As a developmental psychologist, mom, running coach, and marathoner for more than a decade, I have seen and heard countless stories of the power of sport in mothers’ lives. Through my blogs, Marathon Mama and Mother Running Rampant, I discovered the legions of mother-runners on the roads and on the trails, many of whom were forging online connections with other moms, cultivating a social movement in sneakers. And with the uptick in the popularity of triathlon, you can now find more and more moms celebrating their love of fitness and sport on wheels and in the water. What I’ve learned from these women is that while being an athlete empowers each of us differently, we are unified by our need for sport and fitness, and we’ve become more committed to keeping that power in our lives as we have babies and grow our families.
The confluence of running, motherhood, and women’s identity is an area about which I write with both respect and a good dose of irreverence. These are my passions and the source of much laughter as I coach other women in running. I teach the joy of getting out of your comfort zone to find the rewards of striving for goals many women never knew they could accomplish, whether it’s completing a 5K or qualifying for Boston. Admittedly, my coaching has even included advice on how to spit while racing and how to paint toes with no nails. When I had my baby, I didn’t think I could manage training and motherhood and frankly couldn’t imagine how any woman did. I’d exercised throughout my pregnancy by running, walking, swimming, and using the elliptical at the gym, and when I developed preeclampsia in my 40th week of pregnancy, I was quickly induced. As childbirth goes, I had an “easy” labor and vaginal delivery, due in no small part to a fit pregnancy, according to my doctor. My smooth birth experience gave way to a mentally tough postpartum transition, even with the joys of my new baby, who was born in Boston during the same October week that the Red Sox broke the curse to win the World Series. In a city full of exuberance, a crippling mix of fatigue and insomnia besieged my baby’s first few weeks of life, and I developed clinical postpartum depression. My body and mind had been thrown for a loop, and I felt guilty that I couldn’t find the bliss new moms were supposed to have. Before he was born, life had been only about my needs and goals, and I felt shell-shocked by life as a mother.
A typically frigid New England winter put us under house arrest in a small apartment, where I edited my dissertation and took care of a tiny baby who needed me in order to survive. I didn’t want to go outside on the icy sidewalks with the stroller, and running felt crazy when I was so tired. I couldn’t see straight to run and didn’t know any women with new babies who did run. No one told me that mothers can run, and—more to the point—that sport actually helps motherhood. Far beyond that, it never occurred to me that running can feel as much a part of motherhood as the primal drive to protect our young. It was the end of 2004, and I had no clue that a mother, Catherine Ndereba, had won the world’s most prestigious marathon that year. In my mind, motherhood entailed surviving the day with an infant who subjected me to intervals of crying with 90-second recovery periods of sleep.
It took six months to motivate myself to start running at all and a year to run a slow but liberating 10K. I hadn’t realized that forcing myself out the door for short distances or locating a group of running mothers would relieve my depression and insomnia. I had no clue that even a daily mile alone might give me more strength to care for a baby who I swore was saying I was not his first choice. It was no fluke that my slow return to running coincided with greater adoration of my baby and a new love for being his mother. On spring and summer and then fall mornings, we would run to the Charles River together, his voice undulating in the jogging stroller as we bounced across cracks in the sidewalk. Occasionally I would run alone while he played with his dad, and on those runs I felt like Winged Victory, but with my head firmly— finally—restored. I shed all of the trappings of motherhood with every step. My new-mom body was completely free, bouncing loosely like clothes in the dryer as I jogged slowly. Everything about my body was slack, as my bladder liked to remind me.
But I was running, so I didn’t much care.
Fit & Healthy Pregnancy is a friendly, comprehensive guide to exercising during pregnancy from athlete-moms Kristina Pinto and Rachel Kramer, MD. Find Fit and Healthy Pregnancy in your local bookstore or online and learn safe ways to exercise for two!
- Amazon – Fit & Healthy Pregnancy
- Barnes & Noble – Fit & Healthy Pregnancy
- Your local independent bookseller – Fit & Healthy Pregnancy
- Chapters/Indigo – Fit & Healthy Pregnancy
Please consult your doctor before embarking on an exercise program during pregnancy.