Running and motherhood. Dang. Such blurred lines. So much similarities in these endeavors. So many similar feelings experienced day in and day out as I log my miles and go through my daily rituals with my kids. As a lifelong learner...I have found that running has made me a healthier mom and motherhood has made me a stronger runner.
Part 1: 9 Things Motherhood Has Taught Me About Running
(1) We Live to Fight Another Day: The days are long, the years are fast. And in motherhood, sometimes, the days are just so very long. I remember being so tired a little less than a year ago that I cried for basically weeks on end. I was in love with my newborn but he didn't sleep and his tummy issues kept us from really enjoying each other. I remember thinking it will never get better. I will never figure this baby out. Then those times when you snap at your toddler. Yuck. You lose your cool, you say something you don't mean and you hurt your kid's feelings. I have not been prepared for the complexity and the way that my four year old expresses hurt and anxiety and frustration. He will look at me through tears and say "when you tell me to hurry when I'm doing my best I get scared and hurt feelings because I am trying." Dagger. In. Heart.
When those days happen, I focus on the fact that kids are very quick to forgive. By the next morning, we reset, we try again. And usually as a parent, I have learned an important lesson. And so you must learn and grow. You must be content in the reality that you get to start over tomorrow.
No matter what baggage you bring to running, you get a do-over button anytime you need one. I really appreciated that button this summer. I have not trained well for my next marathon. I've missed more runs that I could count. And yet...I make peace. 8 years ago (when I started doing marathons), I mentally degraded myself when I squandered a race. I would lose it if I didn't meet a running goal on any given day. It took the fun right out of running. Since becoming a mama, I am far more forgiving of myself with my running. I know if I want to be faster and better I need to change up my plan and just do what it takes. If I don't do what it takes? There is always tomorrow. I have a day job and running is not it. As a result, I have to make peace when I let myself down. And many times I wake up again, with the beautiful and wonderful realization that I get to try again tomorrow.
(2) Coffee is Always the Answer: pretty simple. Motherhood = sleep deprivation. Running requires the same. Most of runners have day jobs. We have lives beyond running.
But if you love something, you give it your all. And sometimes that means staying up all night with a sick kid. Or getting up every two hours to soothe and feed a newborn. And for that? God made coffee.
If you want to run, you run at all odd hours. You get up at 4am and run 10 miles on abandoned streets while the world sleeps. Then you go to work with wet hair and you sit at your day job and recognize that familiar exhaustion. And for that? God made coffee. Warm, soothing, creamy, delicious coffee.
(3) Consistency is Key: When I was growing up my mom did in home day care. She said to me, for as long as I can remember, babies and children need routines and consistency. Consistency is absolutely vital to having a well balanced, well behaved, "good" kid. Oh mama you are SO RIGHT. My babies thrived on routine. And when it comes to discipline, you better never, ever let something slide that you aren't okay with all the time. A no no is always a no no. ALWAYS.
If you want to succeed as a runner you have to be consistent. You cannot imagine the results you will see if you are just consistent. Add nothing else to your training except consistency and you will make enormous progress. My husband (an incredibly accomplished runner) has a running streak of 4 or more miles each day for something crazy like 6 years. While it is completely crazy, it helps his body endure all the training. His body knows the routine, his legs can always carry him. And it's because he has never allowed himself to just take a month off for no reason or slack off on the holidays. Tragically, where I am right now...I could not be less consistent if I tried. Luckily I know lesson Number 1. And I plan to try again tomorrow. And maybe the day after that.
