In Season Two: Running In A Woman's Body

I started [running] because I wanted to get in shape. I didn’t actually know that I was desperately lacking self-care. And when I started running and finally started to give myself the space and time and energy in my life, I was like a completely different person. I was so much more patient with my kids. I found running was just the biggest release for me. . . . I had given myself the space to breathe and I could be so present with my kids. And I had so much more energy for my husband

—Beatie Deutsch

Beatie Deutsch had always been athletic. But after getting married and having four children in quick succession during her 20s, she realized she’d left that athletic part of herself behind to care for her growing family.
In 2015, Beatie decided to make a change and sign up for a marathon. Now, in 2021, Beatie Deutsch is a professional runner, a two-time Israeli National Marathon Champion, and the mother of five. She’s also an orthodox Jewish woman who runs in modest dress. Beatie has become an inspiration to thousands of people and is shattering stereotypes both in her home country and beyond.
This is the story of how Beatie found her passion and talent for marathon running, which includes going through the pregnancy of her fifth child on the road to making marathon racing her full-time career pursuit.

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Photo courtesy of Kate Rifkind

Cherie: Hello and welcome to Strides Forward, where we tell stories of women marathon and ultramarathon runners. I am Cherie Louise Turner, the host and creator of Strides Forward. Each episode we feature one woman’s story focused on a particular topic. This episode is part of our ongoing series about running in a woman’s body, and we’ve been focusing on the topics of menopause, RED-s, and the topic of this episode, pregnancy. And in many ways is also the topic of navigating how to take care of yourself when you’re going through enormous change; then how to navigate self-care when there’s a really small new person in your life who’s totally reliant on you.

The woman at the center of this story has a lot of experience in this area.

Beatie Deutsch: I’m Beatie Deutsch. I’m Israel’s national marathon champion, I live in Israel, run professionally and I’m a mother of five young children.

Cherie: Beatie Deutsch won her first national championship in 2019 and earned that title again in 2020. Fantastic achievements, absolutely. Made so much more astonishing by the fact that Beatie only started running at the end of 2015, when she was the mother of four. Add to that the fact that Beatie runs in modest dress, and you start to understand why she has become an inspiration to thousands of women, as well as men, and named as one of the 50 most influential Jews by the Jerusalem Post. Dressing modestly is a practice that Beatie has followed her entire life, as an expression of her faith.

Beatie: I am an Orthodox Jewish woman. And I grew up in a very Orthodox Jewish community, the media might describe as Haredi or ultraorthodox. So growing up, I would say that I was definitely always an active kid and loved sports, but I grew up in a community where there wasn’t so many formal options for sports and I never saw it as something you pursue.

Cherie: So while pursuing sports in a seriously structured way wasn’t part of Beatie’s plan early on, she would come to appreciate the role physical activity had had in her life once it was gone.

Beatie:  I got married pretty young at 19, which is also like normal for my community. And I had a baby at 20 and I had like four kids in six years. And during those six years, I was super busy between taking care of my family. And we also lived on a college campus for two of those years and hosted hundreds of students every week. And I pretty much put myself on the bottom of the list without realizing it, until it got to the point where I was so, I just felt so out of shape and was so desperate to do something about it.

Cherie: Beatie by her own description is someone who’s never been afraid of facing hard challenges. So when she decided to do something about being out of shape, she went big.

Beatie: I had supported my husband through a charity bike ride that was in the summer of 2015. And at the end of the summer, I said to him, that’s it like I am going to do something. I want to run a marathon. And he was actually so supportive. He was like, all right, like, let’s do it. I remember in October, around the beginning of October, we, we registered for the Tel-Aviv marathon in February of 2016. And we looked up training plans online and I found Hal Higdon’s basic training plan. And I had four months to train for it. And that is how I started running.

Cherie: Beatie had found a solid training program by one of the most respected go-to marathon experts, Hal Higdon. She had the support of her husband. And she didn’t miss a beat when it came to the fact that mainstream running apparel didn’t fit her needs for modest dress–which included a head covering, knee-length skirt over tights, and ¾ length sleeves.

