Runner’s World “Running and Pregnancy” served me well as my trusty guide to running through pregnancy. It was a great resource save for one section which I completely disagree with. In the chapter about the ninth month of pregnancy, on page 187, you’ll read a box with the headline:
“Why Your Marathon Doesn’t Matter”
Then you’ll read the author’s opinion as follows:
“When I ran my first marathon 2 1/2 years before delivering my first child, I though, ‘All this pain is good preparation for childbirth.’ I was sadly mistaken. Endurance is the only thing these events have in common. Very little else is even similar. “
I disagree. Labour is much, much (MUCH) harder than racing a fast marathon. Yet I still disagree. There are similarities between racing and labour & delivery. In my husband and I’s discussion with our obstetrician (also a runner), she disagreed with the statement in this book and camped on my side. I told her that we wanted a natural labour and that I felt like I was going to be good at labour due to my background in distance racing. She agreed with me.
Let me explain why I disagree. Disclaimer here- you are not going to find any graphic labour details. My labour & delivery lasted less than 6 hours start to finish. I wanted a natural labour but would never suggest that a natural labour is the best it most desirable option for anyone but me. This is just my own experience. If you are not a runner, I’m sure you will do just as well with labour.
Belief in Your Ability to Perform
In my husband and I’s discussion with our obstetrician, we find the first similarity between marathon racing and labour: you have to believe that it will go well in order for it to go well. My obstetrician’s belief that I would do well was just like my coach’s belief that I could hit a certain time in my race and added to my “pre-event” confidence.
The most helpful advice my doctor gave us was to remember that the contractions, while painful, are on my side. Contractions and I are on the same team, working towards the same goal- to deliver a beautiful baby. I liked
this and could relate to it. As a runner, it made sense to me. The lung-busting, leg burning pain of 20 x 400m repeats is also on your side. You both have the same goal: to run faster.
My doc also pointed out that running has taught me about normal cellular pain as well as the skill to embrace this pain as a means to my goal. She continued explaining that this understanding differs from many women’s reaction to the pain- which is often dread and fear.
Mental Focus & Strength
The second similarity between marathon racing and labour & delivery that was clear to me was in regards mental focus and ability to deal with a very hard task at hand. During racing, you need to keep your body calm and stay in control of it if it’s going to clock the pace you want it to for 42.2km. For me, a lot of that calm and control comes from focusing on breathing.
Mental focus is critical in labour and focusing on calm breathing served me incredibly well. I didn’t practice prenatal or Lamaze breathing or whatever, I had lots of breathing experience from running. And this was where my husband and labour coach extraordinaire excelled- making sure I breathed calmly, coaching me to breathe all the way in and all the way out. Focus on breath filled my conscious thought,
leaving little room for dwelling on the intense pain. Although dealing with pain of a much lesser intensity, this emptying of the mind to focus on breath is also useful in racing. In m y less than 6 hours of labour, I can count on one hand the number if contractions that “got away from me” or that I wasn’t in control of.
I’ve written a lot about my use of mantras , a word or short phrase repeated over and over, during running and racing, as another a method to focus and crowd other unwanted sensory data (i.e. our quads are killing us, let’s stop this running madness) of conscious thought.
This worked during labour for me. My husband and I had chosen a gender-neutral name for our baby (gender unknown) and this proved to be the best mantra of all time. I repeated it at the end of each contraction during the intense transition part of labour.
Focus on something ahead works during racing, be it a fit and faster runner, a km marker sign, a telephone pole. This focus can help with continuing forward motion. During labour, it helped crowd out mental focus on the crazy pain. We had an excellent labour & delivery nurse who ordered that I focus on something ahead. I began to stare at a red blob on a poster ahead of me- I have no idea what the poster was for, but it worked.
Anyone who has run a marathon knows what an incredible lift you get from seeing your loved ones on the sidelines. During my 3 Boston Marathons, I stationed my loved ones at points where I know that I would need them most. As I ran past them, my feet would feel lighter.
My support team, my husband, was more important during labour than any of the items listed previously. We packed my labour bag full of items that we thought we would need to use to get me through: music, reading, a new tv series on the iPad, a tennis ball to relieve pressure in case of back labour, candy, gum, etc, etc. We requested a rocking chair in our labour room. We didn’t even open the labour bag, I never sat in the rocking chair. All I needed was my husband.
One KM/Contraction at a Time
During a 42.2km race, the runner is wise to take it one kilometer. The mom-to-be is wise to take it one contraction at a time during labour. If you set out to run a 3:10 marathon, you can’t be thinking at km 2, “well shoot, how I going to run 4:30/km for another 40 km. 40 kms are a lot of f-ing
kms.” This is dangerous thinking. It will hijack fit legs & engine. I know this all too well- this thinking ruined my Boston 2011 go at 3:10- a race my coach was confident I could reach out and grab.
Thus thinking is also dangerous in labour. “Only 3 cm dilated, 10cm is a lot of f-ing cm.” That helps no one. And at keast a marathon has a finish line. You know the hard effort ends at exactly 42.2km. No such fixed finish line in labour. I was careful not to get into thinking like this. And my husband was prepared not to let me.
Our situation was lucky though- I could hear the nurses saying, “this one is going to be fast.” When my nurse called our obstetrician, she said, “you want to see this baby born, you better come now,” and then
told my husband and I, “don’t worry, I can deliver this baby if she doesn’t make it.”
Our obstetrician did make it and I so clearly remember her saying, “this baby will be here in 10 minutes.”
Those words were infinitely better than any 1km to go sign I’ve ever seen.
The Finish Line
I’ve experienced lots of emotions at finish lines. Elation, happiness, disbelief, relief, “thank God I survived, I’m never running again.”
I’ve had some memorable finish lines in my life: my first half and full marathons, my first Boston Qualification, my first Boston, my Boston PB, the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa after running 424km across an entire country to reach it:
Nothing compared to the emotion I felt at this finish line.