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Why running a marathon is like natural childbirth (a marathon recap)

December 16, 2013

Helloooooo!  In case you’re wondering if I finished the marathon…

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…indeed I did!  Pretty amazing that last year, I wrote this post about watching the marathon from our front porch and realizing that I wasn’t a “mother runner,” and that this year I was running in it myself.  How things change!  I guess I’m a mother runner after all.  Can I start using that hashtag after every run now?

Anyway—as I was running the marathon yesterday, it slowly sank in (especially after mile 20) that this was one of the hardest things I’d ever done—maybe the hardest.   I found myself trying to decide whether running a marathon or giving birth without meds was more difficult—tough choice!  What a fun way to pass 26.2 miles, right?

As I started thinking about it, more and more similarities between the two started popping up in my brain.  So I thought I’d use some of those similarities to recap my marathon experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

1.  They’re both really, really, really, really fucking hard. 

I heard people say that compared to my long run training runs, the actual marathon race would be easy. 

Um, those people are bat-shit crazy.  Running the race was HARD—no way around it.  During training runs, I could swing back by the house to stretch, use the bathroom, grab a granola bar, re-fill my water bottle—all nice ways to split up those long miles.  On the race course, it’s just YOU and 1500 other crazies, out there running with no distraction (no music!) and only the sound of your feet beating with everyone else’s to keep you company. 

At the end of the race, I settled in with another guy who was in serious pain—he said he was running on a stress fracture.  Fun!  He looked at me around mile 23, and said, “It’s pretty fucking terrible at this point, isn’t it?”  I know some people probably have a great time at the end of a marathon, and maybe even love those last 6 miles, but for me (and I think for a lot of other runners), those last six miles were HELL.  Which leads me to my second similarity…

2.  You will want to quit.  Big time.

When I was giving birth to Lila, I remember thinking at some point when I was pretty far along, “Hey…maybe they can just keep her in there.  Maybe she doesn’t have to come out!!”  Which I think just goes to show how out of my head with pain I was—clearly, I was pretty incoherent.

I had similar thoughts at the end of the marathon.  Mile 23 was conveniently located right along the house of some of our friends here, so my family and Ryan were all waiting there to see me one last time before the finish.  As I approached them, I remember thinking, “Gosh, maybe I can just quit here.  It would be really nice to just stop…NOW.”  Obviously quitting on mile 23 of 26 is RIDICULOUS…and I’m so glad I didn’t! I don’t think they would have let me anyway, ha.  But, I was really out of it by the end—I felt a little delirious, and just wanted the race to be OVER, in any way, shape or form.

3.  You can prepare for the big day as much as possible, but you’ll never truly understand what it’s like until the actual event.

Before having Lila, we took weeks and weeks of Bradley method childbirth classes.  While those classes were invaluable for prepping us, there’ just no way to know what giving birth is going to be like until you’re…well, doing it.

In the same way, while I think my training runs were helpful and (obviously) necessary, nothing could have prepared me 100% for what race day was going to be like—and, more specifically, for how hard those last six miles would be.  I ran two full training runs up to 20 miles and felt really good about them.  Race day still kicked my ass.  Looking ahead, I think if I ever *do* run another marathon, I’ll have a better idea of how I want to run it, how I want to train, and what I want race to day be like.  It’s knowledge that I couldn’t obtain before race day—I had to run the race to understand what I might be able to do differently or better the next time around.

4.  You will hurt.  EVERYWHERE.

Obviously my legs are sore.  Somehow, my back and chest is even sore today.  As is my groin.  TMI?  Do women even have groins?  If we do, mine is sore.  

5.  You might throw up.

You wanna know what really impresses the nurses during childbirth?  Vomit.  You wanna know what really impresses the other runners and spectators when you run a marathon?  Crossing the finish line, and then promptly heading not to your family who was cheering you on, but to the bushes in order to vomit out a LOT of orange powerade.  You’re welcome, Rocket City Marathon. 

Not sure if it was the powerade (which I didn’t drink during training), the cramps, or the sheer exhaustion, but yeah, that shit happened.  Not pretty.  Although I will say, I felt pretty good after I puked. 

6. People will tell you you’re crazy.  And they’re kind of right.

I lost count of the number of people who told me I was crazy for wanting to give birth without meds, or even the people who flat out just told me that I couldn’t do it.

Honestly, the loudest voice telling me that I was crazy for attempting to run a marathon was my own.  When I signed up for the marathon, I really meant it when I said that I wasn’t sure if I could do it.  Crossing the finish line was really emotional—I had been down on myself for about the last eight miles of the race, because I knew I’d REALLY dropped off in terms of pace—I had to walk a LOT for the last six miles, and that was disappointing.  But as I finally approached the finish line, not really running, but basically shuffling towards it in my best Ethan Frome impression, all I felt was proud.  I set out to run a marathon, and I did it.  Just as in childbirth, my body amazed me with what it was capable of, and I was so appreciative of it at that moment.

