Monday, February 5, 2018

Some literal, actual navel-gazing

Generally, under normal circumstances, there are only 3 people on earth who are interested in the contents of my internal organs: me, my husband (if he happened to cook dinner), and my primary care doctor.

However, get yourself one of these, and suddenly n > 3 people are a little bit more interested.

Tiny human #2 has intra-uterine dance party. Don't worry if you can't make out him/ her clearly. On normal ultrasounds the tech has to be like HERE ARE FEET, THIS IS THE HEAD. 

Once again I'm training to grow a wee human. (It's dead obvious to anyone Strava-stalking me: lots of run/ incline walk treadmill workouts, most of my jaunts were 2-4 miles tops for several weeks during the 'feeling like ass' phase of first trimester, my 'long' runs shrivelled to 5 miles...) People keep asking me "how do you feel?" Uh, I'm a parent, tired is my default state. So I've been going with the 'a little something each day' plan: a bit of movement every day, whether that's 20 minutes of treadmill walk, a group track workout, or a few sets of MYRTLs and 15 minutes of stretching. Instagram SuperHeroMotherRunner I am not. Right now, at this stage, I finally feel about ready to kick my long runs back up to over an hour, but the weather hasn't been cooperating and I have zero desire to treadmill for >1h.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, child, stripes, close-up and indoor

Here is a gratuitous picture of small human #1 for good measure, from a year ago when he insisted on calling a CD an "ABCD", which is still one of my favourite language mistakes ever, right up there with 'heligoggy' for 'helicopter'. (Side note: why do children's books still come with CDs? On what antique devices are we expected to play them?)

Anyway, yes...tiny human.... I realise that in itself sounds like another cliche: girl achieves great big huge marathon PR (see: Baystate), girl eases off training, girl celebrates, girl gets knocked up. After Baystate in October, apparently my body was like 'What? You're not running 50 miles a week? DEVOTE ALL THE RESOURCES TO EGGS!'

It all happened so rapidly that at least one person asked me (kindly) if it was planned. (Answer: yes. I take a year and a half to plan for a single marathon, we definitely planned this tiny human.) We were just very, very lucky. Under absolutely ideal circumstances there's like a 1 in 4 chance each cycle, so I was psychologically prepared for it to take half a year, if not more. And, knowing other people who have struggled so hard with fertility, I am very, very grateful (& also wish someone would record this data point re: running, BMI and fertility for a fuller picture). We decided to just go for it, like the crazy people we are (because daycare x2 + 1.5 incomes + 1 bedroom apartment = pretty certifiable, even if temporary).

But your racing fitness! 

Anyway, I'm not the only one to have the thought go through my head: what's the point of working my way back to full racing fitness and building up all that motivation and confidence only to essentially chuck it aside again for about a year and a half? Between 2014 and 2017, I ran a scant handful of races (but oh I was so much more SRSBZNS about each one). It took me a year (tbh, partly physical conditioning, partly milk-supply-related anxiety) to work my way back to the point where I could happily finish a half marathon. I didn't run a marathon for three years. Why, after having achieved this level of fitness, would I want to 'throw it all away' again?

The truth is, folks, I'm playing a long game. I'm not on anybody's timeline but my own: I'm not training to qualify for the Olympic Trials, or even BQ (and heck, you bet I will take that age advantage, because #squeakerlife!). I'm not in any hurry. Racing and all its joys will be there when I'm ready. The tremendous advantage of being a mediocre (lazy) hobby-jogger is: There is no pressure. I can always improve some more. Heck, I have a friend who still sets PRs. In her 50s. Don't talk to me about over the hill; we runners eat hill repeats for breakfast.

Plus, I really like the kid I do have. Sure, I didn't sleep and existed in a rage-filled haze for a year and a half of my life, but for someone who was so demanding and angry at night, he sure is a sunshine child in the daytime. (Said a friend who just had her second: I forget, how do you get them to sleep? I looked at her blankly. Don't look at me, I don't know.) Sure, sometimes it's a PITA to wrangle everything, toddler clothing and snacks and all, for a 30min stroller run; but the look on his face when we pass a train, or various species of truck! And it is honestly fun to run at top (stroller) speed while pretending to be a spaceship or bellowing variations on Old MacDonald Had A Farm ('and on that farm there were...uh...some stegosaurs') with nary a worry about what other runners think.

I never really thought of myself as a 'kid person' and am still not a 'tiny infant' person; other people's children are cute and entertaining for a while and all that, but MY CHILDREN, oh, they are delightful. (YMMV. I obviously do not think this sentiment is universal.) Small #1 sometimes still insists on falling asleep with his hand on my arm or tummy, looking at me like 'duh, mom, you do not have bodily autonomy, you are an extension of me'. (In breaking science news, well crumbs, I *am* actually an extension of him. Who knew.)