Beatie: When I started running, I just, you know, initially I didn’t buy anything specific, like, I didn’t know about modest clothing companies that specifically made running gear. So I just, I would wear whatever little light skirt I could find and like a pair of leggings. But, the more I paid, like, paid attention to improving my speeds and time and getting the best shoes and gear; so like, what I actually ended up doing that works for me is, is making that I wear in races is making my own skirt out of a Nike dry fit t-shirt, um, a men’s dry fit t-shirt. I just found the material to be super light and comfortable. It’s no frills; it has like an elastic waist; it’s right to the length I want it. And I wear it over a pair of really light three quarter, um, boys tights, like legging tights that are super thin. And I choose, I’m wearing the boys ones because they’re like a good length.

Cherie: Beatie had handled all the details she needed to get started, and though she may not yet have known much about running a marathon, she was very clear on why she was doing it.

Beatie: I would occasionally go out for runs even during those six years. It just, what I was like lacking most in my life was consistency to like, be able to get out the door and be consistent about exercising. And, and it was hard to find something that was motivating me. Like, and I couldn’t really even afford like a gym membership at the time. So I knew like one of my husband’s, um, colleagues and a friend of ours, he had, he had run several marathons. I knew people ran races. And I thought, okay, if I pick the distance of 26.2 miles, like that’s going to force me to train because if I had picked any other distance, even a half marathon, a 5k, a 10k, I could have shown up and winged it, like I’m naturally athletic. I wasn’t scared of running, but I knew that like a marathon, no one shows up to the start line of a marathon without training for it. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to start being consistent about exercise.

Cherie: The marathon program Beatie found would help her map out this consistent buildup to the race day. Now all that was left was figuring out how to fit the training in around work and caring for four small children.

Beatie: I think that what helped me was I didn’t, it didn’t feel like such a dramatic shift in the sense that I broke it down into like very small steps. Like what do I need to do right now for the next day to get where I want to be in the marathon. So I had a four month training plan. So I chose the, I said, I can run four times a week. All I need to do is get out the door four times a week. And I looked at like, my schedule, I, every Saturday night, you know, I have nothing going on. So my husband and I would have this built-in date night run. I, on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, I think I worked them like kind of part-time I was working a full-time job, but calling it like part-time. But I remember I used to like take my kids with me to the track some days and just like run at the track with them there. And then Fridays, I didn’t work. So Friday mornings would become my long run day and you don’t start out running 20 miles. So I built up to it, you know, slowly, slowly,

Cherie: And as Beatie began regaining some fitness, it became ever more clear that this was something that she really needed in her life.

Beatie: I started because I wanted to get in shape. I didn’t actually know that I was desperately lacking self care. And when I started running and will finally started to give myself the space and time and energy in my life, I was like a completely different person. I was so much more patient with my kids.

And I found like, running was just the biggest release for me. Like anything that I’d been feeling or like bubbling up inside, or want to like let out on everyone, if I’d go for a run, I’d come back so much more relaxed, you know, not tense. Like I had taken given myself the space to breathe that I could be so present with my kids.

I was so much more like energy for my husband. Like I think my husband really saw the difference. I don’t, I don’t know if my kids appreciate it as much as I did, but I saw a complete shift in myself. And the more I think about it, the more I’m almost like I’m, I’m sad for myself for the six years I went without exercise because I know how much I need it in my life now and how it changes me as a person and how beneficial it is for my mental health.

Cherie: Beatie’s new running habit caused other healthy shifts, but there was also the reality that she had a really full life.

Beatie: My sleep habits did not shift. There just wasn’t any I, for a long, a lot of my running, I slept very little. Only when I became like more professional that I start sleeping more, but my eating habits definitely shifted. I started paying attention more to like, I just started wanting to eat healthier. I think when you come back from a run and feel so good, you don’t want to put junk in your body. It’s like, Oh, you want, you want to eat like real healthy, whole food.

