More Than a Marathon

26.2.  This is the number that has pushed me out the door.  It’s the number that reminded me of my strength and endurance that I thought I left behind in college. It’s also the number that filled my postpartum days with rhythm, cadence, hope and a sense of purpose.  Don’t get me wrong. Being a mother to Hudson is purpose enough, but training for a marathon gave me something that was just for me. It pushed me to prioritize my own sanity and well-being. It gave me goals. It gave me something beyond changing diapers and making meals.  In many ways, the choice to sign up for the San Francisco Marathon, allowed me to finally feel more like myself.

I get it.  Running a marathon might not be your postpartum remedy.  Maybe for you it looks like going on that yoga retreat that you have been dreaming up.  Or drafting that book idea that has been roaming in your head for years. Or taking up gardening, cooking, knitting.  Whatever it might be, I am convinced that as new mothers, it is essential for us to find something beyond our roles as moms, wives, and workers. Find the thing you are most passionate about and chase after it.  It is so easy to say, I will pursue that passion when the kids are older, when I have more time, when I actually sleep through the night. A few months ago, before I signed up for the marathon, that is exactly what I said.  Running a marathon doesn’t make sense now.  I have a baby, I barely sleep, I will run one later. The more I thought about it, later was not going to be any easier to train for a marathon.  Later, likely means, more kids, more schedules to balance, and even less sleep. I realized that right now, was actually probably the simplest our life will be.  Now was the time for 26.2. Life would not become any less crazy if I waited. Postpartum life is exhausting and draining, and in a lot of ways it might not feel like the best time to pursue that passion project that has been brewing in the back of your mind; however, I am convinced this is exactly the right time.  Pursue that passion. Set personal goals for yourself. And chase after it wholeheartedly. 

The marathon has been much more than just a marathon.  In a lot of ways, it was never really about the marathon.  Not fully. It was about me. It was about that girl I used to be.  The one that was competitive and driven and passionate. It was about running back to her.  It was about getting back some of those traits I seemed to let go of for a bit. It was about re-meeting her, but also about showing her this new woman I have become.  It was getting back some of the fierceness I had let go of, and showing the old me the strength and confidence new motherhood has given her. In a lot of ways, it was a blending of worlds.  It was never about getting back to that girl I was in high school or college. I would never want that! My life now is a million times more full and beautiful; however, it was about grabbing back that thing that drove me and pushed me and made me better.  It was about reaching out back to running and squeezing it to fit back into my current life of diapers and nursing and baby snuggles.

It hit me the most about how different my life is compared to when I used to compete and race, when the couple days before the race, I was concerned not about a sore hamstring or calf, but my chest, specifically my left breast.  My body seemed to just not want to give up on producing milk, so even though I stopped nursing nearly a week before the race, one side was entirely still engorged leading up to the race. And I was freaking out about it. Every time I ran, it hurt.  After prayers and hot showers, it ended up being fine for the race, but this is the perfect picture about how things change. And I love this change. I still can compete and race and train my heart out, but there are realities of my life, like milk supply issues, that keep me grounded and remind me that running is a good thing I can still enjoy and pursue, but it is not the thing. Being a good mother is my focus right now, but that doesn’t mean I need to throw out my other passions. It just will look different.

As I ran the marathon yesterday, I felt very proud. Of course, I was proud to finish it and finish well with a 6th place female finish and a sub-3 hour time, but my pride went far beyond that.  I was proud I stayed committed to the intense training even when my life of less sleep and chasing after a toddler, is not the best training conditions. I was proud that I could run competitively and put myself in the race, but still smile throughout.  I was proud of those countless runs with the jogger that made both my arms and mind stronger. I was proud of those longer tempo runs where I pushed myself into uncomfortable places and was reminded that I still have speed left in these legs of mine. I was proud of those 20 milers completed in Malaga Cove and always hitting the mileage even when my legs wanted to stop.  

