We all know that running starts off so hard as to feel impossible, but gets better and easier and more rewarding with persistence. Since I started running serious distance, I’ve even had a few periods where I went months without running (while still staying active in other ways) and it was still reasonably easy to knock out several kilometers as soon as I got back to it.
Then I got pregnant.
Running while pregnant was a whole other set of problems that I’ll touch on in another post. I guess I never excepted running while pregnant to be particularly easy, though. The real shocker was trying to get back into running after having the baby.
I never would’ve guessed, prior to becoming pregnant, just how much your body changes. Your blood volume increases dramatically, messing with your blood pressure and generally making you feel like all your cardio fitness goes out the window. Your baby hogs nutrients and leeches essential minerals from your body both before and after birth (if you breastfeed), making it hard to keep yourself healthy and strong (especially if, like me, you spend a good 2/3 of your pregnancy puking up your vitamins and being repulsed by meat and vegetables). Your abdominal muscles separate and may not go back to normal without physiotherapy and/or surgery. Your ligaments loosen, and take a while to go back completely to normal, potentially causing stability problems, increasing the risk of injury, and even, if placed under too much strain from high impact exercise, causing nastiness like bladder prolapse down the line. It’s not just, as I always envisioned, having some extra body weight to lose and recovering from a few months of inactivity. Your body has been through some crazy stuff, and all your awesome pre-pregnancy conditioning is gone, gone, gone.
And yet, the time comes. You swallow your pride. You tie on your shoes. And you start again.
And maybe you go through some of these emotional stages along the way…
Stage 1: Reckless Optimism
Look at you, you’re out here! It’s a beautiful day! You’ve got your beautiful baby in the jogging stroller and you’re taking real steps and you’re actually, for real, finally doing this! You love running! It’s been so long! It’s even better than you remembered! Pregnancy, childbirth, it’s all good, you’ve still got it and you’re flying! Life is amazing! And then the trail heads slightly uphill and…
Stage 2: “Eff this, running is impossible.”
Suddenly, you’re out of breath. Your legs burn. Your tailbone aches. The stroller weighs about six tons. You’re sweating like a…like a…nothing sweats like this. You wonder if maybe you’re dying. Are you having a heart attack? You check your Garmin. 600 meters! You’ve run 600 meters!? Is this a joke? Is this thing on? Your baby just stares at you blankly. What are you looking at, baby? You think you can do better? You can’t even walk, baby, don’t give me that attitude. You don’t know what I’ve been through. 600 meters!
Stage 3: Acceptance
OK, so this is going to be awful. That’s fine. I can handle awful. I’ve survived a marathon. I’ve survived trails that seemed to be straight verticals up a mountain, covered with mud. I survived childbirth! I can push through the pain and knock out an easy 5k. Just one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Live in the moment. Etc. It’s all good. My baby believes in me! Don’t you, baby? Is that an encouraging smile? I’m going to take that as an encouraging smile. We’ve got this!
Stage 4: Defeat
We don’t got this. Why am I even doing this? I hurt in muscles I didn’t know I had. I’m running so slow I’ve been passed by people walking, and I still can’t stop huffing and puffing. I’m just making a fool of myself. I can’t possibly continue. I hate this.
Stage 5: Walk of shame
I’m sure every runner has done this at least a couple of times. Walking back home, decked out head to toe in running gear, trying to pretend like you’re just out for an afternoon stroll and nothing humiliating has just happened. Sheepishly changing your Map My Run privacy settings to “Only Me” before your running friends can make teasing or, worse, condescendingly encouraging comments on your terrible, aborted run. This is slightly easier to accomplish while pushing a jogging stroller. “Just taking the baby out for some fresh air, nothing to see here!” is what you attempt to say with your sweat-drenched, beet-red face.
But you know what? Maybe you’re terribly out of shape (spoiler alert: you are). Maybe you’re frustrated with where you’re at and it seems like an impossible uphill climb to get back to where you once were. But you’re (still) a runner, and impossible uphill climbs are your jam. And you’re out there, working, however slowly, towards your goals. You’ve got this, Mama. And I’m with you, sweating profusely and fighting the urge to just stay home and eat peanut butter out of the jar. And soon, we will all kick ass again. Because that’s what we do.