Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why running a half marathon is like having a baby (minus the morphine)

I had an "oh God, no" moment of panic when I was training for my first half marathon last year.  I had gotten up to about 7 or 8 miles in my training, and I was starving all the time.  I was also tired a lot, and going to bed at 9 and 10:00, and I thought I was a little bit more emotional than normal (that may have just been in my head.)  So, the novice half marathoner that I was, I figured I must be pregnant.  That thought sent waves of panic and anxiety through my nervous system (which was very, very nervous, mind you,) because I certainly wasn't TRYING to get pregnant; I'm not even sure I want another child.  I took a pregnancy test, wished with all my might that no double line would appear, and I got my wish.  PHEW!  Decidedly NOT PREGNANT.  I still wondered what the heck was wrong with me!  Turns out, as all you distance runners know, I had merely reached the point where I was expending so many calories during my long runs that I simply needed to up my intake of calories throughout the day.  In layman's terms, I needed to EAT MORE.  Lots more.  It was after this discovery that I started noticing the parallels between training for a half marathon and being pregnant; and after the race, I marveled at how much the whole process was not entirely unlike giving birth.  Not yet convinced?  Read on.

The Countdown: What's one of the first things you do when you find out that you're pregnant?  You determine the due date and start counting weeks.  After registering for a big race (gulp), you put it on your calendar and create or find a training plan.  Just like you are "12 weeks pregnant", you are "8 weeks into your plan".  There's a lot of glancing at the calendar, counting backwards and counting forwards involved in both, and a big fat star or smiley face or whatever you prefer on your calendar marking the DUE DATE or the RACE.

The Insatiable Appetite: Shortly after becoming pregnant, and most especially during those first 3 months, you find yourself raiding the fridge and stashing snacks in your bag before you leave the house. Same thing with distance training.  I filled a gallon sized Ziplock bag with LUNA minis and kept it in my car so when the hunger would strike, I wouldn't be tempted to pull into the nearest drive thru and snarf down french fries and a Coke Zero.  (Oh, come to Mama, you salty, bubbly, perfect-but-not-perfect-for-you snack!)  I took snacks with me EVERYWHERE.  Same thing when I was pregnant.  My Coach purse may as well have been a picnic basket.

The Narcolepsy: Also in those first 3 months, and often in the last month of pregnancy, you tend to walk around like a zombie because you just can't get enough sleep.  The baby is sucking all your energy and all you want to do is lay your head down on your desk and take a snoozer right in the middle of the workday.  (Um, I may have, ahem, done this on occasion when I was pregnant and working.  Thank goodness for an office door I could close.)  This happens sometimes in training, as well.  Those runs and workouts take a lot out of you, and though they may leave you feeling extra energized and perky immediately afterwards, at some point they are going to catch up with you and send a message to your body that says "I MUST REST."  It's usually during the most inconvenient times, like on a Saturday afternoon following a long morning run, when your body wants to hit the hay and you have grocery shopping/cleaning/laundry/cooking/taking care of child type things to do.

The Wardrobe: A sometimes fun, sometimes not perk of pregnancy is the necessity of buying a whole new wardrobe.  Maternity clothes - you gotta have 'em.  Thankfully these days, maternity clothes don't look like the tents that our mothers wore back when they were pregnant with us.  You can show off your baby bump and the rest of your curves in style, thanks to my personal favorite, Gap Maternity, among others.  Just for kicks, check out the pic to the left - this is me, just over a month before I gave birth to the lil' guy, dressed in Gap Maternity, of course.  Holy bajeesus, I was huge!  I discovered when I began training for my first half marathon that I, too, required an entirely new wardrobe of running clothes.  Okay, that may be just the TEENSIEST bit inaccurate; I MIGHT have squeezed by with the two or three pieces I already had, but if you're gonna spend that much time running and you don't want to do laundry every single day, nor have your running partners see you in the same pair of tempo track shorts and tank at every single group run (the horror!), then you have to fork out some dough on new technical gear.  I swear to you, shopping for running clothes is 10 times more thrilling to me than shopping for any other type of clothes.  Seriously.  The brighter, the better.

Last summer I even purchased a running skirt, the likes of which I had previously scoffed at, until I found this one on sale, tried it on, and did a little dance around the fitting room.  I was oh so pleasantly surprised with how it made my lower half look.  I was even more pleasantly surprised at how it felt when I was actually running - no riding up, no worries!  (Does this skirt make me look fast?)

