“You’ll need to cut back on your mileage.”
A heartbreaking thing for any runner to hear. And I wasn’t even injured.
So when my conservative fertility doctor told me this mere weeks before my 50 miler in 2016, I was beyond crushed. Nick and I were a few years into the process of trying to start a family, it wasn’t going the way we thought it might (1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility), and we were willing to do almost anything; but these aren’t necessarily words you expect to hear, or want to hear.
I always had somewhat naive expectations that I would be running strong leading up to, and during pregnancy. But that’s not how my story would unfold. I would learn that pregnancy is different for everybody and every body. That in pregnancy, it’s okay to let go of expectations and slow down. And how “listen to your body” would take on a whole new meaning. I discovered the many adjustments that needed to be made throughout, how to embrace them, and just enjoy the love of the run with a new running partner.
Needless to say, I approached that 50 miler (RRR50) with a mixed bag of emotions. I was grateful for the solid training I had for a new distance, relieved the way everything lined up for the “perfect” race (weather, fueling, body cooperation) and a bit mournful knowing that it would be my last big run/training cycle indefinitely. Could I equate this to an injury? Slow down. Cut back. Modify.
After the 50, I did adjust my typical running plans and expectations for myself. This was hard for a Type A gal like myself! I like having a plan, I like seeing my coach’s training schedule pop up in Training Peaks, and I like striving for goals. But I cut back, I slowed down, and I modified. I opted out of any speedwork and didn’t add any massive long runs. I didn’t follow my doctor’s orders to a T (I can’t be the only one who allows for some flexibility here!) but I found what I felt was a good compromise between what I had been doing leading up to this point and what I still felt I “needed” to do to stay sane and still feel that runner’s high. It took some time, and letting go of race FOMO (I always have a short/long list of races I want to do!), but I was able to alter expectations of myself and just run for fun. It was just for a season, after all. I just didn’t realize how long of a season that would be.
After more than a year of those altered expectations and casual running, months of testing and fertility treatments, emotional high and lows, Nick and I finally got the news we had been waiting for! We were beyond nervous and utterly happy. And all that casual running with no goals and no plans suddenly didn’t matter anymore. I was just happy to still be running at all. I had come to terms with the fact that my story wouldn’t allow for half marathons and long trail adventures during pregnancy. But it didn’t change the fact that I still saw myself as a runner. A part of my identity that’s important to me.
And then, all of a sudden, casual running was too much and I made adjustments and altered expectations again. At 26 weeks, pelvic pain caused me to modify my running to a run/walk combo. I didn’t even know this type of pain existed! With a ton of pelvic floor exercises and a support belt, I could still get out and get moving with minimal pain. Looking back, I guess I just wasn’t ready to let running go completely, even if only doing it at a minimum. Each time out varied, but I listened to my body and did whatever felt right without pushing it too hard. I had no idea how much longer this new modification would last, but I planned to enjoy it with my mini me while it did.
Around 33 weeks, I made the hard but necessary decision to stop running for the rest of my pregnancy. Between the increased pelvic pain that suddenly decided to hang around all the time, the general discomfort during and after running, and the recovery following each run (I’m no spring chicken and pregnancy was requiring a lot more rest time!), this was definitely the best choice for me. And bless the women who can run until the day they give birth! For whatever reason, I was finally in a good place to just let it go. Perhaps I was hanging onto pregnancy running for too long anyway. Perhaps I knew that pushing through any ache or pain at that point wouldn’t be worth it in the long run. I wasn’t training. I didn’t need to push. I want a running lifestyle, not to just say I ran for X number of weeks while pregnant. My greatest reward, my medal (if you’re into that) would be Baby L. Perhaps I had finally reached the “acceptance” stage.
I’ve remained active with walking, lifting, yoga, and prenatal workouts. These things feel good and they meet my needs at this time. But the many adjustments and altered expectations of myself in the past two years have reminded me of something I have really known all along. That things sometimes don’t (rarely?) go as planned and to embrace your story, letting it unfold as it may. I’m no less of a person/athlete than I was before this all started. What’s right for one person might not be right for another. Do what’s right for you. “Do you,” as Steph Bruce says. And that while I may be talking about “pregnancy,” this concept can actually be transferred to many of life’s seasons.
While I know I’ll have to change my expectations yet again postpartum, I know my story is just that. MY story. All mine. Unique to me and quite possibly perfectly different than someone else’s. I know I’ll carry these reminders with me as my new normal unfolds into motherhood and as I teach my daughter respect for herself and to embrace her own story, whatever it may be.
Whatever your story may be (pregnancy, injury, new life season), it isn’t like anyone else’s. And it shouldn’t be. That’s what makes it unique and special. Embrace your story, adjust as needed, listen to your body, and get comfortable with altering your expectations. It might not be for long. And it doesn’t make you any less than what you were before. It doesn’t make you less of a runner. Just “do you.”
That being said, I will be using this major life change to make other adjustments and alter expectations for myself in other areas. I will be stepping down from leadership with the CO Volee team at the end of this season so I can continue to focus on my story. The last three years of leadership have been so much fun and I’m confident in the leaders who will remain and in those whose time it is to step up. I’m certain I’ll run into many of you out on the trails and at future meet ups.
Rebekah + Baby Leoni (due any day)
*I’ve been careful not to say “lower expectations” of myself. I don’t consider my expectations to have lowered since becoming pregnant. They are altered, because I’m pregnant, to accommodate the many changes that are going on in my body and the really cool thing that is happening (making a human).