Back to the Drawing Board

The month after I ran Grandma’s Marathon in 2013, I was pregnant.  It’s almost ironic, because I signed up for the marathon feeling only partially committed.  We had started trying to conceive, and I thought to myself, “If I get pregnant, then I’ll just stop training.”  So, each month, I tracked my cycle, and as time went on it became increasing clear that I was actually going to have to DO Grandma’s.  My father in-law visited the weekend I was to do a 20-mile training run, and I griped and groaned as I headed out the door.  “Just be happy you CAN run,” he called after me.  An avid runner in his day, he injured his knee before ever completing a marathon.  Because our family planning was under wraps, I didn’t share with him then that I had hoped to be pregnant, happily snacking on McFlurries in front of HGTV on Marathon day.  Instead, I dedicated the final mile of the race to him—because, truly, it’s a pretty amazing thing to be ABLE to run like this.

As the pregnancy progressed, and exercise became difficult, I began to plan for my training post-partum.  I signed up for a half marathon in August of 2014 figuring 4 ½ months would be plenty of time to train post baby.  What I hadn’t accounted for was the 6 weeks my doctors recommended I wait before exercising.  Oh—and the almost 50 pounds I gained during my pregnancy—of which only about 10 pounds were lost during delivery.  Oh, and my cardiovascular and respiratory stamina was about nil.  So, August came and passed, and I set a new goal—to do a 10-mile race before the weather turned frigid.  Late October, I ran a 10-mile race, and vowed to keep things up until next running season—in hopes that I could convince Michael, newly diagnosed with MS, to run another marathon with me.

Since his diagnosis, we were both unsure whether he could reasonably expect to keep up with distance running.  Recently, Michael confided in me, “I want to run another marathon.”  So, it was decided.  The question was, when?  Grandma’s Marathon was my preference, but I didn’t want to pressure Michael.  Only he could determine when he was ready to make the commitment.  As time went on, and Michael remained undecided, I resigned myself to honing my yoga practice, a new passion of mine.  Then, out of nowhere, Michael was ready. He was asked to write this blog, and suddenly we were signing up for the race!  Well, this blog may have been the push Michael needed, but I have been in the wings with my running shoes on—let’s do this!

Sometimes Families Fall Apart

I’ve often been asked why I started running.  I’ve never been a runner.  I considered running a unit in gym class—where we attempted to complete a one mile run under a certain threshold I was never able to accomplish.  Running was the thing I did for 30 seconds to charge an opponent on the soccer field… or to catch the bus.  When the topic of marathons came up, my first question was “how far is that?” as I had often assumed that the term “marathon” simply meant a long race, and my second question;  “why?”  Why would someone run 26.2 miles on purpose?  Well, as I would learn, there are many reasons.  Mine would be singular.

One lazy Sunday, my younger sister called me to share some disturbing news.  I won’t go into detail, but that phone call cracked open a closet door full of family skeletons and nothing was the same again.  My parents divorced.  My father was virtually excommunicated.  I felt like a rug had been pulled out from under my feet.  My family of origin shattered. 

We all react differently to trauma.  Some people retreat.  Some become caretakers.  Some work on their boundaries.  Still others turn to friends for support.  I turned to running.  I had a few friends and colleagues who were runners, and they swore that the time alone, running with only their thoughts and the scenery, was the best medicine.  Maybe it’s fitting that I chose running as my coping mechanism.  While many turned to alcohol or drugs during difficult times, I seemed to steer clear—my younger sister once said, “You’re only addicted to things that are good for you!”  (Whether running a marathon is “good for you” is yet another question.)

I remember the day I suggested to Michael that we run a marathon together.  It was early 2010, and I approached him with the thought, “I think I want to do a marathon before we have kids.”  His response: “Let’s sign up for Twin Cities now!”  “No pressure!” I scoffed.  But we signed up right then.  I had never even run a 5K.  The following weeks required me to train for the training program—an 18 week schedule Michael found online that required regular 4-5 mile runs, interwoven with 1-2 long runs per week.  I had never run more than one mile at once.

That said, we trained, and we ran, and we signed up for as many races as we could.  5Ks, 10Ks, 10 miles, half marathons, a 20-mile race.  Each race set off my nerves—could I finish?  At each starting line, I wondered if I could make it to the finish line.  And each race, I succeeded.  After months of mourning the family unit I had grown up with, I finally had something to feel good about.  Every race brought positive reinforcement—I was rewarded again, and again, and again.  I was slow, but I was nothing if not persistent.  Three marathons later, I know I have it in me this time.  I’m still getting into distance running shape, but the fact that I know I CAN do it, and have done it before, makes this race much less daunting.

Keeping it in the Family

I know that being parents of a small child—Anabel will be 1 at the end of the month—will bring unique challenges.  Who is going to watch the baby when we both need to do a 20-mile training run?  It must be noted that I tend to run at a 5.5 mile/hour pace (approximately 11 minute miles).  A 20-mile run could take upwards of 4 hours for me to complete!  We are members of Life Time Fitness, which thankfully offers child care.  But their time limit is 2 hours.  That means I can do up to 10 miles within the timeframe allotted, but there would be no time to shower.  I’m a working mom, and childcare will be an issue.

Of course, now that the weather has warmed up, we can use the jogging stroller our friends gave to us.  However, we are learning that Anabel doesn’t always tolerate being in the stroller for over an hour.  Will we need to stop for diaper changes and feedings?  Will she nap on the ride?  Will we have to break our long runs into two shorter runs?  We don’t know!

There are also unique challenges for women who breastfeed.  My breasts are uncomfortably swollen until I nurse Anabel in the morning.  So there will be no sneaking out of the house before everyone wakes up to get a run in.  At best, I could use my breast pump before leaving the house, but that doesn’t guarantee that Anabel will take a bottle when she wakes up.  The logistics involved in training while still nursing are complicated. 

My point is—we’ll have to figure this out as we go.  My hope is that our experience will encourage others to take on training for a race despite the complicated nature of being a new parent.  I’m sure it won’t be easy, and I’m sure we’ll have to make modifications to our training schedule as we go, but it’s not impossible.  I’m excited that we can train with our daughter.  It will be one more way we’ll bond—something that will bring us together.

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Going for it: Why my fifth marathon feels like the first

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