Cherie: The motivation to keep running remained strong, as Beatie continued to appreciate the many benefits consistent activity was having on her wellbeing. She was on track to be prepared to go the distance of a marathon; how fast she’d run that distance, however, became a topic of discussion.

Beatie: When I signed up for that race, I was really, the only goal I had was to cross the finish line, like no time goal at all. And when my, like a month before the marathon, my husband who really does know me very well and knows that I’m, I am a competitive person. He was like, listen, you don’t want to just cross the finish line of the marathon. You want to know when you cross the finish line that you gave it your all. And I remember I was, I was almost like insulted by his comment because I’m like, are you kidding? If I cross the finish line of a marathon, that’s the biggest deal. Like you better be darn proud of that.

Cherie: However, with a little bit of urging and some dedicated workouts to improve her speed, Beatie’s thinking about performance started to shift. But when her husband suggested she could run the marathon in 3 and a half hours based on the speed of a half-marathon she’d done in training, she thought he was nuts. That would mean she’d have to run one mile every 8 minutes, for every single one of the 26.2 miles of the marathon. That’s a pace that would be a solid performance for much more experienced runners. Beatie was very reasonably doubtful of such an ambitious goal. So, her husband suggested she start a little slower and gradually get faster.

Beatie: I remember seeing the group of people that were going to run a three and a half hour marathon, all like start out. And I said, Oh, I’ll let them go ahead of me because I’m going to start out a little bit slower than an eight minute mile pace. And I was so like glued to my watch screen the entire time, but just like completely disciplined. Like every mile just got a little, teeny bit faster. By the halfway point, I was actually feeling really good. And I was like, I can even go a little bit faster. And at the final, the five miles to the finish line, my kids were all there and they were cheering me on and they had signs and my husband ran the last five miles with me. And at that point we were passing every person on the course. And I remember, you know, being completely shocked and I sprinted to the finish line and it was, I ran a 3:27. I turns out I was the sixth fastest woman in Tel Aviv. But the thing is that even at that point, so I realized I was good at running. I realized I was good at marathoning, but I had no clue about my potential. I just knew that I loved running and I wanted to keep doing this marathon thing. It was really fun. I, after I ran that marathon, you know, I was hooked.

Cherie: Beatie was hooked and started thinking toward what her next goals could be; two ideas came to mind, run a marathon pregnant and win the Jerusalem Marathon. She knew she wanted to have another child. And as for going back and winning the Jerusalem Marathon, the course was hilly and didn’t attract the fastest runners. The previous winners weren’t much faster than the time she’d just run. Beatie had put these goals in no particular order, but soon enough, she’d know exactly which of these she was going after first.

Beatie: When I found out I was pregnant, you know, I was determined that I was going to stay in shape during this pregnancy. And I was going to keep running. And the big, I felt like setting the goal of running a marathon was going to motivate me to, to keep training during pregnancy. Cause I knew that when you’re pregnant, it’s a lot harder to exercise and stay in shape. You just have so many legitimate reasons why you don’t want to get out the door, you know? Uh, and I felt like I always felt so good exercising and running that it was something I really didn’t want to give up because I felt like when you’re, when you’re pregnant it’s the time you’re the most vulnerable in a certain sense. And you need to take care of yourself. So I wanted to, I wanted to give myself the outlet that really helped me stay healthy.

Cherie: These marathon goals were proving to be great motivation to keep Beatie consistently moving her body. And she’d found a sustainable way to keep the training in her busy schedule, including those Saturday night running date with her husband. And as to how she would keep running as her body changed over time . . .

Beatie: Obviously as I got more and more pregnant, it got harder to run. But the one thing I said is that like, it’s, it’s of interesting in every phase of like your body growing, like your, your belly expanding, so like you have to adjust to it cause like there’s more pressure on your bladder and you just feel more clunky, but then once you adjust to it, it kind of just becomes the norm and you get used to it. So that’s what I found.

