Pro runner Neely Spence Gracey explains how her approach to running is helping her through the tougher days of her pregnancy.
Excitement? Well yes, of course. Fear? Uh huh, for sure. If you have ever had a baby or run a race, you have experienced both of these emotions simultaneously. We all have heard the quote, “Running is a metaphor for life.” So when in doubt, apply running to every situation you encounter, and see what happens. Here are my thoughts on how running is like having a baby.
- I decide on a big race—or in this case, found out my due date. Then I start thinking about what my goal is: run a PR/have a healthy baby. After the main objective is determined, I decide on process goals to help make this ultimate goal possible: I follow the training plan, stick to target paces, practice better hydration, abide by proper sleeping habits, remove stress from my life, listen to my body/relax because my body is working really hard in new ways, enjoy the amazing gift of growing a human and embrace what my body is creating, despite the bad days. In both scenarios, I trust the process by doing little things daily to support the larger goals.
- I start training. In running, I often do 16- to 24-week buildups for races. Meanwhile, pregnancy typically lasts for 40 weeks. A bit longer, but I got this! As soon as I pick a race (or in this case, the moment I found out I was pregnant), I immediately desire a plan. What do I need to do between now and then to be ready? What do I know about myself that will help this plan develop? Who is on my support team that will help me along the way? These questions were the same for both situations. Once I come up with a plan, I feel more excited and less nervous about what’s to come.
- I adjust along the way. Nothing in life ever seems to go 100 percent according to the initial plan. Running is totally that way, too. It is important to be flexible, adapt to weather, illness, travel, and create the best environment you can to meet your goals while not making your life miserable in the process. With pregnancy, of course, it’s the same. It’s good to have a plan, but also key to recognize that your body will tell you what it needs—and your job is to listen. I have to constantly remind myself that my running/training is my own journey. And my pregnancy is, too! It is so easy to compare my process with what others can/are doing and get upset about why I can’t do that, too. For example, some women can run the whole way through pregnancy without any issues. At 18.5 weeks, I had to stop. I was running 40-ish miles per week, and had run every day leading up to a day last month, when my back started feeling sore during my run. I finished and could hardly walk for three days. Now I am back to running a mile or two a few days each week, and I can walk, bike and ElliptiGO without pain, so I am finding joy in alternate forms of exercise.
- I mentally prepare. Of course, we mentioned the physical prep in the training plan discussion in point #2 above. But mentally preparing is critical, too! Every time I start to get nervous about a race, I change my thoughts to focus on the things I can control and I talk myself out of wasting energy worrying about the things outside of my control. Changing my mindset with reminders of the diligent training I have put into my goal always helps. I come up with positive words, or mantras, to encourage me when the race starts to get tough. No matter how prepared I am, I know that at some point in the race, I will have to talk myself into continuing to push. Oh, and speaking of pushing, I think this all applies directly to childbirth, too!
- I stay focused on what I know, not on the unknowns. It’s easy to let your thoughts wander to the “what ifs.” What if the race takes place on a bad weather day? What if I roll my ankle during the race? What if I get blisters? What if my calf cramps? I won’t bother listing all the “what ifs” that have popped into my head regarding the baby because I refuse to validate those fears. I utilize these same tools I use for running to help push them away. It’s good to have a goal, to create a plan, to be flexible, to mentally prepare, and then you have to get a little lucky. You have no way of knowing the exact outcome of your goal, but if you go into it having prepared to the best of your ability, then you know you have set yourself up for a successful experience!