Neely Spence Gracey On Being A Runner Mom
Six months after announcing her first pregnancy to Women’s Running readers, pro runner Neely Spence Gracey delivered her son Athens at the end of July and joined the ranks of the pro runner mom club. Nearly three weeks after Athens’ birth, Neely spoke with Women’s Running to share what she’s learned so far as a new mom and how she plans to return to running in the weeks and months ahead.
How are you and your baby boy doing?
I feel like he’s growing every day. The first week I had a couple moments where the hormones were crazy and I was super tired. [My husband] Dillon walked in the bedroom and I was just bawling. The emotions are starting to calm down, which is nice. But he’s changing every day. It’s been fun to watch the little milestones, because everything’s a first.
What does it mean to you to now be a runner mom?
I felt like pregnancy was forever. It was a long road to get to this moment. I wrote a blog on my website the day before I had him, talking about how I thought I would enjoy being pregnant more than I did. I’m grateful I had a smooth pregnancy and delivery; there were no complications, and I’m grateful for that. But I definitely feel like it was 100 percent worth it, the nine months leading into what it took to actually have him.
It’s nice to be on the other side of it, able to enjoy being a mom and being excited about being me again. I feel like I’m changing every day, too—my body is morphing back into more of what I’m comfortable with. I’m down 20 pounds and I have 25 to go before I’m back to racing fitness, but I know that will come. It’s nice to see that progress happening. It’s encouraging.
What does exercise currently look like for you?
We do two walks a day, a morning and an evening walk. I carry him along. It’s really fun, something we can do together. Even though he doesn’t understand what it means, it’s special for me that he gets to be part of my return to running.
Have you been seeking advice from other runner moms?
Sara Vaughn was at my delivery; my husband posted that morning that my water broke, and 12 hours later she hadn’t heard anything. She texted Dillon and was like, “Is everything okay? If you want extra help, let me know.” I was like, “The more cheerleaders [I have], the better.” So she came in and was helping me through the last two hours of my delivery. It was really neat to have her there—she’s been through it three times. It’s encouraging that she’s done it and is continuing to chase PRs. It motivated and encouraged me.
I can’t start running until the first week of September, because it’s recommended to take four to six weeks off. I have an appointment to get cleared by my doctor that week, so if all is good, I plan to start running then. I’ll definitely be chatting with Sara Vaughn about how my comeback should look.
I’ve chatted with Tina Muir, Gwen Jorgensen, Kara Goucher, Stephanie Bruce. It’s been nice to have those ladies there, helping and encouraging me. They’ve been saying, “It’s okay to take it slow. Forcing things isn’t going to help you.” That’s my plan, and to utilize a run/walk approach in the first couple weeks getting back in to rebuild my endurance. I haven’t really run more than 4 miles since March. I’m excited to get back to it, but it’s not going to happen overnight. I need to be deliberate about taking a slow and steady approach.
What’s one thing you’ve learned so far as a mom?
The number one thing is, all of a sudden, everything else in life seems insignificant. I’d heard that’s part of why people think that runners become better at running once they have kids: it starts to put things in perspective, and you don’t go completely mental if you have to miss a day of running. I always wondered how I would handle that, because I’ve never been someone who likes to take an off day. I put pressure on myself to make things perfect, and now those things aren’t as significant.
It’s amazing what your body is capable of doing. I typically need eight hours of solid sleep every single night, and I don’t know how I’ve been able to function off two to six hours of broken sleep, which is what I’ve been getting for the past two to three weeks. The mornings where he’s slept three hours straight before waking up to eat, I’m like, “I feel great! This is amazing!” Before, that was a fear of mine: How am I going to function? I struggle with not sleeping, but the body adapts. It’s a good reminder for running, too: your body will adjust. Because I’ve been running for so long, I know that my body will come back and recognize what it needs to do.
What worries you about returning to running?
One of the biggest fears I have is that I haven’t had to dig deep or be competitive for a year. I do fear that I’m going to forget how to be competitive. What does it look like, to have that drive? How am I going to respond to having to get back into racing and being competitive?
That drive and passion and desire are there, so as fitness builds, I’ll be excited to test it. Part of that is being competitive. I think it’ll be there, but that’s a fear I’ve had off and on. Just like anyone who’s had a long period off from running, I’m sure it’s the same for them. It takes a while to get back into your groove, but once you find it, your body has an ability to remember what you’ve done in the past.
I thought it’d be a lot harder while I was pregnant to be around runners and at races. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I enjoyed being able to be part of the running community through coaching. I miss the excitement that I get from being at events and at races. I look forward to having that back. But the biggest thing I miss is my routine. I enjoy waking up and going out the door for a run. I had to stop doing that in March, and so I look forward to having that again, where I can meet up with friends, head out the door in the morning and start my day off the way I’m used to. I’ve started rebuilding that routine a little by getting out the door for a walk in the mornings.
What advice would you offer other new runner moms?
I stress over and over again that you need to listen to your body. Everybody is unique, every pregnancy is unique. For those who are currently pregnant or are looking to become pregnant or just had a baby, recognize that it is your own journey; it’s 100 percent yours. The best piece of advice I can offer is to just listen to your body. I’m so glad I did that, because I have a very happy, healthy baby. I recovered better post-delivery than I expected. I also had a bit of the mental break that I wanted and needed during the pregnancy. Now I’m feeling very fresh mentally, and I’m excited about getting back into running. My body is cooperating, which is a nice feeling.