In the unpredictability of motherhood, it is nice to have one thing that you can control.  While racing and running can also be unpredictable, you still have control leading up to the race.  You have the control whether you complete the runs or not. You have control of the pace. You have control of the moments you push yourself and the ones you hold back on.  Those first few months postpartum, I was drowning and overwhelmed by the fact that I felt I had lost all control. I could not control when or how he wanted to eat. I could not control when he slept.  I could not control when he decided to cry. This loss of control brought me down on my knees to the bathroom floor. Motherhood has been my very needed lesson and reminder that I am not the one in control, God is.  It showed me how I needed to let go of my very tight grip on things. While my ever-controlling heart learned to let go of things outside of my control through motherhood, running reminded me that there are certain things I can still have control of.  I still have control of my attitude and whether I step outside and push myself or not. Attitude and miles. I have control of that.  

So if you have recently entered postpartum life and are drowning, like I was, I hope this can serve as encouragement to sign up for something! It doesn’t need to be a marathon, but it could be! Sign up for any race distance. Sign up for that retreat I mentioned above.  Sign up for that hip hop class. Sign up for that calligraphy class or that ceramics class or that knitting class. Sign up for something that fills you up and reminds you of your unique giftings.  You are more than a mother. You are more than a wife. You are a daughter of the King and he made you with a great purpose. Live out that purpose. Sometimes to follow that purpose and His will, all it takes is signing-up.  He will take it from there.

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Mom

We all have different experiences when it comes to motherhood, but for me, becoming a mom was a million times more draining, sad, and dark than I ever would have imagined. The commercials definitely do not paint motherhood in this type of way. They show the pretty parts. Just like social media. We seem to mostly scroll through happy babies and joy-filled mamas. And these are definitely parts of motherhood, but there is so, so much more. There are the nightly crying sessions (by both baby and mama). There are the deep and real feelings of rejection and failure when your baby screams every time you are just trying to feed them. There is that chart you are obsessively tallying how many wet diapers your baby had. There is the paranoia that keeps you on edge every minute of every day. There is the fear that they are not getting enough milk as you drive again to the hospital to weigh them, hoping for just a few more ounces. There is the pressure, the anxiety, the uncertainty.

A year ago, I was in a dark place. You wouldn’t have been able to really tell by the smiley pictures I posted on social media, but internally, I was struggling. I was utterly exhausted from pumping and nursing and nipple shields. My brain was bursting with feeding schedules and numbers of wet diapers and ounces of weight gain. They told me it would be hard, but I think this is the problem. Hard is just not specific enough. Hard I could handle. Hard is like a 20 mile run. It’s hard and painful, but you know that you’ve got it. You have the experience and miles prior to back you up. It hurts but deep down you know you will hit that 20th mile. That is hard. I can do hard. But motherhood is not even comparable. As a new mom, you don’t have those previous miles as back up. It is all new and you absolutely question: Am I made for this? Can I handle it? Can I make it to that 20th mile? Motherhood is much more than hard and exhausting. I feel like that was a lot of what I heard. And my thought was okay, but I can handle not sleeping as much. I did it in college, I can do it now. But here’s the thing. It is more than just not sleeping. It is the physical element of it all. It is the rocking, the shushing, the nursing for hours on end. That is what makes it all so exhausting, forget the barely sleeping part.

I really wish someone more specifically told me how it was going to be hard, not just that it is hard. Because like I said, 20 miles is hard, but rejection, failure, lack of sleep is something entirely different.

While Lance and I did a fair amount of research and preparation before Hudson’s arrival, there was still so much that happened in those first couple months that I was mentally not prepared for. So, if you are a soon-to-be mama and have done the big things they tell you to do, like taking a birth class and buying all the latest baby gadgets, but haven’t thought as much about what life will actually be like with your new baby and changed body, this is for you. Here are the 5 things I wish someone told me before becoming a mother:

