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In 2014 I ran the race I had been running toward since I was a 14-year-old in my first season of cross country: the Boston Marathon. Running it after the 2013 bombings further steeped this race in meaning, as it brought the world together in celebration of what the human body, mind and spirit are capable of. I ran that race flying high on the energy of the crowds that thickly lined the course from Hopkinton to Boston.
In that race, I ran a time of 3:22:12, which gave me a solid enough Boston-qualifying time to return for 2015.
However, Boston 2015 was not at all like 2014. Unlike last year, Marathon Monday was wet and windy, which diminished the size of the spectating crowds. This made the hilly course all the more difficult. Further adding to the differences was the fact I had just had my first child via caesarean section less than 4 months prior to race day.
Running during pregnancy was an easy choice to make. Though I raced very little, I usually logged anywhere from 25 to 40 miles per week. I checked with my doctor for the green light and continued to run. Running was one of the few things that made me feel better during what was a very rough pregnancy. I was plagued with vomiting up until the birth of my son. My body was used to running; it was not used to pregnancy.
However, as my stomach grew (I actually didn’t “pop”/become visibly pregnant until approximately 6 months), my pregnant body began receiving unsolicited advice from complete strangers—especially while out on a run. “Miss, your baby’s going to fall right out,” “Aren’t you afraid of your vagina collapsing?” and “You’re going to shake your fetus to death” were some of the gems I heard.
Since my doctor had assured me that keeping to the forms of exercise my body was used to, I didn’t feel the need to heed what strangers were telling me. However, I did begin craving more support, familiar or not, for my choice in exercise. But despite recent numbers indicating that women now take up more than 50% of the field at most marathon events, there were relatively few articles on running and pregnancy in more mainstream media sources (although Women’s Running and Runner’s World did have a lot of useful info), and I know I have seen many women wearing T-shirts decorated with their children’s names or signs telling other runners to run carefully around them because they are expecting.
I found the lack of mainstream dialogue, support, and advice for female athletes disconcerting. I actively stayed away from online forums because I wanted to avoid any negativity towards my choice to run during and after pregnancy. Then The New York Times published a piece on elite female runners who train through pregnancy in October 2014, soon after I re-registered for the 2015 Boston Marathon. It was an interesting piece that exposed the struggles of elite female runners, for whom their sport is their means for providing for their families. What I took from the article was a sense of empowerment and giddy delight for what women are capable of, physically and mentally.
I didn’t read the comments on that article until recently, post-Boston Marathon, and was appalled. It seemed that for every comment commending women like Kara Goucher and Clara Peterson for their immense strength, there were two commenting on how selfish or stupid these women were for running, or how pregnant bodies are disgusting.
The benefit of mainstream dialogue is it helps the larger population understand that pregnancy isn’t a sentence of bed rest. It is, however, a time when the woman does need to be monitored by health professionals for her sake as well as the baby’s. Health professionals have stated again and again that exercise is beneficial to the mother as well as the unborn child. Post-partum activity—doctor approved, of course—has many health benefits that are far greater than weight loss, namely improved mood and reduced stress, all of which I would consider to be key elements in being a more present and strong parent.
From my own experience this last year, pregnancy can be a peculiar time for your body. Though it is doing wondrous things, it can feel more than a bit alien to you. It is for this reason that I hope that more mainstream publications can encourage dialogue and educate on the benefits of exercising during pregnancy and beyond.
Running post-op began slowly at first, and overall recovery was made harder due to late nights and the fact that I was and am still exclusively breastfeeding. Adjusting to running while engorged and carefully timing my runs around my bottle-averse son’s feeding schedule was extremely difficult, though not impossible. While some people were flabbergasted that I returned to running so soon after giving birth, I found that it gave me more energy and more peace of mind, and therefore more patient and energetic when with my baby.
I ran this year’s Boston after positive checkups by my doctor. My doctor surmised that running before and during my pregnancy most likely helped along my recovery since my muscles were stronger. She advised me to listen to my body for indicators to slow down or back out completely since repair from a C-section can take up to a year. While I did not aim to run a BQ, I thankfully did without pushing myself too hard, which means that I will hopefully be lining up with thousands again next year at the start in Hopkinton.
On the list of the Boston Marathon Quarter Century Club—a special club of those who have run at least 25 consecutive Boston Marathons, there are only 5 women. It’s going to take special and careful planning in these earlier years when life can be more volatile, but my new goal is to be on that list in 23 more years. In accomplishing that goal, I also hope to educate and empower more women that it is okay to lean in to take care of their bodies, because that self-care goes a long way to care of their families.