20. How Motherhood Made Me a Better Runner and Vice Versa

20. How Motherhood Made Me a Better Runner and Vice Versa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

How Motherhood Made Me a Better Runner and Vice Versa

Running makes you an athlete in all areas of life… trained in the basics, prepared for whatever comes, ready to fill each hour and deal with the decisive moment.
 ~Dr. George Sheehan

I started running more than thirteen years ago as a form of stress relief while in my first year of law school. Never athletic growing up, I had always assumed myself to be doomed to a life of mediocrity when it came to anything remotely physical. Shortly after I took up running, though, my sister asked me to come run in a 5K fundraiser at the school where she was student teaching. Since I easily ran three to four miles each morning, I figured why not, especially since it was for a good cause. To my surprise, I won my age group, probably due in large part to the fact that most of the runners were students or parents and were not in my age group at the time. But that didn’t matter to me — gift certificate and medal in hand, I was hooked.

Over the next seven years, I progressively competed in longer and longer distance races, eventually running my first marathon in 2000. I qualified for Boston on my first try and realized that I had, despite my poor athletic start to life, found something I could actually excel at. I got caught up in competing and, as a result, asked my dear husband, who was ready to start a family, to wait until I had gotten the competition “bug” out of my system before trying to have our first child.

The bug was finally satiated after I won the gold medal in the half marathon at the 2003 Pan-American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chile. To me, that was the pinnacle of my running career to date and sufficient to finally take a rest from running competitively to give conceiving a child a shot. Little did I know that it would then take us two years and six rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to actually accomplish that goal.

When we were going through the IVF cycles, I had to focus on daily injections and monitoring at the doctors’ offices instead of running. After each negative pregnancy test and during the imposed rest month in between each IVF cycle, running was my only solace and sense of some return to normalcy from the emotional turmoil of infertility. Again, like in law school, it became my escape and form of stress relief.

We finally had success after traveling out of state to New York City to do one last cycle at a top fertility clinic. Running took a back seat when we found out we were expecting twins and I dared not do anything physical that could possibly jeopardize the long-desired pregnancy. For me to give up running for eight months was like a drug addict giving up cocaine, but it was an easy choice after all we had gone through to get pregnant.

Our twins were born in March 2006 and despite the exhaustion and haze of the first few months with twins, I returned to running to race my first 10K race just ten weeks after they were born. I ran my first postpartum marathon, alongside my husband, seven months later. Running then became my break from the constant needs of newborn twins. Thanks to a supportive husband who took on twin duty while I was working out or racing, I continued to train and compete for the next year and looked forward to returning to the Boston Marathon in April 2007. I even decided to do my first triathlon, something I had always wanted to do, in August of that year.

Those plans changed when I found out that we were unexpectedly (and spontaneously) pregnant with our third child just four weeks before the Boston Marathon. Again, running had to take a back seat for a few months. While it was frustrating to give up the opportunity to compete at Boston and in my first triathlon, I wasn’t complaining after the difficulties we had conceiving our first children. Now we’d have three under the age of two.

After our third child was born in November 2007 I again returned to running and Boston and the triathlon were there waiting for me in 2008. Not only did I return to running and enter the world of triathlon, but somehow I did it at a level above where I had been performing when I was younger and before I had children, winning my age group and setting PRs in practically every road race and triathlon I entered. It didn’t make sense to me: shouldn’t I have been getting slower as I got older and had more children, hence less time?

I think several factors have made me a better athlete since I have had children: first, my time to train is so limited right now that I tend to focus much more and as a result get quality, instead of quantity, out of each training session. More importantly, though, the inspiration my children have provided me pushes me each and every race, even if they are not there in person. Setting a good example for my children is now my main source of motivation, not putting in more training hours than my competition or beating them in a race. It also doesn’t hurt that my post-child training runs sometimes involve pushing 100 pounds of double stroller and children!

Not only has motherhood made me a better runner, but more importantly running has made me a better mother. It’s not easy fitting in training and staying committed when trying to raise three young children, and there is always guilt when I take time away from them to train if I can’t manage to fit it in before they wake up in the morning or after they go to bed. But I am learning to get over that guilt because after I get back from a run, a bike ride or a swim, my mind is clear, energy high, and I am a better mother than I would be if I didn’t take that time for myself. Plus, excelling at something like running and triathlon has given me a confidence that has made me more secure with my decisions as a mother and, I hope, sets an example for my children.

Our kids have already run in their first organized fun runs, earned their finishers medals, and worn race numbers on their shirts. Our younger daughter’s first words when she sees me in the morning are “Mommy sweaty?” since I usually greet them after returning from a pre-dawn workout. When they see a runner out on the roads they always say “a runner, like Mommy runs!” They tell me that one day they are going to be big and run as fast as Mommy. I hope they run even faster.

~Lisa Levin Reichmann

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