Support Systems – No woman is an island

Through five years of NCAA Division I competition and seven years of post-collegiate competition, I have learned that my racing success depends on much more than just me:  my competitive self relies on a broad and varied support system. Each node of this system is critical to some aspect of my well-being, training details, mental strength and motivation or emotional health.

To map some of these out, the two most important people for my training are: First and foremost, my husband, who supports me in my athletic ambitions, tolerating my less-than-social early bedtimes and even earlier wake-up times, picks me up at the ends of point-to-point long runs, rubs my aching legs, alleviates my emotional swings through training, feeds me copiously, and is a constant source of encouragement, hopefulness and excitement for my endeavors – both athletic and otherwise.

Secondly, my coach, Kay.  From working with her, I have learned that I can relax and trust in someone elses’ direction and knowledge, and that together we can work out long and short term goals.  I tend to be headstrong, obsessive, dogmatic and very exacting; working with Kay I’ve learned that truly long-term goals grow out of day-to-day small efforts (not all of which are awesome) that build upon each other to result in increased fitness, comfort and confidence with that fitness, and mental excitement to expect great things. I’ve also learned that I have to be flexible, forgiving, demanding and happy with myself to accomplish these goals.

Mom, Dad, Belly and Me!

Many other people are in my running support structure, including my parents and family (my dad, 1980 marathon trials winner, Anthony Sandoval has been a long, constant source of inspiration for me, and without my mom, there is no way I’d have made it through the emotional rollercoaster that NCAA running can be!); Liz, my massage therapist who helps keep my over-sensitive hamstrings in working order; my former teammates, coach Tom Heinonen and friends from when I was competing at the University of Oregon (go Ducks!); my PhD advisor at the University of New Mexico who, although he may be mystified by my obsession with running, nonetheless gives me the freedom to pursue my life outside of academia; the Brooks – ID project and Powerbar, my two sponsors; the New Mexico running community, and many more.  Each of these gives or has given different but important supporting contributions to making my running possible throughout my running career, and as I now try to combine running and parenthood, I know I will rely on this entire running structure even more deeply.

As I am finding out, being pregnant and a soon-to-be first-time mother also requires a support system.  I am embarking on an entirely new endeavor, and no matter how much time I spend researching my questions and worries online and in books, it is a relief when I can find a “real, live” human who has been through pregnancy to talk with.  Some components of this burgeoning pregnancy support structure are the same as for my running: my husband, of course (!) is probably the biggest player as we begin our lives as parents; our families (we’re bravely introducing the first grandbaby for either of our families!); my coach, who, as a mother of three and a competitive runner I have leaned on and questioned about parenthood and pregnancy over the years since John and I decided we wanted to have a family and then helped me see through the fog of initial “I’m pregnant and training for the Olympic Trials!” shock; and my advisor, who I can never thank enough for putting up with my mental and physical struggles of a very rough first trimester.

My handsome husband and tireless 'wogging' partner.

What has amazed me is the new people I have met, renewed friendship with, or have “seen” for the first time (my academic world is generally devoid of the parents/young children demographic).  I’ve been amazed at work by the warmth of the faculty at the UNM EPS department, especially the women who are scientists and mothers; they have reassured me through example that you can be both a mother and a scientist!  The physicians and nurses I’ve met; perhaps because I’ve been a very healthy person, I’ve luckily never had to deal much with doctors, but being pregnant, you can’t escape them and I fully admit that the fears that I’m doing something/anything wrong have been expertly assuaged and my questions answered (except for one: what is the fluid pressure of amniotic fluid – anyone??), and all the other pregnant women and parents! I have renewed friendship with old classmates who are also pregnant, met young mothers, and been advised by random parents at REI while John and I were testing out running strollers (ok, we were pushing each other around in them laughing hysterically, under the approving -laughing- eyes of several fathers).  It is gratifying to realize that although it feels sometimes that John and I are the first parents around and we’re totally lost, there are entire networks of people out there from whom we can draw information and support.
Much of the time I tend to feel that much of my training is done on my own: in fact, probably 98% of my time running, strength training and cross training is done solo; thus, I often find that I feel very isolated in my running endeavor.  It only takes a little thinking, though, for me to realize that the truth is that a multitude of people have helped me on my way and that in a decade-plus of running I’ve cultivated a very strong, reliable network of positive people and routines I can rely upon to help me do and be my best possible athlete.  With pregnancy, I am finding that while at first I often felt alone on this adventure, there actually are many people who offer comfort, support, excitement, knowledge, hilarity and advice on pregnancy and parenthood.  As John and I progress through these stages, I hope that we are able to continue to find and cultivate a support network that is as robust as that I have found through running.

Bottom line here: thanks to everyone for the support – both in terms of running, and baby!

6 thoughts on “Support Systems – No woman is an island

  1. I loved reading this Magdalena! Wonderful to realize how it really does “take a village” to raise or child or help a runner/mommy-to-be along her path…

  2. magdalenadonahue

    Thanks! It is an eye-opener to really think about how much help you get from people around you (in any endeavor)! It’s great!

  3. Hey Magdalena,
    I’m enjoying your blog! I have no experience with being an athlete, but I have been working on a PhD through a pregnancy, parenthood, and now another pregnancy. (I’m taking the slow route.) It definitely takes a village! Also, I loved the book Mama PhD, which a compilation of essays edited by Elrena Evans and Caroline Grant. (Not that you have time to read!)

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Thanks, Tera! I occassionally check up on the Mama PhD blog, but I should try to track down the book! I think a PhD program is a good comparison to athletics – takes a lot of time, planning and dedication! Congrats on #2 on the way!

  4. Lori

    Hey, Magdalena! I just moved to the Sandia Park area in February and recently found out I am 6 wks pregnant. I LOVE being active and have a passion for the outdoors! I’m probably not up to par when it comes to running with you, but I am an avid hiker! If you ever need a hiking buddy let me know:
    Have a great day!

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Hi Lori!

      Great to hear that you’re in NM these days! I am glad to hear that you’re active, and hope you are able to stay that way throughout your pregnancy. I’d love a hiking partner – I’m slowing down, so it’s really more of a glorified walk with lots of “oh, let’s look at the view (and let me catch my breath!)!” comments, but if you’d be ok with that, it would be fun to meet up.

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