Having been a runner for nearly 17 years, I’ve experienced a few cycles of motivation and slacking, but never am I as motivated to run as when I’m pregnant.
During my first pregnancy it started as a ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ sort of motivation. I completed a half marathon at the beginning of my second trimester and then started gradually backing off the miles. By my 5-month mark, I had to stop because it started causing me pain and made me waddle around like, well, a pregnant lady. I was coming off a few years of intense competition and actually looking forward to the break, both mental and physical, for a few months.
I did enjoy it too. For about two weeks. Then, I started itching to run, only for the first time in my life I couldn’t. There was no way around it; it was simply physically impossible to run. I felt trapped in my own body. The realization that I couldn’t run, of course, only made me want to do it that much more.
I found solace in swimming laps and spending all my spare time reading about running and living vicariously through other runners. I re-read all my running books at home, and then started hitting up the library. I became a regular on the running websites and forums, and I searched the ads daily for a good deal on a jogging stroller.
I was not only dreaming about getting back to my regular 4-6 mile runs with my new little one in the stroller, but I started dreaming bigger…and longer. The more I read about ultrarunners, the more I thought, “I am just as weird as these guys. I can totally do this.” I would tell my husband about different marathons and ultras I wanted to try as soon as possible postpartum, and he would smile and encourage me to try if I wanted to.
Two weeks after my daughter’s birth, still limping around in pain, I signed up for my first trail marathon. I had just less than 5 months to train for it. It was the hardest marathon, with the largest elevation gain and loss, I’d ever attempted and I was starting from ground zero, having not run a step for 5 ½ months.
The task before me should have – and, in the past, would have – overwhelmed me and caused me to reassess (read: back out), but I was flying high on postpartum adrenalin and months of pent up mental energy. I had laser focus building up my miles steadily but being sure to supplement with plenty of stretching, core exercises, overall body strengthening exercises, and a proper diet in order to avoid injury.
As my mushy baby weight turned back into muscle and I put more miles under my belt, my confidence soared. Although I was, without a doubt, running a slower overall pace than I averaged pre-motherhood, I had never felt so in shape and just happy to be out there running. Spending months growing rounder, less comfortable, and able to do fewer and fewer things will provide a whole new appreciation for your body and movement after birth. I figured that if my body could successfully birth a nine-pound baby, there is no race on earth that I can’t fight my way to the end of.
I ended up completing the trail marathon and winning my age group. Six months later, I entered a local 50K ultra run and finished first overall female. I never felt like I was running winning times, and I wasn’t focused on whether anyone was in front of or behind me. All I’ve thought about in runs since giving birth is how good it feels to be out there moving freely through the air and how much I appreciate the ability to do it.
Currently six months pregnant with my second child, I am again at the point where I’m wearing thin the pages of my running books and counting down the weeks until I can get back out there. I have at least two years worth of marathons and ultramarathons picked out. I already have the double jogging stroller in the garage, wheels pumped and ready to get dirty. I can’t wait to train with my children and show them what their mama can do.