Cherie: And if Beatie had any questions about putting in hard training efforts while her pregnant developed, she knew exactly where to turn.

Beatie: My dad is like a, he’s an infertility specialist and an OB GYN. So he had been, you know, fully supportive of it the whole time and told me I wasn’t introducing anything new to my body. And as long as I felt good, I could continue running, so that was what I listened to. I had a very low risk, healthy, normal pregnancy and I felt good the whole time. So, so my father was like, yeah, it’s fine. Keep, you know, it’s good. And honestly, didn’t really have any, any questions. I remember, I just would make sure to drink a lot, you know, stay hydrated, and I paid attention to how my body felt, you know.

Cherie: Beatie continued to feel good, so she continued to use this race goal as a way to stay fit week after week, as the baby grew. And she was reassured in her efforts by the fact that she’d had so much experience with pregnancy already, and they’d all gone smoothly before. There was, however, the fact that by the time this marathon came around, she’d be seven months along.

Beatie: I’m definitely, I think I’m probably like exception, but I also had five, this was my fifth kid, so I was super used to being pregnant. And, I don’t know. I don’t remember it being, I even would do track workouts pregnant. Like I love pushing myself. And I, I mean, I remember, I remember a couple of times where I was like really working hard and breathing hard and like, I would kind of ask myself, wait, is all of this worth it? But I just loved the like feeling of being able to like work towards a goal. And obviously, you know, if, if I had had, I always said like, if I had felt any kind of contractions at any point I would have stopped, but, but I didn’t.

Cherie: So Beatie listened to her body, she adjusted to its changes, and she continued to put in the miles. But of course, to the everyday passer-by on the streets where she trained, they didn’t know she had this marathon goal, that she was actually out running by choice.

Beatie: There were times where people would see me running on the street, and people used to offer me rides. People would stop and offer me a ride and I’d be like, no, I’m fine. I’m just going to continue running. Um, the thing I think in Israel, it’s the culture kind of like we do a lot of, it’s normal to do hitchhiking here. So if someone sees you, like, usually people are holding their hand or at a bus stop, but like, I had a few times where people saw me running as more like, do you need a ride? Are you okay? They probably just felt bad for like a pregnant lady running, you know? Cause it isn’t the most common scene. Not at all in Jerusalem.

Cherie: And by the time race day came, it was very obvious that Beatie was very pregnant. On the day, a series of missteps found her arriving at the startline a half hour after the race had already started. And while it wasn’t the way she’d hoped to begin, this late start would turn out to have an wholly unexpected upside.

Beatie: And so I started running by myself and what happened is like I was going on the course one way and people were all coming back the other way. And afterwards, like I read a post on some Israeli running group. Everyone was commenting. Like, who was that queen, that pregnant mother queen running in the race. She was amazing. And everyone said, we were all running one way and you were coming back, you were coming down. And we said, if she can do it, we can do it. So a lot of people were very kind of shocked, inspired by that race.

Cherie: Beatie reached her goal of running a marathon while pregnant, finishing in four hours, eight minutes. A queen indeed. She’d been running alone behind everyone else, she was very visibly not too far from her due date, and she was running in a skirt, head covering, and long-sleeved shirt. And it was a marathon. For Beatie, this was her doing her thing; for just about everyone else, this was newsworthy. A video of her running the marathon went viral and the media took note. And with that, Beatie was launched into the public eye, for the first time .

Beatie would finish her time as the pregnant runner a few months later with the birth of her second daughter, and fifth child. And so began her transition from running pregnant to running faster. She had that goal of winning the Jerusalem Marathon now hanging out there; and in the least, she wanted to try to improve the marathon performance she’d had before she was pregnant. But first, she attended to the process of returning to running after pregnancy.

Beatie: After I gave birth, I took a month off of running. I remember when I had my daughter, when she was born, I felt so good. I literally was like, I’m ready to run a marathon because I had, it was such a good labor experience. And I always tell people like running kept me the best shape of my life for like pregnancy. Like, like my body was just so toned and like able to handle it so well. And you know, I felt so, I felt really good. I felt like I was totally back to myself. I’m pretty sure I asked my father, can I start running slowly again? And he said it was fine. So I started picking it up again after a month.

