Inspirational Running Mothers

When I found out I was pregnant, I was 5 weeks away from competing the 2012 US Olympic marathon trials.  I was stunned.  What I had thought of as end-of-semester stress and possibly the flu turned out to be…a baby!  While I admit I was in a daze of “this is awesome” tempered by “so this is why I’m so awfully sick [light bulb flashes on]” my next thought was, “holy crap, I have the Trials in just over a month!”  Talk about throwing a bump in the road. I’ve dealt with injuries ranging from minor twinges to torn hamstrings to a stress fractured femur, but these seemed, well, exceptionally different from carrying a child.  I know injuries, I know how to begin to deal with the seeming death-knell of, “take 6 weeks off from running….”  But a baby? Inside of me?  How does one deal with that, from an athletic standpoint?  I was responsible for its nutrition, its wellbeing, its health, and here I was, hoping to run my body through the wringer in a few weeks by running nothing less than the US Olympic Trials?!

I was sick, confused, and at a loss. First, I freaked out and told my husband there was no way in hell I was going to race the Trials.  Marathons are daunting, hard, and can be brutal, and whether you’re running it in 2.5 or 6 hours. I was deer-in-the-headlights panicked, and the thought of running my third marathon on the stage of the Olympic Trials was daunting enough even without being pregnant. After speaking with my coach, Kay, a world-class New Zealand runner and mom of 3, I had calmed down a bit. She had reasoned with me that I could at least start the race, and provided the next 5 weeks of training went as –or close to- planned, I could maintain some of my pre-baby goals, provided I was cleared by my doctor and that I paid crystal clear attention to my what my body – and my grape-sized baby – was telling me. A frank discussion of my pregnancy with my doctor covered my athletic history, current health, goals for the race, my concerns and the sacrifices I was willing to make – racewise – for the health of my baby, cleared me to run the Trials in part or in whole. My physician was not overly concerned with the stress the marathon would put on my body, but she was concerned that pushing my body to a state of oxygen deprivation would harm the baby. The key again was that I pay attention to my body, and if any dizziness or abdominal cramps set in, I needed to make the move to stop racing or slow down.

Making the decision to race was the easy part.  The next 5 weeks turned out to be a hellish carnival ride featuring specters of nausea, exhaustion, body aches, headaches and weird smells.  I will be eternally grateful it was holiday break for most of this time, as a grad student, I utilized this “holiday” to spend most of the day curled up on the couch at home, trying not to move or think.  After a week or so of this strange behavior, my husband, also on break, began timing my sleep: for 3 weeks prior to Christmas, I was averaging 16hours sleep/day! I was able to eat only sourdough toast and milk, and the smell of anything moderately “spicy” made me flee the house. It was awful.  I couldn’t eat, so I couldn’t run.  I couldn’t keep my fluids down when I tried to take fluids to fuel a run…and I was exhausted after only a mile or two.  I kept waiting for the Awesomeness of Pregnancy to set in…and I kept waiting. For weeks. A month. And then, the trials were only a week away.

I went into a mental panic.  My husband and I had told our families of my pregnancy at Christmas, but still, my entire family and in-laws were going to Houston to watch me.  I was swimming in self-doubt: I had run less than my normal weekly mileage (70-80mi) over the last month. No speedwork.  I saw this great dream of mine, to compete in the Olympic Trials, crashing down in flames a la Old Man Gloom, I was extremely disappointed in myself. Not disappointed that I was pregnant, but sharply disappointed that this great goal of mine was effectively vanishing between my fingers. Athletes can be very hard on themselves, and I was hard on myself facing the dilemma of being sorely disappointed, even though the circumstances of this disappointment were all positive. I was also afraid of doing harm to the baby while I was running. Frankly, I was terrified.  So, I did the only thing I could think of doing. I started bolstering my shattered mental strength by gathering images of powerful, successful running mothers. I was already looking to 2016.  I reasoned with myself; our families knew of the pregnancy, and knew that the likelihood of my finishing the race was slim, and they still wanted to come and watch, if they don’t mind watching me run what was likely only part of a race, who else matters? So I visualized success with family.  Not success after family, but success with family.

More on the actual race and how that panned out coming soon! I’ve included a few notable running moms and athletes.  Feel free to add your comment of other notable athletic mothers, whether they’re runners, triathletes, swimmers, cyclists, skiers…whatever!  Thanks for reading, and please pass my blog along to others who may be interested!

12 thoughts on “Inspirational Running Mothers

  1. Emil McMakin

    Although roller derby may not be in the Olympics (although being discussed as a new inductions for upcoming Olympics) it is a sport of athletes and mothers. All leagues have a clause for the 9 month injury.

