SOPHIE CARTER interview – running and motherhood – Runner’s World, Jan 2024

Sophie Carter’s youngest child, 10 month-old Teddy, is a wriggly charmer and also a great example of how thoroughly the personal trainer from Oxfordshire combines running and motherhood: his middle name is Eliud.

In July 2023, Sophie, 44, finished the Race to the Stones 100km ultramarathon in 9:50:17, first female and ninth overall. She did this while expressing breast milk for Teddy on the move, wearing an Elvie pump and passing the contents to her partner for a bottle feed at aid stations.

It’s a similar scenario to that of Sophie Power, whose experience breastfeeding her three-month old baby at the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc in 2018 (which she had to do because it wasn’t considered a valid reason to defer her entry) prompted UTMB eventually to change its pregnancy policy. Alexis Berg’s photograph of Power and her baby went viral and was named one of ‘50 photographs that reshaped sport’ by the Guardian newspaper in 2023.

Sophie Carter, meanwhile, has continued running at a high standard with five children, including the 14-year-old eldest and three-year-old twins. She recently completed the Dorney Lake half marathon pushing Teddy in a buggy, and she took him the whole way at the 2022 Race to the Stones, finishing as second woman while 20 weeks pregnant. She is aware how unusual that is – to the extent that she has sent her data to Professor Margie Davenport, who specialises in studying pregnant women and exercise at the University of Alberta – and doesn’t want anyone to think that her message is that you and your baby bump should immediately enter the Barkley Marathons. But nor does she believe mothers need to put their own lives completely on hold. 

‘After so many pregnancies, I felt I knew my body. I decided to listen to it, and if I felt like I needed to stop, I’d just stop,’ she says. ‘As a mum I have had plenty of negativity in my head, and I know lots of mums feel guilty, like they shouldn’t be out running. But I’m inspiring my children. The older ones are out running now, and the younger ones like seeing Mummy helping other people to be fit and healthy.’

She found it easier to run while pregnant than while breastfeeding. ‘When you’re pregnant you’re flooded with hormones to help the baby. Everything’s growing: your hair, your nails, the baby, and you feel like you have this amazing energy. That’s what made me think, “I can do this.”’ But she has also learned to be cautious. In May 2023 she tried to do the UK Ultra South Downs 100km while breastfeeding, on a hot day, and ended up in an ambulance around the 80km mark suffering from dehydration. She has been training another woman who wanted to do an ultra after having a baby, and concluded that the time isn’t yet right. ‘It hasn’t quite worked out, but that’s okay. We’ll try again a bit later. After my first was born I realised it would take a bit longer than before to prepare myself.’

Sophie started her career as a solicitor and entered her first marathon because a colleague was doing it. After discovering a talent for longer distances she shifted to become a personal trainer while pregnant with her eldest child, and started organising exercise classes for mothers and babies. She has gone on to study for a qualification in pre- and post-natal exercise.

Official NHS advice is to wait until after your six-week post-natal check before restarting any high impact exercise, though they also say: ‘If you exercised regularly before giving birth and you feel fit and well, you may be able to start earlier.’ It’s important to remember that some serious issues, such as a pelvic organ prolapse, could develop over a much longer period of time, and that your body changes again once perimenopausal symptoms begin to kick in. It is possible to get pelvic health checks in the UK – sometimes called a ‘Mummy MOT’ but unfortunately not always on the NHS.

‘It’s important to focus on pelvic floor exercises and building core strength. That’s what gives you the strength to run,’ advises Sophie. ‘It’s easy to neglect yourself when you’re focusing on looking after a new baby. A lot of people say: “You’ve had five children – you must wet yourself all the time!” But I don’t, because even when I’m just playing with my kids I’m doing those exercises.’

Everyone’s ability to return to something approaching ‘normal’ running will be different, just as everyone’s birth experience is different. Sophie’s only Caesarean section was an emergency operation for one of her twins. ‘I felt like an 80-year-old after that, but I did recover quickly and I put that down to being fit,’ she says.

So it’s fine to proceed with caution, and accept that your running will be different, while refusing to think that caring for a new life means yours is over. ‘When you’re pregnant you’re keen to get back to running as soon as possible, but don’t underestimate what your body has been through,’ says Sophie. ‘You do need to give you body time to recover and build your strength back.’ But with time and commitment, as she’s proving, remarkable things are still possible.