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Fast Women: Abbey Cooper's return
Karissa Schweizer's surgery and other big Bowerman Track Club news
Issue 262, sponsored by New Balance
Abbey Cooper: “I Want to Make Another Team”
Abbey Cooper always seems to be involved in the most dramatic 5,000-meter races. In 2012, just after her sophomore year at Dartmouth College, she nearly made the Olympic team in the event, finishing fifth at the Olympic Trials, 0.19 seconds out of third place.
In 2016, she did make the team. But in Rio, during her heat of the 5,000, Cooper (then D’Agostino) and a runner from New Zealand, Nikki Hamblin, got tangled up. Both went down. They helped each other get to their feet and resume running. Cooper was in obvious pain, but she still managed to run the final mile of the race, learning later that she had torn her right ACL and meniscus in the fall. It took surgery and years of rehab to return to running at the level she had been previously.
At the 2021 Olympic Trials, it was more drama. Cooper didn’t have the Olympic standard for the 5,000 (15:10), so even if she finished top three in the final, she wouldn’t necessarily be able to run at the Games. On a hot night in Eugene, Cooper took her preliminary heat out hard, ran alone for most of the race, and ran 15:07. In the final, however, she finished fourth, an alternate for Tokyo.
In the fall and winter of 2021, Cooper and her husband, Jacob, lost two pregnancies. “It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever been through,” she wrote on Instagram, explaining why she wouldn’t be at USAs that year. In October 2022, she announced she was pregnant again. Baby Mercy Louise Cooper was born on January 25, 2023, after nearly 36 hours of labor.
Cooper, 31, lives in Boone, North Carolina, and spoke to Fast Women about running through her pregnancy, how she’s gotten back to training and racing again, and her plans for the upcoming Olympic year. She’s not letting up at all. “I’m going for it,” she said. “I want to make another team.”
She ran through pregnancy
Cooper was able to keep running up until the final two weeks of her pregnancy, but she made the decision not to do workouts. After the two miscarriages, she didn’t want to tax her body. She details the training she did, including ElliptiGo workouts, in her blog. “I think it was really important to stay in a regular routine,” she said. “I knew my goal was going to be to come back for the Trials in 2024. That was just helpful for me to stay mentally focused on my goals—but obviously in a different capacity.”
She has a happy baby—but sleep has been erratic.
Baby Mercy, who is nine months old this week, is generally happy and usually on a good schedule, but that’s currently been interrupted by teething. Cooper feels like she has adapted to interrupted sleep, but when she does get a full night, it feels amazing. “I got nine straight hours one night last week and had a workout the next day and felt like it was the best workout I’ve had since she was born,” she said. “I was like, okay, yeah, I understand why there are so many studies about why sleep is important. It’s definitely been an adjustment on all different fronts. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Cooper’s early races were to get back in the routine again.
Her return to running was full of fits and starts, as she struggled with IT band issues on her right side, the first time in her career that she had had IT band problems. She finally went back to chiropractor John Ball, whom she has worked with through the years, to get intensive therapy, and then she returned to pain free training. On September 15, with only about four weeks of consistent training under her belt, Cooper ran a cross country race at nearby Appalachian State. (Jacob is a sport psychologist in the athletic department there.) She just dipped under 17:00 for 5K.
Three weeks later, she ran the Boston 10K for Women, where she finished 13th in 33:29. She and Mercy traveled to Boston, where Cooper’s parents took care of Mercy for 24 hours around the race. (Jacob was with the Appalachian State football team.) “The whole point of that race was to be out there again, in the environment,” she said. It was a test run for the U.S. 5K championships on November 4 in New York, a race that she’s putting a little more focus on.
All went well and Cooper had fun. The only snag? Cooper’s breast pump broke right before she was about to begin her warmup.
Cooper hopes to breastfeed for a year and then start weaning. Although Mercy is on some solid food, Cooper still feeds her five or six times in a 24-hour period, and she’s had to get used to the constant hunger. “That’s one of the things I don’t feel like I was really prepared for,” she said. “I feel like I hadn’t expected the demand calorically. I have snacks on hand all the time. Especially early on when I would feed her in the middle of the night, I would have a snack.”
Her mileage right now is not that high.
Cooper has been training by minutes, not miles, with the New Balance 880s and the FuelCell Rebel as her go to shoes. If she were to guess, her mileage is in the 50s, with extra workouts on the ElliptiGo, which she has mounted on a trainer with the baby monitor nearby. She takes one day completely off each week, and one day is cross-training, due to babysitter availability.
“Since I had a bunch of stress fractures early in my career, I’ve learned I can get it done without doing a ton of mileage, so we’ve erred that way,” Cooper said. As she gets back to full training, the cross-training day will likely migrate to a running day.
Other elite moms are super helpful.
Cooper has enjoyed being part of the recent baby boom among elite runners. She’ll text steeplechaser Marisa Howard (whose son is about 5 months older than Mercy) when she has a question. But Cooper largely avoids social media. She doesn’t have much time for it, and she knows the comparison game is real. “I have to keep my mind in check,” she said. “We’re all going to recover differently from all of this.”
She keeps her goals posted in her home gym and when she worries about regaining her fitness, she reminds herself what has happened before. “I have been the underdog my whole career,” she said, “and I have seen really cool things happen at Trials.” —Sarah Lorge Butler
Other News and Links
Karissa Schweizer shared that she had Haglund’s deformity surgery on her left side, after doing her right side in 2021. Schweizer is one of the six women pictured on the Bowerman Track Club website and one of them, Vanessa Fraser, is no longer with the team. With the news of Grant Fisher’s departure from the BTC this week, speculation is rampant that others might follow, but nothing has been announced. (If you want to hear some of the speculation, go to the latest episode of the Coffee Club podcast and jump to the 7:00 mark.) And kudos to the person who saw this Team Boss video and commented, “I hope Grant Fisher is seeing this recruitment video.” It made me laugh.
