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Abbey Cooper: “I want to make another team”

Abbey Cooper runs the 2023 Boston 10K for Women (Photo by Alison Wade)

By Sarah Lorge Butler

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.” 

This feature is sponsored by New Balance.