Pregnancy, Running, Identity and Purpose

We’ve talked about changing running identities before. Life changes, we change, our running changes. Sometimes that means change of scenery, and I myself went through this as I transitioned from the track to the roads after college. Maybe it’s the transition from road racing to trails or back to the roads. There are so many ways we adapt our identity throughout our running lives.

Lately, I’ve found myself struggling with my running identity in a way that I never saw coming. Don’t get me wrong. I knew pregnancy would affect my running but failed to predict the degree. Most people would assume I’m talking about slowing down, the break from competition, or the loss of complete control over my body. In reality it’s a little bit of everything.

As I reflect on my running and what I want out of it during pregnancy I’ve come to realize that, throughout every transition I have made, throughout my entire running life thus far, my running identity has always been tied to one thing.

The Reason I Run

Yes, there were many times running was my sanity, many times where running was an outlet, but what I’ve finally realized is that more than anything, the part of running that has most informed my sense of self as a runner to this point is racing. Striving, competing, bettering myself, has shaped me more than any other aspect of running. I’m most inspired and driven to compete at my best, and it’s through running competition that I am most able to feel content with myself and like I’m moving forward as a person.

So, now as a pregnant runner, I’ve struggled to figure out why running doesn’t quite click. It hit me that it was really because I can’t exercise that desire for competition. Some women are able to train and race throughout pregnancy, others choose not to and some don’t even run at all. I never knew which way I would fall or why, but the answer is becoming a little more clear. I don’t view pregnancy as anything even close to competitive and I don’t want to.

To me, it doesn’t matter if I run the most or run the least. It doesn’t matter if I reach running goals or not; the main goal is a healthy pregnancy and delivery of my baby girl. Yes, there are running goals I could set that are realistic, but right now a healthy pregnancy is the only thing I really care about. I struggle setting goals knowing that there is this big wonderful thing that, even after pregnancy, could prevent me from reaching them and I don’t want any running frustration to diminish my enjoyment of new motherhood even a tiny bit.

When so much of my running motivation for years has been tied to goals, times, and sticking to training plans, it took well past my first trimester to realize that my problem with running motivation wasn’t really pregnancy. It wasn’t the fatigue and nauseaIt wasn’t the fear of doing harm and not trusting my body. It actually boiled down to running’s overarching purpose in my life: racing goals drove my running for so long that I forgot how to enjoy it without them.

My New Running

I don’t believe a strict training plan or time goals are the best thing during my pregnancy. I’m no expert obviously, but I worry that if my goals are oriented towards miles or paces, I might ignore my body’s communications about its new limits. I’m sure some pregnant runners do just fine with running goals, but, I’ve been at this running thing long enough that I know the benefits of running and reasons why it’s good. I know all it can give you, I know all that it can be, but I nonetheless struggle to find the casual running mentality.

pregnant runner ice cream
Some might celebrate halfway through their pregnancy with a half marathon. But right now, this seems more my style.

One of the reasons I love training is because I love that everything has a purpose, even the easiest runs. I’m the person who does better when I know a task has a purpose, and how it will better help me reach my goal. After years of almost every single run having a higher purpose, going out for a run for the sake of running is lost on me. I’m surprised at this, too!

Because I don’t feel like getting it through running now, I’ve found some great alternatives for getting that competitive fix I crave! I’ve been enjoying intense card games or watching professional sports more than I already do. Other days I make a competitive game out of mundane tasks like laundry. How fast can I get this done? If I can accomplish XYZ on my at home to-do list today I am rewarded by feeling productive, which has been the biggest and newest way to scratch my competitive itch. I guess you can say that for me, nesting is the new running!

***

Some people love running for its simplicity. I love it for its purpose. After I have my baby, I may not find a purpose for running that gets me as high as a long run or solid interval workout in pursuit of a new PR, but I know that while my relationship with running might not be the same as it was before my pregnancy, I will have one.

Did pregnancy change your relationship with running? 

An Upstate, NY resident who loves the marathon, a good beer, and all of the numbers/nerdy things. I write about my journey to a sub-3:00 marathon, training tweaks for improvement, and finding that "running/life balance" unicorn. On tap Next: Training to be a first time mom, time for 3rd trimester...ready or not!

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13 comments

  1. Lots of good stuff here and in the comments! Our relationship to running will evolve over time – it may go back to where it once was pre-baby and it may not, and that’s ok. I didn’t run at all during my first pregnancy – I had needed to mostly give up exercise in order to get pregnant due to fertility issues, so I was too nervous to run, so I stuck to lots of swimming, walking, easy weights and snowshoeing through the winter (April baby). With my second, I ran all the way through – but all easy running and only 2-3 miles at a time by the end. For me, it felt good to keep my body moving and cleared my head as I dealt with a demanding job and a sassy toddler. Now with two kids, my running is all about me, and I’ve been pushing myself to get faster – as long as it’s still fun.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Jesse! I think it helps knowing other women didn’t run during pregnancy either, and were able to come back to running afterwards. My sister didn’t run during either of her pregnancies either, for the reason you mentioned for your first (IVF for her, and fertility struggles, they worried she would twist an ovary running…crazy to think about!) and seeing her come back after both kids has been a huge help for me mentally. Maybe when we have another one (down the road!) I will opt to run more, but right now I feel safe knowing that it’s OKAY to make this decision for whatever reasons I see fit.

