I am a runner. Wait. Scrap that. I was a runner. Not a particularly fast runner… more your average, middle-of-the-pack, known-to-be-overtaken-by-a-rhino-during-a-marathon kind of a runner. But what I lacked in speed, I made up for in dedication. From 2006, the year I completed my first 5K, through to 2012, I must have clocked up thousands of miles pounding pavements and trails, heading out in all weather and crossing countless finish lines, from 5Ks to marathons.
So, what happened in 2012? I had my first baby.
I had every intention of running throughout pregnancy. Why wouldn’t I? Running was my passion and while I always knew I wanted a family, a pregnancy or two wasn’t going to stop me in my tracks. I had a vision of myself donning my running kit well into the third trimester (naturally in this fantasy all my favourite kit would still fit, with my bright, floaty racer-back tops now hugging my neat little baby bump). OK, my husband would possibly have to tie my laces for me, but we’d both have a little chuckle over this, before he’d kiss my bump and I’d set off for a gentle 5K round the block. Neighbours would watch me head off admiringly, congratulating me on staying so active; I’d get compliments from strangers on my cute baby bump (there would be minimal weight gain elsewhere, obvs); and I’d be able to smugly drop it into conversation at NCT classes that I was still running three times a week, and yes, I suppose I was getting a bit tired now, but nothing like it would be when baby arrived ha ha ha. Oh, and of course, glowing anyway from pregnancy, I’d be positively radiating health from every pore, what with the running factored in too.
Before you read any further, I would like to state that yes, I’m aware some women sail through pregnancy. Some women are never to be found with their head down a toilet puking morning, noon and night. Some women are able to continue running.
I was not one of these women.
I’m not sure what I thought pregnancy would feel like, but holy f*ck, I was in no way prepared for reality. If you’ve never been pregnant, but you’re a runner, the best way I can sum up the first trimester is Mile 23 of a marathon. That moment when you feel like someone has helpfully removed all the muscles, bones and connective tissues in your legs and replaced them with cement and lead piping; your mouth is dry; you’re losing the power to focus clearly; and you want to puke. Except when you’re growing another actual human being, this is all before you’ve lifted your head off the pillow in the morning. I was a mess. I’d never known exhaustion like it. This tiny being was not yet the size of a butter bean, yet it was draining me of every last ounce of energy. Then there was the sickness. Morning? Try morning, afternoon, evening… hell, 24-hour sickness would be more apt. And don’t get me started on breasts. Suddenly they were so sore that the bed sheet brushing against them had me wincing in agony. Funnily enough, the thought of cramming them into a sports bra made my eyes water. So, go for a run? No thank you. I’d have rather stabbed myself through the foot with a garden fork.
Time went on and, as the sickness eased, I started feeling more like myself again… albeit a version of myself that was now the size of a small pony. And by then the thought of nipping out for a jog seemed, frankly, ridiculous.
But never mind. A nine-month break from running wasn’t the worst thing, I decided. In fact, I was bound to bounce back stronger, and would probably be hitting the roads once more when baby was, what… well, six weeks old seemed realistic. I’d be tired, but fresh air and exercise would do me good. As I’d be on maternity leave, I could pop out for a jog mid-morning, after breastfeeding the baby and leaving him sleeping peacefully, contented and full, with my mum for an hour. Then, on my return, I’d have time for a quick shower and post-run snack before the baby woke and an afternoon of making cooing faces at him and strolling into town to meet friends ensued.
Seriously. This. This is what I thought early motherhood might be like. Looking back, I was basically f*cked before that first contraction kicked in.
Reality? Well. Reality was 30 hours of labour followed by an emergency c-section and an inability to walk properly for several weeks due to the major abdominal surgery. Reality was a tiny, helpless baby who screamed constantly, leaving me feeling guilty and useless, with no idea how to soothe him. It was an incessantly searching, hungry little mouth, and bleeding nipples, and baby weight loss, and formula-feeding guilt, and zero sleep all night long for nights on end (at his worst he cried from 10pm to 4am). And above all, a beautiful baby boy who, over the weeks, I grew to love so much it hurt, yet one I felt so sorry for because he’d ended up with me as a mother and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
Popping out for a quick jog? I think not.
OK, so very gradually it got easier, and I even managed to train for and drag myself around a few 10Ks once my son got a little older. But it all felt a touch half-hearted, if I’m honest. And I knew why. Because despite everything – despite the pain and the exhaustion and the guilt – I loved my baby. I had no real understanding of unconditional love until there was him. And I wanted to do it all again. And quite frankly, I couldn’t get my head around throwing myself back into running – and getting something of the old me back once more in the process – knowing I would imminently lose myself to a screaming newborn all over again.
But now, my daughter is here. 11 weeks old, she is infinitely more contented than her brother was as a baby. I’m not saying it’s not crazily hard most days, what with a toddler to run around after on top of caring for a newborn, but somehow it all just feels that much easier second time round. So much so that the running has already started (albeit slowly. With frequent walk breaks). And this time, I have no excuse not to keep pushing further…