Monday, October 9, 2017

Lessons Learned Running with Baby on Board

Hi friends! It's been one heckuva last 9 months for this runner girl here. I am just under 2 weeks away from my baby's due date, so I expect that any day now (or at some point this month anyway), we'll be welcoming a new tiny human to our household and our lives. If you read my last blog post, you'll know that I'm officially done, for now, with running. I never expected myself to be running right until my delivery date, but I didn't exactly expect that I'd run right up to 37 weeks. I exceeded my expectations of myself, and now I welcome the rest while I await the most exciting journey of my life to begin.

I'm very thankful that I was able to run that long, and I wanted to thank you all for reading and supporting me in the journey. I was overwhelmed by the encouragement I received. My next journey will be returning to running post-partum, and then I expect that to be shortly followed up by running with stroller. And who knows - running for achievement of a new personal best could be mixed in there too. There really is a lot about this sport to talk about. Running is a sport that can absolutely be adapted to fit one's lifestyle and stage in life. I am thankful for this because this sport is one that I turn to, day after day, to provide me with my "me time". Running gives me time to be me, sort my thoughts, and receive a endorphin boost, a good calorie burn, a physical challenge, a meditative and grounding experience, that primal connection to the earth and my living body, and empowerment that goes beyond the miles accomplished on the road. I'm grateful that my body allowed me to continue to enjoy these feelings regularly for the last 9 months. Without it, I don't know how I'd feel today. And while I anticipate at least 2 months off from the sport, that time will go by so very quickly. It will certainly be long enough though to make me hungry for my return to it. I see no issue with being motivated to go once life allows it to become a regular part of my day again.

Thankfully, my team of doctors in this pregnancy fully endorsed and encouraged me to run throughout pregnancy. And so I did, and it was a great learning experience. I thought I'd take some time to summarize and reflect on this experience and share with you the lessons I learned along the way. Hope you enjoy!

Remember one thing - this is not supposed to be easy.
The most common theme from talking to others about the experience was about its perceived difficulty. Sometimes the person I spoke to was a woman who ran in her own pregnancy and found it difficult, and she shared her experience with me about how long she kept it up and when/why she eventually stopped. Or those who don't have their own firsthand experience and have suggested that it's unimaginable to run in my "condition" because it doesn't sound easy. Then there's the opposite sentiment that I've received a few times only -- that because running has been my sport for so many years now, running with the added challenge of pregnancy couldn't have been a big shift for me. I don't know if they thought it was easy on me but maybe they didn't know it was hard. I was simply doing what I'm used to doing but slowing it down, so maybe doing that wasn't hard at all.

So I will tell you right now, running is NOT an easy sport. No matter how long you've been doing it or how at times it can absolutely seem effortless, it's not easy. The sport is designed to be uncomfortable and most of us runners don't do it just to do it, be comfy, or to stay the same. We do it to push ourselves to new levels. Sure, for me running in pregnancy, my experience of being a runner for a long time helped me through. And I didn't set goals to perform at my races and took it "easy" out here. But running was hard and got harder progressively, week after week as my body changed. Even if I was trying to do "the same thing", the fact that I was changing, maintaining my fitness was an act of pushing myself harder every week. It forced me out of my comfort zone week after week.

My mileage lowered progressively, but the effort of putting one foot in front of the other got progressively more difficult every time I went out there. It was discouraging, it was uncomfortable, I was often achy and/or exhausted, I thought of quitting, regularly. It was one of my most difficult running seasons of my life, right up there with returning from challenging injury, or training for my first marathon. There were physical, mental, and emotional challenges day after day, week after week. This included nausea, exhaustion, incontinence, weight gain, achy hips, achy abdominals, achy everything, fear, doubt, self-consciousness, body-image challenges, more exhaustion, a whole lot more weight gain, an altered centre of gravity, circulatory challenges, foot changes, you name it. It was really hard. But that's what made it worth it. Nobody grows when they stay in their comfort zone.

