Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP
The marathon: a 26.2 mile race covered on your own two feet in one shot. It’s painful. Quite long. And often grueling. As such, there are countless instances in life where people refer to long, grueling events as a marathon of it’s own. Being a running mom, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity up to compare the art of training for and running a marathon, and the act of growing and birthing a human life. Yep, that’s right, today we’re going to compare the striking similarities between pregnancy and running a marathon. Grab some pickles and an ice pack, here we go:
Note: This post, originally written in 2009, was inspired by the Take it and Run weekly topic at Runner’s Lounge: “Running is Like:”. Holy cow, I’ve been blogging for a long time…
Pregnancy vs. Running a Marathon: the Training Cycle
Marathon race day – just like the day a woman gives birth to a child – is the culmination of a long, often arduous process. It’s a moment in time that is often celebrated, but we rarely stop to consider all that went into getting there in the first place. The non glamorous months where we complain about swollen ankles and an insatiable appetite, and sometimes struggle to tie our own shoes. Yeah, I’m talking about both marathon runners and pregnant women. Let’s compare:
Counting the Weeks
We all know that pregnancy lasts 9 months (give or take). But pregnant women and their physicians tend to count down the pregnancy in the form of weeks. If you ask a pregnant woman how far along she is, she’ll likely reply “20 weeks” rather than 5 months.
Marathon runners tend to do the same when referring to their training calendar. You rarely hear a runner say they have a “four month training plan”. Nope, it’s 16 weeks.
Further, both marathon runners and the pregnant moms count those weeks meticulously. There is NEVER any doubt how many weeks are left until race day.
Random Aches, Pains, & Exhaustion
One day you feel great, the next day there’s a shooting pain through your groin that makes you waddle around the house like a penguin. Some days you’re motivated and full of energy, other days you can barely keep your eyes open. Some days you’re ravenous with hunger, other days you are convinced your stomach hates you.
Often, while pregnant or training for a marathon, it feels like your body is going to do and respond however the hell it feels like it. You have little control, you’re just along for the ride.
Don’t ask me why, but apparently pregnant women crave pickles. It’s been an ongoing joke since the beginning of time (or at least, the beginning of pickles) that expectant mothers yearn for pickles and ice cream…sometimes together. I never did, I was more of a Taco-Bell-Crunchwrap-Supreme-mom-to-be. But that’s neither here nor there.
I can tell you about runners and pickles. When you’re running long distances – especially when it’s hot outside – you tend to crave salt. What’s saltier (but also juicy and oddly refreshing while running) than a pickle? Further, many claim that the pickles help ward off cramps. So much so that endurance nutrition brands actually make pickle juice shots for runners. I’m not even kidding.
I wonder if they’ve ever thought about marketing towards pregnant woman as well…
New Gear Advantage
One wouldn’t think that babies, brand new humans who can’t even roll over on their own, need a lot of “gear”. But one look at any expectant mom’s Target baby registry would tell you that you are very wrong.
There are endless crazy, completely unnecessary contraptions on the market to help make your babies first weeks and months on earth pass by as smoothly as possible. From Diaper Genies to baby specific sound machines, the gear possibilities are endless. Moms-to-be spend tons of time pouring over these products, trying to carefully curate a list of what they think their baby will need.
Comparatively, one wouldn’t think that running requires a lot of gear. Oh my friend, you are wrong again. Runners covet gear like $250 Nike’s promising to take seconds off of your marathon time, and $1,000 GPS watches that can do almost everything but pour you a cup of coffee. Add to that fancy hand held water bottles, hydration packs, compression gear, and a closet fill of recovery tools promising to help decrease sore muscles, and you’ve barely scraped the surface on gear runners own.
If you can dream it up – the product exists, for both expectant mothers and marathon runners alike. Most of it isn’t necessary(cough, cough, diaper genie), but it sure makes you feel like you know what you are doing.
Taper / Nesting:
Towards the end of both your pregnancy and/or your marathon training cycle, strange things start to happen. Pregnant women start to “nest”, where they instinctively start getting ready for the babies arrival by feverishly cleaning the house or doing home rennovations.
Runners enter their “taper” phase, where their weekly mileage and effort is drastically decreased. As such, they may start feverishly cleaning the house or doing home rennovations to try and deal with the excess energy and time on their hands.
Both the marathon runner and pregnant woman are likely to cry at the drop of a hat during this phase, so approach with caution.
