5 Questions that Reveal Whether that Marathon Was Really Like Giving Birth

marathon vs birthAre you a runner? Have you had a baby? If so, chances are good someone has asked you whether giving birth was harder than [insert very impressive running feat]. If this question sparked in you a complicated series of facial-expression-controlling maneuvers as you searched for a polite way to answer “WTF? Birth. Duh.” you are not alone.

Our resident army major/elite marathoner/modern pentathlete Parsley, who has birthed three babies and has done some other really hard shit, had this to say on the topic: Which one is harder? Why is this even a question? 

Preach it, Parsley! But because this is a metaphor that will not die, we’ve decided to help you determine whether your marathon or any other of your many achievements was actually like giving birth.

To be fair, it’s not just runners flogging the comparison; even everyday, painless, and bureaucratic things are fair game. “Es war ein Gebär unter Schmerzen,” is a common German saying that literally means “It was a painful birth”. But Germans, particularly the men who say this, aren’t referring to pushing out babies, but say, finishing a report for work.

Novelists especially love to describe their work in terms of birth:

“Writing a book is like giving birth to an elephant!” Technically this belongs in the “improbable cross-species birthing simile” category, but I’m including it here anyway.

“Writing is like labor, painful and all consuming!” Quick! Someone capitalize on the lack of over-the-counter epidurals for authors.

“My book is my baby!” Really? Can it explosively poop all the way across the room?

Strangely, or perhaps not, it’s never the other way around. When have you ever heard someone who just gave birth seriously try to describe it like this?

“It was one hell of a BQ, birthing that 10-pound baby after 28 hours in labor”

“Pushing my baby out for three hours was like the most complicated Excel spreadsheet you can imagine. As a rush job by 4 p.m. With formulas!” Said nobody, ever.

Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a downer having to replace your favorite hyperbolic metaphor. What else can you compare your achievement to that’s as noble, as painful, as impressive? Well, nothing. Nothing is like birth. Not even your TPS reports. Maybe someday there will be a universal movement toward kidney-stone-passing or constipation comparisons. In the meantime, we’ve created this handy cheat sheet of five easy questions to help people figure out whether their achievement of awesome shit was anything like giving birth.

1. Was the primary characteristic of this accomplishment your ass on a chair as your hands typed words into a laptop?

Yes –> You wrote a novel, biography, article, Dear John letter, or blog post. Not birth-like. Not even marathon-like.

No –> Possibly. Keep reading.

2. Did your achievement involve meetings, brainstorming, doodle polls, or long strings of emails with the subject line Re: re: re: FW: Project?

Yes –> While the total number of hours spent may approach those spent running a marathon, even a bad one, or perhaps even labor and delivery, and the emotional pain of your boredom might seem, in the moment, unbearable, this is ultimately highly unlikely to resemble a marathon or birth.

No –> See next question.

3. If this feat involved physical pain, was said pain concentrated in your furrowed brow or other part of your head?

Yes –> I’m not sure why I need to explain this, but marathons and birth tax humans in other parts.

No –> Continue reading.

4. Did this exploit involve loss of bowel control?

No –> Clearly you haven’t really lived.

Yes –> Please answer the following:

4a. Were you, at the time, wearing spandex, silly knee socks, and running shoes and putting one foot in front of the other for 26+ miles?

Yes –> You ate too much fiber, then ran a marathon. But that’s not like birth.

No –> Keep reading.

4b. Were you, at the time, naked and tingly, numb, or paralyzed from the waist down, lying on your back with your feet in stirrups and four people staring intently at your crotch?

Yes –> It is highly likely that you literally gave birth.

No –> Well, lucky you. Unless this occurred while running a marathon.

5. Finally – and this is really the crux of the matter – did this experience result in you pushing a small human being out of a body part normally not more than a centimeter in width*?

Yes –> Congratulations! You gave birth!

No –> Here’s $5, go buy yourself a new metaphor.

*Also works if baby was removed through incision.

Can we finally put this question to rest? 

I'm a 41-year-old living in Berlin, Germany. I run because I can't not run. I write about training, mental training, momming, and the odd rant.

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9 comments

  1. Ha! I never really thought about it, but this post made me picture all these pained male writers (basically Hemingway with a bottle on an island beach), dramatically adopting the birth metaphor as some weird, repressed co-opting of the feminine. Dayum, Freud or arm-chair psychologists everywhere should be having a field day with this one! But, yeah, as we said in Parsely’s post, marathon pain and discomfort and tension and release are all by choice and somewhat manufactured relative to birth, which, while a choice broadly, is not a choice in the moments of it. And also, not really like a marathon.

    1. Yes, I’ve often wondered what it means on a deep psychological level when men use the “difficult birth” metaphor.

  2. I mean I feel like I cannot officially weigh in on this until June 1, or maybe a little sooner…but….Seems like a no brainer to me! While you don’t HAVE to do either- I can see Salty’s points that marathon is much more of a choice especially in the moment!