After three Olympics, this runner was physically broken. She says pregnancy fixed her

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Genevieve Gregson’s body was broken. It wasn’t just the Achilles tendon she ripped when she landed on her face out of the water jump at the Tokyo Olympics. It was the more than a decade of pounding her body over the steeplechase.

Every tendon was sore. She has no cartilage in her ankle. Every time she went for an MRI they would find myriad other problems she didn’t know she had.

Genevieve Gregson leaves the Tokyo track in distress. Credit: Getty

Then the strangest thing happened; she got pregnant, and her body healed itself. Pregnancy fixed her body.

In Spain on Sunday, less than 18 months since she and her husband Ryan, also an Olympian, welcomed their son Archer into the world, Gregson ran a marathon in the third-quickest time ever by an Australian woman. It was only her second marathon, but it should now ensure she is on the team for Paris, her fourth Olympics, though this time as a road runner not on the track.

“I do feel pregnancy changed me, but I am assuming [that]. I talked to Paul Blackman, the doctor with the AIS, and I think the hormones that your body produces when you are pregnant, especially I think with having a boy, change you. There are naturally a lot of human growth hormones floating around when you are pregnant, and I just think it healed me,” Gregson said from Europe after completing the Valencia marathon in two hours, 23 minutes, eight seconds.

“My body was so broken, I know had my Achilles, but every tendon in my body hurt. I had been running my whole life in spikes and doing steeplechase; my bones were worn down. I am told I have no cartilage in one of my ankles (which she broke in a steeplechase race after the London Olympics). Every time I went for an MRI 100 other things would pop up that were wrong with me.

“As soon as I fell pregnant and had a baby, I would just wake up less stiff. Every run was enjoyable I just hadn’t experienced that in so long, and I think my body just reset, and I think that is what childbirth does for a lot of women that have this comeback story. It resets your body. It changes you mentally, but also physically there is definitely some benefit.”

Gregson doesn’t doubt that the mental shift was equally significant. She is more relaxed now about results and injuries. An obsessive pair, Genevieve and Ryan would stress over results and injuries, but now Archer makes those concerns fade.

Genevieve Gregson and her son Archer.Credit: X: @GenGen_LaCaze

Clearly, the other significant change is she has stepped up a distance and moved off the track and out to the roads for the marathon. She doesn’t know why she took so long to make the change, and admits her natural shuffle style offers an efficiency suited to the marathon.

“That (Valencia) was one of the best feelings I have experienced in my career,” she said.

“Tokyo was such a heartbreak and such a part of my career where I thought it was all over. But now I am like ‘thank God I snapped my Achilles’ because it moved me to the road, and I feel like that is my calling. Ryan has said it to me for years; ‘I know you are a road runner you need to get there sooner than later’, but I wasn’t ready to give up the track.

“I don’t ever hurt (running a marathon) anywhere near as much as I hurt running the steeplechase. In a marathon, I never have to hurt myself, it’s just survival of who can last 42 [kilometres]. When I go to a track now and see a steeple[chase] I get a wave of anxiety. I know I am not missing anything.

“I am ready to be done with that part of my career.”

The run in Valencia should ensure she has a place on the team for Paris. Australia had four women run the qualifying times in Valencia: Gregson; Izzy Batt-Doyle (2:23:27); Lisa Weightman (2:24:18); and, Eloise Wellings (2:25:47).

Genevieve and Ryan Gregson.Credit: Instagram

Sinead Diver didn’t run in Valencia this year but broke the Australian record when she ran there last year, finishing in 2:21:34, so she is a lock for the team. Weightman also has a quick qualifying time from Osaka (2:23:15) in February.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jess Stenson (nee Trengove) had been confident of qualifying for Paris, but her task has become more difficult because, with five women having achieved the qualifying time, she will need to cut two minutes off her personal best less than a year after having her second baby. Ellie Pashley is also in contention for the hotly contested team.

“I am shocked. It was just not on the cards to run that quick, so when I crossed the line it was surreal,” Gregson said of Sunday’s race.

“Valencia, you have to be honest, is a beautiful course, everything is in your favour to run fast. The way I felt in that marathon – and I have only done two – I have yet to even get close to what people say they experience in a marathon; even Ryan, his muscles cramped in the last five k[ilometres] because he extended himself.

“He was like ‘what do you mean you picked it up at 37 kilometres?’ I just feel like I haven’t found my ceiling yet, and maybe in the marathon it’s not a good idea to find your ceiling because apparently it’s really traumatising. But I do feel like I am feeling too good out there. I am waiting, chomping at the bit, until I can sprint for home.

“It was such a big injury I had, and I think being an athlete, you know even more how big it is. I was well aware what an Achilles rupture meant at the time. I don’t know why I believed I could get back, I think I just wanted to give myself a shot.

“When I was cross-training and pregnant, I went easier on myself saying ‘you are not an elite athlete, now just go easy’, and it gave me a good refresh to start the gruelling comeback.

“One hundred per cent, motherhood changed me as an athlete. It takes away that obsessive mindset of ‘you can’t fail’. Running was everything, for us, but for me now, having Archer, performance isn’t everything.

“I said to Ryan when I was coming back, ‘as soon as I get another injury that is bad and sidelines me, I would like to have another baby’.”

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