Monday, October 8, 2012

On Running After Having a Baby

I ran a 10K yesterday.  The PR Run for the Parks started just north of the tidal basin and curved its way down along the Potomac River, and then back up so the race started and finished in the same spot.  I love running along the river, and I think the view would have been spectacular had the weather not been so drizzly, cold and gray. 
Weather aside, it still wasn’t a great race for me.  In fact, it was the slowest 10K I have ever run.  No I’m not that fast to begin with, but still, it was pretty slow.  Couple that with my dreadful showing at the Marine Corps Marathon last October, and I’ve finally reached a conclusion about my body when it comes to running:   it takes a LONG time for the female body to recover after having a baby.  Or at least, it takes MY body a long time to recover, and I’m not sure it ever will.  But I am okay with that.
First, let me back up to that marathon I just mentioned. 
When I signed up to run that race in 2010, I was excited because it was to be my 4th marathon on my admittedly obnoxious quest to run one marathon in every state.  But shortly after registering, I discovered I was pregnant with E and that I would be roughly 4 ½ months along come race day.  Not wanting to risk anything, I deferred until the following year.  Jump forward to race day in October 2011, roughly 6 months after I gave birth to E, and I was having my doubts.  Could I really finish this marathon?  Am I crazy to run 26.2 miles 6 months after having a baby?  The answers to these questions were yes and yes.  
The marathon started as uneventful as any...a steady pace, ear buds in and music blaring.  I was feeling great up until the 12 mile mark when I was suddenly crippled by lower back pain and spasms.  I stopped to stretch, hoping that would do some good, but it didn’t.  I had suffered tremendous lower back pain while pregnant with E, and the spasms I felt during the race were reminiscent of those pains.  So I slowly jogged another mile before whipping out my phone to call S.  That’s when I proceeded to break down into sobs of frustration and explained that I didn’t think I could finish.  My back was killing me, my IT band was tightening up and I was in a lot of pain.  I hadn’t even reached the halfway mark, and I was falling apart.  I was cursing my body for doing this to me, for not “bouncing back” like I expected it to.
S calmly told me that he was at the 16 mile marker (with E in the stroller) and that if I could just make it there, we would go home.  He said there was no shame in quitting if I was hurt.  He said I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone.  So, I pulled it together and walk/ran toward mile 16 with thoughts of a cup of coffee, a heating pad and a hot shower on my mind.
At mile 15 I saw a medic tent and limped in begging for some pain medicine.  I knew I needed something to get me through the next mile.  They were only allowed to give Tylenol, so they gave me the max dose, wrote it down on my bib number (so if something happened to me, the EMTs would know what I had taken) and I continued on.   The Tylenol kicked in rather quickly and between that medic stop and mile 16, I realized something.  I realized that, while S was right, I did not have anything to prove to anyone else, I did have to prove to myself that I could finish this marathon.  And that’s what I was going to do, injured, post-baby body be damned.
By the time I spotted S and E bundled together at mile 16, I took one look at E’s sweet little baby face and thought, I can do this.  I told S I was going to finish and he just smiled and said, “I knew you would change your mind.”
So, 26.2 miles and a total of 5 hours 15 minutes later, I crossed the finish line.   The Tylenol had worn off at that point, but I was so happy to have finished despite the fact that it was my worst marathon ever.  I had proven to myself that I could foolishly run a marathon 6 months after having a baby.  Not only that, I had proven to myself that I wasn’t a quitter and I didn’t let my crazy body get the best of me. And boy did I have a lot of pain in my crazy body.  Clearly, I had a long way to go to full recovery.
It was after that race that I started to wonder, “Would my body ever recover from having a baby?”
So far, 18 months after bringing E into this world, the answer is still no. 
Sure I can proudly say that I got back to my pre-baby weight rather quickly—I met that goal even before I ran the marathon.  And yes, my body looks (sorta) the same as it did before having E, but something has changed.  It can’t do what it used to do.  When it comes to running, I can’t do what I used to do. 
Am I blaming my child for this?  Absolutely not.  Am I blaming anyone for this?  No.  I am not placing blame anywhere at all.  I am simply coming to terms with the fact that the human body is a bizarre and wonderful thing, but that everyone’s body is different and everyone’s ability to do certain things is different as well. 
Some people bounce back and go on to win the New York City Marathon less than 10 months after giving birth.  Just ask one of my favorite runners, Paula Radcliffe.  Simply amazing.
But most people aren’t built that way.  I’m obviously not.  And most people don’t have the time to effectively train either.  I obviously don’t.  Besides, if I prefer to skip a 3-mile run to play with E after work, then so be it.
It may take years for my body to recover and feel “normal” during a run.  And it will probably take years to get my pre-baby running pace back too.
But even if I don’t, I am okay with that.  At this point in my life, I am just running for the fun of it, and with the goal of a finish in mind.  I don’t care about time.  I don’t care about pace.  I just want to know that I can still finish and I can still show my kid(s) that exercise is important and that no matter what, you should never give up. 
Which brings me back to yesterday’s 10K…those 6.2 miles finally opened my eyes to all of this.  I was frustrated and annoyed for the first half because I couldn’t pick up my pace without getting out of breath and feeling pain.  But once I decided that I didn’t care; that pace wasn’t everything; that having fun and just finishing was more important, I relaxed and came to terms with it.  And now I’m in a much better place.
Because all of it: running, life, family--it should always make you happy.  When it stops making you happy, that’s when you’re doing something wrong.  Now, I look forward to my future races, pace and finish time be damned.


  1. I hear ya on this. Of course, I decided to run my first marathon 10 months after Jack was born, so I had nothing to compare it to (which was probably a good thing). Since we moved to Russia I haven't had as much time to work out as before we left, and I do worry that things are gonna start to roll downhill from here. But that's life post-baby, right? :) And I admire you for continuing to race!

  2. Congrats on running your first marathon! That's awesome! Yeah, keeping up the running routine is hard with kids, especially in a new country too, I'm sure! But as long as I look at races as a "fun" hobby and nothing more, it will be okay :-). Are there any races in Yekat? I need to start looking in Turkey...Stay warm!