5 Ways Pregnant Ladies are Like Marathon Runners

Friday 5It seems that every time a marathoner gives birth (or a mom runs a marathon), the immediate question is, “Which was harder: running a marathon or labor and delivery?” While they’re both certainly strenuous physical undertakings, the question ignores the months of physical and mental preparation that goes into both. Even though the end result may be very different, the lead-up is certainly similar.

You eat ALL of the food. Anyone who’s ever trained for a marathon (or even significantly increased their weekly mileage for any period of time) is familiar with how the runger turns your stomach into a bottomless pit. Pregnancy? Does basically the same thing. The only difference is that at some point in your pregnancy, the little dude growing inside your belly limits how much you can actually eat at once.

Speaking of eating, you get very familiar with the workings of your digestive system. In marathon training, you learn what you can and can’t eat before a training run, especially if it’s the first time you’re tackling the 26.2. Running frequently and long can do strange things to your digestive system, and most runners learn to scope out bathrooms along their routes in case of emergency. With pregnancy, let’s just say that things can change dramatically from your pre-pregnancy state, and often in a way that has you paying very close attention to your inputs and outputs.

Paula Radcliffe, winner of the 2007 New York C...

Weird things start hurting you.ย You may be able to run 10 or 15 miles without any ill effects, but it’s the rare individual that can take their long runs up to 20 miles without something starting to bother them. Sometimes it’s a soreness that you expect, but often it’s something out of left field, like your back or a muscle that you never knew you had. With pregnancy, there’s a whole new category of things that can act up, from your back to your joints to your head. Either way, as soon as you think you have it figured out, that’s when something new decides to act up.

Naps become your best friend. Logging the miles necessary for a marathon is exhausting, leading many a marathoner to embrace the afternoon nap. Pregnancy, especially the first couple of months, is no different. Not only are you always tired, but you’re tired to a degree that you never thought possi … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz … Oops. Sorry. Told, you we pregnant chicks get tired!

You put in months of discomfort and preparation for the sole purpose of ย enduring hours of pain. Sure, pregnancy and delivery take longer than a typical marathon training cycle (and certainly longer than the marathon itself in most cases), but the end result of both of them is still a lot of pain. Which is something that you don’t think about until you have to in either case. However, for both marathoners and mothers, the final payoff is more than worth it.


For those of you who’ve done both, level with me: is labor or racing a marathon more painful?

In a previous life, I worked on computers and spent all day sitting. Thanks to running, I've rebooted my career and am now a running and triathlon coach and soon-to-be physical therapist. I've also got the mind and spirit of an elite trapped in the body of a back-of-the-packer.

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  1. Having done both…the marathon was a lot more fun. About 34 hours shorter, no pain relief needed and a medal at the end. AND a nap at the end!! But medals don’t give cuddles!!

  2. Having never done either (yet!) this post was very insightful to me. Unfortunately, I will never give birth, but I am hoping to run my first marathon in 2014, so maybe I will be “missing out” on less than I think ;)

  3. The first time I had a significant leg cramp after a long run, I was startled (once I could think straight again) at how similar it had felt to labor. Nothing else has ever felt quit that … that.

  4. What is really interesting, is that the way you approach pain in childbirth will parallel the way you approach pain with running. Want an epidural the minute you feel a contraction? Probably aren’t into pushing yourself really hard on a race course. Forgo the epidural no matter what? You probably enjoy puking in the finish chute :) Of course, that’s WAY oversimplified, but there’s some truth to it. I noticed that with this last pregnancy, at a certain midlevel of pain I could go forever, but once the going got really tough and I felt like I had sooooooo long until the finish line, I bailed. I had no drugs for #2, but that’s because the finish line really snuck up on me, I think :) And then the first pregnancy turned out to be an ultra that I and my support crew were not prepared for, so again, drugs were necessary. As my examples suggest, the other thing is that each labor and delivery is so different and so much can happen that you don’t and can’t plan for, which is kinda like a marathon, but WAY more so and the stakes are SO much higher. Just like with a marathon though, the best way to get through labor is to prepare your body and mind and research what pain management strategies, etc are available and come up with a game day plan that is flexible in case of surprises.

  5. I love it. I’d have to say child birth and marathons (the actual events) are similar because for some women / some births it will be much easier and faster, while for others, it may be a much longer, painful ordeal. We all hope for the first, but you never know what the day will bring and you have very little control over it!

    This post also reminds me of a great blog post my friend wrote a while back about how post-childbirth and post-marathon are very similar. http://runninfromthelaw.com/2012/04/25/for-the-marathon-moms/

  6. In terms of absolute pain, it’s no surprise natural child birth is more painful (to me) than running a marathon for time. But I was not surprised how similar the experiences were. I used the same breathing techniques when the going got rough and 100% had finish line mentality when I had to start pushing. Once I could feel the baby moving, it was like the last mile. I knew I had to embrace the pain and use it to get the finish faster. And I had that baby out in 15 minutes flat!