Before I knew I was pregnant with my third child (my third in three years, to be specific), I got a
message via Facebook from an old high school friend. We had not had any contact
in more than 20 years, and I learned he was a professional marathoner who
held a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Somewhere in our nostalgia and enthusiasm for reconnecting, we decided he would do his next marathon in
Amsterdam, where I live, and that I would join him.
I was not in what I would describe as "shape," but the race
was a good 11 months away, and, having given birth to my second child eight
months earlier, I felt like it might be just the incentive I needed to finally
get my pre-baby form back.
A few weeks later, I learned I was pregnant—again. I suggested to
my friend that perhaps we sign up for the half marathon instead and told
myself it would inspire me to get in shape during my third and certainly last
As a pregnant woman with a toddler and a baby,
my fitness routine mainly consisted of carrying children up and down stairs,
bending down to pick up toys and dragging myself through town on my bicycle
(as you do in Holland). I didn't run, not once, during my pregnancy.
My second daughter arrived in August, giving me two months
to prepare for the race. The toddler was now almost 3, the baby a
17-month old. And then, there was the newborn. I wasn't sleeping, exercising or motivated. Although I was back in my non-maternity clothes, any weight loss I experienced came through feedings and
A month before race day, my friend had a death in his family and had to
cancel his trip. I was disappointed not to see him and, of course, sorry for his loss. But
I was also a bit relieved: I was off the hook.
Until the race packet arrived in the mail: my race
number, a map of the route, information about the expo. This is heroin to a
runner, and it triggered something—some pre-children, pre-40s call of long, long ago.
There was no way I was not doing the run.
I figured all I needed was a really—really, really—good sports bra
and an equally good playlist. I decided to go very slowly and just try to get through it without injury.
It was a beautiful October day. Bands were playing, people
lined the streets cheering. After a while, we left the city center and began a quiet out-and-back that lined the bank of the Amstel
River and lasted about 10 miles.
Although I was back in my non-maternity clothes, any weight loss I experienced came through feedings and night sweats.
Usually I would find this very dull—no crowds, no
distraction, no change of scenery. But it was very relaxing, meditative. I listened to music. I paid
attention to my breathing, my heartbeat. My body felt light and limber and only
mine for the first time in nearly four years.
For the duration of the run, I forgot about pregnancies and
labor and breastfeeding and hormones that accompany all of the above. I
focused instead on the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement, the freedom of
having nothing to worry about but putting one foot in
front of the other.
If I thought about my family at all it was only to daydream about how proud they would all be of their wife, their mother. I pictured giving my
medal to my baby, dedicating the run to her.
Clearly I was light-headed, delusional. What actually
happened after completing a victory lap around the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium,
where the race finished, was quite different.
I spotted my family walking toward the stadium. My husband
had our infant daughter against his chest in a carrier and was pushing our
18-month-old in pram. Our son
lingered behind, pouting, clearly post-meltdown.
Until that moment I hadn't really considered that, while I was enjoying my peace and solitude, my husband had been managing three small children in a crowded city by himself.
I gave my medal to my son, who said, "This is like a collar
that doggies wear" and proceeded to make barking sounds. My husband was hot
and sweaty and tired and spent. "Let's just go find the car," he said, nudging
the pram in my direction.
Yet I felt great. The runner's high lingered as we drove
away. I felt energized and just amazed at what the human body—what my own
body—could achieve. We headed home, where I would feed my baby, put my other
daughter down for a nap, entertain my son and give my husband a break.
It had been a great escape, but I was ready to be back.