Cherie: Beatie felt great after that month of rest and recouperation, but she was also mindful of some of the aftereffects of being pregnant, including diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles which is fairly common with pregnancy.

Beatie: Now the one thing I didn’t do is that I really didn’t know about how important it is to go to like a pelvic floor specialist. And I didn’t suffer any problems, but I think I should have gone. I think it’s really helpful. And since, since my training has gotten more serious, I’ve been to a pelvic floor specialist a few times. I also have a, I had a diastasis recti and I knew about it because I’ve had it with like after every pregnancy. So that was the first thing I was like from, you know, two weeks after I gave birth, I was working on healing my diastasis recti, and I was doing a program specifically focused on that called the MUTU system. And, um, I felt myself, you know, getting stronger. So then I started running. I took up running slowly after a month.

Cherie:  Beatie got back to training, with a firm focus on winning that Jerusalem Marathon. And as if it were simply meant to be, she did just that the next year, in 2018. And not only did she win, but she bettered her marathon time by over 17 minutes, finishing in just over 3 hours. An incredible achievement. It was clear that, along with her strong competitive drive and discipline to consistently put in the hard work, Beatie had a talent for marathoning. And she was just starting to tap into it.

Beatie: When I won the Jerusalem marathon for Israeli women, a lot of people encouraged me to get a coach because I hadn’t trained with a group or coach. And when I joined, so I joined a group after that and joining the group really took my running to the next level without me putting in so much extra time. But I was actually training, I for the first time learned about the importance of running more mileage. Like I hadn’t been running very low mileage, so they really helped me build up my mileage. And then, and then also we did really proper workouts. Like I did structured workouts and I had people to push me in the workouts. And I, so I ended up winning the Israel national championship race that year in the marathon. And I completely shocked myself; I ran a 2:42. It was the most miraculous race I’ve had, and I was so blown away by the whole experience.

Cherie: Beatie wasn’t the only one blown away by winning her first national championship, and running it so quickly.

Beatie: After that, Israel reached out to me and said like, hi, we, you know, you, your time gives you qualification to be accepted as a candidate for the Olympics. And they started, they, they offer like stipends and support. So, you know, when I had that opportunity, I spoke to my, um, rabbi and mentor, you know, just because it’s not, so, I didn’t have anyone else in my community kind of to ask questions from, and it’s not necessarily so normal. So, and he really encouraged me to take this opportunity. And it was such an amazing opportunity because I’d been working a really, really full-time job that I loved, but was taking over my whole life. Like, it was hard to separate work and life. And when I transitioned to just running professionally, I had so much more time for my family. And, I was doing something I really loved. And my rabbi told me I’m making a difference in the world in a way that’s super unique, like no one else can. And so I didn’t feel bad about leaving the job where I had been making a difference in the Jewish community, because I knew I’m continuing that just in a different way.

Cherie: Now, as a full-time runner and mom, Beatie has continued to explore the depths of her potential in the marathon, and she continues to lower her marathon time. Most recently, in April 2021, she clocked a spectacular 2:31. This was at once a great triumph but also a rather big disappointment, as it left Beatie just a couple minutes over the Olympic standard, which would have qualified her to participate in the upcoming Games. While Beatie won’t be realizing her Olympic dream in Tokyo, she is looking ahead to what’s next, including the goal of representing Israel at the next world championships.

And as Beatie’s focus on running has grown, so has her impact.

Beatie: I was just featured in an Adidas campaign. And their theme is Impossible is nothing. And they chose the words where some see, for me to be featured, the ad says, Where some see an Orthodox runner, I see my belief pushing me forward. And so many women from my community were so emotional about it because they said, wow, this is what representation means. We never in our lives could have imagined like someone from our own community being on a on a sports billboard, like being on a, in a sports campaign for a company like Adidas, like being an athlete, it’s not something you ever see. And I relate to that. I never knew, there was no woman I know from my community who’s a professional athlete. And the fact that girls are seeing this now that you can be a professional athlete and fully religious and modest, that hopefully will pave the way for more girls to pursue paths in this arena.