The New York Times published an excerpt from Caster Semenya’s memoir, The Race to Be Myself, which comes out in the U.S. and UK on October 31. This Elle piece shares more details from the book; it sounds like she doesn’t hold back.
This was a nice feature on Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, who will run the New York City Marathon in less than two weeks. And it was amusing to read that her marathon debut was lackluster by her standards because she showed up to the event expecting to run the accompanying 10K. But upon learning the shorter race was for locals only, she ran the marathon without having done any specific training for it.
Last week I mentioned that Zoe Baker, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at the Bakline McKirdy Micro Marathon, recently finished out her collegiate eligibility at the Colorado School of Mines. But it turns out she has a little more left. Baker, 23, is working on her master’s degree and will run one more season of track in the spring. In the linked photo, you can see that she finished her debut marathon with blood streaming down her leg, after getting tripped up in the pack at mile 20.
I love this story about Joy Evans, 37, and her son, 18, competing at the same cross country races. She’s in her first season of collegiate cross country, she’s her team’s top runner, and she was recently named the North Atlantic Conference’s Rookie of the Week.
Last month, Alyssa Puttkammer ran the fastest marathon while pushing a stroller, an impressive 3:02:54.
I loved this video from Sarah Hopkins, the head cross country coach at the University of Minnesota. Her young son did a mile time trial, paced by members of the Gophers’ cross country teams. Combining college coaching and parenting can be tough, but it also has its benefits.
After canceling this year’s event due to heat, organizers of the Twin Cities Marathon and 10 Mile will refund runners’ registration fees.
Gwen Jorgensen won the World Triathlon Cup Tongyeong, in South Korea.
Thanks to New Balance for sponsoring Fast Women this month
Over the past six months, we’ve featured six New Balance athletes: Emily Mackay, Brenda Martinez, Elle St. Pierre, Emily Sisson, Dani Jones, and Abbey Cooper. I didn’t ask Martinez about shoes, because she wasn’t doing any running at the time, but the other five all said their go-to daily trainer is New Balance’s Fresh Foam X 880. It’s mine, too. I love its cushion and that it fits so many runners’ feet, because it comes in four different widths. The shoe is definitely worth checking out the next time you’re at your local run specialty store or you’re in the market for a new daily trainer.
I’ll be picking one winner for this month’s shoe giveaway in the coming week. To enter, just make sure that you’re subscribed to this newsletter.
Kenya’s Margaret Chelimo, who finished third in the half marathon at the World Athletics Road Running Championships three weeks earlier, won the Valencia Half Marathon in 1:04:46, a personal best. It was a Kenyan sweep, as Irine Cheptai took second (1:04:53) and Janet Chepngetich was third (1:05:15). Lauren Hagans, who finished 10th in 1:09:41, a PR, was the top American. “Felt horrible but gutted through it,” she wrote in an Instagram story. “I’ll take a PR, even if small and not what I wanted.” Amy Davis-Green (15th, 1:10:46) and Anne-Marie Blaney (18th, 1:10:57) also PRed. (Results)
Romania’s Madalina Florea earned two victories at the Golden Trail Series Grand Final, winning both the main event (24K+) and the prologue (5K). And Sophia Laukli won the overall series title by virtue of earning the most points throughout. (Results)
Katie Schide won Diagonale des Fous, which is considered to be one of the toughest 100 milers in the world, in 27:31:08. On Instagram, she referred to it as “A race where your competitors are your teammates against the most ruthless course imaginable.” (Recap | Results)
Kenya’s Rebbeca Tanui won the Venice Marathon in 2:25:35. (Results)
The Pan Am Games kicked off on Sunday with the men’s and women’s marathons. Mexico’s Citlali Cristian won the marathon in 2:27:12, a Games record. Though the U.S. will be well represented in a variety of events, they did not send any female marathoners. The race had only 12 finishers, so it must have been a lonely one for many of the competitors. It looks like it will be possible to watch the events here, and the results are all here.
Athing Mu made a rare appearance on a running podcast, talking to Emma Abrahamson on Convos Over Cold Brew. Mu talked about some of her struggles in 2022 and 2023, what she’s done with her recent downtime, and said she’s pretty excited, track-wise, for 2024. She said she’d love to have goats and a llama someday.
Speaking of which, Emma Bates talked about her Chicago Marathon experience on The Drop. She said once her foot started hurting in Chicago, she wanted to quit with every step. One thing that kept her going: She would have only gotten half of her appearance fee if she didn’t finish the race. “I’ve got goats to feed now,” she joked. She told a horrible story about staying at an Airbnb where her dog massacred the homeowner’s chickens—and that’s just one of the reasons she has no plans to get chickens. She would love to get alpacas, though.
Sara Vaughn and Dakotah Lindwurm made a joint appearance on I’ll Have Another, where they, too, talked about their runs at the Chicago Marathon.
On Keeping Track, Jamaican 800m specialist Natoya Goule-Toppin talked about overcoming obstacles to have a strong season in 2023.
Additional Episodes: Danni McNeilly, who joined the list of U.S.-born Black marathoners to break 3:00 at the Chicago Marathon, on The Rambling Runner Podcast | Rose Harvey discussed her Chicago success on 5 Miles Easy | Krissy Gear on Lactic Acid
A massive thank you to Fast Women editor Sarah Lorge Butler for helping me out by talking to Abbey Cooper in an overwhelming week. It was so fun for me to read a section of this newsletter that I didn’t write.