Race for you, not for competition.
My family doctor warned me against doing races. She said she was cool with me running as long as I wanted, as long as I knew to slow it down when it came to pace and distance. She told me that races could be a bad idea as one tends to push themselves, even if they don't mean to, because they get caught in the energy of others. I took her advice to heart, but lined up for 10 races during my pregnancy anyway. I simply changed my mentality and kept myself cognizant of the dangers of overdoing it at a race. I lined up at the back, started every race slow, took my walk breaks, watched my heartrate, and made sure I had a race plan for every event to ensure I finished in a way that aligned with my current state of fitness. I did not ignore the advice I received, but simply applied the advice to my race approach.

I chose to race because even though I run for my own health and for my "me time", my running community is also important to me and I wanted to keep myself connected and engaged in this community. Every race is a chance to connect with other runners, my friends, my running family, and those who are like-minded and see this sport for the amazing thing it is. I can run 5km anytime I want to, but doing so at an event has a whole lot of added benefit that I chose to experience. And I wasn't running to achieve something at my races, I wasn't training to achieve a personal best or a new distance, I was simply lining up to DO the races and to feel great about doing them. Having these races to look forward to gave me a goal to keep my training honest and directed toward.

Be kind to yourself.
This is huge. In a runner's mindset is the tendency to push no matter what, to run no matter what, even against one's better judgement at times. When you're pregnant, it's not just your own body you have to consider, but the one you're growing. Growing a person isn't an easy task, so we are allowed grace. I was often hard on myself, as I tend to be. But for the most part, I learned that kindness toward myself was the best thing I could do. I paid no attention to pace, I avoided the big hilly routes, I loosened the structure on my training week, and I always gave myself a "get out of jail free" card. That card could be redeemed if I ever needed to end a workout early, skip a workout entirely, or if I decided it was time to hang up my running shoes more long-term. I knew that while exercise would keep me and baby healthy, so would rest, moderation, and kindness. There's no need to be Wonder Woman every day.

Set goals and a plan to ensure you don't scrap the goals prematurely.
So with the kindness noted above comes the danger of redeeming the "get out of jail free" card when it's not needed. Setting goals, re-evaluating those goals on a regular basis, signing up for races, and having many honest talks with myself kept me on target. I always said I had permission to quit, but the plan was to not quit until I had enough evidence that quitting was the right thing to do. One bad run wasn't enough to say "I'm done". I had plenty bad runs, but they were almost always followed up with an OK run, a good run, or an exceptional energizing run. A good run always feels that much better when on the heels of a bad one. So I always told myself not to quit until I'd seen a true shift that running had moved from possible and OK to truly too difficult to continue. It took until I hit 37 weeks and a full-term baby to feel I was truly ready to stop.

Be extraordinary, in your own way.
Perhaps this is a mantra I live by always. I don't like keeping myself at status quo. I like to challenge myself to something I know to not be easy and see how I can conquer. I ran through my pregnancy to to prove to myself that I could. If I could do this, certainly I could take on birthing a child. And certainly I can take on the challenges of motherhood. I chose to race because I knew it would feel good and empowering. I had seen other pregnant women at races and thought to myself, "wow that's awesome - I hope I can do that someday". I made sure to try when I had the opportunity, and soon, 10 races were completed. There was nothing extraordinary about my speed, my distance, the races I chose, my achievements at these races or anything I did as a runner this past 9 months. But I feel like my attitude, my perseverance, and my willingness to try something challenging were absolutely extraordinary, and I'm proud of myself.

I did all of this for me, but it doesn't hurt when others take notice what you're doing and find inspiration. It's why I blog, share, overshare, and speak openly about my fitness journey. It is why I have done so the last 6 years or so since I started this blog. But most importantly, I know that this ordinary mere mortal of a woman here, me, who's as flawed as the next person, she has grit about her and a desire to better herself, no matter how difficult. And that's one of the many things that make me extraordinary.

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