Motherhood and Running: the BQ and Pregnancy Conundrum

(This post originally appeared on CityCoach's website, as a guest blog post.)  

 I’m a mother, runner, and a Boston qualifier.  But I will likely not be able to run the race that I qualified for (and got in), because I am pregnant again.  Here is my story.

I was never a super-star runner, so when I first started to run marathons, I never thought that qualifying for the Boston Marathon was even a possibility for me.  Just getting across the finish line feeling strong and happy was the goal.  But over the years, race after race, I gradually chipped away at my times, and each time, the goal was to go faster than before.  The more I ran, the more my goals shifted.

When I became a mother, my goals and priorities continued to change.  For me, and I’m sure for other active mothers AND fathers, finding time to run (and train) became even more a balancing act.  There were times when I questioned if some of my running goals were realistic or “worth” my time and effort. And in the early weeks postpartum, just getting outside felt like a huge victory from a time management standpoint and also my mental and physical wellbeing. It was incredibly important not only for my overall health that I continued to be active, but it became more a part of who I was as a person: it gave me a bigger sense of purpose.  Having longer term goals--whether it be time specific, or more general ones--was incredibly important as a new mother, as it is so easy to “lose” one’s self in the crazy world of parenthood.

A few months before giving birth to my son, I decided to sign up for a marathon, held less than 5 months after his due date, as I thought (a bit naively) it would be a great way to "bounce back."  Of course, after I gave birth, I took much longer to recover than I ever anticipated, so that left basically 11 weeks to train for the race.  I took training run by run, week by week, but I managed to do the minimum.  When I ran the race, I ran conservatively and didn’t have specific time goal in mind--just to feel good the whole way.  When I crossed the finish line at 3:45, it was a total shock, as not only was it a PR, I realized that if I could finish in that time with minimal training, then qualifying for the Boston Marathon was a feasible goal.

The next marathon I signed up for was held another 5 months later, with the primary goal of qualifying for Boston.  This time, I trained a lot harder: hill repeats, interval training, speed work, tempo runs, etc, and also bumped up my weekly mileage significantly more than ever before.  This was much harder to do as a full time working mom, who also was still actively breastfeeding, but I knew that I needed to do this for myself.  I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try.  Just like when I trained for the first postpartum marathon, I took it week by week.  It helped to really “pace” myself during my training, as sometimes I was just too tired to push myself 100%.  And that is normal.  When you have a big goal in mind, it’s easy to get too obsessive and then caught up in the self-doubt periods: thinking about the bigger goal too much is counter-intuitive and can be daunting.  It’s the constant balancing act--reminding yourself every so often of your larger goal so you have something to focus on, but also being “present”--and always trying to remain positive and yet realistic.

When I ran the race, it was harder than I expected (it was a marathon, after all), but I pushed through and achieved my goal.  The last few miles I was way off pace but I kept chanting “Boston, Boston” in my head, and then would alternate it with my son’s name, over and over again to block out the negative thoughts.  My BQ time was near 4 and half minutes under the qualifying standard, so I knew that that was sufficient buffer time to get in.  So, when I got the official email nearly a year later from the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), it was icing on the cake. But, literally 2 days later, I found out I was pregnant.

The BAA current policy states “refunds or deferments of bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will not be granted for any reason, including injury, pregnancy, military exercise or deployment, and family emergencies.”  So, women who happen to get pregnant (like me), who want to run the race have basically two choices: still run the race (in my case, I would be almost 8 months pregnant), or cancel their entry and have to retrain, run and qualify for another marathon.  

When I read these rules after I found out I was pregnant,  I initially felt like I had never qualified and got accepted into the race.  Like it was “my mistake” for “allowing” myself to get pregnant slightly earlier than planned, or that as a “maternal age woman,” I really couldn’t have it all: run Boston and have young children at the same time.  If you’re due in June 2017 like I am, even if you were an elite runner, if you were to try to run another race to re-qualify, it wouldn’t even be feasible to do so for the mid September cutoff for qualifying times.  So, my hopes of running Boston won’t be until 2019.  

Certainly if the BAA does change the rules to allow for deferments or refunds for reasons of pregnancy, this could potentially be Pandora’s box (Would one need to have proof of medical record? How far in advance would one need to notify them? What if there was a termination or loss of pregnancy after deferring, could you retract the deferment?).  While I’m not advocating strongly for the BAA to change the rules for reasons of pregnancy alone (especially not over some of the other valid reasons they state), it does make me think how much harder it is for women athletes--especially those that want to be and are mothers--to achieve their goals.  Either one meticulously plans when they want to have children around their training and goal races (which anyone trying to get pregnant will tell you this is pretty hard to actually do!), or one has to delay their goals (whether it be having children, or their race goals).  

