Running a marathon...pregnant.

Earlier this fall, I found out I was pregnant again. The timing was a little earlier than what we had originally planned for, but you take what you get when you want a baby!  I was in the middle of my own training (to try to improve my BQ time), plus doing a lot of coaching, including training a group for a marathon.  I also had been asked to pace the NYC marathon by New York Road Runners.  With approval from my doctor, I still kept what I had planned to do (minus trying to PR in a marathon I was supposed to run 2 weeks after NYC).   My level of fitness remained pretty high until the last few weeks of coaching (this was towards the end of my first trimester)...basically around the time we had to do our two-20 milers.  I managed to do both with the group, but it did leave me even more tired than I normally would have been.  Also, this was right around the time I noticed my cardio level was not what it had been...after all, being pregnant, I now was pumping 30-50% more blood.  So an 8:00min/mile felt basically like a 7:00min/mile.  

Still, the pace that I had been assigned to run for the marathon (9:20min/mile) was still "conversational," as my doctor advised me to run anyway, but a few weeks away from the race, I knew it was going to "feel" like more of an 8:20-8:30min/mile pace.  Still feasible, but it was going to be a bit more of challenge than what I thought.  

Anyone who has run NYC before, knows that there are basically 2 races: getting to the start, and the race itself.  The race doesn't start until late morning, which is actually basically lunch time as the date always falls the day after Daylight Savings Time. So while it takes you 3+ hours to even get to the start, by the time you're there, your stomach is telling you to EAT.  Add being pregnant to that, you have to have to have a rock solid fueling plan. 

Even though I've run NYC a few times before, for some reason, it took me even longer to get to the start (probably because I was assigned to a later start time), so by the time I got to the start village, I was famished.  Like ready to grab the first piece of food I saw, even if it was on the ground! While I had brought some food with me, I knew I had to to save it for the race (I don't use Gu's or gels, I get by with good old fashioned Fig Newtons!).  Fortunately, as a pacer, we had our own (heated!) tent that was catered with bagels, bananas, muffins, oatmeal, name it, any sort of carb was there.  I grabbed two bagels, scarfed them down, then grabbed my pacer sign and ran to my corral.

Fast forward...the race.  First of all, I love the NYC marathon--the energy you get from the incredibly supportive crowds, seeing runners from all over the world, running through so many neighborhoods, etc. Running it is usually a breeze in relative terms--it goes by really quickly as there are lots of distractions.  Pacing it is a different thing.  I had to be as consistent as possible with my pace, which is pretty hard to do when running a marathon, but REALLY heard to do when running with 50,000+ other people.  Especially when you're assigned to start in a slower corral...basically, I spent the bulk of the race zigzagging, trying to get around other runners, and then decelerating and then quickly accelerating when hitting a "wall" of runners (or sometimes walkers), just trying to keep to my pace.  Oh, all the while holding a sign the whole time...normally it's very light, but it was very windy that day, so at times I had to hold it with both hands.

To add to this, I had to make sure I stayed hydrated the whole race.  That was the number one thing my doctor warned me about--it's not so much about over exertion, or higher heart rate that is a concern (which you probably won't get anyway if you are running at conversational pace), it's really making sure you don't get dehydrated as a pregnant runner.  So because the pace felt like a faster pace than what my watch said, it was really critical that I stop at the bulk of the water stations.  But...the result of being hydrated meant that I had to pee...the one thing I was actually worried about!  I've NEVER had to stop and pee during a race before, but when you're's sort of inevitable (especially if you've had a kid before, let's get real, here.)  That feeling occurred around mile 15...I told myself that maybe it was in my head and maybe it was a phantom feeling.  Nope.  The feeling got stronger and stronger.  Of course at that point, I was on one of the busiest stretches of the course: First Avenue.  I finally waited until about mile 18...then I could not hold it anymore. There were port-a-potties but there were lines...I knew that I didn't have time to waist to stand in line.  So I literally jumped behind a bench and dropped my pants.  Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  No shame.

After this, I felt so much better, but I had to make up for the 15-20 seconds I had lost.  So much harder to do late in the course!  But I managed. After the Bronx, around mile 21-22, I started to feel really tired.  Again, if it was "my" race and I wasn't pacing, I'd have probably slowed down, but I was so focused on consistency, that I pushed through. I definitely wondered if it was the "right" thing to do--to push myself, or to listen to my inner fears of would I harm the baby if I pushed myself, or was this normal, etc.  I grabbed more water & gatorade which helped, and I saw a friend who yelled my name, which really gave me a surge.  Once I entered the park, I was still a couple seconds behind, but I got the second wind I needed.  When I saw the finish line, I grabbed a strangers hand who seemed to be on the struggle bus and said, we can do this together--it was literally reaching out to someone else and voicing out what I was supposed to tell myself--that helped.  

I finished at 4:04:46, which was 14 seconds under what I was supposed to finish (ideally we are supposed to finish under 30 seconds of our posted finish time)...which was perfect pacing.  I felt like a rockstar for doing this.  Physically?  Not so much.  When I crossed the finish line, I felt exhausted.  Thirsty.  Even a little sore.  But I reminded myself...I am nearly 3 months pregnant. I just ran a marathon. Not just any marathon, but the most crowded race in the world.  With even paces.  Carrying a sign.  A harder feat to do than I gave myself credit for.  

Would I do it again?  Maybe, just maybe not pregnant. There were so many other both physical and mental factors I hadn't really thought about too much going into the race.  Even though my doctor told me to go for it and was very supportive, there were times (especially when I was starting to struggle physically) that I questioned if it was the best decision or even "safe."  Of course it was, especially as a very active person (and a person who has been consistently running for years), but it still was on my mind.  Maybe it was superstition, especially as I was still in my first trimester.  I think it's natural to doubt yourself, but when you feel responsible for not only yourself but also the little person inside you, that's a lot of pressure.  And as pacer, I was responsible for keeping a consistent I think in retrospect it was too much to put on myself.  But I did it (and now in the second trimester as I write this, the baby is fine), and I learned something more about myself and also my body's limits.

The Fitbit

This Fall, I was selected by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to test out a Fitbit (the Fitbit HR). As the head coach for the Moms In Training group, I was one of the lucky few to receive a free device to experience during my coaching sessions.  Free swag--love it!

While I still prefer my basic Garmin Forerunner, I thought the Fitbit was a great basic tool for one that prefers to run shorter distances, or even people who don't consider themselves runners.  If you are on your feet all day--or even for short periods--a little bit adds up.  Its main feature is the step counter, so it's a helpful measure of just how many steps one takes over the course of one day.  Mine also had a built in heart rate monitor (my current Garmin does not), so it's great to have another metric to consider using during my own training sessions.

Here is a little shoutout from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Nationwide Blog.

Marathon PR...4.5 months postpartum?

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.