Motherhood and Running: the BQ and Pregnancy Conundrum
I’m a mother, runner, and a Boston qualifier. But I will likely not be able to run the race that I qualified for (and got in), because I am pregnant again. Here is my story. I was never a superstar runner, so when I first started to run marathons, I never thought that qualifying for the Boston Marathon was even a possibility for me. Just getting across the finish line feeling strong and happy was the goal. But over the years, race after race, I gradually chipped away at my times, and each time, the goal was to go faster than before. The more I ran, the more my goals shifted.
When I became a mother, my goals and priorities continue to change. For me, and I’m sure for other active mothers AND fathers, finding time to run (and train) became even more a balancing act. There were times when I questioned if some of my running goals were realistic or “worth” my time and effort. And in the early weeks postpartum, just getting outside felt like a huge victory from a time management standpoint and also my mental and physical wellbeing. It was incredibly important not only for my overall health that I continued to be active, but it became more a part of who I was as a person: it gave me a bigger sense of purpose. Having longer term goals--whether it be time specific, or more general ones--was incredibly important as a new mother, as it is so easy to “lose” one’s self in the crazy world of parenthood.
A few months before giving birth to my son, I decided to sign up for a marathon, held less than 5 months after his due date, as I thought (a bit naively) it would be a great way to "bounce back." Of course, after I gave birth, I took much longer to recover than I ever anticipated, so that left basically 11 weeks to train for the race. I took training run by run, week by week, but I managed to do the minimum. When I ran the race, I ran conservatively and didn’t have specific time goal in mind--just to feel good the whole way. When I crossed the finish line at 3:45, it was a total shock, as not only was it a PR, I realized that if I could finish in that time with minimal training, then qualifying for the Boston Marathon was a feasible goal.
The next marathon I signed up for was held another 5 months later, with the primary goal of qualifying for Boston. This time, I trained a lot harder: hill repeats, interval training, speed work, tempo runs, etc, and also bumped up my weekly mileage significantly more than ever before. This was much harder to do as a full time working mom, who also was still actively breastfeeding, but I knew that I needed to do this for myself. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. Just like when I trained for the first postpartum marathon, I took week by week. It helped to really “pace” myself during my training, as sometimes I was just too tired to push myself 100%. And that is normal. When you have a big goal in mind, it’s easy to get too obsessive and then caught up in the self-doubt periods: thinking about the bigger goal too much is counter-intuitive and can be daunting. It’s the constant balancing act--reminding yourself every so often of your larger goal so you have something to focus on, but also being “present”--and always trying to remain positive and yet realistic.
When I ran the race, it was harder than I expected (it was a marathon, after all), but I pushed through and achieved my goal. The last few miles I was way off pace but I kept chanting “Boston, Boston” in my head, and then would alternate it with my son’s name, over and over again to block out the negative thoughts. My BQ time was nearly 4:30 under the qualifying standard, so I knew that that was sufficient buffer time to get in. So, when I got the official email nearly a year later from the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), it was icing on the cake. But, literally 2 days later, I found out I was pregnant.
The BAA current policy states “refunds or deferments of bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will not be granted for any reason, including injury, pregnancy, military exercise or deployment, and family emergencies.” So, women who happen to get pregnant (like me), who want to run the race have basically two choices: still run the race (in my case, I would be almost 8 months pregnant), or cancel their entry and have to retrain, run and qualify for another marathon.
When I read these rules after I found out I was pregnant, I initially felt like I had never qualified and got accepted into the race. Like it was “my mistake” for “allowing” myself to get pregnant slightly earlier than planned, or that as a “maternal age woman,” I really couldn’t have it all: run Boston and have young children at the same time. If you’re due in June 2017 like I am, even if you were an elite runner, if you were to try to run another race to re-qualify, it wouldn’t even be feasible to do so for the mid September cutoff for qualifying times. So, my hopes of running Boston won’t be until 2019.
Certainly if the BAA does change the rules to allow for deferments or refunds for reasons of pregnancy, this could potentially be Pandora’s box. (Would one need to have proof of medical record? How far in advance would one need to notify them? What if there was a termination or loss of pregnancy after deferring, could you retract the deferment?). While I’m not advocating strongly for the BAA to change the rules for reasons of pregnancy alone (especially not over some of the other valid reasons they state), it does make me think how much harder it is for women athletes--especially those that want to be and are mothers--to achieve their goals. Either one meticulously plans when they want to have children around their training and goal races (which anyone trying to get pregnant will tell you this is pretty hard to actually do!), or one has to delay their goals (whether it be having children, or their race goals).
For me, who isn’t a “naturally” fast runner, it’s hard enough to train for the Boston Marathon and get in, but adding being a mother on top of this further complicates it. Even if one is super active during pregnancy, your physical capabilities start to drop the bigger you get (you’ll inevitably get slower, and most women will eventually stop running completely before their eighth or ninth month, if not before), and then post-partum, you have to build in recovery time immediately after the birth, and then slowly build your way back up. It’s months essentially away from running completely or certainly being in peak physical shape before and immediately after a baby. And months more to get back to what you used to be.
Perhaps becoming a mother is a choice, as is choosing to run. But as a mother and athlete, for me, I find that both are key to having more of a balanced healthy life. Can we really have it all? We can try. Being an athlete makes me a more focused and centered mother. Frankly, it’s become part of who I am and one of the things I most love. Being a mother makes me have more perseverance, better time management, and gives me sense of larger fulfillment--which also carries through in my running. While I may not be running the Boston Marathon anytime soon, this experience has given me an even deeper appreciation for my fellow mother athletes--novice and elite--it’s a new sisterhood that I am now part of. And yet it’s a struggle. We’re faced with a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome especially as we return to the sport: the physical ones (the general postpartum recovery, a bladder that will never be the same, never sleeping enough or the same way again), and also ones that we can’t control, like not being able to run a race that we qualified for because life got in the way. But just like any training cycle, hardships makes us stronger: we set new goals, we overcome the negatives, and we move forward. Hopefully just faster, stronger, and more focused than ever before.