Since my first run at age 17, I have progressed greatly as a runner, of course, but more importantly, I have faced and overcome many challenges that have greatly improved the quality of my character. Running has given me more confidence and revealed within me a previously undiscovered inner strength. However, when I took those first steps in 1997, I never could have imagined that it would prepare me for the most important "marathon" of my life--natural labor and childbirth.
Although this marathon involved absolutely no running, running actually helped prepare me for this most spectacular event, which shares many similarities to the 26.2 mile footrace. Sure, there was no planned start time, no finish line, and no other competitive participants, but just as in running, a laboring woman must have endurance, focus and discipline to be successful.
Training: This is one of the most important aspects of any race, but especially the marathon distance. Most marathons require a fair amount of training--at least a few months. I "trained" for almost 9 months, making sure I took care of my body and ate nutritiously, just like a runner should!
I made the decision to ATTEMPT a natural birth during my sixth month of pregnancy, so I only had about 3 months of training in that area!
Packing the Bag: No Body Glide or GU in my hospital bag, but I did pack a Runnersworld Magazine and LOTS of other stuff--99% of which I didn't even end up using during the labor process.
I opened my eyes three times after my hospital arrival. I was too busy breathing through each contraction to even think about my fully loaded iPod, my aromatherapy lotion or the next Sudoku puzzle.
Race Day: Sure, I had no idea when this marathon would begin, but it had to start sometime. Start the clock!
I was in labor for about 16 hours--4 of which were at the hospital--and that's about how long it would probably take me to actually run a marathon. LOL
Hitting the Wall: It happens to the best of us. You reach a point where you think you just can't go anymore. During labor, it was at this point that I asked for an epidural. However, just like in running, you have to keep pushing through the discomfort...and that's what I managed to do--without the epidural.
Lack of Confidence: This is the mental aspect of hitting the wall. I think most runners reach a point during their race where they not only question their training, but themselves. (Will I reach my time goal? Am I going to have to stop and walk? Is that nagging injury starting to bother me? Why am I doing this to myself?)
When I reached 6-7cm dilation, my confidence wavered and I felt like I was not going to be able to continue laboring naturally. Not only was I in pain, but I had no idea how much longer labor would last and I desperately wanted to have strength and energy at the end to do the pushing.
Crowd Support: This is EXTREMELY important during any point of the race, but ESPECIALLY when you've hit the wall. Fortunately, I had a great nursing staff and an even more fantastic Husband and Mother to provide all of the mental, emotional and physical support that I could have ever needed to make it through the most difficult part of this event.
When I lacked confidence, my charge nurse was there to give me advice and positive reinforcement. My Husband provided non-stop support and gave me the courage to keep going!
Nearing the Finish: Something happens to a runner when she knows the finish is near. She has a feeling of pride that she has made it so far, and of course, she feels euphoria because it's almost over. Somehow, a runner nearing the finish usually finds that extra "kick" to speed up and look good (read: not dead) while crossing the finish. When the nurse told me I was 9 1/2 cm dilated, I knew that I had actually made it and luckily, didn't have far to go.
When the nurse told me I was almost fully dilated, I happily said, "Oh sh*t!" I was so excited--but the real turning point was at one point, I actually opened my eyes to look around and the population of a small village entered my room. It was then that I realized that I truly was nearing the finish and that alone gave me a little extra strength to make it.
Crossing the Finish: The first thing a runner does when he crosses the finish line is check the time! And no matter how long it took or how the race went, he feels great pride, as he should!
After only a few pushes, my little boy had entered the world and was lying on my chest. And of course, I was proud of myself, and happy to have him in my arms--but I wanted to know what time it was!
Race Swag: When you finish a race, there's usually some really good food and drink, and probably a finisher's medal! My finisher's medal was my healthy, precious son--no medal can top that!
The rest of my stay in the hospital allowed me some pretty good food, too. I think my favorite was the Hot Brown--not too shabby! Take a hint, race organizers!
Recovery: This, along with training, is the most important aspect of any race. It's important to take the time to rest your body from the stress of training and racing. A little rest does wonders for your mind, too. After pregnancy, recovery is super important and it takes a very long time.
Nobody warns pregnant women about the difficulties she will face during her recovery period. If every waking moment (and there are a LOT of waking moments) is devoted to this dependent baby, when will she have time to take care of herself? She must. I did the best that I could to follow all of my doctor's orders whenever I had time--and if I didn't have time, I tried to create time because it's just THAT important!
When I learned I was pregnant, I was fearful of the unknowns. In many ways, it was like my first race as a runner. I had a lot of doubts but with all of my research, planning and preparation, I learned that I could do it. Even if it wasn't fast, I most definitely could do it. Thanks to challenges like that, and realizing that I had been able to overcome most, if not all of them, I was able to have much more confidence that I could be strong and overcome in labor, too.
Now, the only thing that is left is to actually RUN a marathon. During my pregnancy, I determined that if I could successfully have a natural childbirth, I could run a marathon. And you know what, I KNOW that's true. But I still have to prove it.