Marathon Mom: We’re starting a family. How will it affect my running?

Dear Marathon Mom,
I‘ve been a runner since I was a teenager; now, at almost 30 years old and two years of marriage, I think I’m also ready to become a mother. My husband and I have been talking about it for a while now, and we’re hoping to get pregnant this year. I’m very excited to get pregnant, but I’m also anxious about what it will mean for my running. Being a runner has always been a prominent part of my identity. As a mom who ran before and after kids, can you help shed some light on what I should expect and prepare for as far as how pregnancy and motherhood will affect my running?

Running Toward the Future

Dear Running Toward the Future,
Deciding to start a family is a monumental decision; it takes great consideration, respect, and total commitment. It sounds like you’re giving it all three. I can tell you from experience that your suspicions are correct–a lot is going to start changing as soon as you are pregnant. The good news is that you’ve already started adapting just by thinking about this and reaching out for support and advice.

Pregnancy is such a unique experience for each woman, it’s hard for me to provide you with great detail on just how much it will affect your running. However, I will guess that your mileage will drop; in the first trimester it will likely happen due to feeling exhausted (pregnancy really is a whole new level of ‘tired’) and perhaps being nauseated, and then sometime in the second trimester you will likely have to stop running entirely due to the discomfort or pain from your expanding middle. I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your body throughout pregnancy. It’s working harder than it ever has to create another human being; when it starts telling you to stop diverting energy to running for a while, please adhere. Running is awesome, I know, but a healthy baby and delivery is better. Always.

I stopped running at 5 month with my first pregnancy, and 4 months with my second. It is certainly an adjustment that first month of not running, but there are plenty of other exercises you can safely do in pregnancy, such as swimming (my personal favorite), walking, and yoga. I won’t lie; you’ll miss running. Hell, I used to have dreams that I was on long trail runs, and I’d wake up nearly in tears because it was only a dream. But this is the perfect time to challenge yourself to explore and develop your other interests and hobbies. Your body grows and changes, forcing you to slow down and rest until the baby comes so that you’ll be fully rested and eager when the baby finally arrives.

This will turn your whole world upside-down in wonderful and exhausting ways. Of course you can get back to running after becoming a mom…but it won’t be the same. First you must take an appropriate postpartum recovery period and then start back slow, rediscovering your stride (pun intended). Physically, your body is permanently different after having a baby. Tread cautiously while figuring out just exactly how different it is in order to avoid injury. Second, your running schedule is no longer all about you; you can’t run whenever you want – especially if you’re breastfeeding, as you’re basically tethered to the baby those first few weeks. It typically takes at least three months before Baby is on any sort of reliable schedule (and believe me, they change it up suddenly and frequently, so stay on your toes), making planning a run ahead of time hard. I quickly learned to run on a full stomach, in the dark, and completely exhausted, because sometimes the only way you’ll squeeze in a run is if you drop everything and head out the door the second Baby contently nods off in your partner’s arms. And you better be back before he wakes up.

As hard as this is in the beginning, it gets easier as your child grows. They may even want to join you one day–or not. Either way, running will still be there for you.

I am excited for you and this journey you’re about to embark on, and I greatly respect your honesty in admitting that you’re anxious about your identity changing  – or rather, expanding, to include ‘mother’. I promise you, motherhood is a challenging, exciting, exhausting, and rewarding experience – similar to running in so many ways.

Audra Rundle