Race Expo / Baby Showers
Typically the day before a marathon (or multiple days before a bigger race) bib pickup will be accompanied by an expo. Vendors by the dozens – or hundreds, depending on the race – line their wares up on tables and under tents for runners to browse. There are often tons of freebies and samples to pickup, as well as items to purchase. Typically last minute race items like nutrition, socks, and anti-chafing products are the biggest sellers.
Runner’s rarely leave an expo without a bag (or multiple) bags full of stuff.
And what’s the pregnancy equivalent of an expo? Can you say BABY SHOWER!? The day when friends and family celebrate the expecting mom and impending baby with tons of gear. The pregnant mom will leave with everything from big items to last minute essentials getting her excited for the “big day”.
Pregnancy vs. Running a Marathon: Race Day
The moment we’ve all been preparing for is here! Almost…
You’re Almost There!
Confession: I was completely miserable in my last few months of pregnancy with my second child. I was carrying around an extra 60 lbs, and experiencing the end of my pregnancy during a very hot summer in the South. No one could blame me for my misery. I just wanted it to be over, so people, knowing I was a runner, would try to be helpful and kept saying “oh just think of it as the last 4 miles of a marathon. You are almost done! The finish line is near!”.
To be honest, that analogy just made me frustrated. It made me want to spout off my smart mouth with something along the lines of “you try having this kid using your bladder as a trampoline”, or better yet, throw something at the well meaning commenter. (We’ll blame the hormones, of course).
Does this remind you of anything? Kind of like when you are mile 22 of a marathon, and a well meaning spectator in the crowd shouts “don’t slow down now, the finish line is just around the corner!!” Meanwhile you want to throw a gel pack at their head and yell back ” yeah buddy, and that corner is still 4.2 miles away!! Easy for you to say from your cozy lawn chair, YOU get out here and run!!”
In short: never tell a runner or a pregnant woman they are “almost there” unless you can literally see the finish line – or the babies head crowning.
Why Did I Sign Up for This?
Questioning what on earth made you think this was a good idea in the middle of labor, or in the middle of a marathon, is completely normal. As is potentially blaming someone else for getting you into this predicament. (THIS ALL IS YOUR FAULT!)
But, there’s nothing you can do about it once you reach this point (that baby is NOT staying in, and no one is picking you up at mile 23), so you might as well keep moving forward. The finish line is near (for real this time).
You made it! You crossed the finish line! Here’s your prize!
So many runners choose races based on the finishers “swag” – the gifts they are given for participating and/or finishing the race. Medals, t-shirts, hats, socks, you get the idea .
When it comes to pregnancy, I personally received the best ever finisher’s swag: two perfect healthy babies. The only thing better than that post marathon runners high is holding your brand new baby for the first time.
Pregnancy vs. Running a Marathon: Post Race
But wait! The fun isn’t over yet!
“I can’t believe I did that”
After you cross your marathon finish line / give birth to a brand new human, you’ll likely find yourself in some sort of euphoric, yet exhausted daze. You’ll find yourself constantly looking at your medal / baby thinking “I can’t believe I actually did that!”
Yep, you did it. The human body is an incredible machine. Congratulations!
Post “Race” Pains
Painful post race ice bath, lost toe nails, and sore muscles making you wonder why just put yourself through this?
Um, let me just say, sitz baths, stitches and engorged breasts.
(Sorry squeamish folk, it’s reality, blame mother nature, I didn’t invent it.)
Giving birth and running a marathon can both do a number on your body, leaving you hobbling around for days, struggling with stairs, and cringing when you sit down.
Talking Incessantly About your Accomplishment to Anyone who will Listen
There’s this running joke (literally) that goes “how do you know if someone has run a marathon? Don’t’ worry…they’ll tell you.” Marathon runner are notorious for wanting to talk about every last detail of their experience to anyone who will listen.
And guess what’s similar?
New moms talking about pregnancy and childbirth. It’s true. When you find yourself pregnant, you’ll be AMAZED at the stories – both good and bad – that other moms (even complete strangers) will want to share about their own pregnancies.
Post “Race” Amnesia
Whether it be a marathon or giving birth, after a certain amount of time all of the memories of exhaustion and pain will fade away. And before you know it, you’ll be logging online looking for the next race to sign up for…
…or wondering if you’re kid needs a younger sibling.
So as you can see, running is a lot like pregnancy and childbirth. I even set a 22 hour labor P.R. from the first baby to the second, HA! Where’s my age group trophy???