    Most leagues have babysitters set up at practice for mothers. Women athletes need to be there to support each other. It will teach your children to be strong as well to see you put your heart and sweat into something.

    I have been sharing your story with all of my friends. I find it to be truly inspirational as to what we can do. I scoff at any individual that claims men to be tougher competitors.

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Thanks, Emil! Yes, I think that team sports like roller derby, ultimate frisbee and womens rugby deserve a lot of credit for getting women to come out and be active, and for promoting a very positive, supportive environment for each other. The group scene comes with the definite plus of having the opportunity to have organized baby sitting! Thanks for your support, and keep sharing the blog and your ideas and thoughts (and, keep up the roller derby!).

  2. Kay Ulrich (formerly Kay Gooch)

    This is a great endeavor Magdalena!
    I have always understood that the first trimester is the most common time for miscarriages, but never known what really causes those, if training hard is a risk factor, and if there is any data to say things such as jumping and bounding are known risks, or old wives tales. (I frequently had people at the climbing gym tell me I shouldn’t jump down from the bouldering wall while pregnant, but never knew if there was any truth to that).
    And for your readers, I was so happy for Magdalena and John when she told me she was pregnant, I knew it was something they had wanted, and then I also knew she had had a great training cycle for Oly Trials including a half marathon PR, so knew her mixed emotions with the timing! I told Magdalena, was that she would probably be OK to continue modified training (due to 1st trimester tiredness and sickness), but that it was a completely personal decision as to whether she felt comfortable doing so, because miscarriage happens.

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Thanks, Kay! Absolutely – it was definitely a clear decision on my part to run the Trials. When I told Kay, I was feeling so completely baffled that I had no idea what to do about running and being pregnant, and I am so grateful to get to talk with her about both the definite risks, and the definite positives. One reason John & I didn’t tell “the public” about the baby until the week after the Trials (and our first ultrasound at 12 weeks) was because we were concerned with the potential risk for miscarriage that running might have had. It was a risk that we discussed early on with our doctor, but it was a very, very real fear for me. More on this in a later post!

  3. Elva Dryer

    Magdalena!!!! Congratulations!!!!! Your life will never be the same again. All it takes is one little being to change your perspective on life. Enjoy this special time. It truly is an amazing experience. I am flattered to be included as an inspirational mom. Happy running to you and your little one on board. I will be to tuning in for updates.


  4. Bmcchesney

    Hi Magdalena! First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy, what an exciting time! Secondly, I wanted to thank you for creating your blog (I stumbled across it through to help other women see that running and even “training” during a pregnancy is completely healthy, especially when its part of your normal day to day life previous the pregnancy. I am a new mom of a 6mos boy, and a competitive runner (although not near your level!), and trained through my pregnancy until it became too uncomfortable in the 7th month. There were many uninformed people very concerned about what my running would do to the baby, but I sought after the right advice from experienced runners and moms and felt very comfortable with the training decisions I made while pregnant. When I was 5 weeks pregnant I completed a successful climb of Mt.Kilimanjaro (not knowing I was pregnant though), and everything was fine after… so I knew some much scaled back running would be just fine as well!
    All the best with your pregnacy… I look forward to following your journey!

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, and it is great to hear from another running mom that she had a healthy, active pregnancy and it’s wonderful to hear that your baby is now a healthy baby! I’m also totally envious of your Mt. Kilimanjaro trip – that is a goal of mine. I hope you keep up the running, and keep up with the blog!

  5. Thank you so much for what you wrote! I am 11 weeks pregnant and have felt over all pretty good, But soooo tired! I was running 7-8 miles 5 days a week and 15 on the weekends. I signed up for my first half marathon in January before i was pregnant (the run is in July but fills up quick) and thought piece of cake. But since getting pregnant i have been sleeping in longer (i cannot imagine waking up at 5 to run with my gang right now),working all day, maybe eating a piece of toast (cant seem to stomach much else) and then ready for bed. Suffice to say, I have under a month to get ready for my half marathon, and running 2.5 miles last week was quite the undertaking….i guess it is just good to know i am not the only one out there that has gone through similar emotions! I start my second trimester soon and am feeling better this week with more energy. Thanks for sharing your journey and congrats on your little one!
    Kristi Niclas

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Congratulations! It is daunting to try to tackle a long run while also dealing with the exhaustion and ups and downs of being pregnant. It’s doable, but it sure is a different experience from training “normally.” The second trimester was much, much nicer to me than my first, and I kept running until my third trimester; lately I’ve tapered off and have only been walking, since the belly is giant and far too bouncy to be comfortable while running! Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy, and enjoy the blog!

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