I became a runner ten years ago. I had tried here and there before, but never effectively. Then I watched Paula Radcliffe win the 2004 New York City Marathon. It was a hard fought victory, coming down to a mere 3 seconds after 26.2 miles, and there was something so inspiring about it, and the thousands of other runners crossing the finish line behind her, that I knew I wanted to tap into that. I was newly married, and my husband liked to run, so it was something we could do together. I kept at it. I gradually built up mileage. On our first wedding anniversary in September, 2005, we ran a half-marathon together in Virginia Beach. I remember being amazed, somewhere around 7-8 miles into that race, that I had gone that far and was planning to run 5-6 miles more. A year before, that would have been crazy. But the human body can adjust to all kinds of things.
I run because I love to run. I love being outside. I love the runner’s high that moderates my moods better than anything else I’ve found. I love that running keeps my body strong and, as a perk, thinner than I would “naturally” be (if you consider sedentary American life “natural”). Just as important, though, I also love that running lets me care less about what my body looks like. It is a functional object. It is built to carry me through miles and miles.
Of course, in ten years as a runner, many things have changed in my life. I’m now into my third trimester with baby #4. Many of those ten years have involved learning to run with a baby on board. This has involved learning to listen to my body in an entirely new way — and learning not to listen to a lot of other noise out there. I’ve always run until at least 7.5 months, and aim for 8+. I’ve resumed running about 2 weeks after giving birth. I ran a 5 mile Turkey Trot 7 weeks after having baby #3; I ran my lone marathon 7 months after baby #2, which means I did my first 13-mile training run at 3.5 months post birth.
As I get bigger, I have adopted this mindset: I try to approach runs with no expectations. I’m happy for any physical activity. If I need to take walk breaks, that’s fine. I know that the first mile is usually not that comfortable. I may feel tired. The muscles on the outsides of my shins are stiff. Sometimes my belly needs to shift around a bit. Not all runs will be amazing. But if I keep running, I will eventually feel pretty good, even if I didn’t feel good at the beginning.
This realization has led me to see that the normal running-during-pregnancy advice — cut your mileage! — doesn’t work for me. I run because I love to run. If I need 2 miles to truly warm up, then if I do a 3-mile run, I’ll get a mile of feeling great. If I do a 4-mile run, I’ll get 2 miles of feeling great. Those are the miles that make me want to keep running. I can run a lousy 2 miles on faith, knowing that the later miles will feel better. Whereas if I cut down to a 2-mile run, I’d never reach that moment of feeling great. So I’d probably give it up.
Well, maybe I would. It’s a pretty ingrained habit at this point. And some runs feel brilliant almost from the beginning. On Sunday morning, I got up around 7:30 a.m., and was out the door at 7:40. The day was utterly perfect for running; crisp, cool. The autumn leaves swirled around my feet, and the gorgeous red and yellow trees made a lovely canopy, filtering the glow of the rising sun. I ran through a meadow at one point and felt the cooler air of wind off dew-covered grass on my calves. Within the first mile, I noticed that my legs felt light. So I kept going to 4.5 miles, ending with a giant smile on my face. I could have gone farther but I needed to get the crew going for church.
I know not everyone can run during pregnancy, and I’m fortunate that my body is built so that my belly stays relatively contained. This makes the mechanics easier. So does the fact that I don’t gain too much weight, though some of that is due to running. I have relatively easy pregnancies, but some part of having easy pregnancies also comes from continuing to run. Physical activity mitigates a host of pregnancy-related woes. I am grateful for what my body can do, and also for figuring out that the advice to “take it easy” or the discredited “keep your heartbeat under 140 beats per minute” isn’t gospel. I can run now in my slower shuffle, and when I run again after my baby is born I’ll be flying. Either way, it’s all good.
For those with kids, if you exercised during pregnancy, what kind of activity did you do? Did you switch at some point?