Saturday morning, I crossed the finish line after running a half marathon. It wasn’t the prettiest of times, but I did it!
I find it a unique coincidence that over the past three years, on this particular weekend, I’ve been either running a half marathon (2010 & 2012) or giving birth (2011).
As I ran those 13.1 miles on Saturday, it occurred to me that running and childbirth are quite similar. This was not the first time that thought had crossed my mind.
When I gave birth to Lucas, I was in absolute awe of myself. I just brought a human being into the world! There was pain (numbed for awhile by that wonderful epidural). There was more pain as I recovered. But there was such adrenaline and happiness and pure awe!
The pain eventually subsided and I embarked on the journey of motherhood. A few miles down the road (of motherhood), I took up running.
My running wasn’t anything serious- a few miles on the treadmill here, a few miles through the neighborhood there. Then, my sister took up running and convinced me to do a 5K with her. The 5K turned to a 10K which evolved into my first half marathon.
Somewhere around mile 8 or 9 as I was losing my will, she said, “You’ve had a baby! You can do THIS” And so I ran! I crossed the finish line with tears streaming down my face. I was in absolute awe of myself. I just ran 13.1 miles! There was pain (numbed for awhile by Aleve and Icy Hot). There was more pain as I recovered, but there was such adrenaline and happiness and pure awe!
One year later, mere minutes from delivering my sweet girl (without an epidural), as my confidence was floundering, the thought crossed my mind, “I’ve had a baby! And I’ve ran a half marathon! I can do THIS!” And I delivered my Caroline with tears streaming down my face. There was that pain again. And that awe.
Saturday, as my knees weakened my body and my resolve, I reminded myself, “I’ve had TWO babies, one WITHOUT an epidural. I’ve already ran a half marathon! I can do THIS.” And so I did!
It was with this race that I feel like things came full circle.
Obviously, running and childbirth are different life events. They affect different parts of our body, different aspects of our very being. Strangely enough, though, they have some pretty amazing similarities. Each experience has taught me a little bit about the other and so very much about myself.
You are never truly prepared. When I first discovered I was pregnant with Lucas, I read all kinds of books, lurked around pregnancy message boards, and sought advice from experienced mamas. I stocked up on maternity clothes and baby gear.
When I first took up running, I read several books, lurked around running message boards, and sought advice from experienced runners. I got new shoes and technical gear.
Though I educated myself thoroughly and prepared in every way I knew how for both events, nothing could prepare me physically, emotionally, or mentally for these major experiences. Pregnancy is unpredictable and babies typically come on their own terms. No pregnancy or delivery is textbook. Nothing happens as planned.
Running has its own element of unpredictability. Though it is easier to “prepare” for in some ways, we can’t be certain how our bodies will perform on race day. Weather conditions, course conditions, and a variety of other elements can play a huge factor in our performance.
It’s important to prepare, but it is even more important to be flexible and adapt to whatever comes our way.
You must listen to and trust your body. It is important to listen to the signals our body gives us. When I was pregnant with Lucas, I blacked out while driving to a work function. It was hot outside and I was most likely dehydrated. My body was telling me to slow down and take care of myself. I had been running around getting things together for several work functions and I had stretched myself too thin.
Mere hours before delivering Caroline, my contractions weren’t anywhere close to “textbook.” They were coming every minute, but only lasting 15 to 20 seconds. The doctor on call didn’t think I was in labor and so I waited it out at home. But, I knew that I was in labor. If I had listened to my body, I would have left for the hospital in plenty of time. Instead, it was a race to get there and I delivered her within 25 minutes of our arrival.
Likewise, with running, it is important to listen to the signals our body gives us. Is that pain in our leg/knee/foot a sign of injury or overuse? Are the muscles just tender because they are in the process of being strengthened? Do we need to back off a little? Do we need medical attention?
It is more important than ever to stay in tune with our body and listen when it’s trying to tell us something.
The experience is personal. If you are or have ever been pregnant, you’ve probably listened to at least one woman’s horror birth story. Or perhaps you’ve asked a trusted friend to give you the gory details. In the same way, I’ve heard dozens of stories from fellow runners about what happened to them on their running journey.
What I learned from giving birth twice and finishing two half marathons is that these experiences are deeply personal. We might be surrounded by other mothers and other runners, but we complete the journey alone. No one knows what it felt like for me to give birth- only what it was like for them to give birth. No one knows what it took to get me through each mile or how the emotions saturated my body as I crossed the finish line.
It is important to listen to and lean on others, but we must be prepared to conquer the feat alone.
The pain is temporary. I remember having several conversations about childbirth with my mom. She used to tell me that once they place your baby in your arms, you forget all the pain. She didn’t say you didn’t feel any pain. She just meant that you forget about it because you have your miracle in your arms. I was skeptical until I held my two miracles in my arms moments after bringing them into the world.
Oddly enough, as I crossed the finish line after battling 13.1 miles of pain, doubt, and exhaustion, I temporarily forgot about it all as I bowed my head and received my medal.
It is important to remember that the pain will not last forever, but the pride, the joy, the satisfaction, and the sense of accomplishment will always remain.
It’s completely worth it. Both childbirth (and the parenting thereafter) and running take a lot of preparation, hard work, sacrifice, and endurance. The road(s) will be painful. You’ll find yourself doubting whether or not you are capable and competent (You are!).
While the journey is tough, the experience is completely worth it.
These experiences have made me stronger, braver, and more confident. They’ve challenged me. They’ve made me a better person. They have empowered me to try new adventures and to truly live.
Perhaps you’re curious about motherhood, running, or some other experience equally exhilerating and wonderful? Get out there. Give it a try.
Life happens when we finish the race.
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