Anna Young was thrilled to be running in her first race since giving birth to her first child, a daughter, five months ago. A former high school and college runner, the 27-year-old was determined to complete the Revel Big Cottonwood half marathon in Salt Lake City on Sept. 9.
But in the middle of the race nature intervened, and Young chose to do something that is almost never seen during road races: She slowed to a walk and pumped breast milk, eventually completing the race. Her act went viral, turning her into an inspiration to nursing mothers everywhere. Her Facebook post on the Occupy Breastfeeding page two days after the race has been liked more than 11,000 times and shared by over 2,000 people at press time.
It wasn’t exactly how Young had planned the 13.1-mile race, but she was not about to be sidetracked. Young, who competed at Arizona State but had only been running sporadically due to injuries since graduating in 2011, had done her homework ahead of the Cottonwood race. Well, it may have been last-minute homework, but she did her homework all the same.
“It wasn’t until about two weeks before the race I had the realization that I hadn’t quite thought things through,” she wrote in an email to The Post. “I asked my La Leche League Facebook group [a nonprofit that promotes breastfeeding] about managing the race with my concerns for needing to nurse or pump. I got a few recommendations for manual pumps to look into and took those suggestions into consideration.”
After being unable to compete the previous year due to the pregnancy, she was all in on the 2016 event, and quickly formulated a race-day plan.
“The logistics of this race were a bit unique so it was really out of necessity that my husband and I had the idea to bring the pump along with me,” she wrote. “I knew I could meet him with my daughter at the finish but I was concerned about how long the race was actually going to take me in addition to the travel time before the start.”
With baby in tow, she and her husband left at 4:30 a.m., with Young nursing just before departure. She pumped at the race’s eight-mile mark and nursed again after she finished. A photo taken along the route showed that she was able to carry the pump in a hydration pack and discreetly take care of things. Young crossed the finish line in a little over an hour and 44 minutes.
“One of the other women competing turned around as she passed me and cheered me on because she recognized what I was doing,” Young wrote in her email. “I didn’t think anyone would be able to tell, but I was still nervous about actually pumping. If anyone else did notice, they didn’t say anything.”
Everyone else noticed later, though, and Young, who used the Facebook hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding, is now a bit of a celebrity.
“I have been overwhelmed with how much the [race] picture has been shared and talked about. I thought it would be something the breastfeeding community would appreciate, but I had no idea I would get such a strong reaction. It’s been mostly positive and I’m grateful for that,” she wrote.
The attention is a little daunting because, while the act is natural, it remains personal and intimate. Young plans to continue running, focusing on less-complicated five- and 10-kilometer races, with perhaps another half marathon in the spring and Big Cottonwood again in 2017.
“It’s been intimidating to have the public comment on what I did, but if it can help another mother then I feel that it’s worth it,” she wrote. “My daughter and I struggled with breastfeeding in the beginning and La Leche League and the group Occupy Breastfeeding were a source of support for me. I’m glad the photo has brought some awareness to breastfeeding and hopefully has brought attention to resources that are out there for other breastfeeding mothers.”