When New Yorker and three-time marathoner Catherine Tejada discovered she was pregnant, she didn’t stop running. In fact, she welcomed the opportunity to continue racing and prove to herself and other women that she could still be just as dedicated to the sport.
New Yorker Catherine Tejada completed 10 road races this year while pregnant. The moment Tejada found out in January that she was expecting her first child, she vowed that running would remain in her life throughout her pregnancy. Two weeks later, Tejada ran the Fred Lebow Half Marathon in Manhattan.
The freedom of movement and the thrill of competition is what kept her going one race after another as her body transformed. As long as Tejada’s doctor approved, she didn’t hesitate to slip into her New Balance 1080s and run up to 25 miles a week around Inwood and Harlem, sometimes venturing to Central Park. Running is how she connects to herself.
Tejada, a special education teacher, took up running in 2018, when she hired a personal trainer to get fit and lose weight. Her introduction to running started on a treadmill, which she described as joyless and monotonous. When Tejada switched to running outdoors, she quickly found a different and more natural rhythm. The more she ran, her passion for it blossomed. “Little by little, I started getting the hang of it,” she says.
Tejada ran mostly on her own and built her fitness so she could complete her first race, a 5K in Coney Island, the following year. The feeling of crossing a finish line for the first time is still fresh in her memory. And the “magic”, as she describes, of doing it has repeatedly kept her stepping up to a startline. Her perspective on running shifted from the thing she did to maintain her fitness to using running as a way to push her boundaries. “Me versus me,” as she puts it.
Curious about how much faster she could go and how far, Tejada took up marathoning in 2020 as a test. But her first marathon, which she completed virtually during the coronavirus pandemic, left her wanting more. So Tejada entered the 2021 Philadelphia Marathon with the goal of running under four hours (she finished in 3 hours and 56 minutes).
Running while pregnant would be her greatest challenge yet.
“It’s very bold for an athlete [who is pregnant] to continue doing the things that she enjoys,” Tejada says. “Just because you’re expecting though doesn’t mean you have to completely stop everything you’re doing.”
Unlike in the past, when Tejada was adamant about being as competitive as possible and preoccupied by numbers on her watch, her mentality about running changed during pregnancy. It had to. She couldn’t run as fluidly as she was used to, especially given that her feet swelled, not to mention adding 40 pounds onto her frame. “I saw myself getting slower and slower, which was OK with me,” Tejada says. Still, “it was very difficult physically and mentally. You’re doing something that you love, but you’re not able to do it the way you want.”
Tejada was humbled by the experience and grateful that her body allowed her to keep going – even up to 26.2 miles. She completed the Brooklyn Marathon, her third marathon overall, this past spring while five months pregnant.
“That made me appreciate my body even more,” Tejada says.
In April, Tejada founded Girls That Run, a group of 15 women of various athletic abilities. She is committed to teaching them how to evolve through running. “I want everybody in the group to go through what I went through,” Tejada says. “Let running be something that builds your confidence and makes you see that you can do more.”
Tejada was inspired to create the group after running on her own for several months. She didn’t know many women around her neighborhood in Harlem that enjoyed the sport as much as she did. And she wanted to change that.
Tejada posted about her runs, sometimes casual 11-milers, on social media, complementing a photo with the hashtag #GirlsThatRun. “The tag symbolized that women do run, do race and do enjoy the sport,” Tejada explains.
As other women took notice of the hashtag and of Tejada’s dedication, she found herself naturally guiding runners through their training journeys, virtually at first, until they decided to connect in person. Girls That Run was born.
Tejada says Girls That Run is committed to ensuring that women feel supported all around. This past spring, she organized the first “awareness run” that focused on mental health. Girls That Run hosted a breast cancer awareness run in October, and in the future Tejada intends to do more awareness and education about women’s safety on the run.
These days, Tejada says she is past the “wanting to be fit” phase. Now, her running is more about continuing to inspire other women. “Clock in for you. Put in these miles for you. Take care of your mental health,” she preaches. “That’s mostly what my group is – giving women empowerment and the ability to know that they can reach their potential.”
It’s been a two-way street. She appreciates the support that members of Girls That Run gave her throughout the year. “These girls stuck by me. “They helped me complete this running-pregnancy journey,” she says.
“I see running as women supporting and inspiring each other with no pressure. We should have more groups of women helping each other.”