I promised I would follow up post birth on my comparisons between birth prep and marathon training, so it’s time for my race review: birth edition.
So, preparing for birth may be like preparing for a marathon, but is giving birth at all like actually running a marathon? Yes and no.
To prepare for labor, I made a birth plan which basically laid out what I’d want to happen in my ideal birth. This is like writing a race plan for a marathon but knowing you might show up on race day and actually have to run a spartan race or a triathlon instead.
The first thing on my birth plan was that I didn’t want any medical intervention including an epidural. I ended up being induced which means that my labor wouldn’t even start without medical intervention. Being induced meant I got a drug to help me dilate, then a balloon to further dilation (which started contractions), then a drug to move along my contractions which made them stronger.
My fiancé, my doula, and my nurses all were wonderful coaches and helped me remember the poses and breathing I’d learned to help me through contractions. Unfortunately, because I was induced, I was constantly hooked up to monitors which made some of the things I’d practiced impossible. For instance, I couldn’t sit on my yoga ball without disrupting the monitor that picked up the baby’s heart rate. As the contractions got stronger and closer together I seemed to get worse at breathing through them, and more importantly, I wasn’t able to relax between them because I was so anxious about the next one. After about 12 hours of contractions, I asked for an epidural.
My second marathon I really wanted to PR, if only by a second, so I had a race plan that would put my average pace just s tiny bit faster than the last marathon. The plan called for me to start at a pace between 11:15 and 11:30 so I’d have energy in the tank to pick it up later and finish strong. I started at about 9:30 and didn’t get my pace under control until about mile 8. When I got to mile 13 I was about as tired as I had been at mile 20 of my first marathon. When I realized how tired I was, my goal changed from PRing to just finishing strong without injury.
When I was in labor, I used the same reasoning as in that marathon: I needed to adjust my plan so I could finish strong and have enough strength and energy to push the baby out, but I still had a while to go before that stage could start. In race terms: I had gone out too fast and never found a sustainable pace and was exhausted at mile 13 – it was time for a walk break so I could run the last miles. The epidural gave me that break.
In my first marathon I cried when I reached mile 22 because it was at that point that I really knew I would finish the race. As soon as the doctor said I could start pushing, I knew I was headed to the finish and would meet my baby soon, and I had a second wind of determination. Pushing wasn’t easy, but in a lot of ways it was like going down the finishers shoot of the NYC marathon – the end was just over one last hill, I had to fight hard for every inch gained, and I had a cheer squad telling me to keep going. As soon as it was over I immediately stopped working and just held my baby and marveled at what we’d just achieved.
Like after any race, I’ve done a lot of mental recapping and evaluation. I think my physical training helped me get through birth and definitely is helping me have a relatively smooth recovery. I could have cross trained better – more yoga, more kegels. I might have been better mentally prepared if I’d practiced my breathing more or tried another technique like hypnobirthing. I wonder how things would have been different if I hadn’t been induced or if I’d made different choices during labor. I’ve heard of folks driving themselves crazy thinking about all the things that didn’t go according to the birth plan. That’s one more lesson I can draw from racing – nothing is gained by obsessing over the things that went wrong. Each race is an accomplishment – you can learn from the imperfections but then you just have to let them go and be proud of what you achieved.
So, is giving birth like running a marathon? Yes and no. It’s an endurance event to be sure, mental preparation and physical fitness will help you get through it and will speed recovery, but then again having a baby isn’t like anything else: it’s so much harder and so much better than anything I can think of. If you’re not a runner then I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from the comparison. If you are a runner I think comparing it to a marathon – which might be the hardest and most rewarding physical thing most of us have ever done – can be a meaningful and maybe even inspiring comparison. The thought of giving birth is totally scary, but so was the marathon before I did it, and making the comparisons made it seem more doable- and it was. Anyway, let’s face it, if you’re a runner you probably compare everything to running anyway, so just go with it.