 2022.
But there was a silver lining: Follett found love again. She and Coach Boelé developed romantic feelings and things progressed rapidly.
"Jeff and I started dating and we got married in late 2020," Follett said in a text message to Race Results Weekly. "We found out a few months later about the surprise of Joshua. Not what I was planning for the Olympic year, but such a blessing."
Training while pregnant was an eye-opening experience for Follett.
"I didn't really know what to expect," she said. "The journey is really different for each woman, and for each pregnancy, even, can be very different. I just kept running until it got too uncomfortable."
She decided not to race at all while pregnant.
"I felt pretty sick the first trimester and I wasn't really sure about pushing my body to that upper, upper limit early on in my pregnancy, so I chose not to," she said.
Follett explained that in her third trimester she had to be "really flexible" and listen to her body. She had to redefine what training meant.
"I think it was around 32, 33 weeks when I really just couldn't run anymore without not being able to walk the rest of the day," Follett recounted as she bounced Joshua on her lap. "I remember my last run around 33 weeks I was going to a little league baseball game that afternoon, and I got up to get into the car and I couldn't walk to the car. I had to, like, squat and walk backwards." She added: "If I'm ever getting down on myself about getting into shape that I'm like, I'm walking forward and I'm running forward. So, that's pretty good compared to where I was a couple of months ago."
This week, Follett will run in the Grand Blue Mile on Tuesday evening. The race is hosting the USATF Road Mile Championships and Follett won that competition in 2017, one of her two national titles. She'll also race in the professional section of the Drake Relays on Saturday, lacing up her spikes for the 1500m next Saturday.
"I am so excited to come back to Drake because winning in 2017 was a big confidence builder for me in my career," Follett said. "The 1500 and mile have always been my favorite event." She continued: "It's kind of the perfect place for me to throw my hat in the ring again post partum, and hoping for the Drake magic to get a little bit of that confidence back and maybe set some post-baby PR's, and just have it be a very positive experience and coming back to full form."
Follett said that other women who became mothers and then returned to the highest levels of athletics have inspired her, like Canadian 800m runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, who ran sub-2:00 five times last season and made the Olympic semi-finals after having a baby daughter in July, 2018. Of course, Allyson Felix's 400m bronze medal and 4 x 400m gold medal at the 2021 Olympics thrilled her.
"I feel really fortunate to be on the back end of the wave of women who are really changing the narrative around motherhood and competition," Follett said. "There was a number of really inspirational performances in Tokyo by moms who came back who not only competed at the top level in the world but set personal bests post partum. That's really encouraging to me and hope that it's really encouraging to all the younger women who are coming up in the sport and who are watching that."
Joshua is now seven months old and Follett says he's "always happiest if he's at the track." Clearly, Follett loves having him there with her.
"You don't have to put your passions and things that you love or make you who you are on the back burner just when you find new passions," Follett said. "I'm just as passionate about being a mom and raising Joshua. I love it just as much. I didn't know if it would be possible to find something that I love as much as competing and racing and running, but there's room for both. There's room to do both really well."