Here is why I stopped running for 6 months, and what I learned.
I started running after the birth of my third child for all the wrong reasons.
I wasn’t new to running — in fact, I’d been a pretty consistent runner for nearly a decade. I’d had a rough pregnancy, from gestational diabetes to a lump in my breast (later determined benign), and I was ready to get “me” back. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to be an uber-mama, super bad ass. I had loved running before I was pregnant, so it seemed reasonable to think I’d love it again, and right away.
So I did what I normally do when I’m ready to up my running mileage: signed up for a distance race. Then I signed up for another one that would happen a few weeks after the first. Then I signed up for my first full marathon, scheduled a few weeks after that. I’d tried to train for a marathon twice before — and both times, I ended up too pregnant to make it happen. With my baby-making days behind me, I was ready to hang that 26.2 miler bling on my running medal rack.
I started training.
I had plenty of time to get my legs and mind in shape.My baby was about 3 months old when I committed to the races. She would be close to a year old when that first one happened. I’d be fast. I’d be fit. I’d be more than ready.
What followed was 9 months of hating — HATING — the thing I’d always loved. I’d miss an early morning run because I was up with the baby longer than usual the night before, and I’d beat myself up over it. I’d cut my run short because my milk-producing chest was too tender to keep going, and I’d tell myself how lazy I was. It didn’t matter if I’d just completed a 6-mile run. If I’d skipped that 7th mile, I was down about it. What had started as a positive approach to physical and mental health had become exhausting in both realms.
Instead of feeling empowered, I felt like a failure.
Everyone has a heartbreaking run from time to time — it comes with a true runner’s mentality. But that feeling was happening on a regular basis. It didn’t matter that I was co-parenting five kids, running my own business, and barely sleeping at night. If I didn’t meet my training goal for the day, I felt defeated.
I watched virtually as other stranger-mom runners in Facebook groups popped out babies and posted pics of their marathon-ready bodies a few days later (usually with accompanying captions about how much work they needed to do to get back in shape). Some would post about pumping breastmilk during ultra-marathons, and others would post about setting personal running records just weeks or months after having a baby.
When I joined these groups, I had hoped for some commiseration on how difficult it is to fit in runs, or some inspiration when a mom limped across a 5K finish line, despite sleep deprivation and lack of training time.
Instead, I felt even worse. I was convinced that I was the only postpartum mama who couldn’t get up early enough for long runs. These moms looked awesome, ran fast, and didn’t even seem tired. Some of them didn’t even drink coffee, or wine, or eat chocolate. I started to wonder what was wrong with me. What was I doing wrong that they were doing right?
Meanwhile, it was taking all of my mental fortitude to lace up my running shoes and actually get out there. I ran my races, I even finished my marathon, but I didn’t celebrate. I knew I hadn’t run my best. When people asked me what race I was planning to run next, I felt like crying.
So I stopped running.
Just like that. I didn’t know for how long, or if I’d ever get back. And that choice came with a myriad of others.
I refused the urge to fill that space with another fitness activity. I didn’t swap my disappointment in my runs for disappointment in yoga class. I just decided to let myself, and my body, be. I walked when I could. I slept in when I could. I didn’t count calories. I gained back some of the weight I’d lost from the pregnancy. I didn’t really care. For the first time in YEARS I just enjoyed my non-fitness self and my kids/husband/work/home life even more by extension.
With each passing day that I didn’t feel bad about my running, I started to feel better about other areas of life. I was a more present parent. I was a less resentful wife. I was finishing work projects ahead of schedule and excelling at landing, and keeping, new clients. I had more time to text my friends and connect with my colleagues in the writing community. I was sleeping a little more and it made a big difference.
I ran occasionally in the early morning with some lovely friends, but often overslept my alarm or admitted that I was just too tired to make it. Sometimes during our 4-mile runs, I stopped to walk. All signs of the once-marathoner seemed lost. I cared surprisingly very little.
I started to wonder if I wasn’t a runner anymore.
Were my running days over forever?
We returned home from a pretty epic road trip in late June. We spent 32 days on the road, eating some amazing food and essentially sitting on our butts in a minivan for a lot of that month+. It was an amazing time for being stuck together as a family. I arrived back home feeling gross though, for lack of a better term. I was ready to get back into a routine at home, and get organized.
I woke up one morning, a few days after our return, and told my husband I wanted to go for a run. It was over 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity outside in the blazing Florida sun by the time I made my declaration. He looked at me like I was playing a joke on him. I wasn’t. He told me to be careful.
So I ran that day. Slowly. With zero expectations for the next day, the next mile, the next step. In the words of Forrest Gump, “I just felt like running.”
I ran again a few days later. I reached out to my early morning running friends and asked if I was welcome to tag along. I walked for portions of the first few runs but then my stamina started to resurface. I added in some more miles on my own. Another friend extended an open invitation to run with her and some other moms any weekday morning.
My body started waking me up at the same time every day, antsy to lace up my Asics Gel Cumulus shoes and pound the pavement. By the time summer break came to an end, I was running 4 to 5 days per week again and returning home in time to get the kids ready and out the door for school.
Some days, I run alongside the kids as they bike. Some days, I run to pick them up after school. I ran 35 miles in a single week recently. I’m on pace to run 135 miles this month. I gave my body the break it clearly needed and now it’s giving back to me again.
I don’t feel like other important areas of my life are suffering at the hands of my daily runs — if anything, my Facebook scrolling has taken a hit. Running once again feels like a necessary piece of my daily routine, with a natural place in my life and family. Without forcing it back in, or hanging my self-worth on the numbers on my Nike app.
My running self has re-emerged.
What I’ve realized since returning to running is this: there are seasons in our life for everything. It’s so easy to manufacture all the things we think we should do — to look better, to get more done, to be more amazing versions of ourselves. We see messages all the time about the importance of getting our pre-baby bodies back, and others about how as moms we need to carve out our “me” time (and really, it should happen in a gym). If we loved running before we became a parent, then gosh darnit we should love it again and as soon as possible.
There are all these unwritten rules about what we should do and the truth is that sometimes we just need to NOT do all those things. Sometimes we need to not worry every second about how our bodies look and hug our kids instead. Sometimes we need to take a compliment. We need to let our spouses see us naked in daylight, without cowering behind a towel or bathrobe, perceived flaws and all.
At the risk of sounding too cliche — if you truly love something, let it go. If it’s really meant to be, you’ll find it back in your life again and that re-connection will be effortless.
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