For me, who isn’t a “naturally” fast runner, it’s hard enough to train for the Boston Marathon and get in, but adding being a mother on top of this further complicates it.  Even if one is super active during pregnancy, your physical capabilities start to drop the bigger you get (you’ll inevitably get slower, and most women will eventually stop running completely before their eighth or ninth month, if not before), and then post-partum, you have to build in recovery time immediately after the birth, and then slowly build your way back up.  It’s months essentially away from running completely or certainly being in peak physical shape before and immediately after a baby.  And months more to get back to what you used to be.  

Perhaps becoming a mother is a choice, as is choosing to run.  But as a mother and athlete, for me, I find that both are key to having more of a balanced healthy life.  Can we really have it all?  We can try. Being an athlete makes me a more focused and centered mother.  Frankly, it’s become part of who I am and one of the things I most love.  Being a mother makes me have more perseverance, better time management, and gives me sense of larger fulfillment--which also carries through in my running.   While I may not be running the Boston Marathon anytime soon, this experience has given me an even deeper appreciation for my fellow mother athletes--novice and elite--it’s a new sisterhood that I am now part of.  And yet it’s a struggle.  We’re faced with a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome especially as we return to the sport:  the physical ones (the general postpartum recovery, a bladder that will never be the same, never sleeping enough or the same way again), and also ones that we can’t control, like not being able to run a race that we qualified for because life got in the way.  But just like any training cycle, hardships makes us stronger: we set new goals, we overcome the negatives, and we move forward.  Hopefully just faster, stronger, and more focused than ever before.


A lot has happened since my debut "postpartum marathon" addition to a couple intensive projects as an Event Producer, I decided to get a RRCA certification as a running coach.  And...ever since I ran a 3:45 marathon...I decided to make it a goal of qualifying for Boston.  If I could run a 3:45 marathon on the most minimal marathon training schedule ever (or in my experience), I thought knocking off 10 minutes was certainly possible.  Difficult, but not impossible.

After 3 months of solid training, I knew I was ready.  My training had consisted with the typical speed workouts, tempo runs, and hill repeats, plus long runs that is in most marathon plans...but some of this was actually new territory for me (up until this point, I had actually never incorporated speed or hill repeat sessions in my marathon training....oops.)  But it seemed to really work for me this time.  I also had run 2 x 20 mile runs (again, all other times I trained for a marathon, I only had done 1 x 20 miler, not two), and my last one was super solid--a 2:42:44, or 8:08 per mile--that's FAST for me.  I knew that even if I ran this pace (or certainly faster), I could totally BQ.  In fact, my reach goal was actually a sub 3:30 (3:25 ideally).  Regardless, I was ready.

Race day arrived.  I did my usual "postpartum race day routine" (wakeup super early, breastfeed/pump, eat, bathroom, gear check, dress, eat again)...then was bussed to the start.  Then we were off.  I chose to run with the 3:20 pacer...I figured I'd start a little fast, then scale back as needed.  This wasn't necessarily a "mistake"...but I should not have run with this specific pacer (of course I could not have known this).  Around mile 10, I started to feel more tired than I should have been this early on.  Up until that point, I hadn't really looked at my watch much.  But when I did...I knew I was in for trouble.  I had run a few miles at a 7:20-7:25 pace.  That's way to fast for me.  My sweet spot should be been more in the 7:40-7:50 range for the marathon...nothing under 7:30.  When the pacer made a comment that "he was running by feel"...that was a huge red flag.  (Pacers are supposed to run consistently even splits, and this guy was definitely not.)  I started to fade back, and told myself to run your own race.

The middle portion was tough...unusual for a's usually the last few miles for me!  It was partly due to my confusion about pacing...and my early fatigue.  By miles 16-17, I got my pacing back on track and kept repeating "BOSTON" in my head.  But around mile 21...I really hit the wall.  Hard.  Mentally and physically.  Maybe it was the guy puking his guts out in front of me that did it, or another guy who looked crazy fit but was just walking by then...or the fact that my fueling strategy that worked for me in my training runs was just not working anymore.  Or the fact that I started to feel really tired 13 miles in.  I felt so sick to my stomach...and my legs felt like lead.  And I felt like it was a death march.  This specific marathon (the Mohawk Hudson) may have been true to how it was listed (flat, fast), but there were NO CROWDS.  We were on a bike path near a highway and there was no one to cheer us on.  So I had to dig deep, and fight the urge to walk.

I kept going.  Those last 5+ miles were probably the toughest I've ever run.  But I pushed on.  When I entered into the finish area, and crossed the finish line, I wasn't even smiling. I looked at my watch...a BQ.  I still had managed to qualify by over 4 minutes.  But instead of elation...I was just happy to be done.  It was only after I managed to get properly hydrated, where it really stared to sink in.  I had DONE IT.  I set out to achieve something and I did it.  10 months postpartum.  While my racing strategy and mental game was not what I had planned for...and while I didn't get a sub 3:30 which was my reach goal, I still qualified for Boston, which was my primary goal from the start.  That's all that mattered.