Push push push – The labour of a marathon

Nicola Tilley

Running a marathon or becoming a mum, two very different things or are they?!? The similarity that exists between the two is comparable beyond belief and I don’t think there’s entirely a lot of difference! See if you can tell……

So how exactly does training for a marathon with months of training; the build up; the race; the gruelling trauma on your body pushing it to the max compare to 9 months of pregnancy; labour and then the unknown, the birth; the physiological changes and the psychological battles your body and mind go through and finally the exhaustion.  Well here is my account of how……

I’m writing this in the hazy two days after completing another marathon completely on a high with a new PB, my first ever sub 4 hour marathon @ 3:57 which means a qualifying “Good For Age” place in the London Marathon!  I hear you say: “thousands of people run marathons so that’s not very impressive”.  Quite right, lots of other people achieve far greater sporting things but for me this is personal and something I never thought would happen in my late 40’s – a reflection of my life really!

At 40 and after 7 years of trying to conceive, fertility treatment exhausted: IUI, IVF and ICSI I thought my chances of having children had peaked and gone. The adoption process had been investigated and then when I least expected it: I was pregnant! completely naturally.  Josh was born and then 2 years later another miracle happened I was pregnant again and Eva came into the world just before I turned 43. Maybe my life is the wrong way round – the good things certainly come to those that wait.

What has this got to do with running? In fact quite a lot! Running became a passion late in life, my 30’s to be exact, something I never thought I could do or really thought I would want to do.

The whole process of pregnancy, labour and the birth are the only thing I can ever describe as ever being close to running a marathon. For all those “marathon mummies” out there I am sure you can relate to this. The build up, the preparation, the constant eating, the sleepless nights worrying (“maranoia”), the unknown and then it happens, the jubilation, the achievement, the emotion and then it’s all over – you have the medal, you have the time, you have the memory, the pain still exists but then all too soon everyone stops saying “congratulations”.

You cross the finish line to the thought in your head “I am NEVER doing that again” but all too soon that turns to “yes, I want to better that time, I want to run another” The pain is a distant thing and you soon forget the immense trauma that your body and mind has been through.

The post marathon blues set in, it’s all over, the months of preparation, the strategic planning, the day it happened. The best laid training plan (or birth plan) can be flawed – events happen and you are left not knowing exactly how it will go on the day.

Throughout  the months and as the day gets nearer, you’ve done absolutely everything possible to plan, meticulous in every detail, the nerves start to set in – you’ve done it before, you can do it again, months of pushing your body to the max but who knows what will happen on the day. Will you go too fast, will you need the loo, will you lose your nerve – will there be intervention? The race starts – get the breathing right, don’t rush, push, push, push, don’t push too much – too soon.  How long will it last, will you get the right hydration, will your energy levels be right – gels, drinks, snacks, what to do, when, how – will you get through.

The pain is immense, you’re doing fantastically, you keep your thoughts on the end result. Stay calm, hold it steady and breathe, breathe, breathe. Everyone is rooting for you, nervously waiting for news – your husband is in constant contact with the family, friends, social media – you know they know how you’re doing, that keeps you sane (and going!).

The finish is in sight, you’re exhausted, your legs are amass of lactic acid, heavy not moving, you’re hot, your mouth is dry, totally exhausted but you know it’s so near – keep going, breathe, breathe, breathe and then it’s done, one step, two steps, YOU’VE DONE IT!!!! – you cross the finish line.

You’re surrounded by people congratulating you, you can’t take it all in, your head is so cloudy, your body shell shocked, you get hugs, you get refreshments, you get the medal (or baby). Your body is exhausted, your mind fuzzy, legs shaking but you DID it! The emotion is overwhelming, the body fatigued but you really DID do it! The utter high is amazing, the sense of complete and utter achievement.

Back home everyone congratulates you – on the school run, on social media, you want to tell the world, shout it from the rooftops, tell every stranger that you pass in the street – “I DID it” – they don’t care, but to you – it’s the only thing that matters.

Millions have done it before you and millions will continue to do it but to you – it’s the biggest thing  and the most amazing achievement ever – “do these people not know what you have just been through?!?!” Do they really care? Not really, no.

The pain is the reminder, your body fatigued, muscles screaming but as the days start to pass and the people forget you start to feel empty – just left holding that prize medal, the tshirt (the baby!). The days of immense training have passed, nobody mentions it, the support along the way has ceased and the empty feeling starts to creep into your mind. Post race blues, flashbacks, fatigue, months and months of excitement, nervous anxiety and immense changes to your body but it’s now happened, it’s over – you really DID do it.

Will there be another? Who knows, yes of course there will be – it WAS easy, wasn’t it?!? Once the pain fades, the constant craving for carbs, the toe nails drop off and the body returns to normal the challenge seeker will return.  I suspect there will be another but one thing is for sure, unlike my experience of motherhood – I am in control of making this decision – yes? no? go on, just ONCE more……

Any difference between running a marathon and labour? Not really, it’s called labour for a reason!