1. You will spend HOURS Each Day Nursing

In one of the baby books I read, there was a section about breastfeeding schedules. It was this neat, laid-out chart. It specifically stated the feeding times and stated how the baby will spend about 15 minutes nursing on each side. I can clearly remember reading this a couple weeks before Hudson was born and thinking, I got this, this will be easy. I will just follow this schedule, set a timer, and we will be good. While this book had a lot of helpful information, the way it made out breastfeeding to be was so far off from my experience. I was absolutely unprepared for the physical demands of it all. I was unprepared for how I would feel when Hudson refused to latch and screamed and wanted nothing to do with me. No lactation class can fully prepare you for that type of rejection and failure. Even when things got a bit sorted after seeing a lactation consultant a couple times, I still was completely overwhelmed with the way nursing quickly took over my life. All my decisions seemed to revolve around it. It controlled what I could eat, good-bye butter and ice cream. It controlled what I wore, no more buttons and dresses. It limited me. I knew every couple hours I would be tied to the glider for close to an hour. It would not be relaxing or peaceful or sweet. There would be tears, sore muscles, and milk everywhere. Breastfeeding in those early days was way more of a time commitment than I was prepared for. I wish I knew. A year later, it is entirely different, Hudson nurses for about 5 minutes. It now is sweet and peaceful and comfortable. And this is the stage that is easy to remember and pass on to others; however, it definitely was not always like this. It changes quickly, but if you are an expecting mama and plan to nurse, try to get mentally prepared for both the physical demands of nursing and the time you will invest. It is 100% worth the struggle and the time and the initial discomfort, but know that it takes time for both you and baby to learn and get into a good rhythm. Be patient. Don’t set timers, just listen to your baby, they will let you know when they are done. And watch lots and lots of tv, or have something to help pass the time.

2. You Will Become Obsessed with Poop

If you look back on my camera roll to a year ago, you will find lots of pictures of Hudson’s poop. I needed evidence to show to his pediatrician to try and figure out why he was so fussy and uncomfortable all the time. I felt like a scientist when it came to baby poop. I was obsessed with color, texture, frequency. I can specifically remember many of my google searches leading me back to this nice chart. I had no idea I would care so much or be so interested in someone else’s poop. You become a parent and suddenly you care about things you never thought you would. Prior to baby, I had no idea how much the poop could tell you. For us, it was the mucus and strands of blood that helped us figure out the cow’s milk allergy Hudson had, which is a very common allergy, especially for C-section babies. I say all this as a reminder that your baby will likely not poop in the way you expect. There might be days where there are no tally marks for poopy diapers and you will be freaking out. There also might be days where there are tons of poopy diapers but there is also blood, and you will be freaking out even more. This may sound strange, but I do wish I had done a bit more research of the types of baby poop in terms of color and texture. I think this would have saved some valuable time and stress.

3. You Will Also Become Obsessed with Ounces

I had no idea how stressed I would get over Hudson’s weight gain. In my head, it was all pretty simple. Baby is hungry, baby eats from mom, baby gains good weight. This is seriously what I was expecting and again this expectation was far from our reality. Baby might be hungry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will eat the way you want them to. You will do everything you can just to get them the ounces they need. You will use syringes, supplemental nursing systems (SNS), really anything to get them milk to get them to gain weight. I did know that babies lost weight in hospital, but I had no idea how much they could lose in such a quick amount of time. In two days Hudson was already down 10% of his body weight. I also was unaware at how his weight loss would feel like entirely my fault. I felt so terrible in the hospital. I felt like I wasn’t giving my baby enough nutrients and that it was all my fault. If you choose to exclusively breastfeed and do not supplement with formula, it can feel like a ton of pressure on yourself to make sure your baby is gaining enough weight. I became a bit of a crazy person when it came to ounces. I would drive to the hospital every week to weigh him. I would weigh him, then nurse him, then weigh him again. I would quickly do the math in my head to see how many ounces of milk he took from me. This may sound crazy, but this was my life those first couple months. I am so happy I was able to nurse Hudson, but for someone with my type of personality, it was really difficult not knowing how many ounces of milk he drank per feeding. This little method of weighing and subtracting the two weights, helped calm my anxiety. Just know that as a new mom, you brain will think only in ounces. Your life will temporarily revolve around the ounces. Just embrace it. Pretty soon, they will be hit the double digits in weight and your worries and concerns will drastically decline.