(4) The More Determined You Are the More Results You Get: When I was a brand new mom, in 2009, I knew I was going to have a really short maternity leave. And I knew in order to do what I needed to do to survive as a mommy lawyer, I needed my baby to be a good sleeper. Some say kids are just "born" sleepers. While I believe some are easier than others to coach, I will say this. I was determined Eliot would sleep through the night early and he did. Due to my obsession with this benchmark, I read every book, I had a strict routine, I made every decision during the day those first few months based on what I needed to do to ensure he slept that night. And sleep he did. And so did I. And we all lived happily ever after. Fast forward to his little brother. I was a slacker with the sleeping ritual thing. I was not determined and did not follow strict routines and guess what? Turkey did not sleep until the husband looked at me when Turkey was 8 months old and said "It's time. We all have to get some sleep." The next week, we focused. We were determined and guess what? In a week's time he was trained and is now almost the sleeper his brother was!
You can set any goal you want in running. But unless you are fully committed, unless you are truly "all in", you will not see the results you want. You cannot finish a marathon without some level of commitment, some sacrifice and frankly just some stubbornness. The bigger the goal, the more determination required. Anybody can run but if you want results (and who doesn't?) you have to do your homework, be strict with yourself on the hard days and remind yourself it is all worth it!
(5) Nothing is Sweeter Than Bedtime: Ask any mother. She will tell you watching her children sleep is one of the best moments you get. They are peaceful, they make little sucking motions with their mouths (O.M.G.), they are warm. Often they are soft and smell like heaven from a bath. Oh bedtime, it turns any hellion into an angel. I regularly sneak in and look at my sleeping kids and just break into prayers of thanks.
Ask any runner. Maybe you used to stay out until 2am drinking with friends on the weekend. Now, you cannot wait to get to bed at 9 so you can get up at 5 and run for 3 hours! Sound crazy? Perhaps. But most runners I know value sleep and sleep better than the average person. So many in our society place no value on a good nights sleep despite every study and doctor telling you how important it is. Runners call it recovery. I call it vital to my mental health. And that feeling, the one of falling into bed the night of a marathon or after a long hard run? Of surrendering your body to sleep, knowing that it just did something amazing? Yea, it's pretty sweet.
(6) You Can Handle Far More Pain Than You Could Ever Imagine Possible: So for months now, you've gone to prenatal appointments. You worked with your doctor. You read your books and developed a birthing plan. You've prepared for D-Day in the hospital. You are as ready as you can be. But truth be told, nothing in this world can really prepare you for labor and delivery.
There is no pain that compares to the overwhelming contractions of early to mid labor. Nothing in this world will just completely take away your ability to breath, to cry, to speak, like labor and delivery. Literally, pieces of you are split into pieces, torn, ripped, cut. You bleed. You weep. You scream (sometimes). Sometimes a doctor fillets your belly open like a trout. Sometimes you have a needle the size of a rolling pin shoved INTO YOUR SPINE. You ask yourself how are you possibly going to get through this. And then you do.
You survived. You made it. You are strong. So very very strong. Your body is a miracle. Baby's body is a miracle. And you reached your finish line. Your body just created another human being. You survived the most painful (natural) process we humans go through. It wasn't pretty but you are stronger than you ever imagined.
Now, go race a half marathon or a 5K. You hurt. You sweat. You might even cry. But you know, deep down inside, the pain truly is not going to kill you. It's just a sign that maybe, just maybe, a miracle is about to happen.
(7) Pain Is Temporary and Not Worth Remembering: Along with all of the blood and tears and agony of childbirth, the brain does this very funny thing. It forgets it. As soon as the baby is laid on your chest, the pain begins to subside. And over the next few weeks, as you heal, the body begins to forget the pain. The mind dulls the memory of it.
I learned through childbirth that the pain was worth it. And most importantly I could process through its necessity. If I wanted a baby, I had to go through it. Once they were here, I could not have cared less, for one second, about the pain. I let it go. There was no resentment for the pain they caused because it was temporary. As all consuming as pain might be while you are experiencing it, once it is past you can let it go.
And why hold on to it? I don't. It isn't worth the memory. My favorite memory of Eliot being born is how alert and beautiful he was looking at me and Scott the first hour. My favorite memory of Nicholas is how much he snuggled us both. Sure, childbirth hurt. But who cares? The pain of childbirth is now relegated to my past and is over.
