At first, I thought maybe I could make it happen. Maybe I could run during my pregnancy, and then finish a marathon at 28 weeks. A “slow” one, sure, but maybe I could do it.
I thought that because I’ve never been pregnant before and I was being stubborn. (I also thought it because I believe women can do whatever the fuck they want while they’re growing a tiny human. There are things to consider for safety, OF COURSE, but if no complications arise and there’s no contraindication, then we can, and should be able to, continue living our lives sans judgment.)
I’m sure there are women out there who can, and have, run marathons during pregnancy. But, now, I’m also sure that I’m okay not being one of them. I made that decision early in the DC summer when I remembered how oppressive the humidity feels, how hot it gets, and how impossible it seems to stay hydrated (and to keep my heart rate low).
So I deferred my 2017 Marine Corps Marathon bib to next year. The decision was confirmed over and over again, as running got a little bit harder, and I grew a little bit bigger.
What I didn’t know was that being pregnant would feel, at times, very similar to being a marathoner.
This is 30 weeks.
When we entered the third trimester (27-28 weeks), my first response to “How do you feel?” was “Impatient.” I felt this sudden, intense, desire for it all to go by faster. Not because I dislike being pregnant—I find it both fascinating and funny at best, somewhat cumbersome at worst (appointments, growing out of your wardrobe, ALL the bathroom stops!). I’m just ready for our tiny human to be in the world, I thought.
The first trimester, just like those first few marathon miles, may fly by.
First, because you may not know you’re pregnant for about half of it. Then because you may not feel that great and the days feel long, but hardly anyone “knows” you’re pregnant and unless you’re very sick, you can mostly live life as usual. (I was lucky, and not very sick.)
The second trimester, those cruise-control miles, felt similar, to me.
With everything going on at the house, selling the condo, moving, traveling for almost one month straight, and then settling into October, I was like WHAT SECOND TRIMESTER? And I was also like, Yo, pregnancy is not so bad. Most of my clothes fit okay (not great), nothing hurt, nothing felt uncomfortable, my hunger and appetite both felt normal, and my appointments were quick. Sure, I had to drink a few ounces of what tasted like a 1994-flashback to Sunny D and had a lot of blood drawn. But, it all went well.
People know you’re pregnant because you “can” tell them. (Look, I say you can tell them whenever the fuck you want to. But, society says you can tell them when it’s “safer,” after 12-15 weeks.) People are excited! And we’re excited! And it’s all exciting!
During that second trimester, when I was asked “How do you feel?” I had to come up with something to say. “Pretty normal…I think?” and “Not bad!” and “Honestly, fine. I feel fine.” The only noticeable issue during those middle weeks were some light backaches, and normal-human jeans that quickly became too tight. I eventually bought pregnant-human jeans.
But mostly it felt like my body doing what it knew how to do.
What it is trained to do, by nature. Grow, expand, and keep this tiny human growing! Keep on keeping on, mile by mile, week by week.
If you’ve run a marathon (or any distance feels long to you), does this sound familiar?
I can’t stop seeing, and FEELING, the parallels of this pregnancy marathon.
I felt prepared to start growing a tiny human. I wouldn’t say I “trained” to do so (is that a thing?), but I knew what I was choosing to do and what we were getting ourselves into. My body felt ready, like it was on board with the decision and ready to go.
For a while, I felt really good. I had some early nausea pangs, but they went away. I knew to fuel well—early and often, as I tell my running clients. I stayed ahead of hunger when I could. I was (and still am) always thirsty, and mindful of hydration.
Suddenly, it was second-trimester time! When the race day is going well, I’m always like “Halfway there ALREADY?! I got this!” And then the miles start to feel a little longer, and a little slower.
Things started to get a little uncomfortable. I started thinking about all the weeks left, and it was overwhelming. 40 weeks is a long time. If you’re not in the US, a marathon is 42.2 kilometers. So, there’s also that.
And any runner knows that when you start to think about what you have left versus what you’ve already run, there’s a good chance you’re going to a dark place. The math is hard and the countdown doesn’t feel reassuring–more often, it’s daunting.
“One mile at a time,” we say. Because it doesn’t help to think, “F*#& I still have six miles left!”
Then you might go even deeper into the hole and think about how it will feel at the very end. Like, AMAZING because there’s the finish line, but not amazing because of what it takes to get there. In the case of Marine Corps Marathon, running up a demon hill. In the case of pregnancy, birthing a human through your body. I can’t even. (But if nature allows, I can. That’s hard to comprehend.)
During that last 10K, I’m usually in a “Do what you can!” mode.
During a few of my marathons, those final six miles weren’t a total deathtrap. But for most of them, it has not been pleasant. Even if I’m maintaining my pace, it feels 100x harder to do so. When I’ve slowed down, it still feels 100x harder to run that “slower” pace. It requires so much mental energy to keep at it, to know that finishing the race will be worth the struggle. I become a little softer with myself. “Do what you can and stay here, in this moment.” I try.
Then I start thinking about brunch after, and how the race WILL be over at some point—how it can’t go on forever, even though it kind of feels like it’s taking forever.
During the marathon, it’s hard to NOT think about how everything hurts, and how many miles, or even steps, there are left. It’s hard not to think about how everyone around you seems okay, or maybe to identify the fellow strugglers. It’s hard to just stay in the moment and enjoy the mile, in any way possible.
At 30 weeks pregnant, that about sums it up for me.
Most days I feel great, by comparison. On most days, I would be the runner who goes by you and is obnoxiously like, “Mimosas coming soon! Stick with it!” I know you want to throw things at that person sometimes.
I’m not the one vomiting or cramping or in the medical tent. I’m very thankful for that. But I’m also the one that will definitely snap if you say, “You’re in the homestretch!” because Yo, it does not feel like that! It feels like there are still 10 weeks to go, and a nursery to set up, and baby clothes to wash, and classes to take, and appointments to attend, and a HOUSE to unpack.
Yet, in the same moment, I can feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for this exact moment. This mile, or this week, that I’ll only feel with this tiny human once. This is it for us.
I catch myself thinking far ahead, to the Finish.
I think about what our house WILL look like, instead of the work-in-progress that it is. I think about holding this little human out in the world, seeing those kicks and wiggles instead of just feeling them. I think about the moment when we come home together for the first time, instead of purely enjoying the moments that the three of us are together now (in what feels kind of abstract and surreal).
On the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon, I always catch myself visualizing the finish. I know it well. I know the struggle up that hill, I know what the banner over the final timing pad looks like. I know where I walk to get my medal, get my photo taken, and how I have to walk another half mile out of the runner’s area to meet up with my people.
I don’t know what the pregnancy marathon Finish looks like (or where it is on the map).
I’ve never run this marathon before. But I know—or hope— I’ll get there, one way or another. I can only hope that it’ll be the Finish I have in mind, with a healthy babe and a new family of three (+pup). I’m only able to do so much to get us there, mile by mile, day by day. And hope that I’m going in the right direction. I can take the homestretch in stride, and take a moment to look around and take it in, so that if/when we do cross the finish line as expected, I’ll be able to savor that moment, too. And if we’re all so lucky, I’ll be channeling Shalane, wrapping up the experience with a solid “FUCK YEAH!”
This is 30 weeks into this pregnancy marathon (for me).