Katie put into words in her article, The Choice, what I tried to make sense of in my mind & heart leading up to and through pregnancy. I vividly remember those moments yet they were literally a life ago. Just this past summer I wrote this piece about adapting to and embracing pregnancy as an athlete – all of the ‘what if’s, the wonderings, the worries. And then, on September 11th at 5pm, after 42 weeks of cooking and 36 hours of laboring, I became a mother.
It’s impossible to put into words the first hours, days and weeks of parenthood – the love, the fear and general how-does-this-thing-work deer-in-headlights look on our faces.
As I recovered and navigated my new normal, I will admit that I oscillated between feeling completely comfortable with my new maternal self and feeling completely lost in this new and foreign identity. As someone who rarely sits still, I could hardly distinguish myself from the couch as I snuggled, snoozed, cuddled and nursed day in and day out. As my body sank deeply into the cushions my heart simultaneously welcomed this new experience and mourned the loss of the ‘old me.’
In my own time I finally felt ready to graduate from walking & hiking and take my first running steps. I’ll admit that I was scared. Part of me was desperate to regain that familiar feeling but an equal half of me dreaded having to start back from zero; I feared that there’d be no trace left of that ‘old me’ that I missed.
Finally, with Kea dog as the carrot on my stick, and a commitment to not track my distance or speed and to accept whatever I felt physically & emotionally, I ran.
Despite having carried so much weight recently, my body felt light. Although I had not moved this fast in months, my muscles remembered. My lungs rejoiced with every inhale and exhale. It had nothing to do with fitness, speed or strength because I can assure you that I had none of those! To the contrary, it was pure endorphins.
My friend, Alexis, who had a baby just a few short weeks after me shared on instagram something that so perfectly summed up how I too felt:
“A few nights ago I went on my first run since I was 18 weeks pregnant. I can’t even name all the ways I have changed since then but for these brief 15 minutes in the dark, an old light switched on. I felt like me, and it was amazing.”
All of the sudden I remembered how beautiful, forgiving and natural running is. Even if it had been lying dormant for a little while, it was still in my blood. And that felt so damn good.
After a decade of ultra running, I was at the point where I needed to run faster, longer, steeper, harder to feel a rush, find fulfillment and fuel my fire. That runner’s high was always one switchback further. With each goal accomplished, I set a loftier one. Then, this past year, as I switched from running to hiking through the hot summer months and third trimester bloat, and finally to full blown post-partum couch potato, I experienced pangs of withdrawal and anguish. But now, ever since that first post-baby run, I feel completely sobered and renewed.
My good friend Zhi described it by saying that “the fire didn’t die – it’s just transforms.”
While I still yearn for all of those lofty goals & adventurous challenges ahead as I did before, I have rekindled a pure joy for a simple run. My relationship with running has reset. I value every second of time, even if it’s just 20 minutes around my house at 10pm, that I can spare to feel my heart pump and the sweat drip down my face. I know that this movement is woven into every fiber of my being and that no matter how long of a break I took and how much my body has changed by creating a human, I am still a runner.
Contrary to all the trite motivational posters and memes, I’ve never run to push my limits or even find them. I’ve always challenged myself to run as a way to discover possibility. I take my new role as mother to be one that, as running always does, challenges me, strengthens me, fills me with intense gratitude, pride and joy (and also with equal parts sleeplessness, frustration and pain). With motherhood, my capacity to love has grown and my priorities have expanded. And that’s the beauty of it — just like we are capable of running faster, longer, higher and steeper, we are capable of more love, more joy, more time, more energy, more devotion and more patience than we know. All we have to be is willing.
So, I am willing to put in the effort and to be kind to myself as I now work towards making time for a run every single day and eventually move towards building back some speed and endurance. I am willing to lace up my shoes after a sleepless night and to be a better person because of it.
It’s not surprising that those sneaky little running endorphins didn’t take long to tickle me into signing up for a 100 miler which will happen just after my daughter’s first birthday. I am so stinkin’ excited about it because it’s going to be so completely different from all the others I’ve run. I probably won’t manage to log as many miles or hours in preparation as I have before, I’ll have to learn how to juggle long runs and breastfeeding, and my husband & I will have to stagger our training. But I am looking forward with curiosity to feel my new body take me the distance again and to share the experience with my old friends and my new baby.
P.S. I’d be remiss to not give a fist pump to my main sponsor, La Sportiva, for sticking with me through a non-competitive 2017 season and supporting my return to running this year. Their stoke and enthusiasm throughout my pregnancy was encouraging, empowering, and the right thing to do.