The first time I knew I had a knack for running I was seven years old. Blonde bowl cut (I know..) swaying behind me, sucking in air between my recently lost teeth, I beat all the kids in the first grade at the end of the year field day footrace. It wasn't just about the winning, it was the feeling that running gave me, that sense of pure freedom and joy, of my powerful little legs propelling me to the finish line before (gasp) all the boys. I was hooked.
I ran my way through middle school and high school, always using my running ability in team sports like soccer and basketball, but there was something so alluring to me about the singular pursuit of running that by my senior year of high school I was a 3 season running convert. At Harvard, running on the women's Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track teams was like being enveloped in a warm, familiar, if somewhat rank, blanket. It was the first time in my life I ran with a group of young women, and the connection I felt to my team was deep and fierce. They were my tribe. There is so much pleasure and pain involved in running that the intimacy of sharing those emotional, highly sensitized moments bonded us for life.
Since college I have run numerous half marathons and eight marathons, from Boston to Erbil, Northern Iraq, from Rome to Disney, managing a PR of 2:56 in Melbourne, Australia when my first son Luca was 16 months old. After having a child, the discomfort of running had become more manageable.
With two children of my own, now 8 and 5, and a third on the way next summer, future races and strict training plans have been replaced by thinking of possible baby names (poll to come later) and continuing to run for the pure joy of it. The third time around, my body seems to know what to do and is already preparing for the long road ahead. It felt like it took about 7 minutes after I found out I was pregnant for my belly to push outward, and within a couple of weeks I could tell that my pace was slowing on my runs, and I am just fine with that. Like most adults, I am so hyper focused on myself - what I want, my goals, how I feel, how I look- that it's refreshing to have to take a step back from my internal competitor and just breathe. Not worry about mileage and splits and missed training days because of Boston's testing winter weather.
My desire to continue to run during pregnancy isn’t just based on all the studies that show how exercise lessens back pain, prevents excessive weight gain, reduces delivery complications, improves sleep quality, and even helps the baby tolerate the stress of labor and delivery, although those are great side effects. My real reasons for continuing to run are much simpler than that: as a mom you give up so much of yourself, that hanging on to that one thing that makes you feel more human, gives you a sense of well-being and freedom, is essential for your happiness and by extension your families happiness.
While over 30 years has elapsed since my mom regrettably cut my hair using a bowl and I won that first race, I still feel like that determined, fearless seven-year-old girl when I run. I let go of the daily worries and stresses that tend to drown my thoughts, I shed the self-consciousness that I carry around like an invisible cloak, I try my best just to focus on the moment. In a word, I aim to be childlike. I look forward to sharing my journey with you, one slow step at a time.
While it is still early in my pregnancy, I have indeed only recently told family, I feel that there is too little literature out there documenting the effects of pregnancy on exercise (and vice-versa) that I am willing and excited to chronicle my journey from sub-three hour Boston finisher to plodding (but happy!) pregnant runner in blog format from an early stage. Pregnancy itself has so many ups and downs, so many emotions and uncertainties, that running will hopefully be a constant that will enable me to manage the peaks and valleys the next seven months will certainly deliver.
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