7.  You’ll say it was the worst thing in the world and that you’re never doing it again.  And then you’ll forget you ever said it, and you’ll want to do it again.

I remember after giving birth to Lila, I emphatically told Ryan, “I’m NOT doing that again. Next time, I want DRUGS.”  We’re not ready for child number two yet, but when we are, I’m planning on at least trying to go the natural route again.  You forget about the pain, and just remember the fact that you did something amazing.

The marathon, I’m beginning to see, is the same way.  Around mile 25, I remember thinking, “NEVER AGAIN.”  Then this morning, I looked up some spring marathon options.  I find myself wondering—how fast could I do it next time?  What changes would I make?  How would I train differently?  What do I have to do to beat Oprah’s time?

My time was 4:40—respectable for a first marathon, for sure, but I know I can do better.  We’ll see what happens in the future, and I’m definitely ready to take a break from the heavy training…but I’m not going to say that this first marathon will be my only. 

Hope you enjoyed this marathon recap!  Thanks for sticking with me through the training posts! All of your tweets, comments, and e-mails really helped me get through the race with a smile.  You know, until about mile 18.  Then a grimace was all I could really muster.  Smile 

Here are some of my favorite race pics!

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2013 1:04 pm

    hahahhahha. Omgosh I love this post. Yah, I threw up right after I had Kay and it felt so good/so bad at the same time. I’m hoping I don’t throw up after my full (which I will hopefully finish), but I”m sure the feeling would/will be the same. I talked to a lot of the guys at my local running store and they encouraged me to go as much beyond 20 as I could in my training runs. They all agreed that even though most training plans say 20…if you can do more, do it- it will make those last 6 seem not quite as horrible. I’ve only done 20 so far…but am hoping to get above it. CONGRATS! You rock #motherrunner

    • December 16, 2013 1:11 pm

      I’m so excited for you!! When is your full?!?

  2. ginger635 permalink
    December 16, 2013 1:46 pm

    It was so much fun watching you run! I never doubted that you could do it! We’re so proud go you!

  3. December 16, 2013 1:47 pm

    Oh Anna, I’m so incredibly proud of you! I’ve really enjoyed watching you go through this journey. I remember when you said you were not a mother runner. I never thought I was a runner…period. I guess things change…

    Congratulations!

    • December 17, 2013 1:00 pm

      Thanks Sarena! Can’t wait to see how your running continues… 🙂

  4. December 16, 2013 2:26 pm

    Love your recap! I was looking forward to it b/c I knew you’d throw in your fantastic wit and humor. So proud of you for taking on that marathon! Awesome awesome job!!

    • December 17, 2013 12:58 pm

      Thanks Heather!! Congrats on your race!!

  5. December 16, 2013 3:44 pm

    This is such a great recap! Congratulations – it really is quite an accomplishment, and your time was amazing!

  6. December 16, 2013 3:59 pm

    What an awesome experience!! So proud of you!!

  7. December 16, 2013 4:24 pm

    Ha, you must have seen my whiteboard sign around mile 4!!!! totally cool

  8. December 17, 2013 12:10 am

    Congrats Anna!

  9. December 17, 2013 1:51 pm

    Congratulations! I can’t believe you trained for a marathon with a baby. I can’t wrap my head around that at all, since I could barely do a 5K since having mine! You rock just based on that! I don’t know if I’ll ever do another marathon, so I’m glad I did mine before having a baby. Even with pain med, I agree, it’s hard to decide which was harder- labor or running the marathon.

    • December 17, 2013 8:48 pm

      I had wanted to do one before I got pregnant because I KNEW it would be a lot harder with a baby, haha. But Lila was a bit of a surprise, so my plans changed. 🙂 This time around, I told myself that I needed to do it NOW, when we just have one baby– before the second one comes, ha!

  10. December 17, 2013 4:28 pm

    Woohoo! I don’t have kids but I’ve done more than 15 marathons. I’ve always heard women say that marathons and childbirth are similar in that anyone can do it once, it takes true courage to do it a second time because you know what’s ahead of you. I love that you’re already thinking of another! The standard rule of thumb is one day off hard effort for every mile raced — so 26 days. Not off of running, but off of hard effort running or racing. Try to walk this week, maybe jog some very slow and easy miles, stretch, and be good about nutrition, hydration and sleep, kind of a reverse taper, and you’ll come out of it strong. Big congrats!

    • December 17, 2013 8:46 pm

      That sounds like a good rule!! I’ve been doing some gentle cardio on the elliptical– doing nothing at all would just feel so weird!

  11. December 19, 2013 3:58 am

    Can I just tell you… I pretty much think you’re super woman. That is all.

  12. March 12, 2014 6:32 pm

    I ran this marathon as well! I thought I was the only one who started uncontrollably vomiting at the end. Haha. What on Earth did they put in that Powerade? 🙂

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