  2. I have struggled with that since having my kids. I had twins almost 3 years ago. I used to be amateur-competitive, as in I would win my age group in smaller events. It felt good and I was in a good groove. But after having my kids, the ability to go out and run 10 miles on saturday disappeared. It’s not just the time it takes away from being with your kids (though I believe that mommy alone time is super important), it’s the time that your partner has to share the burden of childcare, which isn’t easy. Without solid goals, and not being a professional athlete, it lost its appeal for me and for my husband. I’m glad to say I found new things that are challenging for me personally, like spin class of all things (I hate biking, but MAN is it a good workout), and exercise classes. My gym has childcare, which makes it that much more appealing. Pushing a running stroller at 12 months isn’t too bad, but at 24 months you are doing more work pushing and less work improving your running form and keeping up your posture and it’s no longer fun. I figure that one day I’ll get back to those age group wins, and hopefully will have one or both of my kids running along side me! Until then, I’m switching it up for a while.
    Best of luck with a healthy pregnancy!

    1. Thanks for sharing Suzanne! I actually already started looking at gyms that have child care (I currently just have a basic Planet fitness membership, easy and cheap and nothing extra I don’t need). I think it’s great that you found other activities that you love, and can help you stay active even if it’s not the runner you were before.

  3. I struggled with this as well during my first pregnancy. Until that point, I largely defined myself as a runner, and thought others saw me the same way. And not just a runner, but as someone who loved racing. Not racing or running competitively for 9+ months was hard for me mentally- I felt like I had a whole new identity as “expectant mom.” But once baby was born I quickly accepted my new identity, and loved it. And eventually went back to feeling like a racing/runner, which gave me an identity outside of just being a mom.

    1. Your experience as a competitive runner, turned mom, but still a competitive runner is inspiring to me! I have hopes that running will be that thing that allows me to feel like myself again down the road outside of being a mom too.

  4. Ha, this brings back memories! I did run a 5K recreationally at 13 weeks; I wrote to race organisers to downgrade from a goal half to the 5K when I found out I was pregnant. I did a lot of ‘fun’ classes at the gym – stuff I’d tried before and wanted to do again but not mid-training-cycle. Things like yin yoga (talk to your instructor for modifications), spinning (same), TRX (great low-impact strength workout). I also did a lot of runs for time, like 30 minutes or an episode of Law & Order: SVU (ahem).

    Post-pregnancy, juggling life with an infant, my relationship with running evolved further. For several months postpartum it was a way to carve out some time for myself, and no matter how slowly I was moving, it was a way for me to feel human again, to feel like ‘Mango’ and not just ‘Baby D’s mom’. Eventually, going back to ‘speedwork’ (a loose term…) with my track group helped as well by extending my social interactions beyond household, neighbourhood, and pediatrician.

  5. Ah, type A runner problems! I definitely sympathize with the urge to follow a plan, and have a purpose that’s tied to racing. What I definitely don’t have is any useful ideas, haha, so I’m going to be turning to you if we have kids! Unless you want to play like, Words with Friends or something. ;)

    1. I might take you up on words with friends! Just don’t get mad when your phone goes off in middle of night because I’ll no doubt be playing when I’m up for 3AM feedings in a few months! :)

  6. I agree with this! Running has become more of a fun thing for me, rather than competitive. I am trying to hold onto a little fitness, but not worrying about how “fit” I am. I just don’t want to become sedentary. I often chose to go for a walk with my dog after a run instead of running that extra mile, and opt for easy runs instead of a hard run like I used to. I think maintaining a little strength is important during pregnancy too–when I don’t do strength stuff, I tend to get really really weak, which I think would make labor and the act of carrying a baby around much more difficult. My goals are leaning towards “what would be best for the baby and me?” instead of “how can I get faster?”

  7. I can relate to this. To me, once I realized that healthy pregnancy was the priority, everything else I did naturally slotted into that, including running. I knew that running was good for me and baby but no longer had any reason to push it at all. Just easy 30 min jogs did the trick (and eventually 20…and then none as I switched to swimming and walking in the last weeks).

  8. I didn’t run very long through my first pregnancy (my son is now 17 months old). I wish I hadn’t given up on slower outdoor runs after the first time I felt both physically and mentally awful. I tried a few Barry’s Bootcamp classes, but had to go to double-floor pretty quickly because my heart rate went up so high during treadmill sprints! Coming back from pregnancy was tough, but the first 1.75 mile run I did felt like accomplishing a marathon. My son regularly cheers me on at 5Ks (and now half marathons), and seeing his smiling face on the sidelines makes me feel like I am running on air. Now I have accepted a new normal of completing most of my runs before daycare pickup (and am slowly learning how to run with the stroller). I think becoming a mom has made me mentally tougher…ever since my first 5K when a little over a month pregnant with him.

    1. While I haven’t given up yet, it’s not even really about feeling awful (not that I feel great)- its more that I don’t get the enjoyment or purpose from it as before. I spent the last 5 years being a semi-competitive runner at all distances and training where every run had a purpose. It’s just been a much harder shift in mindset than I expected (I almost thought it would be a welcome change to run without purpose of training!). I think having the loss last year really made this pregnancy harder because the fear of going through that again has been a constant weight on my shoulders. But, I look forward to the things that you mention like seeing my little girls face on the sidelines etc. I cannot wait for that, and I do believe that the entire experience will make me stronger (Like you, I ran a race at 6 weeks along…and felt tougher for it!). Thank you for taking the time to share your experience Kristina!