Cherie: Beatie’s visibility as an Orthodox Jewish woman who is also a competitive runner is having an impact in other meaningful ways as well.

Beatie: Yeah. So in Israel, I would say that like, there’s a really big, you know, barrier between the secular Israelis and the ultraorthodox community. And both communities don’t understand each other. And I found that sports is like a really great way to like break down those barriers. And so, and, and I’ve heard from so many like Israelis who could be, could’ve been like anti-religious themselves, that I like changed their perspective on things. And they started to feel more open and positive towards religious communities and that they like, you know, just feel more connected because they know me and they realize that, well, these people are actually normal and we can relate. And so it’s, it’s cool to be able to shatter those stereotypes.

Cherie: It is cool to shatter stereotypes and also to have a powerful impact where you might just not expect it at all.

Beatie: So, I was part of a running club, uh, and we trained together. It was a mixed group. There were some religious, some not religious. I remember I was friendly with everyone and, and you know, my running group was super proud of me when I won the Israel national championship. But there was a guy from the group. And I remember seeing a post he wrote on Facebook. He said, my two greatest heroes are my two greatest heroes are Beatie Deutsch, and he named this other ultraorthodox female judge, Fryer. And he was a kid in college who’s not religious at all. And the people he looked up to most were two religious women, which I thought was really cool. And I was so, I was emotional after that thinking like I had no idea that I was making this impact on his life.

Cherie: In just a handful of years, Beatie Deutsch has created an extraordinary journey. She went from looking for some consistent fitness to becoming a two-time national champion and professional runner who was knocking on the door of the Olympics and is looking to a future of more international and championship racing.  Through the simple act of running, albeit very very fast running, she’s become an inspiration to thousands, she’s breaking through cultural barriers, and challenging stereotypes. Beatie is also helping to broaden the spectrum of what a competitive runner can look like, and opening the door to usher more women into the sport.

But away from all of that, and at the core of her foundation for all of this, Beatie is also five times over, mom.

Beatie: My kids are definitely proud of me. You know, it’s cool to be able to say your mom wins races. So I know they tell their friends that and, and, and I always try and make any race experience fun for them. Like I planned like tons of surprises before I left. I made this huge, like really cool, like shoots and ladder game on the wall where they fill in everyday good things in the board. I hid prizes around the house for them. And obviously they know I’m going to bring like presents back. But like, they’re not super into running, right now. They could care less a lot of times about what’s going on, you know? So ultimately I hope they’re going to say like, yeah, it’s really cool that my mom is a professional runner and it’s fun for us. You know, I try to make it like that.

Cherie: A big thank you to Beatie Deutsch for sharing her story. I really appreciate her taking the time to bring to life the details of her incredible journey. I’m excited to see where Beatie’s path leads her and I will certainly be cheering her on. You can join me in following Beatie on Instagram, where she is very active.

I’ll provide that link as well as a link to Beatie’s website in the show notes, along with all the links to follow Strides Forward online. We’re on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and of course, we have a website.

As always, I’m very thankful to you for listening. We love making these stories, but they are made to be heard, so you being here is a critical part of the equation. And I always love feedback: please contact me through any of the social media channels or through the website. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the show. And I also welcome you to leave a review wherever you listen.

The Strides Forward team includes me, Cherie Turner, your host and producer. Cormac O’Regan creates and places all of the music you hear. And he does it from his studio in Cork, Ireland. April Marriner of Bonfire Collaborative does all of the design work for the show, including the website, merch, and logo. She comes to you from Truckee, California. You can find April at bonfirecollaborative.com.

 

Strides Forward will be back in a couple of weeks with another episode about running in the women’s body. Until then, this is Cherie wishing you many strong and healthy strides forward.

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