What Having a Baby Taught Me About Racing

Sure, being pregnant and going through childbirth (and subsequent recovery) taught me a lot about what the human body is capable of. And coming back from pregnancy and childbirth forced me to get back into shape. I’d never needed to do that before. I was always in a constant state of getting more in shape, fitter. But not back into shape.

In any case, those lessons weren’t terribly surprising. What was surprising was how pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood have changed how I feel about running a race but not racing it.

What’s the difference, you might ask?

When I race, I’m all in. I’ve likely trained for it, or, at the very least, run it as hard as I can. In other words, I race. Sometimes I’m racing against myself, other times I’m racing against others for a top finish or age group award. But it’s never a walk, er, jog in the park.

I can count on one and a half hands how many races I ran but didn’t race. I rarely do it because what’s the point of running a race if you’re not racing it? At least that’s how I felt up until very recently. Before having my son, I ran maybe three or four races without racing. (One more if you count one I ran while injured but needed the New York Road Runner finisher credit.) Since having my son last August, I’ve run five without racing. And they’ve all been with friends.

While I’ve always had a place for social runs in my “schedule,” social races weren’t usually something I did. Postrace brunch? Of course. But not the actual race. But when I had to stop running when I was six months pregnant and then had to start working my way back into shape, running a race for the sake of running it with friends became really appetizing. That break from running and the challenge of getting back into shape made me appreciate just being able to run.

Yes, I still want to run fast. Yes, I still train hard. Yes, I still have goals. Yes, I still have races in which I will meet my friends at the postrace brunch once we’ve finished—separately. But I’ve learned to run races for the pure enjoyment of running with friends.

Most recently, I ran the Mini 10K with one of my best (and oldest) friends. We ran together in high school track. We’ve done this race “together” for five years, always meeting at the finish to head to brunch. But we don’t see each other much anymore (I moved away), and our once regular running dates are almost non-existent now. Remember that question I asked? “What’s the point of running a race if you’re not racing it?” Well when it came to this race, I asked myself, “What’s the point of traveling to New York to see your friend if you’re going to race and not run it together?”

We lined up in Corral E. (My bib was Corral B.) Volunteers reminded me I could move up two corrals. Actually, a teammate I bumped into in Corral E looked at me and said, “What are you doing back here?”

My friend and I ran almost perfectly even 8:22 splits. We talked. We had a lot to catch up on. She told me to go ahead if I wanted to run faster. But no, I didn’t. I wanted to run this women-only race with my friend who has inspired me and encouraged me for almost 15 years. (Fun fact: it was this friend who inspired me to run my first half marathon. She ran one and was done. I’ve gone on to do, well, a lot of long-distance running and racing.)

We crossed the finish line together, in 52:50. More than 10 minutes slower than my 10K PR. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t winded. But I was happy. And hungry. So we headed to brunch.

Is there a point to running a race without racing it? What do you think?

Runner's World editor by day, mom by night (and day, let's be honest). Sub-20 5K, seven-time marathoner, track-workout lover. Always in search of a great burger.

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  1. Interesting! I think that since kids, I’ve actually done the opposite. Pre-kids, I used to race a lot more – so some of those were for fun, for training, etc. Now I need to ration my running time more carefully and especially time and $ for races (since by the time you get to the start line, warm up, go through recovery, get home etc, a 1.5-2 hour half has taken 4 hours or so, and that’s for a local race!). Instead, I tend to focus on just 1-2 key races per season, which means I’m putting more eggs in those baskets.

    1. Same! If I’m taking time away from my family to run/train, I’m much more focused about it and want to feel like it’s “worth it”. Not to say social time isn’t “worth it” — I actually started running with other moms to make running friends! But if I’m running an event, I want to justify the time by making it a real effort.

  2. I have lots of friends who run races “just for fun”. I don’t even like that saying because heck, fun is FUN! Why *not* run for fun? On the other hand, when I start thinking back to the last time I did that — it’s a long way back. Most commonly if I’m running “just for fun” it’s to celebrate something: a birthday run, Thanksgiving day turkey trot, or some other special occasion. I didn’t run pre-kids so I’ve no idea how that would change the equation.