4. You Will Not Feel Normal

Every time I sneezed or laughed I would have a sharp pain on my C-section incision. I dreaded when I felt a sneeze coming on and I tried to avoid laughter, which sadly was not very difficult in that first month. My experience is slightly different since I had a C-section, but I was surprised at how long it took for my body to recover and feel normal again. I definitely had a mindset that I would bounce back super fast. I am young, healthy and tough. I can give birth and get back to normal life. I don’t need that much recovery time. I will be good. This is what I told myself, but I was so wrong. It doesn’t matter if you are 24 and in good shape, having a baby is trauma on your body. You will not be the same after. And you definitely will not feel normal in that first month. It took me a solid four months to begin to feel like myself again. And if I am really honest, it hasn’t been until recently, like a year later, that I have felt really normal. I can leave the house with just a backpack with wipes and a snack and I know we will be good. This confidence takes time. It is a huge mental and physical adjustment. It takes a lot of getting used to, but you do hit your normal again, it is just a new normal. Last week I ran my workout in my sports bra, no shirt. This is a big deal. In college, this was normal. If it was hot, I would be running in just a sports bra. I also had abs, not really 6 of them, but I had a solid 4. Let’s just say postpartum life did not give me any pack of abs and there was absolutely no way I would be running in just a sports bra. And here’s the thing, last Wednesday, it was humid, I had 4 hard mile repeats, and I was wearing a long sleeve (the clouds deceived me). I went to the bathroom and I had a choice. Suffer in my long sleeve or just not care and rock the postpartum look. To be fair, my body has gotten back into a similar shape as I was pre-baby (definitely less abs, though). While my stomach and everything doesn’t look that much different, it is more of an internal feeling. I felt so insecure, timid and unsure of myself as I left the bathroom stall with my sports bra on. I tell this story because I think it’s important. The things we used to do all the time, the way we felt about ourselves and our bodies, will forever be changed. We are not the same, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still run in sports bras. I get it, that might not be your thing, but don’t be afraid to do the things before baby. Maybe for you it’s that bikini stuffed at the bottom of the drawer or that dress gathering dust in the closet. It might look and feel slightly different, but there is no reason postpartum you can’t rock it.

5. You’ve Got This

You’ve got this. You do. It might not feel like it in the moment, but you will figure it out. Your baby will get enough milk, however you choose to feed your baby. They will grow and gain enough weight. They will have normal poops, sort of. All those little worries and daily anxiety attacks will eventually begin to fade. You were made for this job. There is no better mom for this child than you. You can do it. I wish I could of told all this to myself a year ago. I am not even sure I would of believed myself. There are some really hard days in those early months. It is easy to question if you were made for this role, but you were. God knows what He is doing. He has you where He wants you. He will equip you. Trust His plan. It might look very different from your expectations, but He knows exactly what He is doing. You’ve got this because He’s got it.

5 Tips for Postpartum Marathon Training

Marathon training is a commitment. It is hard work, requires lots of miles and time, and takes a lot out of your body. While not everyone would recommend training for a marathon a few months after having a baby, I am finding that not only is it very much possible, but the goal of completing my first marathon and getting a Boston Qualifier is such a positive outlet for me as I adjust to my new role as mother. For 8 years prior to baby, I ran competitively on the high school and college level. By the time I graduated college and ran my last race at the NCAA Regional 5k race, I thought I was for sure done with running. I was burnt out and over it. The part I didn’t realize was how important running was for me. Not only just for my lungs. It was important for my heart. And not just the health of my heart. Running fueled much more than just health for me. Yes, it has given me a low heart rate and toned calves, but more than that it has given me a heart that is disciplined, hard working, dedicated, and passionate. As much as I wanted to walk away from running, I couldn’t. Those 8 years of running, changed something within me. It built up an endurance and love for a sport that sometimes causes a lot of pain. I now know how I feel not running, not competing, not dreaming about PRs, and I much prefer who I am when I am running. It is good for me. I need the steady rhythm running gives my life. I need the structure, the mileage, the discipline. Running looks different for me now then when I was a collegiate runner. I have a baby. I sleep less. Things revolve around baby, not training. While my training is much less intense and timely, I still believe there are still some good times left in these legs of mine.