In the meantime, I run because it allows me to be me. Not worker bee, not mama bear, not meal-planner-and-dinosaur-toy-imagineer-in-chief, just Runner Me. In another life this touchstone for my identity was dance. (Also mediocre hobby dancer, thank you very much.)

Comeback lessons from being a working mother 

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who's expecting her first kid around the same time; having run at a pretty high level before, she expressed concern that she'd have to give it all up after kids and never regain the same level of performance. Well...sort of. Sometimes there are serious physical complications and medical considerations that force women to cut back on running - but otherwise, barring those, no.

Here's a parallel. Remember when women used to leave the workforce completely after having children? This anecdote from superstar MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins reveals what it was like to be a working woman in the 1960s and 70s, and the kind of internalised biases one had:

"The science drew me to Jim’s lab every available moment.
I lived in a state of euphoric scientific excitement. Jim
told me repeatedly I should be a scientist. I knew I couldn’t
live without this science, but how could I be like these men?
Even postdocs had wives who stayed home to care for their
children while the men put in 70-hour weeks at the lab. Who
would care for my children? I knew I would have to give up
science before I had children: in the era before amniocentesis,
that meant before the age of 30. So I made a plan: do
the most exciting science possible as fast as you can, hope
you do a Nobel Prize–winning experiment before the age of
30, then retire and be a wife and mother."
  - (Source)

These days, that sounds pretty preposterous. It's no longer assumed that women have babies and leave the workforce, or that no one else will take care of their kids. In our generation, most women (and a growing number of men, but I refer to women because that's who typically bears the physical burden of being pregnant and going through labour/ postpartum everything) recognise that whether we want to return to work or not, we have real choices that are ours to consciously make. The support systems aren't perfect, and in the US much, much more could be done to make them affordable for the average family, but the choice is bound not by physical factors but social ones.

There's a bit of a parallel there with running, though of course the physical aspect is more important. It's a new world. Even pro athletes are in basically uncharted territory - look at Paula Radcliffe, who won the New York City Marathon in 2008 after having a baby in 2007, or Jo Pavey, five-time GB Olympian ( there something about the UK support system that helps distance runners more? Makes you think, especially about the long-term future of the current crop of up and coming US women runners. HMMM. HEY.) Or in non-running sports, look at Serena Williams, fighting her way back to the WTA circuit. 

And just like it takes time and patience and hard work to ease back into work after maternity leave, it takes time and patience and hard work (and planning and physical conditioning) to ease back into running. (I'm talking about average-hobby-jogging here, not Olympic-qualifying, and really the audience here is that segment of people who started running well before babies were a twinkle in their eye, not so much the segment who took it up after kids because then that's two different kinds of uncharted and unfamiliar territory and you have no pre-existing mental standards by which you judge yourself anyway.) Most people don't hit the office at full speed after two months of sleep deprivation and talking to themselves; you wouldn't hit the track at full speed either. And maybe you won't be able to throw yourself into 70-hour work weeks, but damn if you don't get more efficient with your 40 hours. It all takes deliberate and conscious effort, and MacGyvering yourself an adequate support system. There's floundering. Mistakes will be made. It gets messy. And sometimes expensive, and not within everyone's financial reach. But maybe, just maybe, it's possible. (So Rachel, if you're reading this, don't lean out just yet!) 


  1. OMG, congrats!! As you noted, I did think the very short runs on Strava were unusual, now I know why!

    1. Haha, thanks! So many running friends have asked if I'm training for anything; I had to evade for a few weeks and finally came clean.

  2. Congratulations!!

    A bunch of us 30-something ladies were just chatting at post-race brunch about how when you look at race results sometimes the ranks tend to thin a bit in the 30s but WOW the ladies come roaring back in the 40s once their kids are more self-sufficient. The long game indeed!

    1. Thanks! It's true. The 40-44 age group is one of the most formidable and terrifying in triathlons - kids are self-sufficient, they have their sh*t together emotionally and mentally...whoa. Basically I want to be them when I grow up.

  3. Wait, HOW did I miss this?! Congratulations!!!!!

    You're amazing for keeping going at all. I had some complications and had to cut my early activities, and now I'm pretty much at waddles-ville.

    1. Also, regarding the working mom thing. It's very messy, as you say. I am not quite sure what we are going to be doing with this second one, but I can imagine it's going to be quite a ride!

    2. Ah, but I'm just barely out of first trimester. (Aren't you due like, next week?) Watch this space, I'll be waddling through summer! (I said to my midwife: I'd like to have a very boring pregnancy and delivery. She said, I'll put that request in to the universe. Lol.)

      Agree on the sheer crazy flailing messiness of the whole working-mom thing. Everyone sort of cobbles it together...

  4. This is the best best news. Hugs to you all, seriously thrilled here.