DAY 1: I watch snow blowing down as the rising sun tints the swirling snowscape as my nearly five-month-old baby rolls around playing with her toes on a blanket next to me. Normally, I would be out running at this time. I love stepping out into what my dad fondly calls “challenge weather” and taking off through the canyons and forests on a snowy morning. Instead, I look outside, snuggle deeper into the couch, sip my coffee and wonder where in the frigid winter landscape my running motivation may have blown.
This particular morning, I am glazed after a “night” of 3-4 hours sleep, doled out to me by MariaElena between 10pm and 5am. Being excited to go for a run has rarely been hard for me and yet here I sit, wondering where my mojo went. The short answer is: I had a baby. I still have a long way to go to figure out how to integrate running and motherhood.
DAY 2: I wake up from a night of restful sleep with only 3 short nursing wake-ups to 3 inches of fresh snow and a 14 degree thermometer reading. In a twinkling, I am out of bed and pulling on my running clothes while my drowsing husband cracks open an eye and mumbles, “I knew you’d be up this morning!” High-stepping through the snow, I take off on my run, gasping as the cold makes my eyes tear up, blurring the sharp edges of the snowy mountain skyline, the crunching of my footsteps the only sound in the silent snowscape.
Motivating myself to go on a casual run is not usually challenging. Lately, however, I have discovered that having a brand new baby running the show, the plunging winter temperatures and holiday travel have combined to one humbling realization: running can be hard.
I’ll be honest with myself: these days, it is hard for me to run – not hard in the sense that my body is fatigued from months of intense training – but hard because I haven’t been doing it. One year ago, I was two weeks away from racing in the Olympic Marathon Trials, but now, as my running experience strongly resembles a marshmallow man slogging through molasses, toeing the line at one of the most competitive marathons in the world seems ludicrous. “How,” I muse, “how on Earth am I to get from marshmallow man back to elite marathoning?”
BABY STEP 1: My running life is desperately in need of organization. With the little one in charge, my baby-related life is up in the air for now, but I need to find some running-related “carrot” to dangle in front of myself, hunker down with my training log and a blank calendar and pencil in some goals and rough out some training progression. Step one uses bribery: I think I’ll sign up for a race, pay the entry and “lock” myself into getting serious about my training, lest I feel guilty about losing the entry fee.
Ok, great, so I’ve put money into the internet to sign up for a race. Now what?
BABY STEP 2: The actual running part! Having been “off” from running for essentially a year now, I need to break my return to running down to basics: consistency, discipline, patience and flexibility. A running friend and I joke about the “6 week rule:” when we have a training layoff from an injury, it takes 6 weeks of consistent training for running to feel normal again; this double-edged “rule” guarantees both a period of unglamorous hard work as well as hope that someday running will feel easy again. Since my “layoff” has stretched over the last 12 months, I am (very generously!) giving myself a week for every month I have been off from running before I feel normal again. Whoa, 3 months before running feels good?! Yep, there is nothing quick-fix about getting back into shape, which leads to the next running basics.
Discipline and patience, two of the hardest aspects of running. Knowing that the first weeks (and even months) of running might feel more like a forced march than an exhilarating outing is daunting, but I also know that eventually my patience will payoff with my body and mind connecting to make a run that flows effortlessly. Keeping my eye on the desired end product is what will fend off frustration when I shuffle my way gracelessly through a humblingly short run.
More important than ever with my new life of runner-mom is flexibility—and not just muscular flexibility. As I pencil in my running plan (eraser on hand), I know that I need to be forgiving and gentle with myself on this road to running recovery: I don’t know how my body will handle a return to heavy training and I don’t know how much sleep I will be getting. So, I will have to grant myself the ability to modify my schedule without mental angst and be confident that the overall trajectory of training will be upwards. (No beating myself up over a missed run because I got 3 hours of sleep and can barely hold a coffee cup, much less put on running clothes!)
BABY STEP 3: Excitement. My last, and most ephemeral of running basics is excitement. I love to run, and I can’t wait to get back to training. My legs itch to feel strong and supple, I crave that exhilarated, fatigued feeling that follows a hard workout, and I miss the time I spend alone out enjoying the peace and quiet of nature. I am excited to push my mental and physical self through new challenges, and even though I know there are going to be countless days of hard, lonely, sometimes painful miles ahead of me, my heart starts pounding just at the thought of what this return to training holds for me!
HAPPY NEW YEAR to all you runners (and non-runners) out there! Training progress and more on actually running with baby coming up in future posts!