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Sometimes, early weekend mornings when my daughter’s noises wake me up, I think back to three winters ago when I was baby-free, living in a little apartment in Boston, training for the Boston Marathon.
Every Saturday morning, I’d join a group of fellow runners and do a long run up and down the Newton Hills or into the city, usually completing more than 10 miles before my husband woke up. I’d take a long shower, enjoy an even longer brunch, and plan out the rest of the week’s runs ahead.
Before I had a baby, I ran road races around the world. I regularly trained for half-marathons. I ran when I wanted to.
Life was… simpler.
I’m sure any new mother can likely relate to having those moments of wonder (or is it panic?): Will things ever be the same? It’s something I’ve wondered many times since having my daughter, Sunday, about a year-and-a-half ago.
I’ve wondered it at 3 a.m. when I was up alone feeding a baby feeling as though the world was going on without me.
I’ve wondered it at 2 p.m. sitting on a couch contemplating how on the Earth I’d ever be able to truly have a career and a child.
I’ve wondered it specifically as it relates to running many times since delivering her. In those early postpartum days, I so vividly remember wanting nothing more than to be able to wake up, lace up, and go, like I had so many mornings before. I longed for it.
I think there’s a lot of mourning that goes untalked about in motherhood—specifically as it relates to the physical changes of pregnancy and labor and delivery that force patience upon athletes and require women to slow down. It’s easy to fight yourself. It’s easy to feel like the changes are permanent. It’s easy to beat yourself up about what you feel as though you can no longer do. It’s easy to feel these losses hard.
Everyone’s experience with running throughout pregnancy and postpartum is different. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I ran up until about 34 weeks when, finally, discomfort—and low-impact workouts—won out. Other women stop running earlier than this. Some run up until the day they deliver.
High-impact exercise such as running is also far from the first activity to return postpartum. And while some women hit the road early in their new motherhood journeys, others make a slower return full of bumps and detours.
The female body is amazing. It changes and adapts and transforms and—in becoming a mother—returns with even more strength. And with proper recovery, you do return to running.
While it took me months, soon enough post-baby, I was back to running (pre-pandemic) road races, sneaking out on Saturday mornings while the baby and my husband slept for that early mileage I craved, and exploring new routes in our new suburban town.
It’s just that my relationship with running had changed. It took on a new definition in my life. What once would have felt like a short run—three or four miles—now counts as a long run. A pace that once would have embarrassed me now feels like a new running-with-a-run-stroller normal. A workout that years ago would have been little more than a recovery day now makes me proud.
I also run less than I have ever before. Some weeks I don’t run at all. But interestingly enough, I’m OK with that. In part, that’s because I have a newfound appreciation for what I missed. I have a newfound appreciation for my body. And I don’t let a lack of mileage discourage me.
In fact, I feel more like an athlete now than I did the day I crossed the finish line at that rainy Boston Marathon in 2018 (yes, the year of the monsoon).
I have a better understanding of what my body is capable of, of patience, of mental toughness, of perseverance.
Of course, like all relationships, my relationship with running isn’t perfect.
Last month, about 25 weeks pregnant with baby number two, I tried to take on one last running challenge before I knew my body would call for a break: a virtual 10K with my sister. We planned out the route. I did a few training runs. We planned a post-race brunch.
Then, a five-mile training run left me with pelvic pain. Every step toward the end felt like it should be my last. I knew enough to know I shouldn’t push myself, so we changed plans.
On a sunny Saturday morning in October, we ran three miles together, and I knew they would be my last before having my second daughter this coming February.
Today, there are still days I wake up and wish I could head out on an easy six-mile loop instead of take a seat on the Peloton. There are mornings I get jealous of my friends’ mileage on Strava. There are days that Instagram stories of scenic run loops (especially among my pregnant or postpartum friends) make me feel sad… envious even.
But I’m often brought back to something a sports psychologist told me: As is true for most things and relationships in life, there are seasons when it comes to running.
Some seasons come with intense training, goal-setting, big wins.
Other seasons come with maintenance—work that feels like it’ll never pay off but ultimately does.
Some seasons are defined by rest and recovery—and a chance to reflect.
As I write this, I’m 29 weeks pregnant and in the midst of a familiar season: a season of pause. It’s just that this time, I’m OK with it. For now, my running will wait.
And I can’t wait to meet it again and see where we’ll go.
Cassie Shortsleeve is a Boston-based freelance writer and the founder of Dear Sunday, an online platform for new and expecting moms.