I’ve been an avid runner for 6 years, ever since I signed up for my first race--a half marathon. Since then, I’ve run over 16 half marathons and 4 full marathons...and then recently, I had the toughest race of all--delivering a eight and half pound baby boy. Less than 5 months later, I ran another marathon and surprised everyone--including myself--when I PR’d at 3:45.
When I signed up to run my first post-partum marathon, I was 7 months pregnant and still felt strong and confident that I would be able to do it. It seemed like a challenge but somewhat possible--and a great way to get back into shape. I had run up to my 6th month of being pregnant, and had a very healthy and active pregnancy. But when I went into labor, equating “labor” with “running a marathon” was poorly aligned. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. And 28 hours later, with a badly bruised tailbone, I delivered a big (healthy) baby boy. And I could barely walk for a week I was so sore. I also had to wait at least 6 weeks to do any sort of exercise--as I tore a lot. My idea of being about to run 2-3 weeks postpartum was totally unrealistic. And on top of nursing around the clock, trying to get some sleep, learning how to be a mother to this wonderful little person was certainly the only priority I was thinking about.
After the first month, I started to contemplate what it would be like to take a short jog. Six weeks postpartum, during a walk, I tried taking a few jogging steps to see what it would feel like. It felt good, but I felt like I was learning how to run all over again. So I kept going--for about 25 minutes of the most slowest jogging I had ever done before. I was exhausted when I got back home, and a little sore, but exhilarated. For the next few weeks, I made it my goal to try to go running 2-3 times a week, slowly adding miles and intensity. At first, the marathon I had signed up for, seemed far away. But about 12 weeks prior to the race, I decided I was ready to start my training. Having established not only “base” weekly mileage, but more importantly as a new mother, attained a better grasp of how running would fit in with taking care of my newborn.
Fast forward 12 weeks--each week taking it run by run, assessing how my body felt before and afterwards--it was marathon day. My game day “routine” was much different than prior races...since I was still breastfeeding, so I had to factor in nursing my son, and pumping afterwards to make sure I armed my husband with enough milk! I took the subway to the race start, and then I was off. I reminded myself that I was there to have fun--and focus on enjoying the course, my fellow runners, and not go out too fast. I saw my husband and my son at mile 4, which gave me a boost, then again at mile 17. By then, instead of dreading the inevitable “hitting the wall”...I felt strong and had lots of energy left, and was starting to calculate that based on my pace, I had a good chance at finishing close to my old PR. Once I reached miles 20 and 21, I was starting to tire but didn’t feel like I was even close to “hitting the wall.” By mile 24, I knew I was going to beat my PR by a few minutes. Then, the last mile approached...then half a mile..then just a few hundred meters...I saw the finish. As I sprinted to the finish, I started to repeat my son’s name in my head to the rapid beating of my heart...then I crossed the finish line: 3:45:41. I couldn’t believe it. Did I really FINISH a marathon AND PR...just over 4 months postpartum?! And while I was certainly tired, my feet hurt from running on cobble stones (this was the Paris marathon, after all!), I didn’t feel nearly as exhausted as I have felt in prior marathons. Leading up to the race, while I felt ready and confident in my training, I didn’t feel as “fit” as I had remembered to be since my last marathon, 4 months before I got pregnant. Did this really happen? My mind was still racing, wondering how I was able to do so well.
When saw my husband and son after the finish, I teared up as my husband hugged me, and my son wiggled his hello. It was only then when it really hit me--I DID IT. Motherhood has taught me a lot of thing about myself, as has running, but being a mother AND a runner made me realize just how strong emotionally and physically I can be. And how amazing the human body is. We postpartum women have already been through the most grueling physical experience ever--giving birth--so in retrospect, running a marathon didn’t seem as hard. Sure, my marathon training took dedication and perseverance, but in learning how to be a mother, I also learned I had to accept the unexpected. My body didn’t just “bounce back” immediately to where it was. There were some days that I was just too tired to run, because my son wanted to nurse multiple times during the night. I had to figure out the nursing/pumping schedule. But through it all, it made me a better runner AND mother. More than ever before, my time running is my “recharging time” where it’s only myself and no one else--something that is hard to get when one is a parent. And as a postpartum athlete, listening to one’s body is so critical. Certainly it’s difficult to balance any non-baby activity with all the other needs in one’s life is challenging, but if you are doing something what you love, it makes for a fuller life.