The Temple: And by that I mean, the body.  I'd get a little weirded out whenever people joked that my body was a "sacred vessel" when I was pregnant, but in a way, it's true.  I mean, you are carrying around a living human being in your tummy, so you have to take pretty darn good care of your body if you have any hope of that living human being turning out okay.  You (usually) pay close attention to what you eat, your doctor monitors your weight gain, you keep track of the baby's developmental progress and you feel the changes that occur in your own body along the way.  At times, your body HURTS.  Same, for the most part, goes for half marathon training.  You may not be carrying around another life form in your gut, but you have to nurture, protect and prepare your body just the same.  Your body changes over the course of the training; at least mine did.  Both times.  I also discovered that it's not unusual to actually GAIN weight when nearing race day because you are consuming so much food!  (Don't worry, you will sweat it all out during the actual race.  And then some.)  Also, your body hurts.  You discover aches and pains in places you never knew COULD produce aches and pains, but you just keep focusing on that D-Day (or, R-Day), your light at the end of the tunnel.

The Rituals: Pregnant women have some strange rituals that we do while pregnant, that we'd not be caught dead doing when we're not.  Like sleeping with a pillow the length of another person between our legs.  Eating strange food combinations (though I never personally experienced that one).  Treating ourselves to a Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit after every single OB/GYN appointment because A. it was across the street, and B. it was a reward for making it through yet ANOTHER hassle of an appointment or for seeing the little guy's cute button nosed profile on the ultrasound.  Okay, maybe that last one was just me.  Runners have rituals, too.  We eat weird stuff like little squares that have the consistency of a gummy bear (LOVE my blueberry pomegranate Gu Chomps) and pour gooey flavored liquids, aptly named Gu Energy Gel, down our throats, all in the name of energy and electrolytes. 

Some of us have adopted a rather odd ritual that I believe has saved me and my tight muscles many, many times - the ice bath.  A funny story: so many times I've been faced with the conundrum of what to do first when I get home from a long run - eat, or take an ice bath?  While I'm sitting in the bath I often dream of having a big, steaming hot platter of food in front of me...no, seriously.  It's more like a mirage, like seeing a pond in the middle of the dessert.  A few weeks ago after a particularly strenuous 11 miler, when I remembered 3/4 of the way into it that I had forgotten to eat lunch, I was so discombobulated when I got home that I literally could not decide what to do first.  So, I made a sandwich and cracked a hard boiled egg, and ate my entirely too late lunch WHILE I WAS SITTING IN THE ICE BATH.  It was like a distance runner's dream come true.  Also, I never noticed until now just how eerily corpse-like my feet with blue nail polish look in this photo.

The Big Day: I find myself most amused at the similarities between the days/hours leading up to the birth of a child, and those leading up to a race.  There are nerves.  There are doubts.  There are thoughts of "Fortheloveofgod, why did I sign up for this?!"  For me, there are little calming and relaxing rituals I perform the day before like deep breathing, meditating and even a little praying.  I had a scheduled C-section so I knew exactly when it was going to happen and I could mentally prepare, much like I do for a race.  During the race itself, you go through physical and mental trials and pain, highs and lows, suffering and bliss, much like (I assume) you do during labor.  At the end, you've given birth to a huge personal accomplishment, and sometimes, even, a PR.  You wear that medal proudly around your neck and you are equally exhausted and exhilarated, just like after delivering a baby.  Okay, maybe not JUST like it, but work with me here.  Both things are a pretty big freakin' deal and you're pretty freakin' worn slap out after it's over.

The Recovery:  Once you arrive home from the hospital, you have to treat your body very gingerly over the next few weeks (or months.)  For me, after a C-section, I had to avoid stairs as much as possible in the first few days.  I avoid stairs as much as possible in the days following a half marathon too.  After my child was born I had to nurse my body back to its normal functioning state.  I had to go slow.  Parts hurt and parts just didn't feel right.  Same after a big race.  Right now not only are my calves sore, but my back and shoulders feel like I just competed in a heavyweight lifting competition.  Not sure what's up with that, but it comes with the territory, I suppose.  In any case, I'm giving myself a full week to recover before I hit the pavement again.  (I think.  This amazing 80 degree sunshiny, humidity free weather has me itching to lace up my Ghost 4s again.)

So there you have it, folks.  Still not convinced?  Well, my childless running friends, I'm not gonna tell you to go off and have a kid, but I will gladly encourage my mommy running friends to sign up for a distance race that's outside of your comfort zone and see how it feels.  The similarities are striking, really.  Now, I'm gonna go hang my finisher's medal around my little guy's neck and give them both a big squeeze, because I'm pretty darn proud to have given birth to both of them.  Pain and all.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post! I laughed, I cried, then I had a snack!