I gave birth three and a half months ago and I ran a marathon. Say what? A marathon? Yes, you read that right. All that talk about easing back into it after having a baby, and not rushing anything to avoid injury? I really did mean it. And I have been following my own advice. But I did just somewhat randomly run the Hilton Head Island Marathon, three and a half months postpartum. And, spoiler alert, I randomly won.
Let me explain.
I happened to notice that I’d be in Hilton Head the weekend of their marathon, and that got me thinking. I have not raced since my baby’s birth in October, partly for lack of opportunity since there are not a lot of races in my small central North Carolina town. It’s also partly because I’m in no rush to get back into it. But this race seemed easy logistically. My husband would be there to watch the kids and, more importantly, how could I be in town with a marathon and not run it?
I need races for motivation. While I love running, and am happy just going out to run every day, if I actually want to train, I need races to motivate me to work harder. And while I’ve said I would like to run in another Olympic Marathon Trials, saying “I need to qualify at some point in the next three years” doesn’t really do it for me. I need shorter-term goals to get me from “just running” to actual running with intention.
Also, my husband is about to leave for a five month deployment, which is why we took the family vacation to Hilton Head. His absence will be tough on many levels, least of all on my running. It will be difficult to fit in much training, let alone racing. I saw this as my opportunity to race before he leaves, and hopefully motivate me to get through those long months. Plus, if anything, it would be an opportunity to spend several peaceful hours zoned out by myself!
I pitched the idea to my coach and surprisingly he didn’t try to talk me out of it. My training has been minimal and I continued to build as I otherwise would at this point in my postpartum comeback, with the exception of upping the mileage of my long runs a little more aggressively. My HHI training log provides more specifics as far as how individual runs went.
My goals were simple. Ultimately, I was just looking forward to getting out there and running my first race in exactly a year, but my other three other goals were quite a bit loftier than that.
Goal #1: Keep my boobs from exploding.
I experienced uncontrollable boob leakage once when running with my first child, and it was embarrassing enough then that I did not want bullseyes running down my shirt during a race.
Goal #2: Don’t pee on myself.
Maybe a long shot, but I haven’t had any issues with this post-pregnancy … so far.
Goal #3: Win.
What? Ok, I slyly mentioned this one to my husband on the drive down when he asked what time I was aiming for. I honestly had no idea if this was possible, since I never check my pace during training runs, and wasn’t even going to wear a watch for the race. But, looking at past results, it seemed feasible. This year the race was the RRCA South Carolina State Marathon Championships, so the competition could be stiffer, but you never know. Or maybe it was crazy, since I’m probably still recovering from having a baby. But in any case, winning was definitely in the back of my mind.
Goal #1: Surprisingly, my boobs were a non-factor. I pumped on the 15 minute drive to the start, then nursed baby in the car 20 minutes before the race. I put on a tight sports bra to keep those puppies compressed, and was fine the entire time I was running.
Goal #2: Almost made it. I started getting pretty hot out there, so I dumped a bottle of water on myself around mile 22, and with it had no control over also peeing on myself. Not that you could tell since I was also drenched in water. But I’m sure I smelled pretty awful, since baby had a blow out when I was nursing her in the car, so I started the race with the baby poop on my shorts that probably didn’t all come off with a wipe.
Goal #3: First place, with my slowest marathon time ever. But let me tell you, I was hurting. I don’t know if it was running a marathon so soon after having a baby, or running a marathon on such little training, but I finished and was so tired I just wanted to lie down, but was too sore to get myself to the ground. The day after my quads were more sore than I think they ever have been after a race.
How Did My First Postpartum Race Feel in General?
There was never a point in the race that I actually felt good. Early on I felt hungry, and really wished I had eaten more beforehand. I had a packet of instant oatmeal and a banana with peanut butter for breakfast, but it would have been smart to have eaten something during one of the three times I was up the night before nursing baby, since I probably needed the extra calories. I ended up taking a gel packet around five miles in, and that helped a little. I took my second gel at 15 miles, and that was it. Since I ran this race without looking into the details, I wrongly assumed they would have a gel station out on the course, because I normally take three to four during a marathon.
I also felt like I got dehydrated out there. Although I took water at every single station, roughly every two miles, the little Dixie cups didn’t hold much, so I was really only getting about a sip at each stop. Somewhere around the middle I started stopping at the stations so I could down several cups as well as pour water on myself to cool off.
The course itself wasn’t particularly fast or exciting; it was almost entirely along the side of the highway, or on the winding pedestrian path that runs along the island. The four bridge crossings were my favorite part, because I love bridges and hills, although it didn’t feel too great at mile 23! For the vast majority of the race I was out in no man’s land by myself. I unsuccessfully tried to think of things that were not running related; the only mantra I could get in my head was paraphrased from the children’s book Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, “Just keep moving along. It’s all good.”
Am I glad I ran? Yes, now that I’m finished! Of course when I was running I had all sorts of thoughts of quitting, or wishing that I would accidentally fall off the bridge, or something would happen that would force me to stop. I questioned my sanity at running the full instead of the half or 8K (for some reason I thought the full would be easier?).
I feel like this race made me mentally stronger, so that when I run the next marathon I actually train for, I’ll know I can get through it. It was a different experience running with absolutely no concept of time; I didn’t wear a watch, there weren’t race splits, and I never asked other runners what pace they were running. But knowing my pace wouldn’t have changed anything. Honey badger didn’t care; she ran a 3:17. Honey badger just wanted to prove she could do it, and get motivated to start training in the upcoming months.
How did your first postpartum race go?