She’s One of the Fastest Women in America. She’s Also A Mom.

Olympian Elle Purrier St. Pierre says having a baby and coming back to running was the challenge she needed.

by Melissa Dahl
Winning Look

There is something to be said for the one-track mind. In her pre-baby life, pro runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre was laser-focused on success. Specifically, she was dead-set on becoming an Olympian — and she did it: At the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, she placed 10th in the 1500m.

“That was really, really important to me,” says St. Pierre, 29, of making it to the Olympics. “It was like this box that I just needed to check.”

That’s the thing about pre-baby life: If you want to go all-in on something, it’s easier to find the time and brainspace to do so. Back then, she says, “I was able to put my hard work and my passion in one place.” The following spring, she won silver in the 3000m at the World Indoor Championship. She was on a roll.

But around that time, she says, she found herself in what she called a “lull” when it came to her motivation in her sport. Not burned out, exactly, but getting close. “It just was never ending,” she says. Another goal, another race. “There was always something.” But none of it seemed particularly interesting.

And then, she got pregnant. Here was a novel physical challenge: Pregnancy and childbirth, yes, but also the challenge of recovery and returning to her pre-pregnancy level of fitness. What would that be like? “I felt like becoming a mom was something that was daunting — thinking about coming back from that,” she says. “It was something that I knew I really wanted, and was missing from my life. And so doing that — and then coming back — it was like that was the next challenge that I needed.”

“It’s nice, now, to share it with Ivan, and to take care of him — to have this other person that I’m running for.”

As a motivator, it appears to have worked. In February, at 11 months postpartum, she set an American record for the mile. The next month — two days before her son Ivan’s first birthday — she set another American record, this time in the 3000m. This summer, she’ll compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, racing the 1500m and the 3000m; she is currently the fastest American woman in both distances. “St. Pierre was an excellent runner before having a baby, but she has come back at a new level,” the newsletter Fast Women wrote earlier this year.

St. Pierre is part of a mini baby boom among elite runners, due in large part to a small group of pro runners who went public in 2019 about losing their salaries after getting pregnant. Since then, many athletic brands have introduced new maternity policies; St Pierre’s own sponsor, New Balance, even featured her pregnant belly in the “Run Your Way” ad campaign in late 2022.

Now, St. Pierre says, it’s not unusual to see her peers bring their babies to the track as they practice. A few times this training cycle, her coach has driven her car, with Ivan in his carseat, and tailed St. Pierre as she runs. “He’ll pull up next to us and we’ll just look in the window and wave as we’re running,” she says.”

It’s a reminder that she’s not just in it for herself anymore — which, to St. Pierre, is a major factor in her impressive postpartum comeback. It feels as if the only way to achieve excellence is a single-minded, almost obsessive pursuit of it, but for St. Pierre, that hasn’t been the case. Before, she says, running felt selfish; a career in athletics does tend to make you self-centered, quite literally. “Like, you’re always thinking about your body,” she says. “You’re always thinking about hydrating and sleeping and taking care of yourself — it’s all about you, all the time.

“And it’s nice, now, to share it with Ivan, and to take care of him — to have this other person that I’m running for,” she says. “He just makes everything better.”