I gained so much more by just accepting that you can't truly avoid pain. It's part of life. And equally, running includes pain. If you want to run a marathon, it will hurt. You can make it hurt worse by running it faster, but there is a very strong possibility that if you run, you will experience pain. Remember, it's okay. Yes, get the nagging chronic pain looked at by a doctor. Follow medical advice. But just remember, pain is temporary. You want to set a new record for yourself? You want to run farther than you've ever run? You want to climb a mountain in a trail run? Be prepared for pain. I've learned how to coach myself through the pain and recognize that it is okay. And that after the fact, it really is not worth dwelling on.
(8) One Size Does Not Fit All: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. In parenting, you have the ability try literally unlimited possibilities. Do you want to breast feed or bottle feed? Do you want to home school or private school or public school? Do you want to focus on faith at an early age or let your little person find it themselves?
No matter what challenge you face as a parent, I have learned that I just need to keep the faith. Every challenge as a parent can derail you. Your kid won't eat and you try one strategy to set that problem straight. Maybe strategies 1-9 don't work but strategy 10? Perfect. Your kid is a complicated human being who is not you and does not necessarily react like you think they will. One size does not fit all.
With running, you have a goal. Maybe you reach your goal, maybe not. But don't give up! Just because speed work on a track, doing 400 repeats did not garner the results you expected does not mean you cannot ever improve your 5K time. Maybe what you need is just some tempo runs. There are 110 solutions to every running problem. Keep the faith that one size does not fit all. And that is okay.
Just to keep trying. Eventually you'll get it right.
(8) Singing the Same Song on Repeat is Soothing: both of my boys love being sung to. Even Eliot at age 4 1/2 wants to know every night whether there is time for a song. And so we sing through our stock lullabies. Twinkle Twinkle, followed by Amazing Grace and rounding it out with You Are My Sunshine. The routine closes the day and every night we smile to each other. Sometimes Eliot sings along, sometimes he cuddles, sometimes he just stares and listens. But we soothe each other with these moments. Nicholas is similarly in love with song. I sing and he nestles into my hair and quietly listens.
Music and singing can, in fact, create the strongest moments and memories. Sometimes when I hear songs, I am immediately transported back to where I was on which course at which mile. Katie Holmes said when she ran the New York Marathon she just played and replayed "Stronger" by Kanye West until she crossed the finish line. While I mostly run without headphones, especially in races (I think it's cheating but that's another discussion for another day), sometimes, I start singing inside. During miles 18-24 when you think you want to give up, pick a song, any song, and start hearing it in your head. Guess what? Magic. Miles tick off, you will be soothed by beats and the rhythm in your brain.
Of course all things can go too far. One of my favorite stories of running is my husbands 2nd or 3rd 100 mile ultra. He (being terrible with music lyrics) vaguely knows of the Katy Perry classic, "I Kissed a Girl." (and yes, I just said Katy Perry and classic in the same sentence and I didn't even bat an eyelash.) For whatever reason (maybe the song played on the radio on the drive to the race?) he started singing that song. About mile 2. And for the next 98 miles, in his head, Scott heard "I kissed a girl and I liked it. *something something something* cherry chapstick." Over. And over. And over. We nearly had to hospitalize him for Perry-overdose.
(9) Blood Sugar Must be Consistent or Meltdowns Follow: give a kid a cookie? Better hope you have an apple within arms reach an hour later. Trust.
Plan on running a marathon with no nutrition and no plan for how to get nutrition in your body? I look forward to seeing you at mile 16, crying like a 2 year old, walking in a daze and talking about walls.
I kinda already knew this lesson before motherhood but let's just say motherhood solidified what I already knew.
There will be a part 2. What running taught me about motherhood. But as I sit where I am right now, ready to run my 18th marathon in 9 days (!!!!), it certainly is fun to look back and think about all these lessons. And they just keep rolling in.