Since life is now much different compared to college, I need to adjust the way I train. I have definitely been faced with a desire and pressure to train like I used to, but then I’m faced with the reality of broken sleep and less energy and time. I also am still nursing Hudson so this is another factor that needs to be considered with my training. Marathon training is one thing, but specifically postpartum marathon training is something that needs to be handled differently. Here are five things to consider if you are training for a marathon postpartum:

1. Take Days Off

This is a good idea for any athlete, but especially if you recently had a baby, it is important to give your body ample rest and recovery. I started running about 4-months postpartum. When I started, I was only running a couple times a week. I slowly, very slowly, built in mileage and frequency. Now at almost a year postpartum, I am not that far off from college mileage. I have been still taking two days off a week. This will be my first week running 6 days. The main point to note here is that I didn’t go from having a baby to running 6 days a week. As you can see, it was almost a year process to build back into fitness and the type of mileage my body was used to pre-baby.

2. Fuel & Hydrate

Again, this is another one that is important for all humans, especially active ones, but proper hydration and fueling is even more important when you are breastfeeding. You burn on average, 200-500 extra calories a day breastfeeding. It is super important that you consider these extra calories plus the calories burnt running. Marathoning, milk producing mamas also should be sure to get in enough calcium. On average women lose 3-5 percent of bone mass while breastfeeding. It is a good idea to continue taking prenatal vitamins to help with this loss of nutrients. Along with fueling, it is also necessary to keep up on water intake. It takes water to make milk. Sweating also causes you to lose water. In combination this is a lot of extra fluid that is needed. Your body needs this extra hydration. A couple weeks ago, after running 15 miles and then nursing my baby 30 minutes after, I experienced severe dehydration. I lost way too much water and was not properly hydrating before and after. This is just another reason why hydration is so important, especially with high mileage and milk production.

3. Adjust Expectations and Goals

This is a big one. I find myself training or wishing I was training the way I used to in college. My body is simply not the same. Not only that, but my life conditions are extremely different. I cannot expect the same results when I am still getting very broken and minimal sleep. Life revolves around Hudson, not a PR (personal record). That is just the fact of the matter and I wouldn’t want it any other way, but this means that I need to adjust pace expectations and overall running goals. I think you can still have high expectations and goals. Postpartum running does not need to hold you back too much, but I do think it is mentally important to accept that your body and life is different now; therefore, training will need to be adjusted.

4. Schedule Baby Care for Long Runs

I just wrote a post all about running with the baby jogger. You can read it here.While I am still running 2-3 runs weekly with baby jogger, you definitely will want to have someone watch your baby for the long runs. My baby’s max is 70 minutes in the jogger. This takes more planning, but it is important that you can schedule out when you will get good, quality long runs in without baby. Lance and I have been doing our long runs in Palos Verdes. On our drive over, we drop Hudson and Nala off at their grandparents’ house. This is super helpful and even allows Lance and I to spend some time just the two of us. It is necessary to get runs in without jogger so you can run a bit more honest of a pace. The jogger definitely slows me down, but it still is good training. It just needs to be paired with training runs without the jogger as well.

5. Don’t Compare

It is so easy to look at your training and compare it to others. I do this all the time with my husband. I get jealous and feel behind when I see how many more miles he is logging compared to myself. He is doing more intense workouts, while I am just trying to build in mileage. The big difference here is that he didn’t have a baby 11 months ago. I can’t compare his training with mine. It is and should be relatively different.

Training for a marathon postpartum is totally possible. Like with most baby-related things, it does require a tad more planning and intentionality. While this marathon training postpartum thing is not for everyone, I have found it to be a really key element in helping me get back to feeling normal. It has given me an outlet. It has shown me I still very much have a body that is capable of handling mileage and intensity. It has given me a goal. Especially as a stay-at-home mom, marathon training has given me a purpose to focus on. So when it comes to postpartum marathon training be sure to make adjustments when necessary, drink lots of water, and allow room for lots of grace.